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Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Pine Lodge inmates just want to stay there

’Tis the season for wishes and dreams, of course. But the letters I received from three women last week didn’t contain any conventional holiday hopes.

All they want for Christmas is to spare Pine Lodge Corrections Center for Women from the governor’s budget ax.

Maxina Rabang, Sue Walters and Paulette Melville are inmates at the Medical Lake facility. That makes them my “pen pals” in the literal sense, I guess.

The women were reacting to a recent announcement by Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Closing Pine Lodge made the governor’s list of how to trim at least $70 million from the state’s battered budget.

“I have a lot to tell you about why this place should not close,” wrote Melville, who underlined the word “not” with two lines of blue ink.

I’m no penal expert. When I write about a corrections facility it’s usually when someone has hopped the razor wire or come up with an ingenious way to turn a cell toilet into a distillery.

But I know enough to tell you that closing Pine Lodge is a dumb move.

Of the three women’s prisons in Washington, Pine Lodge is the only facility located east of the Cascades.

It’s the same old tune. Once again Olympia is treating Eastern Washington like an unloved stepchild.

Losing Pine Lodge would be an economic blow to Medical Lake. (Not to mention that the prison garden supplies the local food bank with tons of fresh produce during the growing season.)

Closing Pine Lodge would also create visitation hardships to those inmates who have family ties to the area.

“My mom is disabled and battling breast cancer,” Melville wrote of her visitation. “I get to see my kids and my granddaughter.”

Then there is the matter of effectiveness. Pine Lodge, which now houses 166 offenders, has a very positive reputation for rehabilitation.

“I’d like to get straight to the point,” Rabang wrote in her letter. “I’m a 2nd-strike felon, 40 years of age, and finishing 11 years on this sentence for a string of armed robberies. I grew up in the system.

“My letter is not to boast, but to express my change and outlook on life.”

According to Rabang, there was time during her incarceration when she “could not wait to get out and re-offend” even though she knew that being nailed on a third strike would amount to life behind bars.

Being at Pine Lodge, she added, has made all the difference.

“I want something better today and worked very hard here to accomplish my goals. (Pine Lodge) is not just a facility; I’ve found determination … making a decision to educate myself with the opportunities available.”

Not long ago the state spent nearly a half-million dollars on a study of Washington prisons. Here’s one of the findings that came out of it:

Don’t close Pine Lodge.

I realize the governor is attempting to balance a $2.6 billion budget deficit. That must be a daunting task.

But eliminating Pine Lodge is poor leadership. Hopefully Gregoire will take another look at this and keep Pine Lodge open. That would be the right thing to do.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or dougc@spokesman.com.

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