What changes have occurred in the prison system that has affected what you can and cannot do in those situations?
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
I want to say at the outset in discussing this case
that prisons have changed considerably since I did this mediation. Gangs and drugs were not a
major factor in those days. So what we accomplished in the early 1970’s might not be possible
today. Minnesota had a very progressive system which focused on community corrections.
Whenever they could, they would put people in community settings rather than behind bars. So
the people behind bars were the most serious offenders. The youthful ones were at the State
Reformatory for Men in St. Cloud, about 75 miles from the Twin Cities. The background is that
in an effort to change with the times, the reformatory superintendent did some things to recognize
racial differences, and in the process, he inadvertently exacerbated racial tensions within the
institution. St. Cloud had about 450 confined youths. white males predominated. There were
about 25 American Indians, about the same number of African Americans, and five or six
Hispanics. To help compensate for their minority status, the inmates of color were permitted to
organize "culture” groups that had certain privileges. They had outside advisors who came in
and worked with them. They could maintain a cultural organization with an office, telephone
and staff person within the institution; observe ethnic and cultural holidays and conduct a
banquet with outside visitors once a year. This would in some ways compensate for the
Alcoholics Anonymous and Junior Achievement chapters, or other activities in which only white
inmates participated. Everything that moved in that reformatory moved racially. There wasn’t
much crossing of lines.