27 July 2011


In the United States, one out of one hundred adults resides in prison. No other nation on earth incarcerates such a high proportion of its citizens. The ostensible goals for imprisonment are punishment and rehabilitation. The punishment goal is met many times over for each inmate, in the form of prison overcrowding, cruel and violent living conditions, a poor diet, and isolation from the loved ones who might bring a touch of humanity to an inmate's life.

The rehabilitation goal has never been seriously undertaken in any meaningful, systematic way. Counseling is spotty to nonexistent. Prison libraries are stocked with obsolete and irrelevant books. The only training programs widely in use are those which serve the immediate needs of the criminal justice system ~ cheap labor, busy work, facility maintenance. In reality, prison is a very effective crime school. Someone incarcerated for a minor, victimless offense suddenly has access to those who murder, steal, extort, or otherwise perform and teach a wide range of felonies. A very, very few inmates are able to earn their high school equivalency degree (G.E.D.), and almost none are able to take college courses to better their lives upon release.

Until now. As reported on the PBS Newshour, Bard College has established a B.A. program in the New York State prison system, affording inmates access to the same rigorous education available at any Ivy League school. Rather than offering specialized degrees in fields which may be obsolete within a year or two, the program's emphasis is on a broader liberal arts education which "develops the student's rational thought and intellectual capacities. And inmates are eager for the opportunity. There are so many applicants that for now, only one in ten is admitted to the program. The inmate students have proven to be intellectually ambitious and deeply invested in their education. They read more thoroughly, think more deeply, and ask more penetrating questions than their younger counterparts on college campuses. And once they graduate, they put their training to use in the outside world, becoming engaged and productive citizens. In Part II of the report, a graduate of the Bard prison program returns to share his success story with former fellow classmates, and employers positively evaluate the quality of prison graduates.

I've worked with incarcerated felons, both juveniles and adults. I've seen how horribly the system has failed them, over and over. Most inmates, given half a chance and a bit of respect, rise to the challenge and seek to better themselves, even in the barbaric conditions of today's prisons. The Bard College initiative is a model for the nation. To read the transcript or view the eleven minute segment, click here.

So what, I hear you asking, do the letters G.I.F. or gif signify? Literally, the acronym stands for Graphics Interchange Format, an image format that supports simple color animations. gif has become increasingly popular online, especially at social network websites. It is also used in games, line art, and low-resolution illustrations. Below are an example of gif art. Note the repetitive motion, not unlike a closed-loop film clip. And here is a collection of gifs called cinemagraphs. My favorite is a park scene in which passersby are apparently frozen in position, like a photography, except for the solitary man sitting and flipping through his newspaper. Alas, since this website does not allow importation of gifs, please click on the gif link above for more examples. Enjoy.

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