Daily Archives: July 7, 2011

The college at San Quentin prison. And a brave Marine tells her story

One of the benefits of sitting in NYC traffic most of Thursday… caught up on a bunch of NPR stories on my iPod. Here are two worth your time.

As we get closer and closer to the 2012 election, I’m sure we’ll be hearing the old GOP bromides about how we need to get “tough on crime,” and keep prisoners locked up forever, yada yada yada.
I truly think there’s an element of people in America who believe that those who are convicted of crimes, and are in prison for a long time, don’t deserve any rights, or should have any chance of improving themselves.
But check out what’s going on at the infamous San Quentin prison in California. A few years ago prison officials allowed for the formation of a college program that would allow inmates to work toward their degree.
And whaddayaknow, it’s been a hit. Violence at the prison is down. Inmates say that having something to work toward, and having something to fill their mind with during the interminable days, has been a tremendous help.
I know this is not a one of a kind program, but if inmates can be rehabilitated at San Quentin through education, which we know is the magic bullet for so many of the world’s problems, why can’t this work everywhere?

**The last female soldier who became famous nationally (in a good way) was Jessica Lynch, back at the start of the “War on Terror,” and if you remember it turned out that large portions of her heroic story were not true.

But here’s a story I feel pretty confident you can believe in. Jess Goodell enlisted in the Marines after graduating high school in 2001, and in 2004 she volunteered to be in the first regiment devoted to Mortuary Affairs in Iraq. What that basically means is that Goodell and her unit went to scenes where soldiers had been killed, and were tasked with unspeakably horrible jobs, like matching limbs to soldiers who’d lost them, and inventorying everything they had on them when they were killed.

I first heard about Goodell recently on this remarkably moving NPR interview she did with Terry Gross. She talks about the sexual harassment she suffered as a female Marine, how a person can steel themselves, day after day, to deal with the smell of rotting flesh, and how traumatized she was upon returning home. In a calm, dispassionate tone, she talks about how when the Mortuary Affairs unit would draw a diagram trying to match up body parts with a soldier, any part they couldn’t find they would “shade it black.”

I can’t imagine living life through her eyes, after what she’s seen. Goodell’s got a new book out called “Shade it Black.” You can listen to Terry Gross’ interview with Goodell here, and read an excerpt from the book there as well.

I highly, highly recommend the interview. Goodell’s story is one that everyone should hear, because it brings to light a rarely-spotlighted part of the military. What a brave, brave woman.