December 1, 2013

Letters to the editor: Even prison students deserve praise

The newspaper should applaud their efforts, not dwell on their crimes.

As a faculty member who teaches at the Maine State Prison, I was warmed and touched by the graduation ceremony Nov. 4.

click image to enlarge

Maine State Prison inmate Sergio Hairston hugs philanthropist Doris Buffett after receiving a diploma from the University of Maine at Augusta during a ceremony Nov. 4 at the state correctional institution in Warren. Buffett, the sister of Warren Buffett, founded the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which supports educating inmates across the United States.

2013 Kennebec Journal File Photo/Andy Molloy

Fourteen men graduated with college degrees, thanks to the generosity of Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation. Commencement is the culmination of years of academic work, and academics at the prison is challenged by life behind razor wire, life in an environment often wracked by violence.

I know how hard incarcerated students work, to find space to think, to concentrate on reading, to order library books, get computer time to write papers. They are some of the most dedicated and diligent students I have known.

For all this, from a personal level (not necessarily representative of the University of Maine at Augusta), I was disappointed that the Press Herald coverage reported little on the achievements, and instead on the crimes committed by two profiled students (“Maine prison inmates receive UMA degrees,” Nov. 5).

My sympathies go out to the victims and families of the victims affected by the crimes these men committed. Their punishment is incarceration, sentences determined by a judge.

Now these men are trying to change. With knowledge, they will be productive brothers, sons, partners and parents. They will contribute to society within prison, and beyond when released.

Rather than focus on the commencement speaker, Dr. T. Richard Snyder, the students’ heartfelt remarks, the joy of the families and pride of faculty members, the generosity of Doris Buffett, this reporter decided to report on the past. Instead of reporting on the gold cords showing students’ honors status, the reporter printed information available to anyone who can type “Google” and two names. Is this journalism?

Readers deserve more. To read about crime and punishment, just turn the page. To read about rehabilitation, redemption and hope, that’s another story. Maybe one day, some journalist will cover it.

Ellen Taylor

Appleton

Nuclear pact with Iran nothing to cheer about

Sept. 30, 1938: The Munich Pact. Aug. 23, 1939: The Hitler-Stalin Pact. And now Nov. 24, 2013: An “agreement with Iran.”

I recently watched the movie “Judgment at Nuremberg”; a chill went through me because no one was able to stand up and say “no” to fascism. There are troubling similarities in history to the recent agreement with Iran.

Governments enter into agreements hoping to slow the tide of threat and aggression. Citizens claim no knowledge of events or responsibility for poor outcomes. History clearly shows that most of these agreements are at best a naive process to claim political cover and do nothing to eliminate a threat or dissuade aggression. Remember the North Korean agreement to halt their nuclear weapons program?

As citizens we sit by and hope, accept or even submit to political decisions, treaties and/or pacts that do nothing more than give a false sense of security.

John Kerry stated we have six months but the actual language gives Iran one year to comply. We cannot accept such a weak pact! We must say “no” unless there is actual elimination of existing and future nuclear weapons infrastructure and development in Iran as a first step to multinational acceptance of the elimination of such programs throughout the world.

We have an agreement with Syria, and already the program to eliminate chemical weapons there has failed. Yes, failed. And yet we enter into another agreement.

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