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Years ago, I wrote a column in which I derided something the California state Legislature had done, complaining that they “turn out laws with the same vapid rapidity with which Famous Amos turns out cookies.” It was the best column I ever wrote. Granted, this is not an exceptionally difficult accolade to earn. But that column has always been my favorite because it got me a response from Famous Amos. Not Amos himself, actually. I was contacted by Wally Amos’ lawyer. This is usually not good news for writers, but the lawyer turned out to be a terrific guy named Sanford Anker, who wrote to say that Famous Amos’ cookies were most assuredly not produced with “vapid rapidity.” They were produced by hand, from scratch, using only the finest flour, sugar, farm-fresh eggs, and creamery butter. In short, the cookies felt they had been libeled by their comparison to the California code. Mr. Anker invited me to tour the factory and see for myself, presumably so I could write a retraction. He did not have to ask twice. I had a great day, toured the factory, ate a ton of cookie dough, and came home with enough cookies to feed Bangladesh for a week. It was, up to that point, the most I’d ever been paid for my writing. The next month I wrote a column comparing the Legislature to Sony, Microsoft, and Mercedes-Benz. Nothing. Nada. No television. No computer. No car. Not even a factory tour. Only inexplicable silence. It was almost as if they hadn’t even read the column. The good news was that, as near as can be determined, the Legislature hadn’t read anything I’d written and had therefore not taken umbrage. It has since been pointed out to me, rather pointedly, that the judicial thigh bone is connected to the hip bone is connected to the wallet bone is connected to the legislative goodwill bone. Taking shots at the Legislature is the judicial equivalent of “living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.” About all I can say about my earlier indiscretion is that California is indeed fortunate that our present Legislature is made up entirely of people of unexcelled intelligence and wisdom, graced with good looks and picture-perfect golf swings. And all the legislators about whom I wrote earlier have long since died and gone to hell. Or maybe they didn’t go to hell. Maybe they went to Greenland. I mention this possibility not because I think hell may have been too harsh a judgment to visit upon them, but because the penological system of Greenland looks a lot like you would expect a penological system to look if it were designed by people getting large checks from prison guards’ unions. According to The Wall Street Journal, “A day in jail starts with a breakfast buffet of five imported cheeses, various breads, marmalade and honey. To relieve the wintry gloom, the table is lit by a holly-festooned candle. Lunch is a hot meal and dinner consists of cold meats. The walk-in freezer is stuffed with slabs of reindeer meat, remnants of summer hunting trips. “Each convict gets a personal coffee machine, compliments of the jail. The unisex bathrooms are spotless. For those disinclined to venture out into the Arctic cold, a local shop owner drops by once a week to sell cigarettes and other supplies.” Yep, “a holly-festooned candle.” This is — obviously — an unusual penitentiary system. Not much holly festooning takes place in Western prisons. Then again, in our system, not many inmates are free to choose between buying from a visiting shopkeeper and going into town for their smokes. But in Greenland, the inmate decides whether exercise or convenience is the priorité du jour. And the “slabs of reindeer meat” described as the remnants of summer hunting trips? Those would be hunting trips by the inmates. Furthermore, inmates are incarcerated only after their 9:30 p.m. curfew and are routinely given weekend furloughs! Virtually everyone gets those, and, according to the Journal, one in five are “free to come and go as they please.” If you were a prison guard, isn’t this where you’d want to work? If I’d just received my guarding degree and were choosing a prison system in which to begin my career, I’d be inclined to pick one where they were often unable to muster a quorum for the riot. DO YOU FEEL LUCKY? Now, to use the words of penologist Harry Callahan, whose opinion of such a system we can all imagine, “I know what you’re thinkin’.” You’re thinking that freedom of movement and an occasional weekend at home for a white-collar criminal or small-time sneak-thief doesn’t offend you. Well, how do you feel about Jakob Lindenhann, a three-time rapist whose victims included a seven-year-old girl, wandering into town three times a week to pick up food and DVDs? Lindenhann is serving a life sentence, largely by listening to U2 and watching his DVD collection (which includes “Gangs of New York” and something called “Sorority Girls”). I don’t know. It’s becoming more and more clear to me that I am sadly out of step with the other occupants of this planet, but my personal opinion is that multiple child rapists should not be browsing the aisles at Blockbuster. Apparently some Greenlanders feel that way, too. The head of a women’s shelter says, “The system is too old-fashioned — we should have a closed prison.” I love that. While Americans are wondering if locking up people who commit crimes is too “primitive,” Greenland is wondering if not locking them up is behind the times. According to the Journal, the adoption of noted sabermetrician Pete Rose’s “Prison Without Bars” concept has resulted in Greenland becoming “one of the most violent societies in the world.” And it’s liable to become more violent. Remember the reindeer meat I mentioned? The meat that came from the summer hunting trips? Every summer, “the inmates are given shotguns and allowed to hunt reindeer and seals.” “The only requirement for such hunting trips: They must be accompanied by armed guards, and, according to Soren Soedergaard Hansen, chief judge of Greenland, ‘They cannot be drunk.’ “ Well, that’s a great idea. How in hell has that one eluded us here? We issue shotguns to the inmates and send them out hunting with the guards. I mean, as long as they’re not drunk, what could possibly go wrong? Incredible as it may seem, they have had a few problems with this approach in Greenland. Not the ones you would expect. Apparently, they have, mirabile dictu, roughly the same number of guards and prisoners after the annual summer safaris as they had before, which causes me to conclude that their inmate culture differs in some respects from those at Pelican Bay and Folsom. No, the problem created by the hunts is too much seal meat. Chief Guard Benny Christensen, described as having a “blue sweater, neat tie, and gentle demeanor,” explains that seal meat became a problem when they stopped serving it at the prison. “They all . . . want their seal meat cooked differently. It was too much, so we stopped it.” Now the meat is piling up. And, of course, there is the perennial problem of inmates who aren’t back in time for curfew. In the United States, this is handled with spotlights and sirens and Tommy guns and dogs. In Greenland, they wait a few days and then go pick them up — usually in a local bar. While this seems clearly the more humane approach, it has not yet caught on in our country. Probably because the bar owners have lobbyists. HAND OVER THE CLICKER But what really bothers me about Greenland is that the inmates are watching the same TV shows I am. I’m not sure why that offends me, but it does. I can deal with the thought that Charlie Manson and Ted Kaczynski have roughly the same television privileges I have. I just reassure myself that they’re watching boxing and “The Apprentice” and “Fear Factor” so I’m not really sharing with them. I know it’s probably an elitist fantasy, but I’m willing to quitclaim them my rights to “Elimidate” and “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.” But the Journal says that inmates in Greenland get “three satellite stations, including the Discovery Channel.” With only two other alternatives, some of them have to be watching the same documentaries I am. What’s not only worse, but more ironic, we’re watching “Trading Spaces” together. While I’m sitting there yelling at the set that you can’t have peach walls with a taupe carpet, some Greenland puppy-raper is doing the same thing. Now that’s just not right. William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected]. This article previously appeared in The Recorder , an American Lawyer Media newspaper.

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