This past Saturday, Sister Helen Prejean (pronounced “pray-jah”) spoke at a dinner for Vermont Dismas, the organization that provides housing in several locations around the state for men and women coming out of jail. Perhaps best known for her book, Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen has spent her life advocating on behalf of poor people and against the death penalty. Dead Man Walking is the story of her experience with a man on death row, whom she corresponded with, then served as spiritual advisor, and finally accompanied to his death. It was made into a film, a play, and an opera.
Chair, VCJR Advisory Council
“Obviously we’ve really got no say in the matter, we can only file paperwork until it falls on a person’s desk who cares and has the want and capability to do something. Although I’ve been told by the older cats not to hold my breath, I’ve got to do something to feel like I’m trying to better the situation.” – Earl
What are we to make of Governor Shumlin's recent focus on opiate addiction in his state-of-the-state address? On the one hand we have the admirable proposal to treat addiction as a public health issue. No argument there; all evidence points to recovery from addiction as a process, as it is from every other illness. On the other hand, the proposal comes embedded in get-tough-on-crime assurances that have troubling echoes.
Piper Kerman was in Vermont today, to talk with the women at the South Burlington prison this afternoon and with students at UVM tonight. She’s the author of Orange is the New Black, her powerful memoir of a year spent in federal prison in Danbury, CT.
The highly regarded Netflix series based on the book will begin its second season on June 6.
Over lunch with a few of us today at August First, Piper talked about what we need to do to fix this broken criminal justice system—particularly sentencing reform (especially of drug laws), and better representation of public defendants. We agree! The evidence is overwhelming that harsh sentencing practices have no positive impact on public safety or individuals’ lives, and waste taxpayers’ money besides. And public defenders are notoriously overworked, with caseloads that sometimes leave them only minutes to meet with a client before entering the courtroom.
We’re so grateful to Piper for sharing her story with us, in her book and in person, especially at the women’s prison, where the turnout filled the gym. And we’re excited that she’ll be back to do a fundraiser for us later in the year! Keep a look-out!