"I have always been drawn to darkness," Elaine Leeder writes. "I know I always championed the underdog."
As a sociology professor at Ithaca College in the 1990s, she began teaching at Elmira Correctional Facility in upstate New York. When she moved to California, that same desire to help led her to the prison education program at San Quentin. Then, inspired by her lessons, a group of Leeder's students approached her about working with a program the prisoners had established to aid in their long and difficult process of redemption and transformation. She accepted.
These members of New Leaf on Life-the San Quentin "lifers"-have been sentenced to terms ranging from fifteen years to life in prison. Unlike Death Row inmates, who will either die in prison or be executed, many of the lifers are eligible for parole after having spent twenty to thirty years behind bars. But too often, they never see that opportunity because of the popular view that they are all "hardened criminals," killers incapable of rehabilitation and unfit to be free.
What Leeder has learned, however, is that incarceration does not dictate character. Her students, although they are convicts, are committed to making their time in jail a life sentence in the best sense, not a death sentence. They have gone the extra mile to come to terms with their crimes, and have often managed to redeem their lives.
My Life With Lifers shares the journey of a woman "on the outside" as she discovered the true nature of life in prison, and the roadblocks-so many of them unneeded-on the inmates' path to freedom. What Leeder's experiences add up to is both a fascinating human story and a reasoned and impassioned case for prison reform.
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About the Author
Elaine Leeder has devoted her life to remembering and speaking out for the marginalized members of society. In her commitment to moving U.S. prison policies away from an atmosphere of fear and revenge, she also aims to help her own college students make sense of a changing society and influence its direction. Driven by both love for her students and the nation's vital need for social change, Leeder works tirelessly as an educator, author, and speaker on subjects ranging from the Holocaust to global perspectives on families to therapeutic issues facing female prisoners and their children.
Dr. Leeder, Dean of the School of Social Sciences at Sonoma State University in California, has thirty-five years of distinguished accomplishments in academia and public service. She began her career as an undergraduate at Northeastern University, where she earned a B.A. in sociology with a minor in psychology before receiving a master's in social work from Yeshiva University in New York and a second master's degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Leeder earned her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1985. She served as a sociology professor at Ithaca College before joining the faculty at Sonoma State, where, in addition to her duties as dean, she teaches courses in introductory sociology and family violence.
Dr. Leeder is listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in America, and Who's Who of American Teachers. Her awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, outstanding teacher awards, research and travel grants, and numerous awards from student and community agencies. In addition to her academic career, Dr. Leeder has served as a psychotherapist, consultant, and advocate for social justice. She was a visiting scholar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and has twice sailed on the University of Pittsburgh's Semester at Sea.
In addition to My Life With Lifers, Dr. Leeder has written more than two dozen articles on sociological and psychological issues. She is the author of four other books: The Gentle General: Rose Pesotta, Anarchist and Labor Organizer (1993); Treating Abuse in Families: A Feminist and Community Approach (1994); The Family in Global Perspective: A Gendered Journey (2003); and Inside and Out: Women, Prison, and Therapy.