Hieroglyphics turn prisoner away from a life of crime
The letter to the editor of a prestigious archaeology magazine came from inmate No. J81961 at Tehachapi State Prison.
Prisoner Timothy Fenstermacher, a high school dropout, wrote to disagree with an article by an archaeologist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Archaeologist Orly Goldwasser had based her story on the birth of the alphabet in part on the appearance of the rare "Sinai hieroglyph," which she said was used in the Sinai during Egypt's Middle Kingdom.
Fenstermacher thought otherwise. "I believe the rarity of this hieroglyph has been overstated," he wrote to Biblical Archaeology Review.
Drawing on expertise gleaned from books sent to him in prison, improvised flashcard drills and correspondence with scholars, Fenstermacher gave examples of the hieroglyph's appearance outside the Sinai.
The magazine published the letter, just as it has others from prisoner J81961.
"The extent of this guy's self-taught scholarship is mind-boggling," said the review's editor, Hershel Shanks, adding that his staff had grown "quite fond" of Fenstermacher. "I wonder how a man could come from such difficulty and achieve such heights of scholarship."
Many prisoners pass time building up their bodies, studying law or writing bitter letters. Inspired by a chance reading of the Biblical Archaeology Review in a prison waiting room, Fenstermacher focused on learning. He began studying Egyptian history and language and writing letters to scholars..........