Prison Lock-Out Ends for Ari Kohn; DOC Gets Over Naming of ‘Assholes’

Ari Kohn is no longer locked out of the prisons. The blunt patron saint of ex-cons and the state Department of Corrections have resolved their differences as of yesterday, following a SW post last Thursday on their months-long rift.

As the post reported, the DOC had since January denied Kohn access to offices he runs at two prisons in conjunction with his Post-Prison Education Program, which sends former offenders back to school. The DOC was upset about what it called “disparaging remarks” made by Kohn about department staffers. “Drive out the unmitigated assholes,” Kohn wrote in a December Facebook post, and then proceeded to name a half-dozen of them he believed fit in that category.

Kohn says he was sitting in a Starbucks the day after SW’s post when he got a call from Deputy Prison Director Scott Frakes. “We need to get you back in the prisons,” Kohn says Frakes told him. “Do you have time to talk?”

The two set up a phone chat for Sunday, one that lasted two hours and restored what had been a friendly working relationship, according to Kohn. “It was like old home week,” he says. He says Frakes, who in an e-mail had called Kohn’s Facebook post “inflammatory and confrontational at a level I can’t defend,” made one request: No more such Facebook posts. Kohn was amenable—although it’s a safe bet that he’ll find another way to speak his mind. (For more on Kohn, see Ellis Conklin’s excellent December cover story.)

Kohn is particularly exercised of late about the DOC’s policy on “county of origin,” which sends most people getting out of prison to the county where they were first arrested. That county often doesn’t have the services and opportunities such former prisoners need, Kohn argues, calling the policy the “worst problem in the state of Washington in terms of safety and recidivism rates.”

Of course, it wouldn’t help recidivism rates to impair an education program like Kohn’s, and the DOC seems to know it. So he’ll be taking his next trip to a prison on Thursday or Friday, when he’ll meet with some 40 inmates at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center who might just be college-bound.

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