City Weekly's editorial staff received a homemade Christmas card from Utah State Prison inmate Corey Vonberg the other day. It's a beautifully executed drawing of a snowman and floating baubles.---
Vonberg has long been fighting his 2003 felony child-abuse convictions with complex letters lambasting attorneys, state officials and the like. You know it's a Vonberg letter because he does his own curious hand-drawn stamp denouncing corruption in Utah.
This year, I had my fair share of jail and prison interviews. Among others, I visited with alleged cop killer Curtis Allgier in Salt Lake County jail and also took a PIO-guided tour of the facilities after he had been moved to prison. I was shocked out of my quiet, bourgeoise complacency as I looked at the maximum-security floor. The cells were narrow, individual holes with a bunk bed and room to pace, all dowsed in the same dank yellow light. Here, the PIO said, were those who couldn't fit in elsewhere, who threw their feces at guards, who fought or caused trouble. It was a bleak, oddly funereal sight.
The six months I spent on-and-off researching and then writing 'Love Supreme' about Curtis Allgier and his penpal Maxine McNeeley, I learned from her a newfound appreciation for the humanity of the incarcerated. She made me see the folks behind bars, no matter how dangerous, disturbed or disturbing, as human beings.
It is in that spirit, then, that I would like to send out my very best holiday wishes to the incarcerated of Utah, as well as those responsible for their incarceration. The latter side of that equation I have yet to gain much insight into, but trust I will one day.
I cannot imagine a darker place to spend the holidays, and I hope that some glimmer of the festive cheer that I will enjoy this holiday season will find its way into the cell blocks in Draper and in the jails across the state.