Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get your boycott shoes on

“The mind of a bigot to the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it contracts.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

WE'RE already boycotting all things Indiana, right? As you probably have heard, the Arkansas State Legislature just passed a similar "religious freedom" law, and Republican governor Asa Hutchinson has indicated he will sign it. If he does, I recommend a no-holds-barred boycott of WalMartEven though its CEO, Doug McMillon, is urging the governor to veto the bill, as the big gorilla in the state, the more pain WalMart feels, the more they'll hammer the legislature. 

(It will difficult for Paul and me to boycott WalMart cuz' we already don't shop there in protest of the crummy way the company treats employees.) Below find a New York Times article from today.

Bills on ‘Religious Freedom’ Upset Capitols in Arkansas and Indiana
By Campbell Robertson and Richard Perez-Pena
March 31, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas legislature on Tuesday passed its version of a bill described by proponents as a religious freedom law, even as Indiana’s political leaders struggled to gain control over a growing backlash that has led to calls to boycott the state because of criticism that its law could be a vehicle for discrimination against gay couples.

The Arkansas bill now goes to the state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, who expressed reservations about an earlier version but more recently said he would sign the measure if it “reaches my desk in similar form as to what has been passed in 20 other states.” But the bill already faces a significant corporate backlash, including from Doug McMillon, the chief executive of Walmart, the state’s largest corporation, who said Tuesday afternoon that Mr. Hutchinson should veto it.

In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence was in a difficult spot trying to satisfy both the business interests that have threatened to punish the state for its law as well as the conservatives who fought for the measure and do not want to see it diluted.

Mr. Pence has said he wants to modify the law, but he has not indicated how he could do so without undermining it. He rejected claims that it would allow private businesses to deny service to gay men and lesbians and said the criticism was based on a “perception problem” that additional legislation could fix.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses the right to discriminate against anyone,” Mr. Pence, a Republican, said at a news conference in Indianapolis.

He acknowledged that the law had become a threat to the state’s reputation and economy, with companies and organizations signaling that they would avoid Indiana in response. Mr. Pence said he had been on the phone with business leaders from around the country, adding, “We want to make it clear that Indiana’s open for business.”

The bill in Arkansas is similar to the Indiana law, with both diverging in certain respects from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That act was passed in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, Arkansas’s most famous political son.

But the political context has changed widely since then. The law was spurred by an effort to protect Native Americans in danger of losing their jobs because of religious ceremonies that involved an illegal drug, peyote. Now the backdrop is often perceived to be the cultural division over same-sex marriage.

Both states’ laws allow for larger corporations, if they are substantially owned by members with strong religious convictions, to claim that a ruling or mandate violates their religious faith, something reserved for individuals or family businesses in other versions of the law. Both allow religious parties to go to court to head off a “likely” state action that they fear will impinge on their beliefs, even if it has not yet happened.

The Arkansas act contains another difference in wording, several legal experts said, that could make it harder for the government to override a claim of religious exemption. The state, according to the Arkansas bill, must show that a law or requirement that someone is challenging is “essential” to the furtherance of a compelling governmental interest, a word that is absent from the federal law and those in other states, including Indiana.



The Arkansas bill was passed by the state legislature on Tuesday and now goes to the governor. Sources: Human Rights Campaign; National Conference of State Legislatures; American Civil Liberties Union

“It has way too broad an application,” said John DiPippa, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock law school, who had spoken before the legislature in 2011 on behalf of a narrower and ultimately unsuccessful version of the bill. “I never anticipated or supported applying it to for-profit companies and certainly never anticipated it applying to actions outside of government.”

Though Arkansas has now joined Indiana as a target of criticism from businesses, condemnation of Indiana’s law continued to grow.

Days before the N.C.A.A. is to hold the men’s basketball Final Four in Indianapolis, the group’s president, Mark Emmert, said Tuesday that the new law “strikes at the core values of what higher education in America is all about.” The city’s mayor, Greg Ballard, a Republican, and the state Chamber of Commerce have called on lawmakers to change the statute.

Business executives, notably leaders of tech companies like Apple and Yelp, have spoken out against the law, and Angie’s List cited it in canceling plans to expand its facilities in Indianapolis. Entertainers have canceled tour dates in the state, a gaming convention is considering going elsewhere and the governors of Connecticut, New York and Washington have imposed bans on state-funded travel to Indiana.

On the other hand, likely Republican presidential contenders — prominent among them Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — have supported the law.

Even the White House joined in. “This piece of legislation flies in the face of the kinds of values that people all across the country strongly support,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday at his daily briefing.

Mr. McMillon of Walmart, in a statement, said the bill in Arkansas “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state,” while the chief executive of Acxiom, a marketing technology company based in Little Rock that employs nearly 1,600 statewide, described the bill as “a deliberate vehicle for enabling discrimination.”


Representative Bob Ballinger, right, was among the Arkansas bill’s sponsors. (Hey, they look like a wise and thoughtful bunch, don't they? Redneck yahoos.)

Governor Hutchinson, a pragmatic Republican who ran on a jobs platform, said in an earlier statement that he was “pleased that the legislature is continuing to look at ways to assure balance and fairness in the legislation.”

But with the votes on Tuesday, the decision now lies with him whether this balance has been effectively struck. His office was quiet on Tuesday, with a spokesman declining to comment, though the governor did meet in the morning with Democratic legislators who had concerns about the bill.

The future of similar measures elsewhere remained unclear. In Georgia, where the legislature will adjourn for the year on Thursday, opponents of a pending proposal rallied Tuesday outside the State Capitol. Although the bill’s path has been turbulent — a Monday committee hearing about the measure was canceled — supporters and critics alike said it could be approved in the session’s final hours. North Carolina is far earlier in its debate. Religious freedom proposals surfaced last week in both the House and the Senate, and neither has faced a vote at even the committee level.

In Indiana, lawmakers are expected to go to a conference committee as early as Wednesday morning. They are likely to use an unrelated bill as a vehicle to create the clarification Mr. Pence has requested. Aides to lawmakers said they expected passage to happen as early as Thursday, but it is not certain that a measure acceptable to the legislature will be acceptable to critics.

And supporters of the laws urged political leaders not to bend to pressure. Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said he feared “a capitulation that enshrines homosexual behavior as a special right in Indiana.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said, “The government shouldn’t force religious businesses and churches to participate in wedding ceremonies contrary to their owners’ beliefs.”

Proponents of Arkansas’s bill insisted that there was no intent to discriminate against gays and lesbians, pointing out that there had been several previous attempts to pass such a law well before same-sex marriage came to be seen as nearly inevitable.

“The whole gay issue really was not a big discussion four years ago,” said Jerry Cox, the president of the Family Council, an Arkansas-based lobbying group. “It wasn’t discussed that much two years ago but for whatever reason that has been the focal point of the legislation this time.”

Critics of the law countered that the same legislators who presented this bill sponsored another law earlier in the session that forbids towns and cities to pass their own anti-discrimination ordinances, a law that scuttled ordinances that would have protected gays and lesbians. Mr. Hutchinson did not sign that bill when it came to his desk, but allowed it to become law.

As late as Tuesday afternoon, legislators who opposed the bill in Arkansas were trying to add amendments clarifying that it could not be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians, similar to what political leaders in Indiana are considering. But the sponsors of the legislation refused those amendments during the legislative process and on Tuesday dismissed them as last-minute efforts to kill the bill.

“All the way through this I thought it was unnecessary because of the fact that it didn’t do everything that everybody was saying it was doing,” Representative Bob Ballinger, a Republican and the chief sponsor of the bill, said in the minutes after the bill’s successful passage. “In hindsight maybe I would have done it to maybe avoid all the pain.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

Norway's Halden prison

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." — Fyodor Dostoevsky

I'M SHARING this article from the March 26, 2015 New York Times Magazine in its entirety not because I'm advocating a viewpoint, but as a means of contributing to the discourse about crime and punishment in this country. I'll be honest about a personal bias, though; my fear is that incarceration in the United States is a for-profit industry with so much money at stake that decisions in the best interests of society are unlikely to be made when they run counter to profit-driven motives.

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison
By Jessica Benko
March 26, 2015

Like everything else in Norway, the tw­o-­hour drive southeast from Oslo seemed impossibly civilized. The highways were perfectly maintained and painted, the signs clear and informative and the speed-­monitoring cameras primly intolerant. My destination was the town of Halden, which is on the border with Sweden, straddling a narrow fjord guarded by a 17th-­century fortress. I drove down winding roads flanked in midsummer by rich green fields of young barley and dense yellow carpets of rapeseed plants in full flower. Cows clustered in wood-­fenced pastures next to neat farmsteads in shades of rust and ocher. On the outskirts of town, across from a road parting dark pine forest, the turnoff to Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

Smooth, featureless concrete rose on the horizon like the wall of a dam as I approached; nearly four times as tall as a man, it snaked along the crests of the hills, its top curled toward me as if under pressure. This was the outer wall of Halden Fengsel, which is often called the world’s most humane maximum-­security prison. I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all. It is, of course, but it is also something more: the physical expression of an entire national philosophy about the relative merits of punishment and forgiveness.

The treatment of inmates at Halden is wholly focused on helping to prepare them for a life after they get out. Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years — even for Anders Behring Breivik, who is responsible for probably the deadliest recorded rampage in the world, in which he killed 77 people and injured hundreds more in 2011 by detonating a bomb at a government building in Oslo and then opening fire at a nearby summer camp. “Better out than in” is an unofficial motto of the Norwegian Correctional Service, which makes a reintegration guarantee to all released inmates. It works with other government agencies to secure a home, a job and access to a supportive social network for each inmate before release; Norway’s social safety net also provides health care, education and a pension to all citizens. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products of any country in the world, thanks to the profits from oil production in the North Sea, Norway is in a good position to provide all of this, and spending on the Halden prison runs to more than $93,000 per inmate per year, compared with just $31,000 for prisoners in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.

That might sound expensive. But if the United States incarcerated its citizens at the same low rate as the Norwegians do (75 per 100,000 residents, versus roughly 700), it could spend that much per inmate and still save more than $45 billion a year. At a time when the American correctional system is under scrutiny — over the harshness of its sentences, its overreliance on solitary confinement, its racial disparities — citizens might ask themselves what all that money is getting them, besides 2.2 million incarcerated people and the hardships that fall on the families they leave behind. The extravagant brutality of the American approach to prisons is not working, and so it might just be worth looking for lessons at the opposite extreme, here in a sea of blabaerskog, or blueberry forest.

“This punishment, taking away their freedom — the sign of that is the wall, of course,” Gudrun Molden, one of the Halden prison’s architects, said on a drizzly morning a few days after I arrived. As we stood on a ridge, along with Jan Stromnes, the assistant warden, it was silent but for the chirping of birds and insects and a hoarse fluttering of birch leaves disturbed by the breeze. The prison is secluded from the surrounding farmland by the blueberry woods, which are the native forest of southeastern Norway: blue-­black spruce, slender Scotch pine with red-­tinged trunks and silver-­skinned birches over a dense understory of blueberry bushes, ferns and ­mosses in deep shade. It is an ecosystem that evokes deep nostalgia in Norway, where picking wild berries is a near-­universal summer pastime for families, and where the right to do so on uncultivated land is protected by law.

Norway banned capital punishment for civilians in 1902, and life sentences were abolished in 1981. But Norwegian prisons operated much like their American counterparts until 1998. That was the year Norway’s Ministry of Justice reassessed the Correctional Service’s goals and methods, putting the explicit focus on rehabilitating prisoners through education, job training and therapy. A second wave of change in 2007 made a priority of reintegration, with a special emphasis on helping inmates find housing and work with a steady income before they are even released. Halden was the first prison built after this overhaul, and so rehabilitation became the underpinning of its design process. Every aspect of the facility was designed to ease psychological pressures, mitigate conflict and minimize interpersonal friction. Hence the blueberry forest.

“Nature is a rehabilitation thing now,” Molden said. Researchers are working to quantify the benefits of sunlight and fresh air in treating depression. But Molden viewed nature’s importance for Norwegian inmates as far more personal. “We don’t think of it as a rehabilitation,” she said. “We think of it as a basic element in our growing up.” She gestured to the knoll we stood on and the 12 acres of blabaerskog preserved on the prison grounds, echoing the canopy visible on the far side. Even elsewhere in Europe, most high-­security prison plots are scraped completely flat and denuded of vegetation as security measures. “A lot of the staff when we started out came from other prisons in Norway,” Stromnes said. “They were a little bit astonished by the trees and the number of them. Shouldn’t they be taken away? And what if they climb up, the inmates? As we said, Well, if they climb up, then they can sit there until they get tired, and then they will come down.” He laughed. “Never has anyone tried to hide inside. But if they should run in there, they won’t get very far — they’re still inside.”

“Inside” meant inside the wall. The prison’s defining feature, the wall is visible everywhere the inmates go, functioning as an inescapable reminder of their imprisonment. Because the prison buildings were purposely built to a human scale, with none more than two stories in height and all modest in breadth, the wall becomes an outsize presence; it looms everywhere, framed by the cell windows, shadowing the exercise yards, its pale horizontal spread emphasized by the dark vertical lines of the trees. The two primary responsibilities of the Correctional Service — detention and rehabilitation — are in perpetual tension with each other, and the architects felt that single wall could represent both. “We trusted the wall,” Molden said, to serve as a symbol and an instrument of punishment.

When Molden and her collaborators visited the site in 2002, in preparing for the international competition to design the prison, they spent every minute they were allowed walking around it, trying to absorb the genius loci, the spirit of the place. They felt they should use as much of the site as possible, requiring inmates to walk outside to their daily commitments of school or work or therapy, over uneven ground, up and down hills, traveling to and from home, as they would in the world outside. They wound up arranging the prison’s living quarters in a ring, which we could now see sloping down the hill on either side of us. In the choice of materials, the architects were inspired by the sober palette of the trees, mosses and bedrock all around; the primary building element is kiln-­fired brick, blackened with some of the original red showing through. The architects used silvery galvanized-­steel panels as a “hard” material to represent detention, and untreated larch wood, a low-­maintenance species that weathers from taupe to soft gray, as a “soft” material associated with rehabilitation and growth.

The Correctional Service emphasizes what it calls “dynamic security,” a philosophy that sees interpersonal relationships between the staff and the inmates as the primary factor in maintaining safety within the prison. They contrast this with the approach dominant in high-­security prisons elsewhere in the world, which they call “static security.” Static security relies on an environment designed to prevent an inmate with bad intentions from carrying them out. Inmates at those prisons are watched at a remove through cameras, contained by remote-­controlled doors, prevented from vandalism or weapon-­making by tamper-­proof furniture, encumbered by shackles or officer escorts when moved. Corrections officers there are trained to control prisoners with as little interaction as possible, minimizing the risk of altercation.

Dynamic security focuses on preventing bad intentions from developing in the first place. Halden’s officers are put in close quarters with the inmates as often as possible; the architects were instructed to make the guard stations tiny and cramped, to encourage officers to spend time in common rooms with the inmates instead. The guards socialize with the inmates every day, in casual conversation, often over tea or coffee or meals. Inmates can be monitored via surveillance cameras on the prison grounds, but they often move unaccompanied by guards, requiring a modest level of trust, which the administrators believe is crucial to their progress. Nor are there surveillance cameras in the classrooms or most of the workshops, or in the common rooms, the cell hallways or the cells themselves. The inmates have the opportunity to act out, but somehow they choose not to. In five years, the isolation cell furnished with a limb-­restraining bed has never been used.


The ceramics workshop at Halden Fengsel.

It is tempting to chalk up all this reasonableness to something peculiar in Norwegian socialization, some sort of civility driven core-­deep into the inmates since birth, or perhaps attribute it to their racial and ethnic homogeneity as a group. But in actuality, only around three-­fifths of the inmates are legal Norwegian citizens. The rest have come from more than 30 other countries (mostly in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East) and speak little or no Norwegian; English is the lingua franca, a necessity for the officers to communicate with foreign prisoners.

Of the 251 inmates, nearly half are imprisoned for violent crimes like murder, assault or rape; a third are in for smuggling or selling drugs. Nevertheless, violent incidents and even threats are rare, and nearly all take place in Unit A. It is the prison’s most restrictive unit, housing inmates who require close psychiatric or medical supervision or who committed crimes that would make them unpopular in Units B and C, the prison’s more open “living” cell blocks, where the larger population of inmates mixes during the day for work, schooling and therapy programs.

I met some of the prisoners of Unit A one afternoon in the common room of an eight-­man cell block. I was asked to respect the inmates’ preferences for anonymity or naming, and for their choices in discussing their cases with me. The Norwegian news media does not often identify suspects or convicts by name, so confirming the details of their stories was not always possible. I sat on an orange vinyl couch next to a wooden shelving unit with a few haphazard piles of board games and magazines and legal books. On the other side of the room, near a window overlooking the unit’s gravel yard, a couple of inmates were absorbed in a card game with a guard.

An inmate named Omar passed me a freshly pressed heart-­shaped waffle over my shoulder on a paper plate, interrupting an intense monologue directed at me in excellent English by Chris Giske, a large man with a thick goatee and a shaved head who was wearing a heavy gold chain over a T-­shirt that strained around his barrel-­shaped torso.

“You have heard about the case? Sigrid?” Giske asked me. “It’s one of the biggest cases in Norway.”

In 2012, a 16-­year-­old girl named Sigrid Schjetne vanished while walking home one night, and her disappearance gripped the country. Her body was found a month later, and Giske’s conviction in the case made him one of the most reviled killers in Norwegian history.

He explained to me that he asked to transfer out of Unit A, but that officials declined to move him. “They don’t want me in prison,” he said. “They want me in the psychiatric thing. I don’t know why.”

He was denied the transfer, I was later told, partly because of a desire not to outrage the other inmates, and partly because of significant concern over his mental health — and his history of unprovoked extreme violence against young women unfortunate enough to cross his path. Giske had previously spent two years in prison after attacking a woman with a crowbar. This time, there was disagreement among doctors over whether he belonged in a hospital or in prison. Until the question was settled, he was the responsibility of the staff at Halden. It was not the first, second or even third casual meal I had shared with a man convicted of murder since I arrived at the beginning of the week, but it was the first time I felt myself recoil on instinct. (After my visit, Giske was transferred to a psychiatric institution.)

Omar handed me a vacuum-­sealed slice of what appeared to be flexible plastic, its wrapper decorated with a drawing of cheerful red dairy barns.

“It’s fantastic!” he exclaimed. “When you are in Norway, you must try this! The first thing I learned, it was this. Brown cheese.”

According to the packaging, brown cheese is one of the things that “make Norwegians Norwegians,” a calorie-­dense fuel of fat and sugar salvaged from whey discarded during the cheese-­making process, which is cooked down for half a day until all that remains are caramelized milk sugars in a thick, sticky residue. With enthusiastic encouragement from the inmates, I peeled open the packaging and placed the glossy square on my limp waffle, following their instructions to fold the waffle as you would a taco, or a New York slice. To their great amusement, I winced as I tried to swallow what tasted to me like a paste of spray cheese mixed with fudge.

Another guard walked in and sat down next to me on the couch. “It’s allowed to say you don’t like it,” she said.

Are Hoidal, the prison’s warden, laughed from the doorway behind us and accepted his third waffle of the day. He had explained to me earlier, in response to my raised eyebrows, that in keeping with the prison’s commitment to “normalcy,” even the inmates in this block gather once a week to partake of waffles, which are a weekly ritual in most Norwegian homes.



At Halden, some inmates train for cooking certificates in the prison’s professional-­grade kitchen classroom, where I was treated to chocolate mousse presented in a wineglass, a delicate nest of orange zest curled on top. But most of the kitchen activity is more ordinary. I never entered a cell block without receiving offers of tea or coffee, an essential element of even the most basic Norwegian hospitality, and was always earnestly invited to share meals. The best meal I had in Norway — spicy lasagna, garlic bread and a salad with sun-­dried tomatoes — was made by an inmate who had spent almost half of his 40 years in prison. “Every time, you make an improvement,” he said of his cooking skills.

When I first met the inmates of C8, a special unit focused on addiction recovery, they were returning to their block laden with green nylon reusable bags filled with purchases from their weekly visit to the prison grocery shop, which is well ­stocked, carrying snacks and nonperishables but also a colorful assortment of produce, dairy products and meat. The men piled bags of food for communal suppers on the kitchen island on one side of their common room and headed back to their cells with personal items — fruit, soda, snacks, salami — to stash in their minifridges.

I met Tom, an inmate in his late 40s, as he was unpacking groceries on the counter: eggs, bacon, bread, cream, onions, tomato sauce, ground beef, lettuce, almonds, olives, frozen shrimp. Tom had a hoarse voice and a graying blond goatee, and his sleeveless basketball jersey exposed an assortment of tattoos decorating thick arms. His head was shaved smooth, with “F___ the Police” inked in cursive along the right side of his skull; the left side said “RESPECT” in inch-­tall letters. A small block of text under his right eye was blacked out, and under his left eye was “666.” A long seam ran up the back of his neck and scalp, a remnant of a high-speed motorcycle accident that left him in a coma the last time he was out of prison.

“You are alone now, yeah?” Tom nodded toward the room behind me. I turned around to look.

There were maybe eight inmates around — playing a soccer video game on the modular couch, folding laundry dried on a rack in the corner by large windows overlooking the exercise yard, dealing cards at the dining table — but no guards. Tom searched my face for signs of alarm. The convictions represented among this group included murder, weapons possession and assault.

I was a little surprised, but I stayed nonchalant. I might have expected a bit more supervision — perhaps a quick briefing on safety protocol and security guidelines — but the guards could see us through the long windows of their station, sandwiched between the common rooms of C7 and C8. It was the first of many times I would be left alone with inmates in a common room or in a cell at the end of a hallway, the staff retreating to make space for candid conversation. “It’s O.K.,” Tom assured me, with what I thought sounded like a hint of pride.

A man named Yassin, the uncontested pastry king of C8, politely motioned for me to move aside so he could get to the baking pans in the cabinet at my feet. When Halden opened, there was a wave of foreign news reports containing snarky, florid descriptions of the “posh,” “luxurious” prison, comparing its furnishings to those of a “boutique hotel.” In reality, the furniture is not dissimilar from what you might find in an American college dorm. The truly striking difference is that it is normal furniture, not specially designed to prevent it from being turned into shivs, arson fuel or other instruments of violence. The kitchen also provides ample weapons if a prisoner were so inclined. As one inmate pointed out to me, the cabinets on the wall contained ceramic plates and glass cups, the drawers held metal silverware and there were a couple of large kitchen knives tethered by lengths of rubber-­coated wire.

“If you want to ask me something, come on, no problem,” Tom said, throwing open his hands in invitation. “I’m not very good in English.” Yassin stood up, laughing. “You speak very nice, Tom! It is prison English!”

Yassin speaks Arabic and English and is also fluent in Norwegian, a requirement for living in the drug-­treatment block, where group and individual counseling is conducted in Norwegian. Like many in the prison, Tom never finished high school. He was raised in a boys’ home and has been in and out of prison, where English is common, for more than 30 years. (Yassin’s first prison sentence began at 15. Now 29 and close to finishing his sentence for selling drugs, he wants to make a change and thinks he might like to run a scared-­straight-­style program for teenagers. Before this most recent arrest, the background photo on his Facebook profile was the Facebook logo recreated in white powder on a blue background, with a straw coming in for the snort. He immigrated to Norway as a child with his Moroccan family by way of Dubai.)

“I don’t leave Norway,” Tom said. “I love my country.” He extended his arm with his fist clenched, showing a forearm covered in a “NORGE” tattoo shaded in the colors of the Norwegian flag. But I couldn’t detect any tension between Tom and Yassin in the kitchen. Tom was adamant that overcoming his substance-­abuse problem was his responsibility alone. But he conceded that the environment at Halden, and the availability of therapists, made it easier. Compared with other prisons, “it’s quiet,” he said. “No fighting, no drugs, no problem,” he added. “You’re safe.”

The lunch and break room in the classroom building.

The officers try to head off any tensions that could lead to violence. If inmates are having problems with one another, an officer or prison chaplain brings them together for a mediation session that continues until they have agreed to maintain peace and have shaken hands. Even members of rival gangs agree not to fight inside, though the promise doesn’t extend to after their release. The few incidents of violence at Halden have been almost exclusively in Unit A, among the inmates with more serious psychiatric illnesses.

If an inmate does violate the rules, the consequences are swift, consistent and evenly applied. Repeated misbehavior or rule violations can result in cell confinement during regular work hours, sometimes without TV. One inmate claimed that an intrepid prisoner from Eastern Europe somehow managed to hack his TV to connect to the Internet and had it taken away for five months. (“Five months!” the inmate marveled to me. “I don’t understand how he survived.”)

It is perhaps hard to believe that Halden, or Norway more broadly, could hold any lessons for the United States. With its 251 inmates, Halden is one of Norway’s largest prisons, in a country with only 3,800 prisoners (according to the International Center for Prison Studies); by contrast, in the United States, the average number is around 1,300 at maximum-­security prisons, with a total of 2.2 million incarcerated (according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics). Halden’s rehabilitation programs seem logistically and financially out of reach for such a system to even contemplate.

And yet there was a brief historical moment in which the United States pondered a similar approach to criminal justice. As part of his “war on crime,” Lyndon B. Johnson established the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, a body of 19 advisers appointed to study, among other things, the conditions and practices of catastrophically overstretched prisons. The resulting 1967 report, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” expressed concern that many correctional institutions were detrimental to rehabilitation: “Life in many institutions is at best barren and futile, at worst unspeakably brutal and degrading. . . . The conditions in which they live are the poorest possible preparation for their successful re-­entry into society, and often merely reinforce in them a pattern of manipulation and destructiveness.” And in its recommendations, the commission put forward a vision for prisons that would be surprisingly like Halden. “Architecturally, the model institution would resemble as much as possible a normal residential setting. Rooms, for example, would have doors rather than bars. Inmates would eat at small tables in an informal atmosphere. There would be classrooms, recreation facilities, day rooms, and perhaps a shop and library.”

In the mid-­1970s, the federal Bureau of Prisons completed three pretrial detention facilities that were designed to reflect those best practices. The three Metropolitan Correctional Centers, or M.C.C.s, were the first of what would come to be known as “new generation” institutions. The results, in both architecture and operation, were a radical departure from previous models. Groups of 44 prisoners populated self-­contained units in which all of the single-­inmate cells (with wooden doors meant to reduce both noise and cost) opened onto a day room, where they ate, socialized and met with visitors or counselors, minimizing the need for moving inmates outside the unit. All the prisoners spent the entire day outside their cells with a single unarmed correctional officer in an environment meant to diminish the sense of institutionalization and its attendant psychological stresses, with wooden and upholstered furniture, desks in the cells, porcelain toilets, exposed light fixtures, brightly colored walls, skylights and carpeted floors.

But by the time the centers opened, public and political commitment to rehabilitation programs in American prisons had shifted. Much of the backlash within penological circles can be traced to Robert Martinson, a sociology researcher at the City University of New York. In a 1974 article for the journal Public Interest, he summarized an analysis of data from 1945 to 1967 about the impact of rehabilitation programs on recidivism. Despite the fact that around half the individual programs did show evidence of effectiveness in reducing recidivism, Martinson’s article concluded that no category of rehabilitation program (education or psychotherapy, for example) showed consistent results across prison systems. “With few and isolated exceptions,” he wrote, “the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.” Martinson’s paper was immediately seized upon by the news media and politicians, who latched on to the idea that “nothing works” in regard to prisoner rehabilitation. “It Doesn’t Work” was the title of a “60 Minutes” segment on rehabilitation. “They don’t rehabilitate, they don’t deter, they don’t punish and they don’t protect,” Jerry Brown, the governor of California, said in a 1975 speech. A top psychiatrist for the Bureau of Prisons resigned in disgust at what he perceived to be an abandonment of commitment to rehabilitation. At the dedication ceremony for the San Diego M.C.C. in 1974, one of the very structures designed with rehabilitation in mind, William Saxbe, the attorney general of the United States, declared that the ability of a correctional program to produce rehabilitation was a “myth” for all but the youngest offenders.

Martinson’s paper was quickly challenged; a 1975 analysis of much of the same data by another sociologist criticized Martinson’s choice to overlook the successful programs and their characteristics in favor of a broad conclusion devoid of context. By 1979, in light of new analyses, Martinson published another paper that unequivocally withdrew his previous conclusion, declaring that “contrary to my previous position, some treatment programs do have an appreciable effect on recidivism.” But by then, the “nothing works” narrative was firmly entrenched. In 1984, a Senate report calling for more stringent sentencing guidelines cited Martinson’s 1974 paper, without acknowledging his later reversal. The tough-on-crime policies that sprouted in Congress and state legislatures soon after included mandatory minimums, longer sentences, three-­strikes laws, legislation allowing juveniles to be prosecuted as adults and an increase in prisoners’ “maxing out,” or being released without passing through reintegration programs or the parole system. Between 1975 and 2005, the rate of incarceration in the United States skyrocketed, from roughly 100 inmates per 100,000 citizens to more than 700 — consistently one of the highest rates in the world. Though Americans make up about only 4.6 percent of the world’s population, American prisons hold 22 percent of all incarcerated people.

Today, the M.C.C. model of incarceration, which is now known as “direct supervision,” is not entirely dead. Around 350 facilities — making up less than 7 percent of the incarceration sites in the United States, mostly county-­level jails, which are pretrial and short-­stay institutions — have been built on the direct-­supervision model and are, with greater and lesser fidelity to the ideal, run by the same principles of inmate management developed for the new-­generation prisons of the 1970s. The body of data from those jails over the last 40 years has shown that they have lower levels of violence among inmates and against guards and reduced recidivism; some of these institutions, when directly compared with the older facilities they replaced, saw drops of 90 percent in violent incidents. But extrapolating from this tiny group of facilities to the entire nation, and in particular to its maximum-­security prisons, is an impossible thought experiment. Much about the American culture of imprisonment today — the training of guards, the acculturation of prisoners, the incentives of politicians, the inattention of citizens — would have to change for the Norwegian approach to gain anything more than a minor foothold in the correctional system. The country has gone down a different road during the past half century, and that road does not lead to Halden Fengsel.


An iman visits the prison to pray with Muslim inmates.

Even understanding how well the Norwegian approach works in Norway is a difficult business. On a Saturday afternoon in Oslo, I met Ragnar Kristoffersen, an anthropologist who teaches at the Correctional Service of Norway Staff Academy, which trains correction officers. Kristoffersen published a research paper comparing recidivism rates in the Scandinavian countries. A survey of inmates who were released in 2005 put Norway’s two-­year recidivism rate at 20 percent, the lowest in Scandinavia, which was widely praised in the Norwegian and international press. For comparison, a 2014 recidivism report from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that an estimated 68 percent of prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 were arrested for a new crime within three years.

I asked Kristoffersen if he had spent time at Halden. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a handful of printed sheets. “Have you seen this?” he asked while waving them at me. “It’s preposterous!” They were printouts of English-­language articles about the prison, the most offensive and misleading lines highlighted. He read a few quotes about the prison’s architecture and furnishings to me with disgust. I acknowledged that the hyperbolic descriptions would catch the attention of American and British readers, for whom the cost of a prison like Halden would probably need to be justified by strong evidence of a significant reduction in recidivism.

Somewhat to my surprise, Kristoffersen went into a rant about the unreliability of recidivism statistics for evaluating corrections practices. From one local, state or national justice system to another, diverse and ever-­changing policies and practices in sentencing — what kinds and lengths of sentences judges impose for what types of crimes, how likely they are to reincarcerate an offender for a technical violation of parole, how much emphasis they put on community sentences over prison terms and many other factors — make it nearly impossible to know if you’re comparing apples to apples. Kristoffersen pointed out that in 2005, Norway was putting people in prison for traffic offenses like speeding, something that few other countries do. Speeders are at low risk for reoffending and receiving another prison sentence for that crime or any other. Excluding traffic offenders, Norway’s recidivism rate would, per that survey, be around 25 percent after two years.


Then there was the question of what qualifies as “recidivism.” Some countries and states count any new arrest as recidivism, while others count only new convictions or new prison sentences; still others include parole violations. The numbers most commonly cited in news reports about recidivism, like the 20 percent celebrated by Norway or the 68 percent lamented by the United States, begin to fall apart on closer inspection. That 68 percent, for example, is a three-­year number, but digging into the report shows the more comparable two-­year rate to be 60 percent. And that number reflects not reincarceration (the basis for the Norwegian statistic) but rearrest, a much wider net. Fifteen pages into the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, I found a two-­year reincarceration rate, probably the best available comparison to Norway’s measures. Kristoffersen’s caveat in mind, that translated to a much less drastic contrast: Norway, 25 percent; the United States, 28.8 percent.

What does that mean? Is the American prison system doing a better job than conventional wisdom would suggest? It is frustratingly hard to tell. I asked Kristoffersen if that low reincarceration rate might reflect the fact that long prison sentences mean that many prisoners become naturally less likely to reoffend because of advanced age. He agreed that was possible, along with many other more and less obvious variables. It turned out that measuring the effectiveness of Halden in particular was nearly impossible; Norway’s recidivism statistics are broken down by prison of release, and almost no prisoners are released directly from maximum-­security prisons, so Halden doesn’t have a recidivism number.

After nearly an hour of talking about the finer points of statistics, though, Kristoffersen stopped and made a point that wasn’t about statistics at all.
“You have to be aware — there’s a logical type of error which is common in debating these things,” he said. “That is, you shouldn’t mix two kinds of principles. The one is about: How do you fight crimes? How do you reduce recidivism? And the other is: What are the principles of humanity that you want to build your system on? They are two different questions.”

He leaned back in his chair and went on. “We like to think that treating inmates nicely, humanely, is good for the rehabilitation. And I’m not arguing against it. I’m saying two things. There are poor evidence saying that treating people nicely will keep them from committing new crimes. Very poor evidence.”

He paused. “But then again, my second point would be,” he said, “if you treat people badly, it’s a reflection on yourself.” In officer-­training school, he explained, guards are taught that treating inmates humanely is something they should do not for the inmates but for themselves. The theory is that if officers are taught to be harsh, domineering and suspicious, it will ripple outward in their lives, affecting their self-­image, their families, even Norway as a whole. Kristoffersen cited a line that is usually attributed to Dostoyevsky: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

I heard the same quotation from Are Hoidal, Halden’s warden, not long before I left Halden. He told me proudly that people wanted to work at the prison, and officers and teachers told me that they hoped to spend their whole careers at Halden, that they were proud of making a difference.

“They make big changes in here,” Hoidal said as we made our way through the succession of doors that would return us to the world outside. There was, improbably, an actual rainbow stretching from the clouds above, landing somewhere outside the wall. Hoidal was quiet for a moment, then laughed. “I have the best job in the world!” He chuckled and shook his head. He sounded surprised.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cat facts

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” — Sigmund Freud

A NEW Facebook friend hipped me to this list from BussFeed Animals. Since we have FOUR cats (yes, we are certifiably insane), naturally I'm a fan.

FYI: All four are rescues. Shye and Shiva were adopted from the ARL; we got those two on purpose. We lived-trapped Boy Boy and Anaya. I guess the case could be made that we acquired them on purpose since it took a considerable effort to trap them, but we didn't start out with the intention of adding to our cat family members. We did it to save their little lives, and naturally we believed and told ourselves and each other that we'd find them "good homes." And we did. Ours.

62 Astounding Facts About Cats
As if we needed more reasons to love them.
By Chelsea Marshall  
March 26, 2014

1. Cats are the most popular pet in the United States: There are 88 million pet cats and 74 million dogs.

2. There are cats who have survived falls from over 32 stories (320 meters) onto concrete.

3. A group of cats is called a clowder.

4. Cats have over 20 muscles that control their ears.

5. Cats sleep 70% of their lives.

6. A cat has been mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, for 15 years. His name is Stubbs.

7. And one ran for mayor of Mexico City in 2013.

8. In tigers and tabbies, the middle of the tongue is covered in backward-pointing spines, used for breaking off and gripping meat.

9. When cats grimace, they are usually “taste-scenting.” They have an extra organ that, with some breathing control, allows the cats to taste-sense the air.

10. Cats can’t taste sweetness.


Sweet Shye.

11. Owning a cat can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by a third.

12. Wikipedia has a recording of a cat meowing because why not?

13. The world’s largest cat measured 48.5 inches long.

14. Evidence suggests domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2,000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

15. A cat’s purr may be a form of self-healing, as it can be a sign of nervousness as well as contentment.

16. Similarly, the frequency of a domestic cat’s purr is the same at which muscles and bones repair themselves.

17. Adult cats only meow to communicate with humans.

18. The world’s richest cat is worth $13 million after his human passed away and left her fortune to him.

19. Your cat recognizes your voice but just acts too cool to care (probably because they are).

20. Cats are often lactose intolerant, so stop givin’ them milk!

21. Basically all cartoon cats lied to us: Raw fish is off the table for cats as well.

22. The oldest cat video on YouTube dates back to 1894 (when it was made, not when it was uploaded, duh).


Beautiful Shiva.

23. In the 1960s, the CIA tried to turn a cat into a bonafide spy by implanting a microphone into her ear and a radio transmitter at the base of her skull. She somehow survived the surgery but got hit by a taxi on her first mission.

24. The technical term for “hairball” is “bezoar.”

25. Female cats are typically right-pawed while male cats are typically left-pawed.

26. Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10.

27. A cat’s brain is 90% similar to a human’s — more similar than to a dog’s.

28. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

29. A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons, compared with a dog’s 160 million.

30. Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

31. Basically, cats have a lower social IQ than dogs but can solve more difficult cognitive problems when they feel like it.

32. Cats have 1,000 times more data storage than an iPad.


Lovable Boy Boy

33. It was illegal to slay cats in ancient Egypt, in large part because they provided the great service of controlling the rat population.

34. In the 15th century, Pope Innocent VIII began ordering the killing of cats, pronouncing them demonic.

35. A cat has five toes on his front paws, and four on the back, unless he’s a polydactyl.

36. Polydactyl cats are also referred to as “Hemingway cats” because the author was so fond of them.

37. There are 45 Hemingway cats living at the author’s former home in Key West, Fla.

38. Original kitty litter was made out of sand but it was replaced by more absorbent clay in 1948.

39. Abraham Lincoln kept four cats in the White House.

40. When asked if her husband had any hobbies, Mary Todd Lincoln is said to have replied “cats.”

41. Isaac Newton is credited with inventing the cat door.

42. One legend claims that cats were created when a lion on Noah’s Ark sneezed and two kittens came out.

43. A cat can jump up to six times its length.

44. A house cat is faster than Usain Bolt.

45. When cats leave their poop uncovered, it is a sign of aggression to let you know they don’t fear you.

46. Cats can change their meow to manipulate a human. They often imitate a human baby when they need food, for example.


Adorable Anaya.

47. Cats use their whiskers to detect if they can fit through a space.

48. Cats only sweat through their foot pads.

49. The first cat in space was French. She was named Felicette, or “Astrocat.” She survived the trip.

50. Cats have free-floating clavicle bones that attach their shoulders to their forelimbs, which allows them to squeeze through very small spaces.

51. Hearing is the strongest of cat’s senses: They can hear sounds as high as 64 kHz — compared with humans, who can hear only as high as 20 kHz.

52. Cats can move their ears 180 degrees.

53. They can also move their ears separately.

54. A cat has detected his human’s breast cancer.

55. A cat’s nose is ridged with a unique pattern, just like a human fingerprint.

56. Cats have scent glands along their tail, their forehead, lips, chin, and the underside of their front paws.

57. A cat rubs against people to mark its territory.

58. Cats lick themselves to get your scent off.

59. When a family cat died in ancient Egypt, family members would shave off their eyebrows as they mourned.

60. They also had elaborate memorials that included mummifying the cat and either burying it in a family tomb or pet cemetery.

61. Cats were mythic symbols of divinity in ancient Egypt.

62. Black cats are bad luck in the United States, but they are good luck in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Son of Bat-shit-crazy runs for President

“I get sad with the people that go around bashing this country and speaking against this country. Perhaps we ought to send them for a month or two to some place that is out of this country, to realize what it is to live without freedom and without liberty. But you know what happens is, we take freedom for granted in this country. And perhaps we say: ‘Well, it could never happen in America.’ Well, it is happening in America.” — Rafael Cruz, Ted Cruz’s father

RAISE your hand if you think Joe McCarthy look-alike, Ted Cruz, is nutty. 

Obviously Ted's dad is bat-shit crazy — and not smart enough to recognize the irony of proposing that Americans be deprived of liberty for exercising the constitutionally-guaranteed liberty of freedom of speech. 

Remember boys and girls, this is who raised TedHands up yet?



March 23 Mr. Cruz announced his presidential candidacy, and as Addicting Information said in a post on the same day, the internet did what it does best — mocked him incessantly. 

"Twitter hashtag #TedCruzCampaignSlogans quickly filled with helpful suggestions for the Presidential hopeful’s campaign one-liners.”

Here are some of the best suggestions the site compiled. Please feel free to contribute your own.










Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gail Collins calls it a new Senate low

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” — Mark Twain

YOU KNOW what an admirer I am of New York Times writer, Gail Collins. In her March 19 column she describes how the Senate boldly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by bungling the almost sure-fire passage of an anti-human trafficking bill. 

FYI: Despite the fact that by sponsoring this bill in the SenateJohn Cornyn managed to (nearly) do one right thing, I am not an admirer of his. By way of explanation, below Gail's column I've attached a screen cap of Mr. Cornyn's voting record on one particular issue. It may suggest to you what some of his transgressions are IMHO.

Oh, No! It’s a New Senate Low!
By Gail Collins
March 19, 2015

The United States Senate is worse than ever.

I know this is hard for you to believe, people. But, really, this week was a new bottom. The Senate found itself unable to pass a bill aiding victims of human trafficking, a practice so terrible that it is one of the few subjects on which members of Congress find it fairly easy to work in bipartisan amity.

“This has got to get done for me to continue having faith in this institution,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat who’s particularly concerned about sexual exploitation of Native American women. She has always struck me as one of the more cheerful members of the Senate, so this seems like a bad sign.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed twelve bills against human trafficking already this year.

Wow, the House is doing great! If you overlook the introduction of a budget that features terrible math and many assaults on hapless poor people, the lower chamber has been on a roll lately. Speaker John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, rescued the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, and now they’re working out a plan to avoid the next fiscal cliff, which involves keeping Medicare running.

Plus, this week, the Republican majority got rid of disgraced Representative Aaron Schock, who decorated his office as if it was a scene from “Downton Abbey.” In the wake of questions about his mileage reimbursement requests, Schock announced his resignation. Since he had never successfully sponsored any legislation in his six-year congressional career, his greatest legacy may be a reminder that members of the House of Representatives should avoid brightening the workplace with vases of pheasant feathers.

So the House is working on a new fiscal-cliff plan, passed 12 human trafficking bills and subtracted Aaron Schock. Maybe it’s going to become the center of bipartisan cooperation the nation has been waiting for!

O.K., probably not. Anyway, it’s been doing better than the Senate.

At the beginning of the month, the Senate was working on its own anti-trafficking bill, sponsored by Republican John Cornyn of Texas, with several Democratic co-sponsors. The idea was to fine sexual predators and give the money to groups that help sex-trafficking victims.

Sounded promising. The Senate Judiciary Committee had easily approved Cornyn’s bill earlier this year. Then before it reached the floor, someone discovered that it had acquired a clause forbidding the use of the money to provide victims with access to abortions.

“They’re putting poison pills in their own bills!” said Senator Chuck Schumer in a phone interview.

Before we discuss how badly the Republicans behaved, we need to take time out to note that none of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee seem to have noticed that somewhere along the line, this change had been inserted in the bill. (One senator acknowledged that an aide knew, but never shared the information.)

It was easy to miss, the Democrats contended, being very oblique and supertiny. “Out of a 112-page bill, there is this one sentence,” complained Democrat Dick Durbin.

I believe I speak for many Americans when I say that missing a change in important legislation is excusable only if the Senate Judiciary Committee is suffering from a shortage of lawyers.

No one seemed clear on how the new language got there in the first place, but abortion restriction is not something you casually toss into a bill that you want to pass with support from both parties. It would be as if the Democrats had quietly added a stipulation requiring all trafficking victims be barred from carrying a concealed weapon.

Cornyn argued that it made no difference whatsoever because there were plenty of exemptions that would allow any sexually exploited trafficking victim to qualify for an abortion anyway. That was a good point, except for the part where you wondered why he was so insistent that this allegedly meaningless language be preserved at all costs.

“My wish is that we hadn’t junked that bill up with abortion politics,” said Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican who has to run for re-election next year in Illinois. Many Republicans agreed with him, but in public they dug in their heels. In retaliation, the Democrats brought all progress to a halt with a filibuster.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who thought he was going to show how to make the Senate work, was irate, and said there would be no vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s attorney general nominee, until Democrats gave in.
Possible theme for the session: “Republicans who can’t lead meet Democrats who can’t read.”

Lynch did get some support from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who penned a letter urging Republicans to get behind her. When Giuliani is the most sensible voice in the room, there’s not much farther down to go, unless they start bringing in pheasant feathers.




John Cornyn's record on key votes concerning guns compiled by Vote Smart — Just the Facts.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

Perfectly perfect

“Love cures people — both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.” — Karl A. Menninger, American psychiatrist and a member of the family of psychiatrists who founded the Menninger Foundation and the Menninger Clinic

TODAY is World Down Syndrome Day. In recognition of it, NBC News published this story about a couple who chose to adopt a Down Syndrome newborn. It's a beautiful story.

On World Down Syndrome Day, One Mom Shares Her Journey to the Perfect Child
By Holly Graham
March 21, 2015


Holly and  Alex Graham and baby Jaxson at five months.

We have so much to celebrate and be thankful for on World Down Syndrome Day 2015.

A year and a half ago my wife Alex and I decided that it was time to start our family through adoption. We dove into the adoption process head first and never looked back.

As part of the initial adoption application we got to "choose" our child — race, gender, birth parent history, religion, abilities and on and on.

Of the many options that we could have ticked off, we had one single box checked. It was that one single box that described our perfect child to a tee.

Our perfect child has upward slanted almond eyes, and a little button nose that perfectly accentuates his flawless round face. He may have a single crease on the palm of his hand that will hold tightly onto your pinky finger.

He may be born with congenital heart defects, thyroid issues and chances are will have issues with his eyes or ears as he grows. That’s fine though, we can tackle those obstacles when we get to them. He will also have low muscle tone ('floppy baby'), which means when you hold him close to you, his little body will just melt into yours. He will take longer at hitting his developmental milestones, but he will get there will a little extra help.

Speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy will give him the tools he needs to achieve these milestones. We know that we will also have to do lots of work at home outside an official "therapy" setting, we can handle that. Our child will go to school and be in a classroom with your perfect child. He will be friendly, caring, and compassionate, and I hope your child is as well! 

He has a lot to teach us, his siblings and the rest of the world about acceptance and unconditional pure love. He may drive a car, but maybe not, there's no rush to worry about that quite yet! He will graduate, maybe not with a GED, but he will wear a cap and gown and celebrate this huge accomplishment alongside his peers. He may want to attend some form of post-secondary education, we will definitely encourage it but at the end of the day it will be his choice.


Jaxson at five months old.
We would love for him to experience living on his own, maybe with a bit of help. Then again, why worry about this so soon? He will have a fulfilling job that he is happy to wake up and go to every morning. He will get married if he chooses to do so. Most importantly our perfect child will be happy, and content with life. He will be loved and cared for no matter what.
We had checked the box beside the words Down syndrome.

When I was around the age of 5, my neighbor and best friend Mandy had Down syndrome. As a child this was something I never thought twice about. I knew that Mandy was different than I was, I didn’t know why, and it didn’t matter. Mandy was happy, she had an infectious smile and a zest for life. I loved being around Mandy.

My mom recently told me that I came home one afternoon when I was a little girl and declared that I was going to be a mommy to a little baby just like Mandy. What a self-fulfilling prophecy that turned out to be! I will forever be grateful to have found a partner in life that saw my dream and chose to share it with me.

Fast forward 25 years, to the day we got the call to inform us that our perfect child was ready to join our family. We were in the middle of a vacation but had seats booked on the next flight home within an hour of “the call.” A whirlwind 48 hours later, we were sitting in a hospital room, rocking our son Jaxson, and totally head over heels in love.


Jaxson and his parents at 10 months old.

Jaxson is now about to turn one, and I can’t even begin to describe the love, joy, comedy, and sheer delight he has brought to our family. Jaxson has been an easy, content, happy baby, and has made the transition to parenthood easy and seamless. Anyone that has had the opportunity to meet Jax can attest to his already infectious personality and the immense love that radiates from him.

Our days may not be filled up with play dates, swim lessons, and mommy groups like they may be with a typical baby. Instead we spend time at various doctors' appointments, and bouncing around from one therapy session to the next. However, we quite enjoy being a part of his therapies and we burst with pride when he learns a new skill and crushes a new milestone.

That is not to say that we haven’t had trying times this year. In July 2014 Jaxson underwent open heart surgery at 11 weeks old to repair a congenital heart defect, followed by a couple more hospitalizations from minor complications and illness. We have learned to take everything in stride and deal with his health issues one day at a time.

We don’t know what the future holds for Jax. We don’t know what obstacles and trials will be thrown our way, but we do know that Jaxson is every single thing that we wished, dreamed and hoped for, and so much more.

He is our perfection. And he has Down syndrome.