by Max Brantley
Once condemned to prison, Kaestel plotted a scholarly path toward a paralegal certificate. He filed scores of lawsuits against the notorious Arkansas prison system, which in the 1970s had been designated by federal courts as being cruel and inhumane. Along with winning some of his suits against the prison, Kaestel advocated for prisoners' rights, quickly becoming a problem child—the kind that manifests itself in articulately written legal briefs—for prison officials.
"Rolf was a very informed prisoner when he was in Arkansas," [Arkansas Times senior editor Mara] Leveritt says. "He studied the law, he helped other inmates, he became a thorn in their side, I think, of the establishment—the prison department in particular."
One of the Arkansas prison system's misdeeds Kaestel witnessed involved a blood-plasma donation program. Kaestel himself donated plasma—a way he and other inmates could make a couple of bucks. But Kaestel noticed health concerns with the blood plasma program, including lack of testing for hepatitis C and HIV. He began collecting documents on the plasma program and even appeared in a documentary film, Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal, released in 2005.
It begins with Kaestel—already with 18 years of prison under his belt—saying on camera in front of a prison official that the Arkansas prison system is ripe with "graft, corruption and money making."
In 1999, a short time after being interviewed for the film, Kaestel was hauled out of the breakfast line, loaded into a van and moved to Utah.
Leveritt says that it is important to ask ourselves whether or not we are capable of forgiveness. When it comes to Kaestel, whom she calls the "walking, talking example of 'You will not be forgiven,'" it is easy to conclude that, collectively, we Americans are not."