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'Corrections' tells us more than we want to know, but things we must know

September 25 2022
Elisabeth Sherwin -- ensherwin@gmail dot com

Of course I loved this memoir, it was written by a journalist.

Keri Blakinger also was an award-winning figure skater, a young woman with an eating discorder, a junkie and a prostitute.

Ultimately, she was an inmate.

That's the main part of her book, "Corrections in Ink," and the part that I found the most compelling. Life behind bars.

She sums it up perfectly with this observation late in her two years of incarceration: "The whole premise of prison began to seem absurd -- locking hundreds of traumatized and damaged women in together and threatening them constantly with additional punishments is not rehabilitation. It is not corrections. It is not public safety. It is a systematic failure."

It is impossible to argue with that statement, everyone knows it is true.

And Blakinger does something about it upon her release -- she becomes a journalist specializing in criminal justice. As much as one person can make changes, she is doing just that. But at what a cost.

This white woman from an upper-class family, this academically gifted student at Cornell University, this young woman full of promise lost everything in less than a decade of self-destruction. But I suppose you could make the argument that prison worked. Blakinger got sober, stopped the drug life, and went straight.

Most of the inmates she knew would not do that.

"I came into this with a lot of trauma but also with a lot of privilege. Yes, I had the willingness to move on and change, but also the tools to do so."

She got her first newspaper job in Ithaca (writing about jail) and then moved to Texas.

"After I got out and became a reporter covering prisons, I discovered that the conditions in Southern lockups were far worse than any I’d seen in New York. Desperate prisoners complained of bad medical care, unidentifiable food, contaminated water, guards who planted contraband and cells so hot that people baked to death. From the letters they sent me, I knew that some of them were wondering the same thing I’d wondered a decade earlier: Does the outside world care? When courts again and again rule against prisoners seeking the most basic of things — hand sanitizer, dentures, human contact -- often it seems that the answer is no, at least not in this country." Blakinger wrote this in a column "Inside Out" published in collaboration with NBC News.

She is now a reporter for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit online journalism organization focusing on issues related to criminal justice in the United States.

Hats off to you, Keri.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at ensherwin@gmail.com

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