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Prisons book author knows the nitty-gritty
By Mike Harden   - 11/04/2009

Columbus Dispatch

More Info on This Book: Central Ohio's Historic Prisons

David Meyers was never incarcerated, yet he still carries some of the baggage of prisoners who were paroled after long years behind bars.

"I still have dreams that take place in institutions," Meyers said Monday. "Even though I've been away from them for more than nine years, they have never really left me."

Meyers, who co-wrote the recently published Central Ohio's Historic Prisons with his daughter Elise, spent 30 years working in the adult and juvenile corrections facilities of Ohio.

The 128-page soft-cover book is more a pictorial history of central Ohio's adult and juvenile institutions than a tome on the history of corrections. That's because the Meyerses' publisher trades exclusively in histories defined more by their photographs than by narrative.

When the elder Meyers was a fresh graduate of Miami University in 1970, he was advised that he would have rough sledding finding a job with only a bachelor's degree in psychology. Yet, within a few years, he was functioning as a clinical psychologist with an inmate caseload of 300.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death penalty in the early 1970s, Meyers said he was chosen to interview the 65 condemned men on Death Row at the old Ohio Pen who had been freshly informed that their date to take the hot squat in "Old Sparky" had been canceled.

"When their sentences were commuted," Meyers said, "these guys, who had freely admitted their guilt up to that time, suddenly began revising their stories." His job was to determine where best the formerly condemned might fit back into the general prison population.

Although Historic Prisons is, by its nature, largely anecdotal, its twisted little vignettes present a wickedly delicious tray of canapes:

The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Ohio State professor put to death for killing a lover half his age after an aphrodisiac-fueled affair.
Thomas "Yonnie" Licavoli, the Toledo gangster who pulled 37 years at the Ohio Pen for murder and then opened a stamp-collecting shop after parole that -- many inmates contended -- was launched by his access to century-old stamps on letters in old prison files.
Esther Foster, the first woman hanged in Ohio. She is said to have pledged her body to medical science after a doctor promised her he would supply her with all the candy she could eat up to the minute the noose ended her sweets binge.

During the writing, Elise Meyers was intrigued by the many times, historically, that Ohio was held up as an example to other states. "It was revolutionary to separate people by age and the seriousness of their crimes and to separate the women out."

However, notions about progressive rehabilitation have always been a little like notions about socialism -- they work fine in theory, but the people on the bottom of the pile don't live theoretically.

The reality of their lives, though, makes for fascinating reading.

For more information on the Meyerses' book, call 1-888-313-2665 or visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Buy It Now: Central Ohio's Historic Prisons $21.99

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