29 February 2016

Black Mold Matters

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“Bozelko, were you here when they did the construction on these buildings?” the C/O asked me on the walkway. He was staring at the housing units, almost wistfully.

“You mean last year when they forced us to sit in the gym all day while they replaced the brickface or last year when they let us sit in our cells while they replaced the brickface and their drills were like buzzsaws in our ears?”

“Neither.”

“Oh. Then no.”

“No, not that,” he explained.

“Years ago, when the construction experts came in on buses and they took a face off the cinderblock on each building, you know, to look underneath to see how much the buildings sank? It looked like fur. Like the buildings were covered in fur underneath the cinderblock,” 

“Am I to assume that this was the real thing? No faux fur?” I kidded him.

“Real thing.  Mold like fur on the walls.

When they tried to clean it up,

it

                                       blew

                           

                                                                                  everywhere.”

 

“CT, you finished opening all those cans?” I asked another worker in Food Prep. She answered me sounding like Beaker from the Muppets.

“Meep. Eep. Ip.”

“What?” I leaned closer to her to hear.

“Ost. I. Ois.”

“Oh, you lost your voice again?” I asked and she nodded.

“Ge. Bah. Lay.”

 

 

 

“You’ll get it back later? Well, yeah, I doubt it’s gone forever,” I assured her. She waved over another inmate to translate.

“I’m on her tier,” the other woman said by way of introduction and explanation of how she knew CT’s situation and what she was trying to say.

“Her voice comes and goes. It’ll be fine one hour and gone the next. She thinks it’s the mold on the tier.”

“I’m sick, one counselor went home early and the other counselor had her third sinus infection in two months,” the CTO told the officer behind the desk. “I think it’s all the bacteria from the leak in the ceiling. You saw the whole ceiling fell in? There’s a big hole and all this black water came down…”

“I know. I saw it,” the officer said without looking up from logging in the recent housing moves.

“The water’s so dirty…”

 

 

 

“It’s not dirty. It’s mold,” the officer was trying to let the CTO down gently.

“No, it’s…. you think?”

 “You don’t see me going in there do you? That’s black mold,” the officer continued with regret. And the CTO blew her nose again.

“I’ve never done this before, so I’m not really sure what to do with these,” I confessed to Merc as she dropped four little packets of powder on the counter before me. Marc is here for sticking up convenience stores to fund her addiction.

“Do you know what I went through to get this for you? I was standing on my counter wearing one of them masks they use in the spice cage (the prison’s spice rack), all gloved up, scraping that shit off the walls with a fuckin’ spork.”

“I know. I know it’s not easy to get. But I don’t know how else we’re gonna prove that it’s making people sick unless we can send some out. I can’t reach it in my cell,” I said.

“Yo, you see that mold up there? You gonna do anything about that?” shouted a woman from her cell to the Operations Captain with his double-barred lapel who was conducting a rare tour through squalid housing units; usually he just runs the place.

“Well, something’s gotta kill you,” he said as he and his double bars walked, jackbooted, under the mold and out of the building.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 22-28, 2016

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The Vera Institute of Justice revealed that 12 million people are admitted to jails every year, 20 times more admissions than to state and federal prisons combined. Since there are only 2.3 million inmates remaining in custody, this would mean one of three things: 1) a bunch of people who leave jail are skipping court and not showing up to get sentenced; 2) judges are sentencing many, many people to punishments other than incarceration; 3) tons of charges get dropped, either because the defendant was innocent or the government didn’t have enough evidence. I don’t know whether any of the options is good.

President Obama announced plans to close Guantanamo Bay where each inmate costs a whopping $3 million per year to incarcerate. There are at least 60 left from the 242 in custody when Obama’s first term commenced. Who needs $180 million?

It was revealed that James “Whitey” Bulger allegedly masturbated in his cell last summer and got caught and sent to solitary confinement, where he would have even more free time and privacy to finish the job. He says it’s not true, that he was just powdering his testicles. I can’t make this stuff up.

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22 February 2016

Dude…Where’s My Appeal?

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“Dude, you make NO SENSE,” I said to a stack of papers.

“Who are you talking to?” my new cellmate, Chloe, asked. Chloe’s here for slashing two pregnant women with a boxcutter in a supermarket parking lot after they yelled at her to slow down when she sped by them. Between that and the fact that she had already regaled me with a story about how she does charity work in bikini carwashes, I knew she wasn’t the Supreme Court opinion-reading type.

“Scalia.”image

“What the fuck is that?”

“The Supreme Court.”

“Umm.”

I’ve tried so many times to represent myself in my appeals because I refuse to pay another attorney. But the courts keep forcing these lazy fools to represent me. I thought I had an absolute right to represent myself – even though I lost my first appeal on that ground – but I just found out I don’t. Martinez v. Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District says no one has a right to defend herself in a criminal appeal because, once the presumption of innocence flees the scene, she has no right to effective assistance from a lawyer.

The Court’s reasoning is ridiculous, of course, and conflicts with many other cases on the assistance of counsel in post-conviction proceedings.

imageI looked down at the bottom of the decision where the dissents and concurrences hang. Usually I can find some solace in there, some straight-thinking in a decision that doesn’t help me. But no. Justice Antonin “Nino” Scalia, in a concurring opinion (meaning he agreed with the vote but for a different reason) said that no one had a right to effective assistance in a criminal appeal because the Constitution doesn’t guarantee an appeal in a criminal case.

Scalia wouldn’t even get to write such a load of shit if Mr. Martinez hadn’t filed a criminal appeal. The only way to get to Scalia and the other justices in a criminal case is through an appeal. Unless it’s an original action but not too many criminals are original. If no one has a constitutional right to appeal a criminal conviction, then why the hell is the Supreme Court issuing opinions on criminal law, especially ones that tether me to some idiot appointed counsel? The highest court in the country makes no sense.

imageIt wasn’t the first time, either, that Scalia went screwy on me.

In 1989, in Houston v. Lack, the Supreme Court established the “prison mailbox rule” – a law that held that when prisoners need to file papers with the court, those papers are deemed filed in court on the day they are delivered to prison authorities for mailing, i.e. in the prison mailbox, not the day they arrive in court.

The prison mailbox rule saved my ass many times when I was allowed to represent myself. I’m sure it will again, too.

The majority of the Houston Court acknowlegdged that prisons might have very good reason to want to delay an inmate’s mail, particularly if the papers to be filed were part of an case claiming that the prison did something wrong. Inmates would miss every deadline to file anything.

imageI wasn’t suing the prison but they figured I would someday so they’ve been futzing with my mail ever since the delusion popped into their heads. Mostly everything I file in the appeals where I represent myself arrives at the courthouse clerk’s office three weeks late. Houston v. Lack never lacked relief for me.

I flipped to the end of the Houston decision, too, when I read it, just to see who would find a reason to hold a prisoner accountable for the actions of prison staff, even if that meant they couldn’t adequately defend an appeal of their convictions.

imageNino again.

Scalia voted against the prison mailbox rule but he admitted that “the Court’s rule [made] a good deal of sense.” Yet, because the rule wasn’t created by Congress, it wasn’t constitutional.

My lesson from Supreme Court jurisprudence is clear: the law and the way things should be don’t always work together. In fact, the law is often an inadequate contender in the fight for sensible justice. To achieve what we call justice, we betray one of its most basic principles which is to do what’s fair.

I would’ve expected a truth like that to rankle a prisoner. But when you’re an inmate, your time in prison gets a lot easier if you can accept inbuilt injustice, and not because the acceptance should quiet the fight within you. When you learn that it’s not just you; sometimes the system is inadequate, too, you understand that fuck-ups aren’t avoidable for anyone, not even the thousands of lawyers, judges, jurors, clerks and others who are the cogs of the machine.

imageThe fact that a Supreme Court Justice – albeit obliquely – acknowledged an inherent problem in the system that even he couldn’t fix – that a sensible law could be illegal – made me feel a bit better. In that respect, Scalia was as powerless in creating justice in the Mount Olympus of the Supreme Court as I am as a prisoner in a maximum security facility for women. The law proceeds senselessly without the judge and the judged.

Even if – especially if – they make no sense, the Supreme Court, the nine people at the top of this judicial heap, is a lot like us inmates down at the bottom. None of us gets it right all of the time.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 15 – 21, 2016

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FBI v. Apple is the big story in legal searches and privacy rights because the FBI can’t hack into the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorists. Does the FBI realize that this whole fight is admission that two murderous nutcases are smarter and more cagey than they are?

Former head of the NYPD and NYC Corrections, Bernie Kerik, is talking’ trash to the Senate. Kerik sent a letter to Senator Tom Cotton about an essay the senator published on Medium.com that called criminal justice reform “criminal leniency.” I don’t know about you but I don’t care if reform entails leniency as long as it works.  Read the letter; it’s a Bern everyone can feel.

There are at least 6 proven strategies for reducing crime and violence without gun control, according to German Lopez, a reporter at vox.com who actually took the time to ask criminologists for evidence of what works in crime reduction. We’re only using one of them. Sort of.

And one other thing: on Friday, February 19, 2016, Albert Woodfox, one of the “Angola Three” – three inmates accused (and convicted and cleared and accused and convicted and cleared) of killing correction officer Brent Miller in 1972 – was released from prison, directly from more than four decades in solitary confinement to the streets, one of the worst things you can do for a prisoner who’s headed home.

 

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15 February 2016

By Any Other Name

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“I am not a number!” Number Six would protest on the 1960’s television show “The Prisoner.”

Number Six’s remains a chronic inmate complaint – we’re not numbers, we’re people, known by names – and Number Six was right; no inmate is a number.  We are now six numbers, strings of digits and dashes that each new inmate earns in ‘Admissions and Discharges,’ the prisoner delivery dock.

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Yeah, right.

Now, more than fifty years after “The Prisoner” aired, guards can’t refer to inmates by their numbers because, as the United States prison population grew ten times larger, inmate numbers have become unwieldy. Even if the Department of Corrections deputized Rain Man as a correction officer, there would be too many numbers for him to manage.  In that way, the incarceration boom has stripped prisoner management of its depersonalization because none of the C/O’s can remember the trail of digits associated with each of us.

Instead, staff members use our last names as our only names. I learned during my first days here, after I returned to my housing unit from a legal visit with a sentencing consultant who had missed the fact that I was already sentenced.

“Name?”vinilo-decorativo-whats-your-name

“Chandra.”

He squinted.  Couldn’t find it on his clipboard.

“Spell it,”

“C-H-A-N…”

“Why don’t I have you?”

He looked for Chandra as a last name.  When he finally figured out the first and last name junction, he told me:

“In here, we don’t use first names.” Then he re-christened me.  “Your name is Bozelko.”

Women here bitch that this practice depersonalizes us.  But I always understood the reason behind using last names to be that there were too many Heather’s or Maria’s here and when a C/O yelled that name, too many heads turned; the last name narrowed the field a little bit.

Because of the guards’ usual practice of referring to us by our last names, prisoners conclude that when guards call an inmate by her first name, they mean it as a sign of respect.  I don’t know if that’s even possible in here. But, if calling an inmate by her first name is respectful, that would be something we need to avoid, so I am Bozelko now.

I figured guards were scared to pronounce Bozelko – even though that would keep with correctional tradition – whenever one called me Chandra, a name making mainstream if their questions served as any indication:

image
It’s not really your choice.

“Chandra like that model Chandra North?” they ask.  Yes.

“Chandra like the black woman on Gray’s Anatomy?”  Precisely.

“Chandra like that missing intern who ended up dead because she screwed that congressman?”  Exactly.  And don’t get any ideas.

When first and/or last names fail us, staff and inmates default to nicknames.

Prison is a culture of insult and the fact that these institutions collect the flawed among us makes nicknaming people easy.  Male or female facility, there’s always a “Red,” a “Slim” and a “Tiny” in prison.  When they go home, the nickname shifts to the second thinnest or shortest or most red.  I think it might be against the law for a prison not to have a Red, a Slim or a Tiny living within.

scene-1
Red. There’s one at every party.

The remaining nicknames zero in on weaknesses and turn the general population into one giant bully.  The women dubbed one inmate with a congenitally malformed arm “Chicken Wing.”  The rest are no kinder:  “Cry Baby” for a woman taken to tears, “Fatty Girl” for the obvious, “Teen Wolf” for a woman stricken with thick, dark facial hair from polycystic ovary disease, “Green Eyes” for everyone whose eyes are neither dark brown nor black. “Brooklyn” and “Manhattan” persist in popularity, particularly for women who’ve never been south of Bridgeport.

We have a “Six” too, just like that old TV show; maybe it’s a law that prisons have to have at least one “Six.”  We fill out the rest of the roster with some cutesy names: a “Gucci,” a “Smiley,” a “Chop-Chop,” the nickname for a woman who allegedly cut up her boyfriend’s body and drove around with his parts in her sedan’s trunk.

There are a couple of “Rock Stars” but those are always self-imposed.  Anyone who is from the south, the midwest, the northwest or Maine is called “Country” like Portland, Louisville and Austin are rural.  I didn’t say the names were accurate.

imageI suppose some psychological theory would explain the reliance on nicknames in a prison:  that people need to become someone else in order to metamorphosize or rehabilitate themselves, that the nickname shields their true identities and feelings from discovery by others, a self-imposed protective layer of depersonalization.  If all we’re known by is our names, then changing them changes our impact on the world. Or so we hope.

It’s probably why I got so excited when I saw a list of names under the “ALIAS(ES)” section of one of my arrest warrants.  Who am I?  I wondered and read the names: Chandras A. Bozelko, Chandra Boselko, Chandra S. Bozelko, Shandra Bozelko.  They disappointed me, that list of clear QWERTY errors.  I wanted to know that I can always change who I am, maybe become someone else if all this rehabilitation doesn’t take.

imageBut after living here for years, I doubt that the reason for nicknames is as complex as my theory.  Nicknames in prison are just accessible words that lend themselves to caste-making, to power.  Nicknames aren’t funny monikers we use to refer to friends with affection; they’re oppressive classification.  Weak, disfranchised people will do almost anything for a little bit of power, to feel a little bit better about their stations in life, so they call a woman with high cheekbones “Skeletor,” thinking it will change something for Skeletor or her bully when it won’t.

Always an overachiever and coming from a background of abundance, I have several nicknames in here.  The new names I wear are mild, adoring. There’s “Boss Lady” for the work I did in the kitchen.

Somewhere in the middle of my sentence came “Winky” because I supposedly “look like a Winky” and I have no idea what that means. I think I heard “winky” used as a word for pud, so I’m not sure how to take that one. Winky morphed into the shortened “Winks” and I still answer to both.

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No.

Some call me “Princeton” and that makes me feel like crap because it shows how far I’ve come in life: not even the length of a winky.

There’s also “Mighty Mouse” because of my small stature and the fact that I have helped an inmate here and there with written endeavors.  “Here I come to save the day!” they sing and raise their right arms high, palm out, though, not in a fist like the real Mighty Mouse.  Not making a fist is a switch in here.

“Put that down!” I tell them and they think its humility speaking but they’re wrong.  The raised arms smack too much of the Nazi salute for my comfort.

“Jesus, if anyone saw you they’d expect you to chant ‘Heil Hitler!’”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with that, Mouse. Hitler was a boss!” Tiny said. Other inmates understand such little world history that they know not what they do.

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Maybe. My hair is longer than his.

“Hitler would have killed you because you’re black and because you broke the law,” I told her in an all too abbreviated history lesson.

“They do that shit anyway. The new Jim Crow,” Tiny said and did a little dance. She doesn’t understand American history either or what the new Jim Crow is supposed to mean.

“Hitler was worse, I promise. And Hitler wasn’t a boss. And just, please, when you come up with your next nickname for me, don’t use that one. I’d rather be ridiculed or reduced to a number. Any number. Three sixes would be better.”

Tiny and the others still didn’t understand because, to prisoners, any name is better than a number.

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THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 8 – 14, 2016

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Finally, someone mentioned the R-word in a debate. On Thursday, February 11, 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said we need to reduce recidivism with jobs and education. He also promised that, if elected POTUS, he would make sure the United States doesn’t lead the world in incarceration. These are nice thoughts but I can’t feel the Bern until I feel some details.

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a judge who earnestly believed that innocence didn’t matter when administering the death penalty, died in Texas on Saturday, February 13th. Before his body was cold, the internet exploded into flurry of handicapping all cases pending in the country’s highest court and who would replace him. And we called Scalia cold-hearted. We could have shown some respect for the dead and waited for the next business day to start the speculation.

Forty-six correction officers in Georgia were arrested for drug trafficking and for smuggling booze, cigarettes and cell phones inside Georgia’s prisons. I dare any correction officers union to maintain the position that they shouldn’t be searched when they enter their workplaces. I double-dare them to bitch about being called guards.

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8 February 2016

Slice of Life

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I’ve never understood cutting because I’ve never done it.  I understand self-hatred but mine was never bad enough to cause me to score lines and profanities into my skin.

Sharp-HC-cover-202x300A guy who published a memoir, Sharp, that details his own struggle with cutting and self-harm, came to speak in the library at Wally [Lamb’s] behest.

The story of how the memoir got published interests me more than the story inside the book. This man, David Fitzpatrick, wrote to Wally from a psychiatric hospital. They struck up a pen pal friendship for the next twenty years that culminated in Wally’s helping him convince HarperCollins to spend the dough to duplicate his story a couple hundred thousand times.

I still don’t really understand cutting after his talk. I can comprehend that self-mutilation is a remarkably efficient assault; the victim and the aggressor are always the same person. But beyond that, I can’t really be moved by these stories; they’re too far removed from my reality for me to form a feeling or opinion on them.

Plus, to be honest, I always thought that the cutting was the Theatre Arts Department in Cry for Help Academy; the idea that a cutter needs to see blood, needs to have these scars, in order to validate their pain is too dramatic for me. Seriously, everything else in your life isn’t enough that you’ve got to add a biohazard cleanup? I mean, I think I’m much more efficient and ethical in my pain when I just scream at people and don’t drip anything on the floor.

When Fitzpatrick finished his talk, prison nurses exercised an abundance of caution by coming to the library and announcing that anyone triggered into potential self-harm by our guest speaker should come with them for some preventive counseling.

imageThen, like a crowd outside Walmart on Black Friday, women swarmed to the nurses. All of a sudden everyone was a cutter.

“You are not a cutter,” I said to one as she passed me.

“Yes I am!” She was defensive, not about cutting, but about not cutting. She wasn’t going to be left out.

A really young inmate, thin as a pipe cleaner, sat in the chairs near the windows, behind typewriters’ formerly shiny keyboards now dulled with dust.

“Guess you’re not a cutter?” I asked her. She shook her head.

“I wish,” she peeped.

imageDoes this chick understand what I’ve just asked her? Maybe she’s not too Sharp. She wants a personality disorder that she may have already dodged? Does she think that ridging your arms to the point they look like dryer hoses is a good thing?

“You wish? Wow. Well, maybe if you tell them you pick your scabs they’ll soften their standards and let you in,” I advised her. She didn’t get the joke.

Psychologists say that as many as 85% of women are into cutting. The remaining 15% of women must be every woman I’ve ever met prior to prison since I have never known one – or at least had one admit it to me. I think the 85% estimate is a little high, especially if it relies on self-report of self-injury. I’ll bet 75% of that 85% just said yes when asked if they cut just to belong to a group, as screwed-up as that group may be.

The message of you’re just like everyone else…is supposed to make people feel better, less lonely. Fitzpatrick said one therapist probed his isolation by asking “[W]hat do you fear that lies inside that is so damn different and awful?” to make him cut and mutilate himself when everybody hurts.

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Yo! You a cutter? Bozelko is third from right.

But telling sick, desperate people that they’re not alone can be dangerous; they can interpret it as reason to succumb to peer pressure.  Knowing your humanity and weakness are not unique isn’t supposed to be a cattle call, an invitation to the Batshit Bandwagon.

Clearly I’m not like everyone else. I don’t cut. I don’t want to lie about slicing my skin. I don’t like mental health services because I don’t like the attention. I’m good with my singularity. As long as I’m in prison with people I don’t really respect.

I’ve said so many times that the prison mental health epidemiology and statistics are inaccurate – women claim to hear voices because they think it’ll give them an advantage in court. They complain of mania in exchange for the sedation brought on by anti-psychotic meds. They claim they commit sin against their skin just to go along with everyone else.

imageJust doing a “check-in” or taking a clinical history of mental illness has the power of suggestion and women desperate for approval and inclusion say they have every symptom or behavior even if they don’t. Especially if they don’t.

I always bitch that women don’t get enough mental health treatment in prison but is it possible they get too much? I never realized how hard it must be to offer services to a collection of women whose self-esteem is so low that they can’t bring themselves actually to self-mutilate, only to say that they do…just so they can sit in a shrink’s office.

.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM FEBRUARY 1 – 7, 2016

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Alicia Keys sent a video Valentine to Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan asking him to schedule floor time for federal criminal justice bills to be debated and voted upon. Ryan agreed and no one, no one, no one can change the way she feels about him. Except maybe me when I explain to her how Congressional criminal justice bills are inadequate. But she should already know if she’s recording public service announcements .

The first doctor in the United States convicted of murder for overprescribing drugs was sentenced in a California courtroom to 30 years in prison.

David Sweat, one of the two escapees from Clinton Correctional Institution in Dannemora, was sentenced to seven to fourteen years for three crimes related to his escape. Sweat was also ordered to pay approximately $79,000 for the damage done to the prison when he and Richard Matt sawed through walls and pipes to skedaddle. How likely is it that Sweat can come up with 80K from solitary confinement?

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1 February 2016

Lawyering Down

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Dick+Wolf+Law+Order+20th+Season+Kickoff+Celebration+Md-orarvwMKl
Yeah. You.

I want to sue Dick Wolf.

Even if Dick’s name isn’t a household regular, his various Law and Order permutations:  regular, Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent are, along with the “Clung Clung” that sets off every episode.

The creator of the long-standing “ripped from the headlines” drama series did a devastating disservice to my – and the public’s – understanding  of the criminal defense attorney.  All of Dick’s defense counsel characters are so zealous that they might piss off even the ACLU.

If Dick Wolf ever descended to “the Tombs,” the underground dungeon of the NYPD’s Central Booking, where almost none of his perps ever go, he’d see that his firebrand defenders never existed; they are as fictitious as Shrek.

Close to twenty criminal defense lawyers have represented me, so I know their ways. Law and Order attorneys do five things that I have yet to witness at all. These are my stories, shortened, of course.  Clung Clung.

1.  MAINTAIN PRESENCE IN POLICE INTERROGATIONS

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The only times I ever saw attorneys in police stations were when they were being arrested themselves.

But on Law and Order it seems like the Legal Aid Society sublets space from the cops.  A suspect asks for an attorney and one appears, one already familiar with the circumstances of the crime and loaded up with cites and statutes to thwart not only a conviction, but the suspect’s impending arrest.  Then they leave headquarters with their new clients in tow.

When a suspect in Connecticut invokes his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to shut up and lawyer up, a lawyer appears, but only after police have cuffed and charged his new client, slapped his ass with an obscene bond amount and scheduled his arraignment.  It’s true that all defendants get an attorney…just a couple of days later as they sit in jail.  But their new attorneys won’t know their clients’ names or the facts of their cases.  That knowledge develops months later, if at all.

This is usually the case with appointed counsel, but even high-priced attorneys refuse to sully their white shoes by entering a police barracks.  My father forked ten grand over to Attorney Skin; we expected him to accompany me to police headquarters with some countervailing evidence.

“I don’t deal with cops,” he told my father.

“Don’t lawyers have to deal with cops?” I asked my father when he relayed Attorney Skin’s message. It was my first time. What did I know?

Skin never needed to confront cops, I learned later.  When he said he didn’t deal with cops he meant that law enforcement, once charges are filed, leaves the scene; an arrest – not a conviction – closes an investigation.  When Detective Mike Logan (played by Chris Noth – he was my favorite) returns again and again to the district attorneys’ offices, continuing to search out the guilty party even after someone’s been arrested, and even goes head to head with defense attorneys, it’s dramatic construction, not real life.

When someone gives you advice that you shouldn’t talk to police, what that person’s really saying is that no lawyer will be there with you when they try to interrogate you or book you. You’re on your own.

2. KNOW FACTS OF CASES BETTER THAN THEIR CLIENTS

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“But he wasn’t at the bodega at 1:45.  He’s on the tape sixteen minutes later.  He couldn’t have killed your vic.”  All of Law and Order’s defense attorneys lead off with a statement like this, directly to the police no less.  The client sits silent, dumbfounded.  He doesn’t even remember going to the bodega.

We had picked the jury.  My attorney, Eyes, rinsed the flopsweat that covered her after a pre-trial motion hearing (one in which she filed no motions, no objections, nothing).  The state was scheduled to start presenting evidence in fourteen hours when she called me, advising against trial.

“I just don’t see how you’re going to beat this assault charge,” Attorney Eyes told me.

“But…I’m not charged with assault.  This is an identity theft case.”

“Oh?”

Apparently Attorney Eyes never read any police reports in my case, ever.  Oh?  Oh no.

3. ARM THEMSELVES WITH WELL-RESEARCHED LEGAL MEMORANDA

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Criminal cases are not as paper-bound as civil litigation; aside from the charging documents and the defense attorney’s appearance form, no one files anything in the typical criminal case in Connecticut.  Instead, they negotiate.

Dick Wolf’s legal warriors use reams of paper for all of the briefs they write, even hand-deliver the papers they file, briefs backed with the old school cerulean blue linen cover.  Reality’s criminal defense attorneys don’t fight by filing, mostly because they don’t fight at all.

It’s standard practice for an incarcerated defendant who must go to court every day for trial to request that the judge order special transportation, a setup whereby she bypasses the herds of inmates going to court because one correction officer drives her to the courthouse and back to the prison directly.  That way, the detained defendant need not log hours in judicial limbo – “lock up” we call it – where her attorney has no access to her.

“Did you file the motion for special transport,” I asked my trial attorney, Mouth.

“I can’t.  That would be special treatment,” came from Mouth’s mouth.

“It’s not special treatment.  Everyone I know who had a trial had a C/O escort, driven directly in to court and then right back to Niantic.”

“But I don’t want you to be treated specially.”

“Who the fuck do you represent?  Is this one of your nutso strategies?” I gave the universal sign for quotation marks in the air. “If so, explain it.”

She refused to file a motion for me to get the special transport that every other inmate who’s attending a trial gets.  But I still did get special treatment; it was just worse than everyone else in my situation.

When it came time to file a Motion for Acquittal, a written motion that can win a trial decisively for a defendant by outlining the state’s case’s deficiencies, Mouth had no papers with her.  Instead she made a rambling oral argument that there were different theories of the case (there were not).  Dueling theories is not a valid ground for acquittal.  Judge Jon C. Blue saw Mouth spewing garbage and he waved at her to stop, to sew it up.

But Mouth didn’t clam up. Instead, she and Judge Blue went a full ten rounds over whether her use of the word “gypped” – slang for ‘swindled’ and  derived from the word “gypsy,” a wandering person, possibly from India with dark skin and black hair – was a racial slur.  Mouth defended the use of “gyp” valiantly for several minutes, making Judge Blue red in the face. He denied the oral motion for acquittal.

Do I need to say that Mouth gypped me?  Dick Wolf never lets his legion of lawyers gyp any of their clients.

4. BACK THEIR CLIENTS 100%

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Every attorney on Law and Order attends closely to his client, wrapping an arm around her to listen carefully, nodding in agreement.  Then defense counsel addresses the court based on what his client just said to him.

When my family retained Attorney Ears to represent me in a sentence modification, I detailed the facts that he needed to present to the court.  Ears nodded like he was auditioning for Law and Order but when it came time to argue before the judge, he swerved and told the judge that I take “total responsibility” for the crimes when I clearly do not.  Ears never listened to a word I said.

5. LIFT EVERY ROCK TO FIND ALL NECESSARY WITNESSES

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Dick Wolf’s cache of counselors is never short of bombshells.  They produce the defendant’s wife and dun her until she admits that she framed her husband.  Expert witnesses with knowledge of arcane neurological facts or psychobiology always the stand to clear names.  At the last minute they find the lone alibi witness.  It’s nice representation if you can get it but you can’t in the real world.

The court appointed Nose to represent me in a technically complex jury tampering case.  I explained that I was on the phone with a caretaker of a man who I represented before Social Security when calls to jurors were made; the caretaker was an alibi witness for me.  Unsurprisingly the phone records for the telephone line I used for these calls were absent from the state’s discovery, not that Nose opened his mouth about that.

I directed Nose to where he could find the man and request a waiver for his medical records to find the note of my call to his caretaker in his file.

“His family moved,” Nose said with phony regret.  “I hired an investigator to find them and there’s no forwarding address.  They’re gone.”

This shocked me.  The late father of the family was a pillar of the North Haven community; it would be very unlike them to up and move like, well, gypsies.

I followed up myself months later.  The family never moved; they’ve lived in the same house for 45 years. If someone had contacted them in a timely fashion,  then the caretaker who made notes of the times of our calls would have been able to testify for me. Instead, he died.

And Nose never caught a whiff of himself to know that he was full of shit.

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Jerry Orbach as defense counsel. He would later be cast as Detective Lenny Briscoe. See? Lawyers will switch sides on you.

If Dick Wolf has even a smidge of public concern, he’ll start creating defense attorney characters that reflect the poor representation that real-life defendants receive.  That would enable the public to understand how many erroneous convictions the judicial system manufactures every year with the help of its handymen: clay-footed, flesh-and-blood defense attorneys who, like my Skin, Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose, rarely make any sense.

THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 25-31, 2016

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President Obama banned solitary confinement for juvenile offenders. It’s too bad there’s only 26 juvenile offenders in the entire federal prison system and even fewer of them are held in solitary confinement. Ultimately, Barack, you didn’t help that many people.

And, again, a prison employee takes a collar for assisting inmates with an escape. Nooshafarin Ravaghi, an English-as-a-Second-Language teacher at the Orange County Central Men’s Jail has been charged with assisting three inmates escape (all three are back in custody). Ravaghi will be arraigned on February 1, 2016; police and prosecutors plan to request a $500,000 bond, a little steep for a correctional ESL teacher. It’s a good thing she knows how jails operate.

Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s life in prison is better than mine on the outside. It’s probably better than yours, too. This week Yahoo News published a five-part series on him and his life in the supermax which you can read here. Spoiler alert: Ted’s got skills with the ladies.

 

 

 

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