21 August 2017

Shade and Freud, Part Two of Four

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 Read Part One of Four here.

One advantage – there are a scant few of them – that I have over other inmates is speed. I entered the room and within 3 steps I was halfway up the ladder to my bunk, raised above the one-woman fracas.

“I am a bad bitch! I am – baaad motherfuckin bitch!” Keisha sang along with Janet Jackson’s If I Was Your Girl which was blasting lyrics other than those… like “the things I’d do to you”…. into her ears because the song doesn’t include those words.

The shift had changed since I was sitting in the common area. Now it was Suarez, bald with no internal rap because he’s new. A clean inmate.com record made him suspicious to me – no one in prison squeaks like that. When the nurses came in for medline and they opened all the doors, I alighted from the bunk and scurried to the C/O’s desk.

“Mr. Suarez, I don’t know  if you heard what’s going on here…”

“I did,” he said as he shrugged. He didn’t give a fuck.

“And there’s nothing you can do?”

“I gotta witness what she’s doing,” he said from a desk that’s mere feet away from her screaming. “I can’t just send her to seg.”

“I’m not asking for that,” I explained, but I guess his response was justifiable since so many women here don’t seek to avoid trouble as much as they want to cause it for someone else and watch them suffer. Seg isn’t about security; it’s about schadenfreude. But not for me, so I was blunt:

“I just don’t want to live with her anymore. Move me – anywhere.”

“If she starts her shit again, hit the buzzer and I’ll come over,” he offered.

“Yeah, except I’m staying up on my bunk and the button is down by the door. You want me to come down near her to press it? Besides she’ll just stop doing what’s she’s doing and you won’t have the evidence you say you need.”

“So, then, if she starts again when you go back in, walk back and forth in front of the window and I’ll see you and beep in so I can hear what she’s doing, ‘kay? Catch her in the act.”

“Alright,” I said, like I had another choice.

And when I went back in, Keisha was praying at the window:

“Dear God, please help me kill dis bitch to make (sic) her dead, real dead…”

As she prayed, I paced, back and forth, over a four-foot span, passing the five-inch window like some asshole duck in a shooting gallery. If I appeared in that window once, I appeared maybe 300 times. Step, step. Pivot. Step, step. Pivot…for about 20 minutes as she tore through various prayers. And Suarez never looked up. Not once. I swear, I swear he was smiling.

Then, when divinity seemed insufficient, Keisha went to the sink, opened my toothpaste, stretched her arm out, rotated her wrist 180 degrees and squeezed a long, taffy-like drop to the floor.

Step. “Keisha, don’t!” I warned her from my gallery. Step. Pivot.  “I can’t order another for 5 days and I won’t get it for another seven. And I have teeth. So cut the shit.”

And at the next Pivot, a woman easily twice my size was coming at me.

I’m dead. Real dead.

But all she did was press her palm against my upper cheek and push it slightly, with a twist.  Her size made me think that Keisha could pack a wallop, but she can’t even pack a toothbrush. If all fights are like that, I can take all comers.

But I won’t.

“That’s it!” I screamed and swung my hand in that horizontal chop that always tells people that whatever’s happening is about to end real quick. The doors opened for rec[reation] and I barged out of the room.

“Suarez, she just put her hand on my face. Move me, please, alright? I want to be moved. There’s no reason for me to have to endure this when I have to go to work in the morning.”

“Can’t move you without calling an L.T.,” he said, like this was some insurmountable barrier.

“Suarez, alls I did was mush the bitch in the face,” Keisha added from behind me. According to inmate.com, mushing is an official fighting move. You put your hand on someone’s face and push in a rotating manner. I never knew this.

“Fine, call,” I huffed. “I mean, may I impose upon you to call a lieutenant?” is how I corrected my tune and lyrics. Suarez picked up the receiver.

Within minutes, Lieutenant Potash swashbuckled through the door, wry smile between his hunched shoulders and his I-just-fell-off-the-set-of-Anchorman mustache. Like he had won. Like this was expected. Violence could have been predicted earlier and, in fact, was. But doesn’t that make me the winner? That I was right all along?

“So, what happened?” Potash asked as squared his hips in a power stance.

“The same thing that’s been happening all day. I don’t care if she goes to seg. If I can just move, so I can sleep, that’s all I’m asking for.”

“Well, that’s not fuckin’ happening,” he decided.

“So I’m required to go back in the cell with her?”

“Nope. You reported violence so you’re gonna be seen by medical. Baskin here will take you over,” and he jerked a thumb at the guard who used to call another cellmate out of the room every time he worked third shift. She would disappear upstairs for an hour for no reason whatsoever. That’s no rumor.

“I’m not hurt. It was nothing. She didn’t hit me. It was just a mush. That’s what they call it, right? A mush?”

Potash just stared at me.

“Alright….Wait, why do I need to be escorted?” I asked, because I was never in on the game. Or its goal.

Check back next Monday for Part Three of Four. 

THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM AUGUST 14 – 20, 2017

Orange County Superior Court Judge Judge Thomas Goethals reads a portion of his ruling which takes the death penalty off the table for confessed killer Scott Evans Dekraai, 47, because he concluded law enforcement would not ensure the defendant a fair penalty trial, on Friday, August 18, 2017 in Santa Ana. Dekraai pleaded guilty to killing eight people and wounding another in an October 2011 shooting spree at a Seal Beach salon. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)

This is huge: a judge ordered the death penalty off the table for a defendant in a mass murder case because prosecutors and sheriffs had engaged in misconduct. Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said for him to ignore the misconduct – which included shredded documents, jailhouse informants used illegally to get confessions, deputies who lied on the witness stand, deputies who pleaded the Fifth in court so they wouldn’t be charged with perjury – in the case against Scott Dekraai who shot 8 people, including his ex-wife, in a hair salon in 2011 would be “unconscionable, even cowardly.” In prosecuting this defendant, the state ended up saving him because their actions were so dishonest. This development does raise another question of how far a prosecuting team has to go into misconduct for an entire case to be thrown out.

All Florida prisons were locked down last week, indefinitely, because the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March that was planned for – and occurred on – Saturday, 900 miles away in Washington, DC, would cause unrest among the 97,000 inmates within the facilities; the Department of Corrections said it had credible threats to security within. The March received not one mention in mainstream media, so it likely didn’t deliver the millions it advertised. This reveals a lot about the nature of prison lockdowns. The Department of Correction kept almost 100,000 people locked inside small cells for days because a non-event was happening a large distance away. Supposedly, the lockdown/shakedown netted some weapons and cell phones but that’s standard for Florida prisons. Totally unfair and counterproductive, this was not a safety measure but a show of non-physical force.

“I am seriously considering a pardon for Sheriff Arpaio,” President Trump told Fox News, talking about the controversial Arizona sheriff recently convicted of ignoring a federal judge’s orders to stop racial profiling. Arpaio was one of the biggest supporters of Trump’s plans to crack down on immigration.  The ACLU says a pardon would be “an official presidential endorsement of racism.” As far as I’m concerned, because Arpaio was notorious for humiliating inmates, he’s made himself ineligible for any mercy, especially since the maximum sentence he’s facing is six months, in a federal facility that never suffered his management. He’ll be fine no matter what.

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14 August 2017

Shade and Freud, Part One of Four

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birdonawire2

One thing that overcrowds every prison is unsubstantiated rumor. It can be about someone, anyone in here. They call this virtual – and sometimes downright ignorant – grapevine “inmate.com,” I guess because we can make the dumbest stuff go viral pretty quickly, even though no one ever clicks a mouse – or knows what they’re talking about. For accurate facts, this wire is for the birds.

Whenever tittle-tattle reaches my eardrums, much of it sounds outlandish, if not for its content, then its accessibility. How would inmates ever know this stuff about other people from the outside?  I mean, I’m the only one in here who does research and it’s not about this nonsense. I can’t fathom how these facts smuggle themselves inside this place.

Despite my disdain for it, inmate.com has created for me a new motto, words I doubted I would ever utter, especially since my standards on evidence became more stringent after my trial: I have no idea if that’s true, but I believe it. I am becoming an uncritical thinker, which would make me a match for Keisha, my cellmate.

We were assigned to the handicapped room that is isolated from the tiers and close to the staff desk. The handicapped room was apropos for Keisha. She screams and shakes people down for junk food and then break into a dance routine. She cries herself into hysterical laughter. Freud wouldn’t have a field day with her; he’d shit in his diaper and cry for his mother, two things I myself was on the verge of doing with her.

When Keisha moved in, I knew she was here for stabbing another woman in the chest and puncturing her lung (she lived) but scuttlebutt was that she was a prostitute on the streets who’d murdered a number of johns to get the remainder of their money, a la Eileen Wournos. I will say just this: I believe it.

In her past sentences, because Keisha’s had many, she’d pummeled guards, spit at them. She wants to brawl with all.  It’s almost like it’s her default mode. If she says: “I will kill a bitch” once, then she says it ten times a day.

Naturally, she believes everything she heard on inmate.com.

When her anger officially turned on me, it was because I had refused her an extra egg in the breakfast line. They aren’t mine to give away.  So she did the only reasonable thing and threatened to kill me to the girl assigned to distribute the juice cups who reported it, which I never thought was a bad idea. One of the good guys, C/O Roman, wanted to lock Keisha up but a ludicrous lieutenant, Booz, refused to sign off on it.

The buzz on Booz was that he was losing his house because he was underwater on a subprime mortgage, some peculiar dirt because these guys certainly earn enough. But, given how much of a dick Booz is, I believe it.

Yet another supervisor, Lieutenant Smith, stood by as Booz was listening to what happened.

“Why don’t the two of you just bang out back in the room?” Smith asked me, his overly intricate facial hair shape-up reminding me that I am not at home here. No man I have ever met would try to turn his facial hair into art.

“I don’t bang,” I said flatly.

Smith is new so there’s no intel on him but I don’t need any.

Then, throughout the rest of the day, as Keisha intermittently threatened me and threw her plastic bowls at me in a cell merely feet away from the C/O’s desk where they could hear everything and see something, one guard would peer in our 5-inch window and ask her, after losing every trace of the tough-guy schtick he uses with behaved inmates:

“Please calm down.”

She didn’t.

So they pulled me out of the cell, told me to sit at one of the four-man tables in the housing unit’s lobby.

CTO Walters [Correction Treatment Officer] came in, one half of his backpack slung over his shoulder as he departed for the day.

He’s supposedly a bodybuilder who’s show name is “Chocolate Thunder” but he seems more to me like an apple with legs. The unsubstantiated rumor about him is that he moonlights by posing, either nude or close to it, for women’s calendars.

“Umm, excuse me, Inmate Bozelko. Why are you out of your cell?” he sing-songed at me.

“The C/O’s told me to sit here because, well, my roommate is kind of wilding in there,” I answered him and pointed to the handicapped room.

“Who’s your roommate?”

“Keisha D.”

“Oh boy. Oh Lord. All of this drama is making my uterus hurt. Please!” he yelled at me. And to the guard at the desk:

“Listen, DO NOT let her back in there because, if anything happens, if she (pointed to cell) does anything to her (points to me), we are liable.”

He then put on his shades and fled fast, uterus, backpack and all. I will never be able to prove it, but I swear, I swear he was smiling as he left.

Lieutenant Potash must have passed Walters on the walkway because he came in so soon after the walking uterus left. Potash is all thunder and no chocolate. Unsubstantiated stuff about him is that he had undergone severe discipline for allegedly using his DOC badge to make obscene citizens’ arrests of regular citizens, one he normally couldn’t get his hands on. Supposedly he was acting like a legit cop, pulling over women who were driving but subjecting them to bizarre questions and searches. I don’t know if it’s true, but I totally believe it.  If you saw his hunchbacked anger, 80’s-style glasses frames and acidic attitude, you’d believe it, too.

Whenever I think of this story about Potash, I laugh hysterically and think: These DOC dudes kill me with their craziness.

“Bozelko, what’re you doing out of your cell?” Potash boomed at me.

“The C/O’s told me to sit out here because my roommate is out of control.”

“Yeah, well, it’s about to be count time so get the fuck back in there or go to seg,” Potash yelled, like I had asked to hang out with the staff or wasn’t following their orders.

Now I thought: These DOC dudes are going to kill me with their craziness as I pulled the curved metal plate that served as my cell door handle and walked back inside where Keisha was dancing in her underwear to music piped into her ears from my radio and headphones.

For Part Two of Four, click here.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM AUGUST 7 – 13, 2017

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. The nationalists were holding the rally to protest plans by the city of Charlottesville to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. There were several hundred protesters marching in a long line when the car drove into a group of them. /The Daily Progress via AP)

Taylor Lorenz, tech reporter for The Hill, reported that Charlottesville police officers suspected that James Alex Fields, Jr. wasn’t malicious in his intent when he plowed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protestors in at the “Unite the Right” rally on Saturday. The cops who talked to Lorenz claimed Fields was scared because people were acting violent around his car and he panicked. Their chief, Al Thomas, said at a press conference that Fields’ actions were “premeditated.” I don’t know how you view that but, from my experience, police don’t usually sympathize with a murder suspect or explain his actions in a quasi-exculpatory way to a reporter, especially when the viral video of the crime shows he floored it into people who were actually a good distance away from his car. My guess is that there are some Alt-Right cops down in Charlottesville.

Before President Donald Trump failed to condemn the attacks adequately and instead tried to say that “all sides” were responsible for a terrorist’s ramming his car into a crowd of people, the Cato Institute reminded us that you don’t need to have committed a crime to be impeached. Read their explanation here.

The difference between jurisdictions on what constitutes a larceny is startling, so startling that I’m sure that shoplifters target certain places that define the crime in the most generous way. For instance, for a larceny to become a felony in Connecticut, the value of the item(s) stolen has to be more than $1000. The same misdemeanor/felony threshold in Florida is $300. If you were going to steal, where would you do it? Don’t think people are above long-distance travel to commit crimes we usually dismiss as minor and simply short-sighted. One of my cellmates drove from Connecticut to Pennsylvania because she thought the penalties for larceny were less severe there and she had heard she could find more malls to hit than she could at home. In case you’re wondering, she got caught down in the Keystone State but didn’t get sentenced to term of imprisonment like she did up here.

 

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7 August 2017

Everything I Wrote in Seg

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Above photo is from the traveling “Inside the Box” exhibit which featured a 10-foot-by-12-foot replica solitary confinement cell. This cell is based on one from Wisconsin but it could easily be one I stayed in. In Connecticut, no pencils are allowed anymore in segregation, so for the 75 days (aggregate) I spent in there, I wrote nothing except when I was supervised  to write legal mail with a pencil I had to give back. It’s part of the punishment to be beckoned by that blankness and not be able to do anything about it.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIME AND JUSTICE FROM JULY 31 – AUGUST 6, 2017

GettyImages-660234198-2

Yeah, the Trump-Russia grand jury was formally announced, Martin “PharmaBro” Shkreli was convicted on three of eight counts against him and Michelle Carter, the teenager who texted her boyfriend encouragement for his suicide, was sentenced to 15 months’ incarceration.

But that’s just old news, continued. More important stories emerged last week, I think.

The Chris Christie-led panel issued an interim set of proposals Monday designed to fight the nation’s opioid crisis. Members unanimously urged the president to eliminate barriers to Medicaid coverage (which would mean keep the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it), make more naloxone available to more drug users, and to provide more training for doctors.  The panel also wants to expand “Good Samaritan” laws protecting those who report overdoses. The recommendations are everything the Trump Administration isn’t about.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions gets most of his policy ideas for the Department of Justice – policies like returning to mandatory minimum sentencing, resurrecting civil asset forfeiture – from the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety. The problem is that one knows exactly who’s on it.

More than half of the mayoral candidates in Detroit are ex-offenders. The mayoral primary, which will be held Tuesday, August 8th, will determine the two final candidates, regardless of party affiliation. It’s unlikely, but theoretically possible, that Detroit would have to choose between two candidates, each convicted of felonies, to lead the city.

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31 July 2017

Dumpster Hire

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dumpster

I realized how much I stunk when I sat down in Captain Soprano’s office. Tried to cover my stench of dried onions, sanitizing agent and dried milk with a weak smile.

“You wrote to me, remember?” he offered.

“Oh, yeah. Umm…he’s jumping out of the trash to scare people.” Women had been coming up to me, out of breath, slightly clammy, after being scared half to death when a C/O would pop out of dumpsters as they walked past, asking me what could be done about Officer Dumpster Diver.

“Where?”

“I haven’t seen but it looks like right outside the end of Four-South and on the East side [of the prison compound.]”

Rabkin, the Operations Captain, walked in and sat next to Soprano behind the desk. He took his glasses off, squeezed his eyes closed and massaged the bridge of his nose. He was annoyed he had to be there. Either that or he smelled me.

“So he’s in the dumpster and he jumps out at people?” Soprano asked with his pen poised above a lined pad like he needed notes to remember this later.

“Wait, who’s jumping out of a dumpster at who?” Rabkin spat out. I could tell what he was thinking: Which one of these nutty broads do I need to bust? Except it wasn’t one of us.

“Frisky. Frisky is. Your guy is jumping out of the dumpsters and scaring people.”

And Soprano turned and reminded him:

“You know how Frisky likes to scare the ‘mates,” like this wasn’t disturbing or a dereliction of duty. They already knew that a C/O was doing this and had done nothing – at least nothing effective – to stop it.

“I mean, I’ve been here for about 5 years and I know that the garbage isn’t an assigned post for staff,” I informed them, or at least those were the words that came out of my mouth. What I really said was: We all know he’s not doing his job.

“Well, I mean, I can talk to him,” Soprano shrugged. I don’t know if he knows that was the wrong answer. His solution to the problem I presented was that a superior officer might suggest to one of his charges that he quit his Oscar-the-Grouch schtick of hiding inside garbage receptacles to pop out to scare the shit out of women they’re all supposed to be dedicated to reforming.

It’s a little played out to use the garbage as a metaphor for modern corrections but it’s close. Some yahoo, rogue officer is allowed to roam the compound, instead of working, and pull pranks, playing in the trash. Everyone knows it’s happening, yet no one says anything. I’d compare his antics to a fraternity rush but frat boys are above chillin’ inside green dumpsters. Even people whose fortune has been reversed on them so badly that they become homeless and live in the streets have the sense to get in and get out of a dumpster after they get what they need. They don’t hang out in medical waste for kicks. And re-traumatizing people isn’t a taxpayer-financed blast for them.

The Connecticut Department of Correction’s motto is P.R.I.D.E. – Professionalism, Respect, Integrity, Dignity and Excellence. Yellow and blue letters scream it at anyone who leaves the prison though the front door. Can’t even go to the visiting room without P.R.I.D.E. screeching at you.

So I wanted to ask:

Would I file this dumper-writhing under Professionalism, since he’s clearly perfected this art? Or maybe Dignity, because he may roll around in trash but always gets up? Or Excellence because he gets in and out real fast?

But I didn’t, because P.R.I.D.E. may not contain any of its listed ingredients, but it does have power.

“Captain Soprano, I’ve already written to you about why this is a problem. A lot of people here have severe PTSD. Scaring them like that can trigger their startle response and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them just swings and hits him when he does that. And then what? She goes to seg, gets charged – outside charges, which means more time [added to her sentence] – he might get hurt. I mean, it’s a crime waiting to happen.”

And both of them just stared blankly at me as if to ask: So what?

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I know it’s blurry. Double click to read more closely.

 

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JULY 24 – 30, 2017

BRENTWOOD, NY - JULY 28: President Donald Trump speaks at Suffolk Community College on July 28, 2017 in Brentwood, New York. Trump, speaking close to where the violent street gang MS-13 has committed a number of murders, urged Congress to dedicate more funding to border enforcement and faster deportations. Trump spoke to an audience that included to law enforcement officers and the family members of crime victims. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump spoke Friday at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, New York, close to where the violent street gang “MS-13” committed a number of murders, and urged Congress to dedicate more funding to border enforcement and faster deportations.

Three takeaways from his speech:

  1. He wants to abolish the Fourth Amendment and dispense with the more than 100 years of case law that requires judges to sign warrants to search your property and/or seize it.
  2. He doesn’t know that his immigration policies are strengthening MS-13.
  3. He thinks it’s acceptable to beat up anyone in custody.

It wasn’t his best speech. But I bet it won’t be his worst.

 

 

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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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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.

Read Part 2 of 2 here.

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

threeverdicts

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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