Happy Winter Solstice

Below, in full, is a piece that was in the December 22, 1923 edition of the Town Crier:

The Winter Solstice

Last night was the longest night of the year, and yesterday the shortest day. The seven days preceding and the seven days following the winter solstice are said to be halcyon days, deriving from the ancient tale of a fabled bird, the halcyon, that bred in floating nest on the sea at the winter solstice, charming the winds and waves into calm for the purpose.

Halcyon days are the rule so far as out own inland sea is concerned, and surely no one can deny that our autumn has been of unsurpassed loveliness. Gentle rains, soft grey skies, or skies of blue with the horizon rimmed with snowy mountain tops shining in the sun – that has been our portion so far. The stripped branches of the trees are etched against the grey sky like grey lace. Gardeners are busy with their fall planting and designs for next summer’s blossoming; coming events casting their shadows before.

Building goes on apace undeterred by unfavorable weather. Christmas is running on a six-weeks’ schedule, to the joy of merchants and children, though adding seriously to the perplexity of parents. A pretty good old world it is – if one’s lines are cast in the pleasant places like the Northwest: just cold enough to enjoy hot cakes and sausage in the morning, and just warm enough for ice-cream with hot caramel over it in the evening.

A delectable spot, Seattle.

Happy holidays, friends.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog looks back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Miss Anna Roberta Hoge is ill,” and, “The Four Buttercups will present a novelty surprise in comedy singing.”  In this new series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

“One of the fastest growing sections of Seattle during the past few years,” the Town Crier reported on December 21, 1918, “is the Rainier Valley.” Indeed, “The Seattle Rainier Valley Railway Company has played an important part in the upbuilding and the steady march of progress of Rainier Valley.” The story goes on discussing improvements with an eye towards the future. “The next few years will undoubtedly witness an even greater growth.”

An organization today that plays an important part in the steady march of progress in Rainier Valley is the Rainier Arts Center, one of the organizations and venues that have been instrumental for Town Hall during our Inside/Out seasons. Some Town Hall events that have occurred there in the past year include talks by Dar Williams, Tali Sharot, Theo Gray, and Dr. Beverly Tatum, amongst others.

Rainier Arts Center’s mission is to “produce and facilitate a variety of artistic and cultural productions that are supported by our community.” A program of SEEDArts, Rainier Arts Center was purchased and renovated by SouthEast Effective Development whose mission is to improve the quality of life in Southeast Seattle. The Rainier Arts Center building has been in existence since 1921 and is now a national landmark building that marks the northern gateway to Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood. The Center was originally built as the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist. Town Hall’s building, currently under renovation, is the Fourth.

You can learn more about the Rainier Arts Center here.

A Symphony of Women

The March 12, 1921 edition of the Town Crier had on its cover Madame Mary Davenport Engberg. She was a violin virtuoso and became director of the Seattle Civic Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra’s first concert was April 24, 1921, and they held their last concert on May 4, 1924. The Town Crier reviewed that first concert, writing, in part, “It was a novelty to see a smartly gowned woman on the conductor’s platform wielding the baton, which she did with emphatic manner.” By leading the orchestra she was thought to be the only female conductor in the world.

Alas, not much has changed. In 2016 the League of American Orchestras reported the gender distribution of music directors was 91% male and 9% female. Of the 22 highest budget US orchestras, there is just one female conductor, Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Marin Alsop. In the same survey it was noted that male and female musicians in orchestras have almost equal representation—and yet only 20% of conductors in America, as a whole, are women.

Luckily, Seattle is bucking that trend. Here is a brief list (not comprehensive) of local conductors you should take note of!

Mika ArmalySeattle Youth Symphony Orchestra

Mika Armaly received her Bachelors of Music Education from Pacific Lutheran University and had the pleasure of joining Seattle Public Schools as the director of orchestras at Hamilton International Middle School in 2010. She was invited to lead a new string ensemble within the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra organization in 2016. In 2018, Mika moved further north to the beautiful Skagit Valley where she is currently completing a Masters of Music in conducting at Western Washington University, while continuing her work with SYSO.

Anna EdwardsUniversity of Washington School of Music, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra

Anna Edwards is Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Interim Music Advisor. Dr. Edwards has made a significant impact to the Seattle music scene as a performing artist, music instructor, and orchestra conductor. After performing as a professional violinist and music educator for over 25 years, Edwards shifted her focus from instrumentalist to conductor. After training with Michael Jinbo at the renowned Pierre Monteux School for three seasons, she received her Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Orchestral Conducting from the University of Washington. She is also the conductor, founder, and music director of the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra (SCO) and leads the Saratoga Orchestra as Music Director. The SCO and Edwards both won first prize in the 2017-2018 community division of the American Prize, a national competition. As a freelance violinist, she has performed with such groups as the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Northwest Sinfonietta, Auburn Symphony, Silsbee Piano Trio, and she taught at Roosevelt High School where she built the orchestra program into a nationally award-winning program.

Kate LabiakSeattle Youth Symphony Orchestra

Kate Labiak has a long-standing history with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras — she has served as the Symphonette Orchestra Conductor since 2003, as a clarinet/woodwind coach since 1996, and also as an alum (1990-92).

Ms. Labiak currently teaches instrumental music at College Place Middle School in the Edmonds School District. As the 2014 recipient of the Washington Music Educators Association’s award for Middle School Teacher of the Year, Ms. Labiak has a diverse background of teaching experience including directing bands and orchestras from the elementary through high school levels, middle school general music (steel drums), and serving as adjunct faculty for Central Washington University. Most recently, she founded the Edmonds School District’s Middle School Girls’ Jazz Program, which provides extracurricular jazz experience to middle school aged girls.

She earned degrees from the University of Washington (Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Music in Music Education, 1997) and Central Washington University (Master of Music in Conducting, 2002).

Kim RoySeattle Rock Orchestra

Kim Roy, versatile conductor and violist, is a native of Western Washington. Kim is the Music Director of Seattle Rock Orchestra, Snohomish County Music Project, and is the Associate Conductor for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra. As an enthusiastic educator, Kim has directed orchestra programs at Renton High School and Dimmitt Middle School and currently is the Director of Orchestras at Garfield High School. Kim earned her Bachelor’s degree in Viola Performance from Central Washington University in 2007 and her Masters in Orchestral Conducting from Central in 2009. Through inspired classical performances and the fusion of the rock and classical genres, Kim brings a high level of energy and excitement to the orchestral music scene.

Julia Tai Philharmonia Northwest, Seattle Modern Orchestra

Julia Tai has established herself as one of the most dynamic young conductors on the international stage. She is currently the Music Director of Philharmonia Northwest, and the founder and co-artistic director of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. Her career has led to acclaimed performances and rehearsals with orchestras around the world, including the American Youth Symphony, Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra, Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic (Czech Republic), Brandenburger Symphoniker (Germany), Estonian National Youth Symphony (Estonia), New Symphony Orchestra (Bulgaria), Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil Carlos Chávez (Mexico), and the Seattle Symphony. She has participated in the renowned Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at the New England Conservatory, and worked with legendary composers, performers and ensembles such as Jonathan Harvey, Tristan Murail, Graeme Jennings, Garth Knox and Ensemble Modern.

Anna WittstruckUniversity of Puget Sound School of Music

Anna Wittstruck joined the University of Puget Sound School of Music faculty in fall of 2017 as Assistant
Professor, Director of Orchestra. She previously spent two years as Acting Assistant Professor in Music at Stanford University, where she served as Interim Music Director and Conductor of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra and Stanford Philharmonia. She also taught music history and conducting courses in the Department of Music.

Dr. Wittstruck has conducted concerts across the United States, Latin America, Europe, and in Asia, including with the Harbin Symphony in China. She recently conducted sold-out concerts at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and Teatro Nacional de Cuba in Havana, where she performed with Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba and the Chamber Orchestra of Havana. In December 2013 she conducted the first-ever symphonic concert on Catalina Island (“Sounds of America,” featuring Copland’s Appalachian Spring) and returned with her touring ensemble the following three seasons. She has conducted concerts at the Rudolfinum in Prague and the Musikzentrum Augarten (home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir) in Vienna, as well as concerts in Berlin, Bad Elster, and Teplice as part of the 2013 Stanford Symphony Orchestra tour of Central Europe.

Support them. Go to a concert. Watch them work.

Sorrento, à Bientôt

There is certainly no shortage of references to the Hotel Sorrento in the original Town Crier publication that ran locally from 1910 to 1938. In fact, if you do you a quick online search of the Seattle Public Library’s holdings of the Town Crier, there are 612 mentions of Seattle’s famous hotel. A lot of people seem to have wanted to have occasions there, stay there on vacation, or even live there. From a 1922 edition, “Mrs. Henry Stever Tremper was hostess at luncheon given at the Hotel Sorrento on Tuesday afternoon for Mrs. James Hamilton De Veuve.” From a 1917 issue, “At a meeting of the trustees of the Active Patronesses of the Blind, held at the Hotel Sorrento Wednesday morning, the report of the secretary and treasurer…was most gratifying.” From a 1912 issue, “Mr. Malcolm Bogue, son of Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Bogue, is a guest at the Hotel Sorrento for a few days.” It seems everyone wanted to go to the Hotel Sorrento. It’s no secret as to why they did—and why people still do.

Hotel Sorrento under construction. Photo courtesy of Museum of History and Industry.

The hotel opened on May 30, 1909, just in time for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world’s fair that was held at the University of Washington campus starting in June of that year. A 7-story, 150-room hotel, it takes its inspiration from the Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy. It was designed by Harlan Thomas, who later was chair of the University of Washington Department of Architecture. Thomas also designed the 7th Church of Christ Scientist building on Queen Anne. The Seattle Times were over the moon in regards to the new hotel saying rooms had views of “the tide flats, the manufacturing plants of that portion of the city, the harbor and Sound, West Seattle, Eagle Harbor, Fort Lawton, Smith’s Cove, the Olympics, Queen Anne Hill, Lake Union, Ballard, Fremont, Capitol Hill, the Cascades and Mount Rainier.”

The Sorrento is Seattle’s oldest hotel still serving as a hotel. If you book a room, it might be Malcolm Bogue’s. Even if you don’t, there are still reasons to walk through its historic doors. For instance, the first Wednesday of every month, there is a quiet reading party in Sorrento’s Fireside Room. Folks gather there, sit very close, and read books.

The next reading party is on January 2nd. Learn more here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog looks back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “The ban is off and the long-loved, but lost a while, sugar bowl is again in evidence,” and, “There will be a ball at the Masonic Temple this evening celebrating the reunion of Alsace-Lorraine to France.”  In this new series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

On the cover of the December 14, 1918 edition of the Town Crier is a gentleman sitting at the keyboard of a Mason & Hamlin piano. The caption reads, “Claude Madden, leader of the Amphion Society, at one of the many new Mason & Hamlin pianos recently received by Montelius Music House, going over a new score just written and probably to be presented at this season’s concerts.”

The Amphion Society was Seattle’s largest male choral body. Madden was its musical director and it became one of the West Coast’s top choirs. Madden was also the conductor of such prestigious musical groups as the Arion Society, Ladies’ Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Orpheus Society of Tacoma. He was most known, however, for his leadership of the Amphion Society. One article in an October 1917 edition of Musical America took note that the chorus “has lost six of its seventy members by conscription and enlistment.” The concerts performed “will be lighter than those usually given, and mostly compositions by Americans will be used.”

When one thinks of today’s large choral bodies in Seattle, one looks no further than the Seattle Men’s Chorus. In fact, it’s one of the world’s largest men’s choruses. Founded in 1979, the Chorus “is a voice for LGBTQ advocacy in the community and across the country.” They’ve performed on stage with the likes of Debbie Reynolds, Rosemary Clooney, Kristin Chenoweth, Leslie Jordan, and many others.

Their holiday show is in full swing.  Their show “Jingle All the Way” is a high-spirited celebration that brings together beloved carols, fresh takes on holiday classics, and show-stopping dazzlers. Undoubtedly, Claude Madden would approve.

For a list of coming concert dates, go here.

Our 2018 Inside/Out Season in Brief Review

Our 2018 Inside/Out season has come to a close, folks. We’ve had a wonderful time out in the community these past months offering up civic, arts, and educational programs that have reflected and inspired our region’s best impulses: creativity, empathy, and the belief that we all deserve a voice. We’re thrilled to continue bringing compelling programming to your community in the new year and to finally be able to enter our newly renovated building in a few months (learn more about that here).

Here are a few highlights of our season that took us from Phinney Ridge to Columbia City; the Central District to the University District; West Seattle to Capitol Hill; and plenty of spaces in between.


LISTEN: Sam Kean: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us. On September 6 our Inside/Out season started in earnest at the Bathhouse Theatre. Author Sam Kean discussed the very air we breathe.

WATCH: Dar Williams: A Thousand Small Towns. The award-winning singer graced the Rainier Arts Center stage for a discussion of America’s small towns—and sang a few tunes, too.


LISTEN: Masha Gessen: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. Vladimir Putin’s biographer revealed how, in the space of a generation, how Russia surrendered to a more virulent and seemingly invincible new strain of autocracy.

WATCH: Juan Gonzalez: How NYC’s New Mayor Inspired America’s ‘Resistance’ Cities. The legendary journalist sat down to discuss Bill de Blasio’s election and what Seattle’s place is as a ‘resistance city.’


WATCH: Lawrence O’Donnell: Playing with Fire. The MSNBC host presented a keen examination of the 1968 presidential election at Seattle University.

WATCH: Martha Nussbaum: The Philosophy of Thoughtful Aging. One of the world’s greatest living philosophers offered her perspectives on the aging process.



WATCH: Dr. Beverly Tatum: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Town Hall was thrilled to bring Tatum to both the Rainier Arts Center and the Westside School for a forthright conversation about racial identities in our school system.

LISTEN: Neil Patrick Harris: The Magic Misfits. The award-winning actor came to Temple de Hirsch Sinai to discuss his new children’s book and perform a magic trick or two.


LISTEN: Denise Fairchild: Equity in Clean Energy Solutions. The activist discussed the global fight to conserve our natural resources, and the magnified impact of this battle on low income communities and communities of color.

WATCH: Charles Waters: Can I Touch Your Hair? The poet spoke at the Northwest African American Museum with Reagan Jackson about race, mistakes, and friendship.


WATCH: Nadine Burke-Harris: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity. The renowned pediatrician discussed early childhood trauma.

INTERVIEW: Jonathan Kauffman: How Hippie Foods Changed the Way We Eat. The award-winning food writer talked about co-ops, tofu, and more. 

MARCH 2018

WATCH: Robert Reich: The Common Good. The famed professor and author discussed the fundamental purpose of society and the common good that defines it.

LISTEN: Kory Stamper: The Secret Life of Dictionaries. The lexicographer cracked open the complex world of words.

APRIL 2018

INTERVIEW: Richard Powers: Overstory. The award-winning novelist discussed his luminous 12th novel, Overstory. The novel was about trees, but much more than trees –  it was about the regenerating possibility of reconciliation, and of homecoming.

WATCH: Samantha Irby: Meaty. Irby chatted with Lindy West in a hilarious evening exploring Meaty—Irby’s widely beloved collection of smart, edgy, and unabashedly raunchy personal essays.

MAY 2018

LISTEN: Barbara Ehrenreich: Natural Causes. The bestselling author talked about the aging process and extolled the value of living well while accepting our mortality.

INTERVIEW: Town Music: JACK Quartet. The JACK Quartet joined with Joshua Roman for an unforgettable performance that included a Roman’s composition entitled ‘Tornado.’

JUNE 2018

WATCH: Michael Bennett: Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. The football champion discussed the role of race in sports in this gripping conversation.

WATCH: Angela Garbes: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy. The food and culture writer discussed pregnancy with Lindy West. Thoughtfulness and Hilarity ensued. Watch the night’s event here.


WATCH: Teaching for Black Lives. A summit of activists and educators assembled for a treatise on how we can end institutional racism in our classrooms.

WATCH: Jose Antonio Vargas: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen. The Pulitzer Prize winner discussed his experiences as an undocumented immigrant in America with Ijeoma Oluo.


PROFILE: Vishavjit Singh: Sikh Captain America. The cartoonist and activist took the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute stage for a conversation about the importance of confronting our own stereotypes.

INTERVIEW: Michael Hebb: Let’s Talk about Death (Over Dinner). The end-of-life advocate invited us to a conversation we’re not having often enough—how we want to die.


POETRY: Blair Imani: Modern HERstory. The activist told powerful stories about women and nonbinary people rewriting history and an audience member wrote a beautiful poem about the experience.

WATCH: Francis Fukuyama: Identity, Dignity, and the Politics of Resentment. The famed political author asserted that the demand for recognition of one’s identity is a fundamental human instinct—and a major contributor to populism and polarization in America.


INTERVIEW: Adrienne Mayor: Gods and Robots. The folklorist and historian of science takes us back in time to the mythology of robots, automata, AI, and humanity’s timeless impulse to create artificial life.

LISTEN: Randy Shaw: A Generation Priced Out of New Urban America. The housing activist sat down with Mónica Guzmán of the Evergrey, exposing how millennial home-buyers are having their access to housing in big cities restricted, exacerbating trends of racial and economic inequality.

There’s more yet to come, friends! In fact, we’ve got Jonathan Weisman and a Mozart birthday bash coming in January. Check our calendar for details and find most all our past Inside/Out events in our media library.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

Age of Animals

The October 9th, 1920 edition of the Town Crier has a small piece on the age of animals.

It reads:

Sparrows have lived to be forty years old. A horse does not live much more than twenty-seven years. Cats get to about thirteen years old. The tortoise is supposed to live to be between 300 and 400 years old. Some persons say toads live forever, but, of course, that has not been proved, though certainly they live to an exceedingly great age. Both an eagle and a crow have been known to live to be 120 but the wren only about three years. An elephant’s lifetime is about 150 years, but he isn’t regarded as grown up until he is about twenty-five years old.

Do you want to know how to live forever like our friends the toads? Marc Freedman discussed his new book How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations with Eric Liu at the Phinney Center last night as part of Town Hall’s Civics Series. Together they explored our drive for longevity and the perils of age segregation and shared his discussions with social innovators from across the globe about bringing the generations together for mutual benefit.

You can watch it here.

The Duke’s Sacred Roots

Jazz legend Duke Ellington (1899-1974) called his sacred concerts “the most important thing I have ever done.” What he did: brought jazz into church. This year, Earshot Jazz is celebrating its 30th anniversary of presenting Ellington’s music. The concert will be held on December 28 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Duke Ellington is in the pantheon of jazz greats. He was a composer, a pianist, and the leader of a jazz orchestra (still in operation) from 1923 until his death, a career spanning more than 50 years. He wrote over 1,000 compositions, including “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Bundle of Blues,” and “Mood Indigo.”

Though Ellington is known for his ubane and cosmopolitan ways, he had deep roots in the Christian faith. He was brought up by his parents in the Baptist and A.M.E. Zion churches. He knew a plethora of hymns and Bible stories by heart, and read the Bible every day. Duke prayed regularly and attended church as often as he could with his demanding touring schedule. He took gospel tunes and wove them into his own songs.

It was in 1962 that Reverend John S. Yaryan asked Ellington if he would perform at the new Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when it opened in 1965. Ellington agreed, and the concert premiered on September 16, 1965. Personnel included (amongst others) Ellington on the piano, Cootie Williams on trumpet, Johnny Hodges on saxophone, Louie Bellson on drums, and Bunny Briggs performing an accompanying tap dance. One song in the concert, “In the Beginning God,” was awarded a Grammy Award in 1967.

Ellington’s Second Sacred Concert premiered at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City on January 19, 1968. The concert ended with “Praise God and Dance,” which comes from Psalm 150.

By the time of his Third Sacred Concert, Duke Ellington knew his life was near ending. He would pass away on May 24, 1974, of complications from lung cancer and pneumonia. The third concert was performed at London’s majestic Westminster Abbey on October 24, 1973. Here’s his “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Earshot Jazz’s concert this year features the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra; guest vocalists Stephen Newby and Nichol Veneé Eskridge; the NW Chamber Chorus; members of the New Revelations Choir (from Seattle’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church), and special guest tap dancer Alex Dugdale.

For more information and tickets, go here.

What Are People Doing?

Every week the Town Crier blog will look back at Seattle’s near forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening then and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “It is called the ‘Hospitality Club’ and it has come into being without flourish of trumpets and is meeting a real demand on the part of sailors and soldiers for a quiet, home-like place where they are welcome to read, write, study or amuse themselves in their own way.” In this new series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Today’s entry…

The December 7th, 1918 edition of the Town Crier was very excited about the arrival of Carter the Magician. He brought with him “a company of twenty-five people with fifteen tons of marvelous illusions.” Carter, the Town Crier writes, has “astounded the world with his incomparable mysteries and uncanny, laughable entertainment in conjuring.” The act included levitation that—it was said—he learned from “the native fakirs and mahatmas” on “the banks of the sacred River Ganges.” The show that took place at Seattle’s prestigious Metropolitan Theatre created quite a furor.

Another astounding event coming soon, one that will undoubtedly create a furor at Seattle First Baptist Church, is Seattle Radio Theatre’s holiday show, A Very KIRO Christmas. No word on if there will be levitation, but KIRO Radio voices and other local celebrities, along with live music, sound effects, and family-friendly holiday laughs, will present a light-hearted holiday comedy live on stage.

Don’t miss A Very KIRO Christmas at Seattle First Baptist Church on 12/11!

Life-Sentenced Prisoners and the Future of Mass Incarceration

Most Western democracies have few or no people serving life sentences, yet in the United States more than 200,000 people are sentenced to such prison terms. Steve Herbert, University of Washington Professor of Law, Societies, and Justice, will be on Town Hall’s stage on 12/11 with Ashley Nellis of The Sentencing Project, to discuss the flaws in a life-sentence based criminal justice system.

Herbert’s new book, Too Easy to Keep: Life-Sentenced Prisoners and the Future of Mass Incarceration, shares moving personal profiles of individuals affected by life sentences. He sat down recently with Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley to discuss regret, redemption, and reform.

JS: What initially got you interested in the prison system?

SH: I have long been interested in the criminal justice system, although I’ve primarily focused my prior research on urban police departments. I have taught about punishment and prisons in my classes, although until 2013 I had no direct experience with prisoners. That changed when I learned that colleagues at other universities had taught courses where they brought their university students inside prisons to teach courses alongside prisoner students. I was motivated by their stories to try and replicate that at the University of Washington. It was that decision that led me down this road.

JS: What was the impetus for your new book? 

SH: I started teaching at the Washington State Reformatory in 2013, and began teaching ‘mixed enrollment’ classes there in 2014. These classes combine students from UW with incarcerated students in classes taught exclusively at the Reformatory. I learned in teaching these classes that there were many people in prison for extraordinarily long periods of time who were amongst the very best students I had ever encountered in any classroom. I must confess that I did not expect this to be the case. That prompted me to learn more about life sentences, and how common they happen to be.

JS: What preconceived notions/prejudices did you have going into interviewing lifers? How did that change after talking to them?

SH: I had enough familiarity with life-sentenced prisoners that I expected them to be thoughtful and interesting. I don’t believe that they necessarily challenged any stereotypes I had. The process of stereotype destruction had already occurred when I started teaching inside.

JS: What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from lifers? 

SH: I think the most significant lesson is that so many of them are deeply regretful about their past transgressions, and that they try as hard as they can, under limiting circumstances, to engage in some form of atonement. I could not help but be impressed by their resilience, and the strength more generally of the human spirit.

JS: Rehabilitative incarceration—is that something you believe in? How can we make it a reality? 

SH: There is no question that many, many prisoners are hungry for opportunities for self-improvement. Efforts to respond to this desire for positive change bring benefits to everyone, both inside and outside of prisons. For that reason, they should be supported. In my observation, many impactful programs are those that are run by volunteers from the outside. For example, my teaching inside could only have occurred due to a partnership with University Beyond Bars, which works to provide college preparatory and college level courses for prisoners. In Washington State, at least, efforts to make it as easy as possible for these outside organizations to do their work can only pay dividends for all involved.

JS: Do lifers have a desire for redemption? In what ways? How, if at all, does this help them in their day-to-day lives in jail?

SH: I cannot speak for every lifer, but there are clearly very many of them that earnestly seek redemption. They manifest this desire in myriad ways, but most notably by trying to be mentors to the younger prisoners in their midst. They try to help these prisoners redirect their lives so that they do not reoffend and thus return to prison. They also try to work a job, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in various prisoner-run organizations. These activities help provide structure and meaning to their lives, and help them lessen the day-to-day pains of imprisonment.

JS: What are some more poignant stories you have in regards to your interviews with lifers?

SH: One inmate told me a story about how he participated in a dog program at his institution. He described how terrific he felt when he first met the dog, and interacted with it in his cell. He said that it was the first time he had ever been asked to care for another sentient being, and that it was a terrific feeling. He told this story as he was describing his general maturation. This was a consistent theme across many of my interviews. Many of the prisoners, especially those who got their sentences while they were young, discussed how their maturation led them to be more concerned for others, and how this shift was really critical to their more general projects of self-improvement and atonement. Said one prisoner, ‘When I committed my crime, I didn’t think about the consequences or who I was hurting or anything like that. I just wanted some money. So, I didn’t really think about that kind of stuff.  It was just all about me. Me, me, me. But then I realized it really wasn’t about me, and change started happening.’

JS: What fixes would you propose for life sentencing?

SH: The best route forward is to change sentencing policy. Life sentences are too commonly invoked, so a shift in punishment policy is a smart move. This can happen in a number of ways, but a key one is to make parole more widely available. Like many states, Washington no longer allows parole for most prisoners; they all serve fixed sentences. This means that many prisoners who undergo profound change cannot have that reality recognized in a reduced sentence. That, in my view, is a key policy that deserves reconsideration.

JS: Can the public do anything to improve the lives of lifers? In what ways?

SH: I think the public can lessen the distance between themselves and prisoners. The best way to do this is to find a volunteer program for which they can work. Regular encounters with those who are incarcerated will work to dispel the stereotypes that are commonly held. They can also lobby their legislators to shift punishment policy.

Don’t miss Steve Herbert with Ashley Nellis and Katherine Beckett on 12/11 at Pigott Auditorium at Seattle University.

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