A Word from our Chairman: The Wizard of Oz, was notable for popularizing the phrase: "There's no place like home"; in contrast “Oz ”, an HBO dramatic television series about Oswald State Penitentiary used the tagline: "It's no place like home". Like Oz, a tornado effect comes into the convicted person's life and deposits them into another world that is a parody of the real one. While there you long for home and it seems like there is little rationality to how you get back there - ruby slippers, indeed!
This page is devoted to inmate stories from one or more authors about their experiences pre and post incarceration. While we are eager to provide this forum, the views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of CCJR. We hope that you will enjoy "Notes from the Land of Oz."
by Philip Horner
In 1999 a tornado roared through my life. I lost my job, my profession, my house, my car, my savings, my reputation and many of my friends. I was lifted out of my comfortable existence and deposited in a strange land peopled with odd characters and ruled by inscrutable laws. The New Hampshire State Prison was my home for the next eight years until the doors mysteriously opened and I awoke, dazed and blinking, on the sidewalk across the street from its brick edifice.
Comparing prison to the Land of Oz is not original. Oz was the name of an HBO prison drama series created by Tom Fontana in the late 1990’s. The metaphor strikes me as particularly apt. In America, prison has become a monstrous absurdity (“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”), and no one knows it better than those who have experienced it firsthand.
The purpose of criminal sentencing is supposed to be four-fold: punishment, protection of the public, deterrence, and rehabilitation. But in America punishment has swallowed up all other purposes. And punishment, unlike those other purposes, is non-rational, driven by the deep-seated human impulse to exact revenge. To be sure, the state has appropriated, sanitized, systematized and quantified revenge. But at its core, punishment’s motive remains primal, “I’m gonna hurt you because you hurt me.”
As Howard Zehr observes in Changing Lenses, a New Focus for Crime and Justice, “We must be honest in our use of language. When we speak about punishment, we are speaking about inflicting pain, intended as pain…penal law is in fact “pain law” because it is an elaborate mechanism for administering “just” doses of pain.” As a society we do not like the thought of deliberately inflicting pain for the purpose of getting revenge. So we hand punishment over to “corrections” professionals to be carried out beyond our sight, behind prison walls.
“An eye for an eye,” was the Old Testament retributive formula. But how do you quantify revenge when the punishment is measured in time? Is two years enough for that purse-snatcher? Or should it be ten years? Or maybe a lifetime if he is a repeat offender? Welcome to the land of the absurd. Imagine a country that idles two million healthy men, feeds them, clothes them and provides them medical care at an average cost to the public of $30+ thousand a year. Who benefits from all this idleness? Does it compensate victims? Does it rehabilitate offenders? Does anybody feel safer because of it? - Welcome to the Land of Oz.
 Zehr, Howard, Changing Lenses, a New Focus for Crime and Justice, Herald Press, Scottsdale, PA 1995. p. 75.
Brother, let me be your servant. Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
It was the first Sunday in September, 1999, and I needed a confessor. But I was an Evangelical. I attended an Evangelical church. We did not believe in auricular confession and absolution. True believers confessed their sins to God in secret and were forgiven in secret.
I knocked on the steel door to Ron’s office, then fidgeted in the windowless concrete hall outside. Behind me, sounds of the one o’clock inmate movement echoed through Hancock Building: electric locks snapped open, prisoners’ state issue boots clomped on metal stairs, a guard yelled something through shatter-proof glass. I waited alone, uneasy in this empty stub of a hallway, unsure how long I should stand here.