IMAGE: Kevin Mercer
The Rogue Desk breaks tradition this week by giving a shout out to a “Rose of the Week” for something so decent and sensible that we wanted to acknowledge it.
The recipient of the format-busting plaudit is the state Department of Corrections—admittedly not the most likely candidate for sugary accolades.
So why the change this one week? Because sometimes, as folks at the Department of Corrections have proven, overly strict rules can be counterproductive.
Last month, after WW published a story about a 20-year-old inmate at Snake River Correctional Institute in Eastern Oregon (see WW, “A Stitch and Time,” May 12, 2010), one corrections department employee named Jennifer Black took note of the young man, Harun Mustafa.
Mustafa, a graduate of Jefferson High School, had been a promising young musician until a night at Portland’s Northgate Park in April 2009 turned ugly. A fight broke out among several young men over pot, and Mustafa stuck another young man with the blade of his folding pocketknife, causing a wound that required one stitch. Mustafa said he was acting in self-defense against his victim, but a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge sentenced Mustafa to 18 months in prison.
Behind bars, authorities wouldn’t let Mustafa have his cello. So he composed music in his head. But Black, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, didn’t see why Snake River couldn’t change that. Prison rules let inmates play guitar while doing time, and it seemed to Black that the corrections department should be able to accommodate Mustafa’s musical preference. “I didn’t see the reason why he couldn’t play,” Black tells WW. “I put the bug in someone’s ear that maybe this was doable.”
Several administrators in the corrections department—including Snake River’s superintendent, Mark Nooth—agreed. And next thing Mustafa knew, a Snake River employee was telling him he would get a cello. The only hold-up? The cello (like all books and goods entering the prison system) has to be new to eliminate the possibility of contraband, which means Mustafa’s friends and family must raise about $900.
Jyothi Pulla, the mother of two of Mustafa’s orchestra-mates, is ecstatic anyway. Pulla, who’s taken up Mustafa’s cause, is about to start fundraising to get a cello to Mustafa, who was also recently moved to a lower-security prison. (Info on how to donate will be available on wweek.com soon.)
“I was thrilled,” she says. “The main effort now is to get him a cello.”