Book Review: “Educated”

“Educated” by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s memoir is both enlightening and frightening. She tells the story of her life growing up within a large family of children who were “homeschooled” in name only. They actually had no education at all except what they taught themselves. The author was seventeen-years-old the first time she entered a classroom. Amazingly she earned a PhD from Cambridge in 2014. This is her first book and I recommend it.

Westover recounts growing up in the shadow of a beautiful Idaho mountain on which her father owned a junkyard. Her mother was a midwife who helped support the family by selling medical remedies made from herbs and oils. The children received no immunizations and never saw a doctor through illnesses and serious injuries that children should never have to endure.

The father of this family was a religious zealot and all decisions were made by him based upon his interpretation of the Bible. To make matters worse he was mentally unstable as was one of the sons. The result of these factors made growing up emotionally as well as physically dangerous.

Tara Westover’s journey to become “educated” is troubling but very inspiring. Her memoir is a #1 New York Times bestseller.

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Recidivism

Can people change? Experience shows that people can and do change and that formal education is one of the most effective means. In 2011, in KY 1,151 inmates attained their GED in prison while in 2015 that total was down to 126. The difference? As the number of inmates goes up so do costs and education funds are one of the first cut. This is unfortunate considering that statistics show that 5.6% of inmates with a Bachelor’s degree re-offend and 0% of those with a Masters. 

According to a psychologist who works with inmates in KY, other keys to reducing recidivism are family support and treatment for addiction. Families tend to drift away after the first year or two and by the third year, few inmates have visits or any contact with their family. 

Is the justice system just?

“No” is the easy answer. In the general population 86% is white and 11% are black and brown. In prison 64% of the population is white and 34% are people of color.

If the goal was truly to rehabilitate and reduce recidivism would prisoners be released without any money, ID, phone or often even a place to stay? 

Parole

Here’s a case history: WRS, a graduate of Seneca HS in Louisville was 21 when he committed a few robberies and one assault. When he was caught he had an empty gun on his person. He waived a plea bargain of eight years to have his day in court.  He was sentenced to 317 years in prison. Now 29 years later WRS has been turned down for parole four times in spite of a good record in prison. The cost of his incarceration is now over $800,000 and that amount gets higher the older an inmate becomes.

Is this a good investment of taxpayer dollars? Is the fact that WRS is African-American a consideration?

NOTE: In KY Parole Board Members (9) are appointed and must have at least five years experience in Criminal Justice work. Members are paid $1,000 per year. They have few or no policies to follow. For lower level offenses they do not see the inmate in person but review their file. The Board files no monthly or annual reports. Most cases are reviewed by only 3 Board Members. (Per Larry Chandler former Board Member.)

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“Poor people, people of color – especially are much more likely to be found in prison than in institutions of higher education.” Angela Davis

SOURCE of most of this information is a class at Bellarmine University taught by Gaye Holman, Author, “Decades Behind Bars: A Twenty-year Conversation with Men in America’s Prisons.”

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