24 July 2017

Hedge

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finger

And though I be little, I am fierce.

I haul many pallets of food at work – 1600 pounds of frozen chicken or apple slices. The pallets weigh more than 11 times my weight but I can do it myself. I use a jack, of course, but when I pull it, it leaves me parallel to the ground as I tow with my legs.  If the pallet is really heavy – like 3200 pounds – I ask another work to push from the back. It makes it move more easily.

She uses only one finger.

One.

She – there’s one in every crew – refuses to lend her considerable weight or even a full hand when I ask for help. She’ll put one finger on the back of the load to push, as if that even registers. I might think she’s trying to piss me off but that would require intention and effort and she’s just too goddamned lazy to pull it off.

She used two fingers to bring into work a flyer, provided by her counselor, about the Federal Bonding Program, the Department of Labor’s insurance program for companies that hire ex-offenders. If you hire one of us, you can get six months’ worth of coverage for losses up to $5000. She showed it to me.

“So, like, these people will pay if I steal from my job, right?” she asked gleefully.

“Well, I guess. I mean, it depends.”

“Yeah, but, like, I wouldn’t have restitution, right? I’d just, like, do a tiny bid [sentence] and I wouldn’t have no probation.”

“I’m sure they’d order restitution to Travelers,” I guessed. Why did I not just tell her she’s wrong?

“Who’s Travelers?”

“The insurance company that pays out on the policies.”

“How’d you know that?”

“It’s listed right here on the paper.” I doubt she read past the reimbursement part. Goddamned lazy. 

“OMG, I’m telling people!”

Expending more energy than she has the whole time she’s been here, aggregate, she bounced over to the break table in the corner of the kitchen.

“Yo! Listen! Listen up, yo! Just want everybody to know…they have this program, right? Where they pay for your restitution if you steal, but it’s gotta be from a job. Bosslady says all you do is a skid bid when you use this program,” she announced.

“I did not say that. Ever.”  And I added. “Don’t steal. You’ll get caught.” The lesson sounds as powerful as it was.

We complain that they’re isn’t more help for incarcerated people but we forget that any well-intentioned plan is no match for a mind so nimbly criminal that it can easily dance and slip through any possible loophole or policy flaw.

“Ma, this shows that they believe in us, right, if they willin’ to pay for our shit? Right?” another worker asked me.

I’ve seen this a lot in here. Women who’ve been denied so much see any expenditure devoted to them as a sign of respect, or desire, or support.  Sex workers think that any guy who pays them thinks they’re hot.  They think SNAP [food stamps] exists because other taxpayers are chipping in to help them out with favors they’ll never have to repay. I hate having to break it to them that, even though they’re people, they’re just business as usual for others. Winning isn’t getting people to fork over money, regardless of what they think of you.

“No,” I sighed and tried to stifle my savage surliness. I failed.

“You don’t insure what you trust. They should call it the ‘This-Will-Probably-Be-A-Disaster-But-We’re-Asking-You-To-Give-This-Unreliable-Person-A-Shot-And-We’ll-Pay-You-When-We’re Wrong-Program.’ They don’t believe in us at all.”

pallet-jack-rental-1-300x225
I miss it a little.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JULY 17 – 23, 2017

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears with his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, left, via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool) ORG XMIT: NVREN404

After a lengthy hearing where his victim offered to pick him up if needed (which is illegal since most states enter a standing order that people convicted of crimes cannot contact their victims, even with their consent) OJ Simpson was granted parole. After he secured four out of four parole board members’ votes, Simpson was moved within Lovelock Correctional Center, to another cell, “away from other inmates,” in protective custody. Let me be clear here: OJ is in solitary confinement. If you think the use of solitary is reserved for those inmates who break the rules, then let this be a lesson. OJ behaved enough to make parole and they still packed him in.

And my favorite part of the national obsession with his hearing on Thursday was when his attorney told reporters not to listen to the C/O, Jeff Felix, who wrote the book Guarding the Juice because the guard has a mullet. Watch it here.

In the Whole Truth, published in The Sun magazine, law professor Richard A. Leo draws attention to the problem of false confessions in this interview, saying “the real trial [takes] place in the interrogation room,” where lying to suspects about evidence or possible sentences is perfectly legal (even though police have nothing to do with sentencing), and tapes of interrogation proceedings are rarely viewed by prosecution if they’re even made. Leo theorizes that unlimited overtime pay incentivizes police to conduct prolonged interrogations that increase the probability of errors and  false confessions.

And yes, any discussion of criminal justice policy continues somehow to connect itself to our country’s president who has been looking into pardoning himself, family members and close associates.  Donald Trump’s lawyers denied he will pardon anyone because no crimes have been committed and they had better hope so, since everyone Trump-connected is still vulnerable to state charges. It’s amazing that an administration opposed to justice reform might actually need it personally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17 July 2017

Bipolar Is Bullshit, Part 2 of 2

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plates6

Read Part 1 of 2 here.

With the affirmative insanity defense working only two percent of the time, it’s safe to say that we reject it in this country.  We dislike excuses and justifications, especially for crime; we prefer retribution.  If we turn our diagnostic eye toward an offender’s own history of trauma, we assign victim status to the perp and this upends the culture of blame and shifts it towards therapeutic justice and away from the pound of flesh we want to measure on our all-knowing scales.

Who can we impugn if the perpetrator is a victim?  If we start feeling sympathy or even empathy for defendants in criminal cases, we start admitting that we’re like those defendants because we’re all victims in some way.   The PTSD-qualifying events in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, every shrink’s playbook, are restricted to experiences that hover around death.  The truth is that trauma lurks everywhere, even those benign places we frequent every day.  Divorce.  Humiliation.  Rejection.  Glass ceilings.  Childhood illness.  Getting arrested. Racial profiling.  Failure in anything.  Any experience of utter powerlessness is traumatic and even the most powerful people have experienced powerlessness at some point in their lives.  Those prosecutors with especially severe avenging-angel complexes probably developed their stances from experiencing their own trauma.  I don’t care what court you appear before; no judge grants immunity from pain.

Many people balk at the idea that everyone’s traumatized in some way but I think it’s true.  Trauma was once explained to me using the analogy of a stack of china plates.  If you drop the stack, then you would expect the bottom-most plate (Plate #1) to shatter in the worst way and the degrees of damage to the plates to decrease as you move away from the plate of first impact (i.e. if the bottom plate is No. 1, one would expect that No. 3 would bear more cracks than No. 7 and No. 7 more than No. 10). Bu  trauma doesn’t work that way.  The bottom plate usually sustains the most damage but often Plate No. 2 remains intact while Plate No. 6 shatters, or Plate Nos. 2 and 3 are unbroken while Plate No. 8 breaks; the plates don’t always respond they way we think they would. They’re unpredictable, kind of like people who break the law.

Trauma is like that plate-breaking force.  It has different effects on different people depending on their circumstances at the time of impact so trauma’s tear through society will be neither neat nor expected.  Who’s to say that, because your divorce didn’t shatter you,then no one else’s divorce should have shattered them? Or a that a car accident can’t have the same effect as watching your mother get beaten to death by your father? There many gradations in trauma make which make seeing it as universal counterintuitive.  But let’s face it – each of us does battle every day. Everyone’s a combat veteran of daily life.

Because it’s so prevalent is probably why PTSD remains really only a sort-of diagnosis in  criminal courtrooms; it clearly has a second class status.  At most, it’s an adjunct to other “real” mental illness and rarely the operating diagnosis in determining punishment of an offender.  When PTSD alone anchors an insanity defense, prosecutors frequently dismantle it because trauma is from the un-evidenced past – it only reaches the court record through someone’s self-report, and that someone is considered an inveterate liar by the system.  It’s possible people are malingering to avoid responsibility so prosecutors’ suspicions aren’t baseless. But forensic psychiatrists know about them and shy away from the diagnosis of PTSD for an insanity defense almost in an attempt to help the defendant.

Recently, researchers discovered a way to test objectively for PTSD; the gene p11 has been found to be significantly more expressed in the mitochondrial RNA of people who suffered trauma.  Patients – and doctors and prosecutors – can know more definitively what treatment avenues to pursue and which to ditch. Technically, now they can rely on something as conclusive as a serum blood test instead of someone’s word.

When evidence of a PTSD diagnosis is confirmed by prosecutors, studies have shown that the courts incarcerate those defendants less often, almost always sentencing them to probation, not prison. You would think that lawyers everywhere would be clamoring for these tests for their clients. I know better. I’m sure they’re smugly unaware of how this new discovery could help the people they represent.

Like I said, it’s safe to assume every woman in here has bipolar in their charts instead of PTSD. The ladies that had proper PTSD diagnoses never came inside. All that epidemiology everyone has on us in corrections? It’s totally incorrect. It’s bullshit.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JULY 10 – 16, 2017

booker warren

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced a new bill, the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which will, among other things, assure federal prisoners access to quality tampons and pads free of charge, keep pregnant women out of solitary confinement, and give them free phone calls to speak to their children.  If passed, it would be the first legislation that specifically addresses how prisoners are treated and their humanity. But it’s been proposed by Democrats in a Republican Congress with a White House that wants to get tough on crime. Not only will it not pass, it won’t get a vote.  Remember it’s the thought that counts.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission released data that show that there are more white people getting sentenced to mandatory minimum terms than people of color. You will notice that this hasn’t made much of a splash in the news.

A columnist in Minnesota wrote a compelling piece on looks in the courtroom and a recent study about the effect of appearance in sentencing. The study found that, when defendants with scars on their faces were sentenced, they received less time. Researchers suspect it’s because the facial scars are objective evidence of trauma that judges can rely on and feel some sympathy for the defendant before them. Read the post above again.

 

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10 July 2017

Bipolar Is Bullshit, Part 1 of 2

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moods

It should just come with the mug shot and fingerprints.

Most people in prison with me have “treatment resistant bipolar disorder” noted somewhere in their medical records, meaning we had been diagnosed with the disease but medication (allegedly) never kept our behavior in check. It’s safe to say that we all have it, at least in name.

And it’s bullshit.

Bipolar disorder is over diagnosed at ridiculous rates. A study from the University of Texas Center of Excellence on Mood Disorders (a name that sounds like it was created by a classically manic person – we certainly don’t need any centers of mediocrity dedicated to this, do we?) reports that rates of bipolar disorder overdiagnosis range from 4.8 to 67 percent, a range of over 62 percentage points. The Depression and Bipolar Support Awareness organization estimates that 6 million people have bipolar disorder – that would mean that over 4 million people have been misdiagnosed. If cancer or diabetes were over-diagnosed over two thirds of the time, public outcry would deafen doctors. But this rate of over-diagnosis is permissible in mental illness because bipolar disorder is a convenient stand-in for what we don’t want to be aware of, namely trauma in someone’s background.

Where bipolar disorder is over-diagnosed, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is under-diagnosed.   PTSD underdiagnosis is estimated to be as high as 40% which should be expected. One of the first studies targeting this problem with PTSD  found that patients who were under-diagnosed tended to be lower-functioning, less educated and younger than the people properly diagnosed. Criminal courtrooms and jails give you the most bang for your buck when you’re looking for people who can’t express themselves properly and explaining your past is what gets you a valid PTSD diagnosis. Shit, mistakes are practically guaranteed in here.

They’re not necessarily made out of malice. At least initially, bipolar disorder and PTSD can mimic each other. Each disease drags depression with it. Post-traumatic hypervigilance can look just like hypomania. Both illnesses disturb sleep. Confusing them is easy.

Where psychiatrists get away with misdiagnosis murder is when medication fails to treat their diagnoses.  Real disease often responds to medication; relief arrives quickly to someone who’s truly ill.

Doctors don’t always look for alternate causes of irrational behavior in patients who are taking medication; instead they downshift into a psychiatric default and deem the bipolar patient “treatment resistant” which translates, as a practical matter, to “intractable” and “dangerous”  which is really unfair since there’s no single definition of treatment resistance. It’s not a clinical phenomenon; it’s made up. The lack of standards for treatment resistance proves that psychiatrists can’t believe they would ever misdiagnose a patient; the patient just can’t heal herself of the illness they happened to pick for her. Are a diabetic person’s insulin levels “treatment resistant” to chemotherapy? No, because it is the wrong medication for the disorder. I’m “treatment resistant” to sickle cell anemia medications. Want to know why? I don’t have sickle cell anemia.

The inaccuracy in modern mental health treatment allows psychiatrists to be trigger happy. Because the connection between childhood trauma and adulthood crime has been proven so many times it’s practically drawn with a black Sharpie, it’s essential that a treatment provider inquire into the history of an allegedly bipolar patient who’s in criminal trouble. Most doctors don’t, but when they do, psychiatrists co-opt the language of PTSD and call traumatic events “triggers” for bipolar disorder. Scientifically, this doesn’t make sense. External events can’t cause organic brain disease that, according to the shrinks themselves, is often genetically generated. That’s like saying a car accident triggered Lyme Disease. Nature doesn’t work like that.

Understandably, mental health providers don’t want to look beyond bipolar disorder to discern if their patients are suffering from PTSD. If doctors were to probe their patients’ pasts, they would unearth some gruesome stories. They would find a woman who was raped by her uncle with a hot curling iron as a child. She’s here. They would discover a man who lost four fingers at age three because his mother’s whose alcoholism was so severe that she was not aware he was playing with the washing machine or being molested by her best friend from high school. he was in the cell next to me in Milford lock-up.

Psychiatrists would encounter Tom Cahill, an Air Force Veteran who was gang raped, repeatedly, for 24 hours when he was jailed for civil disobedience after protesting the Vietnam War. All three of these people were diagnosed with bipolar disorder even though the fact patterns of their lives – had they been properly explored – practically sent out engraved invitations to PTSD diagnosis.

People complain a lot about the phone companies and commissary giants profiting off mass incarceration but, for me, the biggest pigs at the correctional trough are the pill brokers. Big Pharma makes bank on bipolar disorder medications whether the diagnosis they treat is correct or not. Understandably, Abbott Laboratories, the manufacturer of the leading bipolar disorder medication Depakote, co-sponsors Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day with the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) because the more aware you are of the constellation of symptoms ascribed to bipolar disorder, the more likely you are to look for hope for your pain in a pill – one of Abbott’s pills. Between 2001 and 2006, Abbott made $13 billion on Depakote alone, some of it from illegal marketing of the drug as a dementia and schizophrenia medication, uses for which Depakote was unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration. It looks like Abbott was trying to raise awareness of those illnesses, too.

If you went through our charts in the medical building, you’d find bipolar disorder somewhere in every single chart. I would lay odds on it. Bipolar disorder is the biggest red herring going.

And PTSD is the red-headed stepchild.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM JULY 3 – 9, 2017

Maria-Isabel-Garduno-Martinez

Maybe it’s because she’s a woman but I’m surprised that the right-wing media hasn’t picked up on this story to buttress the Trump administration’s ‘bad hombre’ narrative. Isabel Martinez, a Mexican national and mother of five, is accused of murdering four of her children and their father (a fifth child was injured). When she appeared in court on Friday, she waved and waived her right to counsel, saying that the people and her faith will always be her attorney. “Those are my attorneys, that’s why I’m here,” she told Gwinnett County Magistrate Judge Michael Thorpe, who replied with unprofessional sarcasm and then didn’t order the psychiatric evaluation the whole scene was begging for. This is common with self-representation; defendants with severe disabilities and deficits ask to represent themselves and courts oblige, saying proceeding pro se is a constitutional right. Yet, when a defendant who has a chance at beating the government at trial wants to represent himself or herself, this constitutional right evaporates. I watched it happen myself.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has until midnight Monday to sign a bill that would require a “racial impact statement” to be considered whenever a criminal justice law is about to pass the legislature so that they don’t extend the disproportionate effect of incarceration on racial minorities. New Jersey would be the fourth state to pass such a statute; it’s at the top of the list of states that have decarcerated themselves in earnest, but the racial disparities in that shrinking population are getting worse, which isn’t what you’d expect.  The statement probably isn’t a bad idea, but it seems almost redundant. Are we not considering the impact other laws will have on communities of color? Wasn’t this type of analysis already in place – how laws will affect the taxpayers who foot the bill for them – for every kind of law ? I argued that we also need to consider a  “gender impact statement” for laws. We should have a disability impact statement, too, right? I don’t see how this idea is new. It shouldn’t be.

The Daily Beast ran an interesting article on why new suspects are rarely charged when wrongful convictions are discovered. The United States has 263 overturned murder convictions but only 16 new suspects have been charged. The defendants who are charged later typically point to the evidence introduced at the first trial and tell the jury: there’s your reasonable doubt right there. And they’re right.

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3 July 2017

Proof Through the Night

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gireworks

An elderly inmate walked by. Wiry greys. Careful gait.

LH:                   Fuck that old bitch.

Chandra:         Who? Linda? You know, she’s a pretty good writer. She’s in my poetry class.

LH:                   What‘s she write about?

Chandra:          Umm, a pretty good one about memory, longing and a red watering can.

LH:                   A what?

Chandra:         A watering can.

LH:                   What the fuck is that?

Chandra:          It’s a container that people use to water flowers. Has a spout.

LH:                   You know what she did?

Chandra:          Her crime? No. I don’t.

LH:                   Her cats. She put firecrackers in they assholes.

Silence.

LH:                   She lit them shits, too.

I’ve spent the last six hours unable to sleep, in deep introspection, trying to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with me that I assumed they were lit because not lighting them would be crazy.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 26 – JULY 2, 2017

Does-Vivitrol-help-with-cravings-22

Vivitrol is the big buzz now with ProPublica’s recent attempted take-down of its manufacturer, Alkermes, because of the money the company makes ($1000 per shot) and the money it’s spends on lobbying ($430,000 so far). I would estimate that a third of all methadone and suboxone goes to people who don’t have prescriptions, sold by people who do have scripts. The bottom-line is that, to the extent that Vivitrol doesn’t get anyone high and can’t be passed around, it’s probably preferable to any other opioid antagonist.

A study out of England found that treatment programs for people convicted of sex offenses actually increased the rate of offending, particularly when it came to images related to children, i.e. kiddie porn. It was actually group therapy that was the problem; collecting people with these problems in one area and requiring them to talk about it allowed them to exchange tips on dirty deeds. This study might get some attention in attempt to make sex offenders look incorrigible but where it definitely won’t get attention is the fact that it shows that keeping criminally-minded people together – in jail, in prison, in some mandated group therapy session – you run the risk of expanding their criminal horizons, not correcting them.

You can watch what Washington Post writer Radley Balko  calls the “rise of the warrior cop.” With words from Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker posted video from police training that aims to create a “conditioned response” amongst police officers to kill. If you’re not law enforcement, this is what you’re up against.

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26 June 2017

Fault in Our Stars

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astro1

“Excuse me. EXCUSE ME! This does not contain to you!”

I’m like a dog when I hear bad vocabulary or grammar. My ears perk, my neck cranes and I twist it around to look for the danger to my education and syntactical sensibilities. Peril was closing in on me as Deb, one of my cube-mates, was yelling at Savannah, another one of the seven other women I was squeezed in with. Deb was displaying her ignorance of “pertain” and “contain.” A third cube-mate placed her hand on Deb’s shoulder to tell her to quiet down.

“Nah, nah. I ain’t done,” Deb threw the hand away. The stakes were high; rightful ownership of Twizzlers and a honey bun was being contested.  

“Know what you are?” Deb leaned in close to Savannah’s bunk and then pulled her head back dramatically, like she’s Oprah in A Color Purple.

“She is a astrological liar!” Deb turned and announced as if to a crowd. We’re in a room that houses 56 women, so I guess she’s right. 

A couple of mm-hmm’s floated around. Either Savannah stiffed them too or they thought Deb was saying something sensible that they just didn’t understand.

I wonder if it’s possible that the messages about the necessity for education in one’s life are targeted to those who are already pursuing one. I’ve never gone a month without education’s importance pressed upon me, if not from a teacher, then from another professional, and if not from them, then from some ad on tv, even for one of those for-profit rip-off colleges.

Is this message not getting to impoverished areas? At first I thought that many women here didn’t complete high school because they didn’t have TV’s in their homes growing up. No TV then no education/drop-out PSA’s. I even asked one of my first cube-mates,Tania, about it. She got her GED here at the prison during a previous sentence.

“So, did you not have TV when you were growing up?”

“All I did was watch fuckin’ TV,” she snorted, insulted because, to her, my question implied that her family couldn’t afford a TV.

“And you never saw any of those ads that say you shouldn’t drop out, or you’d have a much harder time in life. I saw them all the time. Like…what was it…don’t be a fool…stay in school? Something like that. You never heard that?”

I still can’t get over this, how they thought dropping out wasn’t going to screw them.

“I don’t remember nothing like that.”

Only because my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, parents’  colleagues were educated, I was capable of absorbing a message that I actually never needed. As if I thought of dropping out of high school. Not only did I love it, about 30 people would have come at me with long knives. Because they’re floating in the cosmos of poverty, TV’s notwithstanding,the people who need the message can’t hear it.

Getting pissed at them because they’re undereducated is like getting mad that someone else has worse food on their plate than yours. Or that I flipped heads when the coin faced up tails for them. I was born under the right set of stars to guarantee me meaningful education when many women were born under academically cloudy skies. Where and to whom we were born is essentially chance and I can’t complain that I’m kind of winning at the game, even if I’m in prison, pissy over grammar. If I said that a psychic or an astrologer was an “astrological liar “for their senseless predictions, people would chuckle at how clever I was rather than react to my pedagogical pathology. That’s how unfair this world is; their gaffe would be my genius.

“I don’t think you got that right. That ain’t sound right. You tryin’ a sound like her,” Liz said to Deb and pointed behind her to me, where I sat on the lower bunk.

“Bunkie, is it right? A astrological liar?” Deb asked me. It was part exasperated plea for approval and part genuine curiosity. She really didn’t know. 

“An astrological liar. Yeah,” I assured her with a nod. “That’s a thing.”

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 18 – 25, 2017

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A tale of two counties. Putnam County, Georgia prosecutors announced Wednesday that they’re seeking the death penalty against Donnie Russell Rowe and Ricky Dubose, the two inmates who escaped from a prison bus transporting them to a work assignment on June 13th and killed two correction officers with the officers’ own guns. Just the day before, Polk County sheriff’s office had announced that they were reducing the sentences of inmates who helped save the life of a correction officer at their worksite when he fell into heat-related distress. The escape story will last longer in the media and the collective crime consciousness than the savior story. Trust me.

A tale of two weapons. Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four, was gunned down by Seattle police in front of her children after calling to report a burglary and answering the door holding a knife. Transcripts of the encounter reveal one officer telling the other to tase her only to be informed that his partner didn’t have a taser on him. Pundits say Lyles was failed by the mental health system. I think she was failed – and we all are – by law enforcement agencies that don’t equip their employees with non-lethal distance weapons in addition to firearms.

A tale of two ditches. Being an informant is dangerous, according to a study by the federal judiciary, the very government branch that uses them the most. Nearly 700 people believed to have served as government witnesses have been threatened, injured, or killed over a recent three-year period. These “snitches” are often instrumental in criminal investigations and can get more than a third of their prison sentences cut in exchange for their cooperation. Sixty-one of the informants from the judiciary survey were murdered. Inmates are becoming more adept at unmasking the “snitches,” so judges are considering new rules for secrecy in the court system. That means that prosecutors will have even more power in an already imbalanced system.

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19 June 2017

Ain’t It a Shame? You Win Again

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tophearse

I remember the day I lost my first appeal, or at least they day I knew I lost it. It was February 17, 2010 and I was called into the Zero North counselor’s office. It’s one of the only times I’ve been able to speak with an attorney in here. And I didn’t even argue with her or complain about the loss. I just listened, said nothing.  That’s how I knew I was either rehabilitated or totally broken. On second thought, they’re the same thing.

“It’s really hard to win an appeal,” said the public defender who was forced on me, my juridical rapist. I got the message; with that shitshow of a trial, you lost before the game started, Bozelko.

hearseIf there’s any lesson about how difficult it is to win a criminal appeal, it’s the story of John Keoghan. The Catholic priest watched from above (or below) as his convictions for abusing children were vacated after he was killed in a Massachusetts prison while his appeals were still pending. He won. But he had to die to do it. Son of a bitch took the easy way out.

Imagine not having to deal with any more prison bullshit, throwing off the correctional coil but still being able to reach out from the grave and put your thumb in the prosecutor’s eye. The whole setup is appealing to me right now as I toss another post-conviction loss onto my stack of legal papers and wipe small puddles from under my lower lids. It’s hardly solace that I’m not alone in losing appeals so often.

Because there are so many disparate systems in the larger criminal justice system, it’s hard to get an overall success rate in criminal appeals so very few try. The last time the Bureau of Justice Statistics examined this issue was 12 years ago [2001]. Researchers narrowed and examined the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and found that the success rate for criminal appeals in federal courts in Connecticut and parts of New York was 3.87%.

Many circuits and jurisdictions don’t even keep official count of the number of times a defendant wins an appeal. I assume they think the number of winning appeals is so small that it’s pointless to survey it.

Most people assume that appellants like me lose because our arguments are meritless but the history of exonerations in the country proves otherwise.

hearse-3
One car for every criminal appeal winner in the United States. That’s what, eleven people?

Indeed, the Innocence Project, the organization started by former OJ Simpson Dream Team lawyer Barry Scheck to address the issue of wrongful convictions, a group responsible for many exonerations, won’t even review a case until all appeals have been exhausted. And they can’t take my case because there’s no DNA involved. The people who are lucky enough to be wrongfully convicted of being the architect of a crime scene with some human drippings on it qualify for greater scrutiny by higher courts – and more assistance – than I ever will.

And those people prove that too many people lose their appeals undeservingly. A study of the first 250 people to clear their names through DNA testing found that 90% of them had lost all of their appeals. Two-hundred and sixty more were exonerated only after prosecutors and pardon boards intervened after they exhausted all of their post-conviction review. Courts are really bad at correcting their own mistakes. Someone else needs to do it. And I’m not even allowed to try.

The purpose of judicial review – the process of having a higher court examine a lower court’s decisions – is two-fold. It’s supposed to correct injustice but also serve as a disciplinary force on trial courts. Judges and prosecutors are supposed to fear being overturned so much that they exercise extreme caution with every decision they make.

If the chances of being overturned are so small it’s close to zero, then there’s no incentive for judges and prosecutors to work to assure a fair trial to defendants. In a system designed to deliver proper consequences for people’s behavior, there are virtually no consequence for judicial error or prosecutorial misconduct, two events that are the best predictors of wrongful conviction. Along with an attorney who tells the jury to convict you because there’s “no reasonable doubt.”

The body of Justice Antonin Scalia arrives at the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016. Thousands of mourners will pay their respects Friday for Justice Antonin Scalia as his casket rests in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court, where he spent nearly three decades as one of its most influential members. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

And when that wrongful conviction appears in a reviewing court, an appellate system that favors finality over accuracy takes over and leaves me sitting in here, with a roommate who has no teeth yet uses up all of my toothpaste.

Of course, wholesale overturning of criminal convictions isn’t good either. One of the reasons why appellate courts are so stingy with reversals is that judges – and the public – fear freeing a guilty person on a technicality.

But very few people get off on a technicality because few people get off. Even so, it’s a margin of error that may be the price of keeping innocent people out of prison. Which is more unappealing, courts where guilty defendants walk free after catchy phrasing like “if it does not fit, you must acquit”?

Or courts that send innocent people to prison and won’t reverse unless you’re in a hearse?

hearse4 I swear…you’re gonna be sick of winning.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 12 – 18, 2017

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This was a big week for crime.  The President is now supposedly under criminal investigation. Five Flint, Michigan administrators were arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. And three (more like two-and a half) criminal verdicts came down between Friday and Saturday.

Verdict: Not Guilty. Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer, was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter. People are outraged and I can’t say I’m not either. If Yanez had been charged with murder, I think that would have been overkill. But second degree manslaughter is low-hanging fruit for prosecutors. All they had to prove was that Yanez “created an unreasonable risk, and consciously [took] chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.” I think pumping bullets into anyone by intentionally discharging a firearm counts as second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. Plus, Yanez’ defense – he “did what he had to do” – is something I used to hear from inmates all the time when they did something indefensible.

Verdict: Guilty. Michelle Carter was convicted of first degree manslaughter for cheering on her boyfriend via text as he was taking his own life. Philosophical debates have sprung up about suicide, choice, personal autonomy but I don’t think this case is really about any of that. Carter’s main defense wasn’t that she didn’t send the texts, but that she was involuntarily intoxicated by the anti-depressants she was taking. This was a bench trial, not a jury trial, so it was a judge who rejected the idea  that psychotropic medication can cause crime. Rather than worrying about whether encouraging someone to take their own lives is a crime, we need to worry about the precedent established here that’s even more damaging:  the judge’s decision didn’t acknowledge the very real contribution that psych meds make to the number of names on criminal dockets.

Verdict: We don’t know what we’re doing. The jury hearing the case against former entertainer Bill Cosby in Norristown, Pennsylvania deadlocked a couple of times and the judge there wasn’t having it and sent them back to deliberate, all while refusing to let them review certain evidence. Near the end of deliberations, a note that asked “What is the definition of reasonable doubt?” was sent out by the jury.  If they had to ask (the definition of reasonable doubt is routinely included in jury instructions), then it was time to acquit or declare a hung jury. Only when the judge sent jurors back in for more deliberation on a Saturday, the day before Father’s Day, did the real verdict come out: Fuck you, judge. We’re not staying here another day. A judgment of mistrial was entered moments later.

 

 

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12 June 2017

Consigned

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hangers

“You excited to go home?” some woman who has only been on this tier for two days asked me at my cell door. It’s March 1st and the usual countdown – someone shouting “X days and a wakeup!” –  has started for me. It’s not next month anymore. It’s this month.

“You excited to wear your own clothes?” she asked. I think she wanted my t-shirts and that was a way to see if I would admit whether or not I have clothes waiting for me. It’s a common problem. Women get arrested, come here, stay for even a month, and the landlord wherever she was living throws out all her stuff. Ex-offenders aren’t selfish when they can’t give someone the shirt of their back; many times it’s the only one they have.

“Actually, not really,” I told her.

For 2275 days straight, I’ve worn the exact same thing every single day: burgundy T-shirt and jeans. If it was cold out, I added a gray crewneck sweatshirt.  Same thing. Every day. Except for when I broke my streak a couple of times, days stuck in solitary. In the hole I wore red scrubs but I don’t count those against my stretch because I wasn’t allowed to change my clothes every day then, only once a week.  And every single day I wore sneakers. With the jeans.

We had no uniforms when I went to primary school.  Instead, I studied and played from age 8 to 17 under the yoke of a dress code: no jeans, shirts with collars, no shorts. And no sneakers. Our main rival employed almost an identical code permitted its students to wear jeans. The students across town seemed edgier, more sophisticated.  My friends and I wanted to rewrite the dress code to include our Guess jeans and Adidas Samba turf shoes.

“Jeans go with everything!” we told my mother, a trustee of the school, in extended teenage whine. It never worked. Instead we wore khaki’s with our leg warmers and LL Bean bluchers instead of Tretorn tennis shoes.

Outwardly I fought for unfettered fashion freedom, but inside I longed for the security of uniform dressing; uniforms go with more than everything. I adored game days, when the field hockey and lacrosse players could wear our team uniforms to school, with sneakers. On game days, I suffered no morning angst picking an outfit.  If you can’t wear exactly what you want, then what’s the point of even trying at all? I adopted a dangerous dichotomy: if I couldn’t have total freedom, then I wanted none at all. Besides, our green plaid kilts and white polos obliterated opportunities to mock each another’s clothing choices. When Horace Mann said that education is the great equalizer, he must’ve been talking about a school with uniforms.

Seventeen years later, as systems and institutions pulled thread after thread from my freedom, the dress code was rewritten as if only for me. Here I got everything I wanted all along:  a uniform, and one that incorporated my symbols of freedom: jeans and sneakers.

The jeans and sneakers I always wanted to wear didn’t work as coercive fashion for me at first. As I served my time, I dreamed of Tod’s loafers and Lilly Pulitzer corduroys. Of Hogan flats and a Dolce and Gabanna cardigan. Even of navy crepe de chine suiting. The same type of ensembles I would have worn in high school. Behind all of the mix-and-match in my head was the allure of choice. The edification of self-care. The grandeur of grooming. Collars.

Clothes play a bigger role in criminology than we think. Getting arrested is “taking a collar” – it’s like Hamden Hall’s dress code set me up.  The divisions among offenders create themselves by what they’re wearing: the colors of their shirts. Pink collar crime is essentially embezzlement by females. Blue collar crime is crime committed by anyone who isn’t wealthy, even though they may not be from a working class.  Black collar crime is committed by priests. Green collar crime is offense against the environment. White shirts mean wealth; the phrase “white-collar crime” was coined in 1939 during an address to the American Sociological Society when someone defined the term as “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” Apparently, clothes don’t just make the man, they also make the inmate. And they make the inmate pliable, quiet, used to having decisions made for them. 

Which might be the reason why the uniforms don’t bother me anymore. I have to admit that I’ve come to  love this unchallenging, monotony of wearing the same collarless thing every day. In prison, it was always someone else’s fault that I looked bad or dressed terribly. Because I’ve had no chance to look presentable, I’ve totally abdicated the duty to care about how I looked. Choice is going to be a burden because it will dangle off the hanger of responsibility. Life is easier when the Man rules with an iron fashion sense.

Like before, without total freedom, I might prefer none at all, even though I’ll be free of crime’s collar and can leave the leash behind. I don’t mind being constrained and tied up anymore now that I’m leaving in 18 days. That’s what they call institutionalized.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 5 – 11, 2017

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Her name is Reality Winner and, for those of you who like allegory, have at it. Winner is a government contractor who remains in custody with no bail on federal charges that she released a classified report to reporters at the Intercept. The Justice Department announced her arrest Monday after The Intercept reported the contents of a classified report suggesting Russian hackers attacked a U.S. voting software supplier just before last year’s presidential election. A Gofundme page has been set up for her defense and it’s raised, as of this reporting, $36,100 of a $50,000 goal, including 1K from Rose O’Donnell, which I thought was very cheap of her, since she’s a millionaire and Winner is probably going to lose this fight, unless jury nullification is involved. Is this what Trump meant when he said we’d be sick of winning? Maybe he meant we’d be sick of winner. He messes up his words sometimes.

Former FBI Director James Comey (who I just learned lives only a few towns away from me) seems to have mastered the dry snitch if his testimony Thursday is any indication. Dry-Snitching is the act of telling on someone indirectly, either by speaking loudly and openly about someone else’s offense when some type of enforcement is nearby so they overhear what someone did, or not reporting exactly what happened saying enough so the enforcer knows an offense has taken place. Here is the DS from Thursday, testimony in an open setting: “[o]ur judgment, as I recall, was that [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.” Nice. Comey.  Now Sessions has been called to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday about what Comey snitched him out for, yet never said anything.

Season 5 of Orange Is the New Black dropped on Friday and Heather Ann Thompson, Professor of History at the University of Michigan and author of  the book on the Attica riots Blood in the Water (which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize ), wrote commentary for about it for NBC News that, to me, is shocking. Aside from not knowing what the characters were really about, she also misspelled their names and said we’d be watching OITNB for the next 13 weeks because she didn’t know how a Netflix series works. She assumed it was one episode per week, in the way we used to watch Three’s Company on ABC.  A Pulitzer prize winner. Wrote about a season of a Netflix series. And she’s never watched any season at all. She’s the one talking about what happens to women in prison instead of us. Let that sink in. And then decide how much coverage of the criminal justice system you really trust.

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5 June 2017

Hello, Newman

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photo-28

We call ourselves the incarceration nation because the United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population yet we house 25% of the world’s prisoners. We must also be the intoxication nation because 80% of painkillers in the world are prescribed and consumed here.

Every nineteen minutes someone dies of a drug overdose. We’re losing this war on opioids because we’re fighting it like we did in the original War on Drugs, taking out the cornerboys and the runners instead of the real kingpins.

war-on-drugs-nixonFor the past thirty years, justice reform advocates have agreed that supply-side strategy has been ineffective. Both supply and demand stayed high so there’s no point to dedicating resources to plans that don’t work, even if it might have been the right thing to do.

With all the criticism leveled at the War on Drugs, it’s surprising how few people know why it doesn’t work. They don’t even realized that it isn’t being fought according to plan.

William Fine, an owner of the former New York department store Bonwit Teller, had a son suffering from opiate addiction. At a dinner party, he was very open with the then-Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, about his son’s problem and mentioned that Japan had very low rates of addiction. Rockefeller told him to go to the Land of the Rising Sun and find out why its addiction rates were setting.

Fine found that Japan recognized that the vein of vicarious liability courses through the head of any crime organization. war-on-drugs-nancy-reaganThe country’s plan to attack the supply side of drugs was successful because the kingpins in Japan served mandatory life sentences. No deals. Japan’s low level of addiction at the time was attributed to the fact that fewer and fewer people made the career choice of dealing drugs because the consequence of getting caught as a kingpin outweighed the profit to be derived from it.    It was true deterrence in action.

Governor Rockefeller drafted his drug laws to imitate Japan’s penal code and the federal government copied them.

If the drug laws enacted in New York and the United States Congress wanted big dealers and suppliers to be held most responsible for any drug epidemic, not the corner boys or the users, then I live smack-dab in the evidence that this isn’t happening and probably never did.

seinfeld-cosmo-kramer-junk-mail-postmaster-general-wilford-brimleyThe right way to understand the failed War on Drugs is to look at the way Kramer tried to cancel the mail in the Seinfeld episode where he’s getting too many catalogs. Kramer didn’t go to corner-boy Newman for a definitive end to the flow. He tried at the counter of the local post office – a mid-level dealer – to cancel his mail but it didn’t work. Eventually Kramer ends up face to face with the Postmaster General (even though the General captures him), the Kingpin of Canceled Stamps. Kramer had the source of all of the ‘evil’ right before him and…like our criminal justice system, he didn’t do shit and instead buckled, as low-level distributor Newman gets led away for punishment, cuffed and with a pail on his head. The message in that episode is that you can’t stop the mail; the mail has to be motivated to decide to stop itself. Substitute ‘drugs’ for ‘mail’ and you see why supply-side policy worked in Japan but not here. You have find the chokepoint. And attack that, not someone else.

Carly, the talker down the hall, isn’t the millionaire mastermind behind Waterbury’s drug trade like she claims, much less all of Connecticut, but someone else is.  (Note to Carly: kingpins don’t splurge on rims like you did; they buy the whole luxury car). Kingpin’s probably not even suspected of any criminal activity, much less does he fear a life sentence for the dough he rakes in for peddling death through underlings. We punish and confine that guy’s minions rather than releasing them and following them to track back to the kingpins whom Japan didn’t fear and didn’t settle until they were caught. Carly’s no General in the war; she’s just a Newman.

war-on-drugs-bill-clinton-300x499But the Carly’s, the low-level street suppliers, end up being the victims the mandatory-minimums that were designed for their bosses. Prosecutors give them very little incentive to turn on an upper level suppliers: snitch and do some time or don’t snitch and do a little bit more time. With the way we’ve corrupted our war strategy, there’s little downside to being the CEO of an outfit that enables people to get high. Our country is happy to make less fortunate, less educated people take the rap for you. It’s not drugs that have intoxicated us, it’s inequality. We’re addicted to imbalances of power that have normalized these unjust and ineffective responses to a black market.

The War on Drugs failed in the United States because we let our country’s indelible inequity get in the way of the plan. Dealers walk while runners serve mandatory-minimum sentences. We’re too loyal to the American tradition of letting the powerful off the hook while making the 99% pay for their crimes. If attacking the supply side doesn’t work, then it’s because the United States hasn’t looked high enough on the supply chain. You have to take out the Generals, not the Newmans, to win a war.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 29 – JUNE 4, 2017

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Three California jail guards were found guilty of murder in a detainee death. I haven’t been able to confirm that this is the first murder conviction for the death of an inmate but it looks like it might be. Think about that: of all the inmates who die at the hands of prison staff, the first murder conviction happened in 2017. It’s hopeful and hope-dashing at once.

The New Yorker ran a piece that showed the ravages of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia that’s a worthy read. It also bears noting that West Virginia is a deep-red state and over performed for Trump in the 2016 election. The Feds have jurisdiction over every single drug crime (that’s the aforementioned ‘War on Drugs’) so all the addicted Trumpers have a greater chance of arrest and prosecution with the person they elected to run the country. And if they get saddled with a felony conviction, they won’t be able to vote for him or any Republican. Trump’s policies are a war on his base.

The Bureau of Prisons’ educational programming took a hit from an investigation by The Marshall Project which found that they’re teaching more crocheting than critical thinking skills.

 

 

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29 May 2017

Variety

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Every woman in prison the nymph Thetis. Wanting to make her son Achilles immortal like her, she dipped him in the River Styx. She held him by the heel and Styx missed a spot, leaving a tiny invitation at the back of Achilles’ foot to anyone who wanted to take him down.

In here, we mother each other. I dip, you dip, we dip when we say: “I don’t judge you [for your crime]” and “The only person who can judge us is God” and “People make mistakes” and “I know you’re a good person,” spraying an invisible coating that will deflect scorn we get from the CO’s and in courtrooms, from people we’ll meet in the future. Protected, our self-esteem never will never die if we listen to each other. Condemnation will wait forever.

Thetis never wanted to vanquish her own son. If she had, it would have been easy because she knew vulnerability’s secret location, like we know what someone can be judged for.

Whenever rage rears its head it goes for the heel. Disputes over commissary or gossip or prison property rights devolve into accusations and name calling, using the words I hate: the conclusory nouns like ‘murderer’ and  ‘criminal’ and any descriptors that invoke the crimes that brought women here. They call each other fucking thieves and robbers and forgers and the worst: they challenge others’ ability to mother their children, as if any woman with children who’s in here isn’t in the same boat on the Styx.

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“Who the fuck’s takin’ care a’ your kids?” they shout at each other. Apparently, it’s a mark of real exclusivity not to have one’s kids in foster care.

While I’m screaming:

“Ladies, please! Let’s not conflate the person and the behavior!” they throw each others’ convictions, charges and arrest headlines in at each other, not even careful to aim for Achilles’ weakness since once we bring up each other’s crimes that impermeability isn’t limited to the ankles anymore.  In fact, it’s gone totally. What the protector giveth, the protector can taketh away.

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I think it’s telling that Thetis’s son, Achilles, gets nailed by none other than a provider of judgment, the judge of the ancient world’s Fairest of Them All pageant. Paris was his name and, in exchange for the opportunity to steal the world’s most beautiful woman from her marital bed, he rendered a decision in Aphrodite’s favor. Crooked bastard.

Of all the people who can condemn us morally, we do it to ourselves the most. The people who should judge least do it the most. Public enemy’s worst enemy is herself. If society acts like this when they get pissed at us, we’ll never be allowed to forget where we were.

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As I am sitting in the back of the GED classroom typing this, Shirelle ran in, yelling, pointing to the hallway and devoid of any intent to work on her writing assignment.

“Motherfucking murderer, killer bitch! Dirty bitch. Go beat someone to death and stuff their body in a box you’re too stupid to get rid of!

“Whoa. You alright?” Kelly asked her.

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“This bitch killed a bitch because she was jealous and stuffed her ass in an air-conditioner box. She’s a motherfuckin’ murderer and I’m not takin’ any of her shit.”

I knew exactly who she was talking about. The chick with the body-in-the-box was my cellmate.

“Wait…what’re you…aren’t you here for murder?” I asked Shirelle, eyes slitted into Whachyou talkin’ about Willis?

“Yeah, but I’m not that type of murderer, ‘kay?”

“Well, then,” I shrugged and sat in judgment, asking her to expose her heel like I was Paris, which I’m not because that motherfucker was murderer and a kidnapper.

“What kind of murderer are you?”

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THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 22 – 28, 2017

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While some New York media outlets reported the arrest of three staff members at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center for raping inmates, only the New York Post reported how they were caught. “Three of Lt. Eugenio Perez’s five victims separately gave investigators matching descriptions of the prison guard’s penis right down to the nickname he’d bestowed on it…” is how the Post put it. Another lieutenant, Carlos Richard Martinez, posted “It’s only PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] when you don’t like it,” on Facebook. Leaving aside for a moment any discussion of the amount of class that these two federal employees have, it’s important to note that prison rape is so rampant that these two thought they would never get caught and, certainly, never be punished, otherwise they wouldn’t have shared their crimes and introduced their privates to inmates.

Lee Boyd Malvo, the 17-year old who was suckered into going on a serial sniping spree in 2002 watched his life without parole sentences sail out the window on Friday when a Virginia judge vacated them.  I always felt that this kid, who lacked a positive male role model, was hijacked by John Allen Muhammad, a very ill man who was 25 years his senior, and brought into crimes he never would have been involved with otherwise. Malvo admitted well after his sentencing  – when it couldn’t mitigate his punishment – that Muhammad sexually abused him. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama. Last year the Supreme Court applied Miller retroactively to sentences issued before 2012, paving the way for the Virginia judge to give Malvo another turn at sentencing. By all accounts (except the prosecutors’ – because they have to show how big their dicks are) Malvo is contrite and a well-behaved inmate. He deserves a chance.

This week brought three more instances of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s coloring outside the lines. Allegedly the man who ran the jail where four inmates perished in six months (including one who was dehydrated to death) plagiarized his master’s thesis, projects the image that he’s earned medals for valor when he really just wears a big pin collection like costume jewelry,  and had someone who barely disagreed with him on a plane detained and questioned by his deputies. I almost want him to become the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security because this man will never quit this fraud, puffery and abuse. I think people need to know how corrupt and abusive law enforcement is and Clarke likes the attention; he’ll put law enforcement’s warts on full display so people can really understand who’s supposed to be keeping them safe.

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22 May 2017

No Chaser

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spicoli

No other inmate believes me when I tell her I’ve never smoked a cigarette or pot. They all accuse me of trying too hard to appear pure.

“I think the fact that I’m telling you this in a maximum-security prison makes a Snow White schtick a little difficult for me,” I defended myself. I use so many words that I sound like Mr. Hand talking to a Spicoli.

It’s not like the potheads here are badasses. In a Connecticut criminal courtroom, the word “marijuana” couldn’t be uttered without the phrase “low-level” accompanying it in the sentence so it’s been decriminalized. I haven’t, but weed has been freed.

I may be the only person who favors prison reform yet hates any type of permissive attitude towards pot.  I can’t deal with stoners. Talk to a daily smoker and tell me that they haven’t dumbed down. While it is true that there’s scant evidence of marijuana-induced violence, I live in a vat of anecdotal evidence that potheads are screw-ups and lumps.

To me,  even in their resting states, they’re as craven as heroin addicts but very few people will recognize that, especially since everyone in here treats pot like it’s Diet Coke, simply because it’s not crack. Many of them have sworn off harder drugs, at least in word if not in deed, but still fantasize about rolling a blunt the day they leave prison. They don’t dream of reuniting with their kids, reconciling with victims, or even walking down a street as a free person. Fatties are all they want.

When your top thought is how you can chemically alter your interface with reality, you’re an addict. Does it really matter that scientists say you can’t be physically addicted to pot? I see women who are psychologically addicted to getting high. Several of them have been inside for several years. Now with reform underway, they’ll emerge to a society that will make it easier for them to find this chemical release. In fact, the most common question I hear is “Can you help me get a medical marijuana card so I won’t violate probation when I get out?” Even if possessing it is legal now, smoking it can get them packed back into prison if they are under supervision that requires drug-testing.

I support what the Connecticut General Assembly just did to marijuana for one reason only: decriminalization will unclog the courts. Most people don’t realize that it’s not just lazy lawyers or pompous prosecutors or cuckoo cops; the size of our criminal justice system contributes to wrongful convictions. Any system manned by human beings has a margin of error. When that system grows larger, the percentage of errors may not necessarily increase but the number of errors does. The fewer criminal cases we have crowding our dockets, the less likely people are to be confined for something that they didn’t do. I don’t support legalization because I want everyone lighting up.

I’m the adult child of an alcoholic. As a kid, I never understood why my parents needed to alter their realities. A child can’t understand why temperaments change; they always blame themselves for what appears to be a parent’s unhappiness. When you’re the child of an alcoholic, booze can ruin your life even when you never touch a drop.

From watching my parents suffer from substances, I learned to like my dysphoria straight up. And I think everyone else should take it that way, too. At least if they want their lives to get better.

Almost every other woman I’ve encountered has a history of substance abuse so the mostly-discredited claim of  ‘marijuana’s a gateway drug’ actually works in here. So many of them are turnstiles already; they’ve used and been used in every way possible and their gateways are several thousand miles behind them. There’s no drug user in this prison who skipped an intoxicant grade. If they’ve used drugs – heroin to dust to an excess of Merlot –  then they’ve smoked pot.   All that anyone needs to know about disenfranchised women and drugs, legal or not, is that they’re a bad combination.

Don’t even attempt to convince me that potheads are generally content people who just relax with a toke. Anyone who gets high with anything is just trying to hide their unhappiness. No one who’s that happy needs to take the edge off their bliss.

No herb, no drink, no smoke can erase emptiness. Even if it’s legal, smoking pot won’t cure what ails them. After pot, it’s just a matter of time before they move to something else. They just won’t get arrested before that now. Only after.

Getting stoned will drain their ambition to rise out of the situations they live in and make it easier for inequality to chase them back into oppression. When poverty, a lack of education, and ever-present violence surround you, it’s just dumb to get high so you can be “mad chill.” No one who’s really on these women’s sides – like the decriminalization people claim to be – would want them stalled where they are with a dime bag, even if it’s outside of prison and can’t get them admission. When you chill, you stay where you are. That’s the last thing I want for the women here.

Of course, there are brilliant, ambitious people who use pot. Bill Maher, who I love, admits enjoying ganja and he’s not leaning on everyone else to get his work done. But for every Bill Maher, there are hundreds of stoned women around me who can’t Google what ailments would qualify them for a medical marijuana permit. They have to ask me, Mr. Hand, and can’t read my clear disdain for all of this.

I fully acknowledge that I would be a significantly duller pain in the ass if I were a bit more relaxed. I’ve wondered if pot would make me more socially-lubed and not the mass of high-strung seriousness I’ve been since the third grade. Just thinking about abandoning my self-imposed duties as monitor and arbiter of all things around me gives me flutters of panic. Who would do what I do? Just the thought of how out-of-control that scene would be scares the shit out of me. Pot’s dangerous if it threatens my imaginary presidence over daily life.

I know there’s evidence that marijuana has benefits for people’s health. I don’t doubt these scientific stats and I double my support for any effort to expand access to medical marijuana. If a remedy exists for someone’s physical illness and pain, we shouldn’t deny them what can make their lives both safe and livable. That’s as cruel and stupid as these life-without-parole sentences in federal courts for possessing a pound of the stuff. When it comes to the wacky-tabacky, we can act a little whacked. It’s better for you to get caught possessing a dead body, bloody fingers and a DNA match than a 20-pound brick of weed and a plan to sell it. If turning a hundred people into semi-responsive slackers is really worse than slaughtering someone, then everyone who teachers psychology would be doing life.

I think everyone’s lives should be safe, livable, and, quite frankly, at least a little bit happy, but not happy because their souls have been marinated or smoked or peppered with herb. I mean happy in the raw, and none of these stoners has ever been anything close to that. That’s why they’re here.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 15 – 21, 2017

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Rumors are that President Trump wants to name former Connecticut senator and Al Gore-running mate Joseph Lieberman to head the FBI, which is an unconventional choice for top G-Man to say the least. Lieberman, who would be 85 at the end of his term as director if he were appointed, currently works at a law firm that has represented the president for more than a ten years. He also has no experience in federal police work or criminal law. So he’s compromised and potentially incompetent. Sounds like a fit for law enforcement.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, the supervisor of a jail where four inmates died within six months, including one man who dehydrated to death after guards shut off the water to his cell as well as a newborn baby, says he is joining the Department of Homeland Security although the department hasn’t confirmed that. Even though people perished on his watch, Clarke has remained silent on the matter. There are two ways to look at this: either abusing and neglecting inmates to the point that they died in his jail was okay with Clarke or it wasn’t. If it was, then I really don’t want him guarding anyone’s life. If he disapproved of how his employees behaved, then that’s just as bad because it shows they didn’t respect him enough to follow the policies and ethos he established. Either way, he’s unfit to lead.

For the first time ever, the murder of a transgender person was prosecuted as a federal hate crime. Joshua Vallum pleaded guilty to violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and was sentenced to 49 years in prison for the murder of 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, a transgender woman who was his ex-girlfriend. “Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions, like he cared that the victim was transgender. The New York Times, I think, made a bigger deal of this than it is. It’s not that killing trans people was legal before. It’s just that no federal court took jurisdiction and considered it an act of hate when a victim was transgender. I fail to see how this is a victory for criminal justice; it’s not as if someone will think twice about murder because the potential victim’s gender identity is not what’s expected. There’s no boon here for public safety or defendant’s rights.  It’s a victory for identity politics, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it won’t change courtrooms or police investigations all that much.

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