In 1958, as a 27-year-old science teacher in Mesa, Ariz., Ken Lamberton was given the district’s teacher of the year award. He taught biology at a junior high school. A few months after he was honored, though, he ran off with a 14-year-old former student. The two were caught in a ski town in Colorado. Lamberton was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to 12 years.
Lamberton said he knew right from wrong but didn’t care at the time. “What I did was despicable, no doubt about it,” he said. “Arrogance, selfishness and stupidity led to my crime and my family’s terrible anguish and humiliation. I had no boundaries.”
In prison, Lamberton found boundaries, of course, but also an unexpected new sense of the world. The natural world served as his guide, he says.
Lamberton began noticing the limited amount of land around the prison, located in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. He watched the hawkmoths circling the floodlights and found Sonoran Desert toads in the sandbox used by the children of prisoners. He listed to and began to identify the wild birds that perched over the exercise yard.