Out of Sight, Out of Mind | Letters | Salt Lake City Weekly

Out of Sight, Out of Mind 

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind
I watch from the small window of my cell as the city creeps closer to the perimeter of this prison, day by day and year by year, a car lot here and an apartment complex there, inching closer and closer.

This state has justifiably cast us out to serve some sort of sentence, but has neglected to institute means for us to pursue some form of redemption.

So, I sit and wonder, confined to silence. How can we pursue redemption, let alone achieve it, wasting away as we are left to do in here? This is a question that our communities, government and correctional system should be asking and addressing. But society and its criminal-justice system have lost sight of the "correctional" purpose of its penal system(s), substituting it for a mentality of "out of sight, out of mind."

The Department of Corrections, with the support of the state legislature and coaxing of the city of Draper, is planning to spend nearly $600 million in taxpayer dollars to relocate the Utah State Prison to an as-yet-undetermined location. This colossal building has been deemed a blight upon the vista of the rapidly expanding and increasingly economically exclusive city of Draper. It must go, it seems, whatever the cost or consequence.

As the population of the greater Salt Lake Valley expands at an exponential rate, upscale development of Draper is inevitable, and the site of the prison is unfortunately situated on some of the most prime real estate in the area, surrounded by scenic mountains, businesses, homes and a streamlined infrastructure. This land, it is speculated, could easily bring in billions of revenue into the city and state's (and individual investors') coffers!

Why is our society more concerned with never-ending development than it is with the improvement of its own proletariat? Maybe we believe that casting out our "less than desirables" and confining them within warehouses of concrete and barbed wire is a punishment that will somehow result in independently realized rehabilitation. But what about those of us who have never been adequately "habilitated" in the first place, due to our parents' failures, our schools' inabilities to reach every student's needs, communal indifference or a lack of fundamental resources?

Maybe we expect felons to pick up a book and discover the differences between right and wrong, how to treat others and how to live righteously. But many of these convicts cannot even read at a high school level, and we come from many different cultures and/or religious backgrounds.

We have chosen to defer our responsibilities to the men and women who have sought employment within our various departments of "corrections." Most of these commendable employees haven't achieved much beyond a high school education, and lack the skills needed to work with volatile personalities. We also ignore nepotistic hiring practices and financial corruption within our priceless penal jewel, and disregard contemptible recidivism rates.

But it's possible that our noble society has finally figured out the secret to rehabilitation after all: We hide our shame far away from the sight, outrage and compassion of the rest of us. That is, of course, until we can't help but impose upon these places of confinement in our neverending pursuit of an American Dream of more and more.

So it appears that real-estate investors, contractors and for-profit politicians have finally got it right. Rehabilitate the spaces in which we want to expand, and leave the human redemption malarkey to those we deem no longer deserving of it.

Phillip Leishman
Utah State Prison

Correction: The article "Corporation Courtship" [Sept. 25, City Weekly] should have stated that 60 percent of the businesses receiving corporate income tax breaks are already Utah-based companies.

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