Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Some reasons: required minimum sentences, for-profit prisons that lobby officials to get more business, lack of programs to treat addictions. Most US prisons don’t help people who commit crimes to learn better behaviors, and it’s hard for ex-offenders to find jobs when they get out.

According to the Sentencing Project, “In the last forty years, incarceration has increased with rates upwards of 500% despite crime rates decreasing nationally.”

The good news is that here and there, local sheriffs are experimenting with techniques to reduce recidivism, as are individual states. Whether the new programs are motivated by the wish to save public money, by compassion, or for any other reason, the trend is promising.

Mikaela Porter writes at the Hartford Courant about an initiative in Connecticut.

“For years John Pittman was known as a lifer in the state prison here. But now, he’s taken on a new identity: mentor. …

” ‘My philosophy is this: no one is going to save us but us,’ Pittman said in an interview. ‘I’m older than these guys – grandfather age – and if they can learn something from me without being in my situation with a life sentence then I felt I did my job.’

“The pilot program, called T.R.U.E. (Truthfulness to oneself and others, Respect toward the community, Understanding ourselves and what brought us here, Elevating into success) was set up [early this year] for about 70 18- to 25-year-old offenders at the prison. …

“The pilot program started with a visit to Germany, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, Vera Institute of Justice President Nicholas Turner toured prisons there.

” ‘We saw people behind bars who had keys to their own cells, cells [they] decorated themselves,’ Turner said. ‘They wore their own street clothes and they cooked their own meals and they worked in the community. People who were there left better off than they had come in.’ …

” ‘This population of 18- to 25-year-olds is responsible for 25 percent of the incidents that we respond to within our correctional institutions,’ Cheshire Warden Scott Erfe said.

“Erfe said approximately 100 correction staff over three shifts will work in the unit, and that workers have taken three weeks of training on human development and behavioral impact, motivational interviewing, mediation and conflict resolution for young offenders, trauma-informed interventions for young adult offenders and family engagement.

“The program includes work on life skills, educational assistance, team-building exercises and family assistance.

” ‘Although this unit is still in its infancy, it is clear that this has a chance to be something truly special,’ Erfe said.” More here.

I particularly like the “U” of T.R.U.E. I believe a lack of self-knowledge probably underlies most of the world’s problems, not just incarceration rates.

Photo: Lauren Schneiderman / Hartford Courant
Inmates talk to Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy about a rehabilitation program at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Mentors work with offenders between the ages 18-25 to both make facilities safer and prevent young adults from returning to prison.

Photo: Biosphoto/Ardea/Caters News Agency
New energy generator may not be as attractive as a tree, but it’s also not as noisy as a standard wind turbine.

While you and I are just bopping along following our familiar routines, it’s reassuring to know that inventors are out there inventing.

Victoria Woollaston writes for the Daily Mail about one inventor who may help reduce global warming by making the use of wind turbines more widespread.

She says, “Monstrous, noisy conventional wind turbines may soon be a thing of the past thanks to tree-shaped wind turbines being installed in Paris. …

“French company ‘New Wind’ is installing the first at Place de la Concorde in Paris and is hoping to expand throughout the country and abroad. The 26ft (8 metre) trees are fitted with 63 aeroleaves. Each one uses tiny blades inside the ‘leaves’ and can generate electricity in wind speeds as low as 4.5mph (7km/h), and regardless of the wind’s direction. …

“The company’s founder, Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, hopes the trees can be used to exploit small air currents flowing along buildings and streets, and could eventually be installed in people’s backgardens and urban centres. …

“The trees are also silent, so sound pollution would not be an issue — a major improvement from past designs. The trees currently retail at £23,500 ($33,670).

” ‘The idea came to me in a square where I saw the leaves tremble when there was not a breath of air,’ said Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, the founder of the Parisian start-up. …

“In the future Mr Michaud-Larivière hopes to develop a ‘perfect’ tree that has leaves with natural fibres, roots that could generate geothermal energy and ‘bark’ covered with photosensitive cells.”

Readers can probably guess what I love most about this invention: “The trees can be used to exploit small air currents flowing along buildings and streets.”  That sure fits with my mantra about small things adding up: “One and one and 50 make a million.” (Line adapted from Pete Seeger’s “One Man’s Hands.”)

More at the Daily Mail, here.

Hard to believe, I know, but some things have gotten better. Take accessibility. When my father was disabled by a stroke in the 1950s, there were few supports for families. There were no ramps, no specialized bathrooms at highway rest stops, no programs to teach the afflicted new ways to be independent. People with disabilities were mostly on their own.

Today, there are interpreters for the deaf who are as dramatic and interesting as anything being interpreted, there are kneeling buses and building regulations that incorporate universal design precepts (ramps, wide doors for wheelchairs, high toilet seats, grab bars), and more.

The other day when my husband and I watched a Disney film on Netflix, we even discovered that someone with vision impairment could get all the images narrated.

And here’s another new angle: a contemporary museum is using virtual reality to enable folks in wheelchairs to see an otherwise inaccessible exhibit. Steven Overly at the Washington Post has the story.

“The magic of the ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit begins as soon as the door is closed behind you. Surrounded by mirrors on all sides, visitors find themselves at the center of a seemingly endless plain filled with brightly colored lights and geometric sculptures.

“But curators at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the exhibit is on display until May 14, faced an early challenge: how to re-create that magic for visitors in wheelchairs. …

“Drew Doucette, who oversees multimedia and technology initiatives at the Hirshhorn, thought immediately of virtual reality. …

“The Renwick Gallery, National Museum of Natural History and other Smithsonian Institution sites have created virtual experiences in the past, often with the goal of extending the exhibit to people or students who may not be able to visit in person. The ‘Infinity Mirrors’ exhibit marks the first time any have used virtual reality to make an exhibit accessible to those with disabilities, [Beth Ziebarth, director of the Smithsonian’s Accessibility Program] said.

“The wildly popular art exhibit is spread across six portable rooms, each filled with objects created by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. …

“But in three of the rooms, visitors must walk through 30-inch doorways and onto platforms less than four feet wide to achieve the full experience. …

“It took roughly four months to plan and design the Infinity Mirrors virtual reality experience on Unity, a program typically used to build video games, Doucette said. …

“ ‘We essentially had to take a step back from trying to recreate the rooms and get into the head of Kusama and say, “What was she trying to do? How did she end up using mirrors?” ‘ Doucette said.” Read more.

Photo: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
Volunteer Megan Walline experiences the installation “Infinity Mirrored Room — All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC.

Photo: Graeme Richardson / Ice Music

And speaking of ice hotels, you might want to try an ice concert one of these days. That is, if you get yourself as far north as Swedish Lapland (also known as “the world’s best place for experiencing the Northern Lights“).

Tod Perry writes at Good that ice instruments have an ephemeral quality that is reminiscent of Buddhist mandelas.

“Tibetan Buddhists have a tradition of making elaborate artwork out of colored sand and, upon its completion, blowing it all into a river. The ritual is to show their belief in the transitory nature of life.

“On the other side of the world, a man [from Colorado who is working] in Sweden has created another form of temporary art by making music out of ice. Twenty years ago, Tim Linhart made his first ‘ICEstrument’ on a snowy mountaintop and his obsession led him to create an entire frozen orchestra and chamber hall.

“In Lulea, Sweden, [the ice sculptor] has made his own igloo concert hall where musicians perform with string and percussion instruments made of ice.

“One of the major problems with conducting an ice orchestra is that the instruments eventually fall out of tune due to body heat from the performers and audience. This has led Linhart to create a unique venting system in his ice theater that filters the body heat out of the igloo.

“Linhart’s ice instruments have a beautiful sound that play on our deep connection to water.

” ‘The ice instrument is made of frozen water, we’re made of melted water. And that physical connection opens the door for a spiritual connection,’ he says.”

Read more at Good, here.

Photo: Book and Bed Tokyo

As you may know, there are hotels made of ice and vacation accommodations in tree houses and tiny houses, but have you heard that in Tokyo, you can bed down in a bookshelf?

As Dominique Mosbergen reports at the Huffington Post, “There’s nothing better than cozying up in bed with a good book … or, as in the case of this Japanese hostel, a few thousand of them.

“Book and Bed is a small, 30-bed hostel in Tokyo where guests sleep in snug little cubbies hidden behind library shelves laden with books. (The word ‘snug’ may even be generous here, as the larger of the two room offerings measures just 6 by 4 feet).”

The hostel’s website is honest, Mosbergen reports. “ ‘The perfect setting for a good night’s sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets,’ the establishment warns. …

” ‘What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book). An experience shared by everyone at least once — the blissful “instant of falling asleep.” It is already 2 a.m. but you think just a little more … with heavy drooping eyelids you continue reading’ …

“It costs upwards of $34 a night to stay at Book and Bed. Each room comes with a simple mattress and reading light. There’s also free Wi-Fi.” More here.

As much as I love to read, I’m not sure I’m adventurous enough to sleep in a bookshelf. If I ever go to Japan, a traditional ryokan would probably have more appeal.

Shakespeare continues to make headlines, working his magic on people from all walks of life — prisoners, refugee children, veterans, and more.

Recently, New York Times reporter Laura Collins-Hughes interviewed an Army veteran who found Shakespeare helped him over a trauma and who now uses the Bard to help other veterans.

Collins-Hughes writes, “Stephan Wolfert was drunk when he hopped off an Amtrak train somewhere in Montana, toting a rucksack of clothes and a cooler stocked with ice, peanut butter, bread and Miller High Life — bottles, not cans. It was 1991, he was 24, and he had recently seen his best friend fatally wounded in a military training exercise.

“His mind in need of a salve, he went to a play: ‘Richard III,’ the story of a king who was also a soldier. In Shakespeare’s words, he heard an echo of his own experience, and though he had been raised to believe that being a tough guy was the only way to be a man, something cracked open inside him.

“ ‘I was sobbing,’ Mr. Wolfert, now 50 and an actor, said recently over coffee in Chelsea. ‘I didn’t know you could have emotions out loud.’

“That road-to-Damascus moment — not coming to Jesus, but coming to Shakespeare — is part of the story that Mr. Wolfert tells in his solo show, ‘Cry Havoc!’ … Taking its title from Mark Antony’s speech over the slain Caesar in ‘Julius Caesar,’ it intercuts Mr. Wolfert’s own memories with text borrowed from Shakespeare. Decoupling those lines from their plays, Mr. Wolfert uses them to explore strength and duty, bravery and trauma, examining what it is to be in the military and what it is to carry that experience back into civilian life. …

“To Mr. Wolfert, who teaches controlled methods of accessing charged memories, the need to retool a lethal skill set for civilian life is a vital task that the military leaves people to figure out on their own.

“ ‘That’s something that we hold uniquely, I think, as veterans,’ he told [a] class. ‘We know what we’re capable of — even for the so-called peacetime or Cold War vets. The training’s still there. And I don’t care if you’re a clerk typist. You still fired a weapon at a human silhouette.’

“This, he believes, is where Shakespeare can prove an ally: as a means to understand trauma, and to start coming back from it.”

More at the NY Times, here. For more on Wolpert, check out a Shakespeare & Co. interview from last summer, here.

Photo: Folger Theatre
Actor Stephan Wolfert in 2014, performing his one-man show Cry “Havoc!” at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. The line is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Photo: Military Friends Foundation
Joining the Tough Ruck marathon means carrying a heavy load for 26.2 miles to raise money for the fallen and injured and their families. Acknowledged by the Boston Marathon.

I was out for my ordinary walk on Saturday when I soon realized I was accidentally in the way of a new kind of marathoner: soldiers carrying heavy rucksacks on their backs. They were pushing hard as they were at mile 25 of a 26.2-mile marathon.

The signs saying “Tough Ruck” didn’t tell me much, so when I got home, I looked on Google to see what this was all about.

From the website: “We are a group of military and civilians whose sole purpose is to Ruck in honor and in memory of our Fallen Service Members, Police, Firefighters and EMTs, while raising funds to support military families in times of need.

“We will walk a 26.2 mile course with our Rucks.  Military Friends Foundation is proud to announce the continuation of our partnership with the Boston Athletic Association, the National Park Service and the Old Manse for 2017.

“On April 15, 2013, the Tough Ruck members were at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and joined the first responders to help those that were injured by the horrific blasts. They truly exemplify the best of what our Nation is. …

“Each year Ruckers are awarded the first of the official Boston Marathon Medals and receive recognition from the Boston Athletic Association.

“Tough Ruck participants are made up of any member of the Armed Forces currently serving, Veterans, First Responders, or Civilians. This extends across borders and is an open invite to our allied brothers and sisters around the world.
Regardless of a Rucker’s branch of service, rank, or position, each Rucker is a person who has volunteered to band together and do something to honor our Fallen Soldiers. …

“Ruckers push themselves and are an exemplar of drive, determination, and motivation. We ask each Rucker to push him or herself to their max potential and NEVER GIVE UP. Ruckers leave all egos, negative attitudes, and apathy at the start line. You are a member of a team. …

“When you register you will be asked to select one of three a divisions.  Ruck sacks will be weighed in prior to the start time and immediately after crossing the finish line.  You will NOT be permitted to ruck if your ruck sack does not weigh in at a minimum of 15 pounds.

“Military Division – Open to all active military and veterans and retirees.  Each Rucker will wear a: blouse, trousers, safety belt, regulation issued boots, and a ruck/assault pack/regulation pack issued by branch of service.  The minimum weight in the military division is 35 pounds.

“Heavy Weight Division – Ruckers in the heavy weight division will carry a minimum of 35 pounds at weigh in and at the finish line.

“Light Weight Division – Ruckers in the light weight division will carry a minimum of 15 pounds at weigh in and at the finish line.”

I didn’t realize something was up until I heard people clapping and cheering them on outside the Colonial Inn. I love the symbolism of sharing a heavy burden.

Read more here.