2015-07-25 / News

Prison Reform to Be Discussed at Little Stone Church August 9

By Matt Harding

“I have the feeling like I’m doing something that would make my father very proud,” said Charles Puttkammer, the Mackinac Island resident who founded the Petey Greene Program, which assists in the rehabilitation of young prison inmates in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The group offers one-on-one and small group tutoring.

Mr. Puttkammer’s father, Ernst, initially sparked his interest in prison reform.

In 2007, Mr. Puttkammer made a donation to the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, an organization that helps administer donor projects like the Petey Greene Program. He launched it with the help of former Princeton classmate Jim Ferrin, who is now the program’s executive director. Mr. Ferrin will speak at Little Stone Church Sunday, August 9, at 2 p.m. about prison reform.

Former prisoner Walter Fortson, who became the program’s special projects manager after helping bring the program to Rutgers University, where he was graduated, will be speaking about what a prison experience does to a young person.

“The whole idea is that these young people committed felonies and they deserve to be there,” Mr. Puttkammer said, “but their life isn’t ruined forever.”

Mr. Puttkammer first volunteered at Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts, in the early 1960s, when he was a Harvard University graduate student. He ended up meeting his wife, Cordie, while volunteering. He saw the volunteering opportunity as a means to begin work on his own “socially interesting” projects.

“I could see how a good program that was going to bring young people together works,” Mr. Puttkammer said.

His father’s occupation played an important role in his own interest in prison reform.

Ernst W. Puttkammer was graduated from Princeton University in 1914 and went on to study law at the University of Chicago, where he obtained the highest grades anybody had received to that point, according to Charles Puttkammer.

When he came back from World War I, Mr. Puttkammer began a career as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he specialized in criminal law. He played an important role in updating the Illinois parole system in the 1930s and 1940s, as he was on a firstname basis with Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson.

But what really captured Charles Puttkammer’s attention was his family’s connection to the “crime of the century,” which was the 1924 kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Bobby Franks, who was killed by Nathan Leopold, Jr. and Richard Loeb in Chicago, Illinois. The two University of Chicago students had tried to demonstrate their intellectual superiority by committing a “perfect crime.”

“The reason this was significant for my family was that, at the time of the murder, Nathan Leopold was a student of my father’s,” Mr. Puttkammer said.

“Can you imagine, in a criminal law class? The whole nation is paying attention to this terrible crime, and one of the two murderers was in my father’s class.”

While Mr. Loeb was killed in prison, and is often suspected as the one who physically murdered Bobby Franks, Mr. Leopold became a model prisoner, helping to set up education programs.

During World War II, Mr. Leopold led the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study from inside the prison. The University of Chicago study used the prisoners to test new antimalarial drugs.

“The idea of keeping Leopold in prison just didn’t make any sense,” Mr. Puttkammer said. He was released in 1958 after spending 33 years in prison.

“It was a very meaningful thing to me,” Mr. Puttkammer said. “Here was this man who’d done something really terrible. Yet, he went through the rest of his life as somebody who made a major contribution to society.”

Petey Greene had a similar case. Mr. Greene spent half a dozen years in prison for armed robbery, but went on to lead a crime-free life as a disc jockey, television and radio talk-show host, and community activist.

Mr. Puttkammer, who became friends with Mr. Greene shortly after his release from prison, named the program in his honor.

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