BASTOY, Norway — Jan Petter Vala, who is serving a prison sentence for murder, has hands the size of dinner plates and shoulders like those of an ox.
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In an alcoholic rage, he used his brutish strength to strangle his girlfriend to death a few years ago. On a recent Thursday, however, at this summer-camp-like island prison in southern Norway, where convicts hold keys to their rooms and there are no armed guards or fences, Vala used those same enormous hands to help bring life into the world.
The 42-year-old murderer stood watch while an oversize cow gave birth to a wobbly, long-legged, brown-and-white calf. He cried as the baby was born, he said, and wiped slime off of the newborn's face so she could gulp her first breath. Afterward, Vala called his own mother to share the good news. "I told my family that I'm going to be a dad," he said, beaming with pride.
This is exactly the type of dramatic turnabout — enraged killer to gentle-giant midwife — that corrections officials in Norway hope to create with this controversial, one-of-a-kind prison, arguably the cushiest the world has to offer.