John Purugganan is serving a sentence of Life Without Parole in California State Prison—Los Angeles County, Lancaster, CA. His essays have been published in The Sun magazine and qarrtsiluni; he is the editor of the anthology “Too Cruel, Not Unusual Enough,” poems and essays by prisoners serving Life Without Parole. We’ve been in touch since 2006.
John recently wrote me that the men “who have been earning AA degrees through the Coastline Community College have been trying to get a Bachelor’s program started and have met resistance to the idea. The instructor asked them to write a 1,500 word paper explaining why a high education is important for LWOP prisoners.” John is not enrolled in the program, but he had some thoughts he shared with the instructor, and with me. I wanted to share them with you.
The question should not be: Why is a college education important for life without parole (LWOP) prisoners?
The real question is: Why isn’t it important? For therein lies the crux, the inhumanity which is the LWOP sentence. To be sentenced to death, yet left to live, the essence of life animating your body, your mind, your very soul, and to be treated, all the while, as if you were already dead.
To deny the LWOP prisoner the same consideration as any other prisoner who endeavors to improve himself through education—or by any other means—is beyond discrimination. It is a slap in the face of humanity.
If “I think, therefore I am,” as an LWOP prisoner, what, exactly, am I to think?