Novel draws on author’s job as teacher at Monroe prison

Her book begins with a chilling dedication:

“For Jayme … I will always be saddened you couldn’t be saved from the pure evil that resides in what is otherwise a fairly decent world.”

“Justice for #997543” is fiction. Yet the book Patricia Franklin-Therrell recently published under her pen name, Patricia Cage, borrows much from the author’s life.

Franklin-Therrell has looked evil in the eye. She spent her career behind bars, trying to bolster chances of success for inmates who would eventually get out.

Now retired, she spent nearly 20 years as an Edmonds Community College instructor at the Washington State Reformatory, part of the Monroe Correctional Complex. She was among the first women to do that work.

Her book’s opening words pay homage to Jayme Biendl, a 34-year-old corrections officer strangled to death in 2011 inside the Monroe reformatory chapel.

The dedication also acknowledges a hard truth. As much as Franklin- Therrell worked to improve the lives and respect the dignity of men behind bars, there is real danger for anyone whose job takes them inside prison walls.

“It’s risky work,” Franklin-Therrell said. “I knew Jayme,” she added sadly.

Justice for #997543” is the Snohomish woman’s first published novel, but her impressive biography includes an offender rehabilitation textbook, “Honorable Relationships.” She served as president of the national Correctional Education Association, and helped set up literacy tutoring at the Monroe prison. She also produced a film, “Wha Ca Make It,” written, directed and performed with inmates.

That film grew out of a drama class she taught at the Monroe reformatory — in the chapel.

Franklin-Therrell, 65, has a doctoral degree in education. Before moving to Washington, she worked with teens involved in gangs in California. Her husband, Mike Therrell, taught history at Everett’s Cascade High School before retirement.

Her novel, from Tigress Publishing, began as a research project. She followed the progress of four real-life men released from prison after long sentences, with varying degrees of success. From those stories came characters in “Justice for #997543.”

The plot centers on a teacher at a maximum-security prison. She narrowly survives a prison riot when her life is saved by inmate students. When they are punished rather than recognized for their good deeds, the woman embarks on a quest for justice and finds corruption in high places.

Franklin-Therrell plans to donate all proceeds from her novel to Matthew House, a Monroe nonprofit that helps families of inmates.

As a prison teacher, Franklin-Therrell learned early about setting boundaries and commanding respect. “They want to be your friend,” she said of her students. “They can be masters of manipulation. You are not their friend, you are their teacher. You can’t help them unless you maintain that professional distance.”

She encountered men who never matured — “kids in big bodies” — and some who were “good people who had done really bad things.”

“And there are a few monsters in there,” she said. Franklin-Therrell remembers one inmate, who wanted to be a tutor but wasn’t allowed to become one, coming to talk with her when all the men were supposed to be locked in cells for a count. “There was just a desk between us. His eyes were like a lizard’s,” she said.

Despite risks and costs, Franklin-Therrell believes prison educational programs are the best hope, not only for inmates but for society’s safety. In her view, budget cuts to prison education boost costs when freed inmates can’t make it on the outside. “Incarceration is so expensive,” she said.

She admires the work of the Delancey Street Foundation. Started in San Francisco in 1971 and now operating in several cities, the organization runs housing and rehabilitation programs for ex-convicts and recovering addicts.

She knows change for the better is possible. She has seen it.

“These are men with nothing more than time,” said Franklin-Therrell, who believes we’re all safer when wise use is made of prison time.

“Either that, or don’t let them out,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Book signings

Patricia Franklin-Therrell will talk about her book, “Justice for #997543,” written under the pen name Patricia Cage, at two appearances:

•6 p.m. Friday at Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake Forest Park.

2 p.m. Oct. 28 at Thumbnail Theater, 1211 Fourth St., Snohomish.

Learn more at http:// authorpatriciacage.com.

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