Jun 02, 2014 12:59 AM GMT
NYT: Otisville Correctional Facility is a medium-security state prison, 79 miles northwest of Manhattan, on the site of a former tuberculosis sanitarium — with an equalizing element of portent, near the town of Mount Hope. Many of its prisoners are serving life sentences; they are men whom time, as one guard put it “has mellowed out.” Nearby, but unrelated, is the Otisville federal prison, named by Forbes Magazine as one of America’s “cushiest” incarcerators. Observers have likened it to a college, which is not an analogy you would easily draw at the state prison, where inmates rely largely on encyclopedias for the retrieval of information, in volumes that look as if they were last current when the nation was debating the merits of Dan Quayle.
Still, an intellectual firmament has taken hold. On a recent afternoon, 10 men gathered under the tutelage of Baz Dreisinger, a professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, to share some of their writing and to talk about the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” One of the students, Theron Smith, serving time on a second-degree murder conviction, noted that Freire’s work called to mind Hegel and the theory of double consciousness. Mr. Smith is an avid consumer of sociological texts; his longtime friend Rowland Davis, next to him in class that day, has immersed himself in theology. Another student had been creating an elaborately illustrated graphic novel.