Sermon from Deacon Dennis Dolan (written down – as verbatim as possible – immediately after Saturday’s Catholic mass service).
“Go into the library and read the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’ It’s in there. If you can’t find it, ask Mr. L. [the librarian] or one of the other inmates to help you find it. That’s what he was fighting for. So that everyone would be educated enough to find their way around a library.
Don’t tell me that: ‘Martin Luther King fought so we wouldn’t get treated like this’ because Martin Luther King, Jr. never wanted you in jail. Yeah, he doesn’t want the C/O’s abusing you because you’re a human being, but MLK wasn’t about prisoners’ rights. He wanted you to break unjust laws, not just ones. If you break just laws, then you pay a price and that might include having to deal with a C/O who isn’t concerned about your past.
You pay a price when you break unjust laws, too. And you suck it up. Going to jail becomes a small price to pay when there’s a big principle at stake.
What he said was that, if you break the law, you’re down for the penalty; that’s what he meant about breaking the law ‘openly and lovingly.’ You accept it. He said that people who break immoral laws and then accept the punishment are actually the most law-abiding people around, even if they’re locked up, especially if they’re locked up. How about that?
What would it look like if Martin Luther King was protesting segregation, got arrested and then complained about getting arrested for what he had intentionally done? It would mean I didn’t really mean it, that segregation was okay as long as he didn’t suffer. What he was saying from the Birmingham jail was ‘the penalty is worth it because it means I’m not conspiring through silence with you anymore.’
You need to read his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ because it teaches you that your ‘YES’ is only as good as your ‘NO.’ That your ‘Sorry’ only means something when it’s attached to a little bit of penance.”
If you want to read King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” click here.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JANUARY 8 – 14, 2018
Trump et al. threw together a last minute confab on justice reform on Thursday with a few leaders in the field. It included Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback who had the balls to tell the press that Trump’s crew was the first administration to work on criminal justice reform. I have always said that the way to get Trump to work on justice reform is to tell him he doesn’t want to get bested by Obama, who has the record for the most – and the most progressive – reform measures enacted by any presidential administration.Read what Gov. Brownback said yourself.
On Friday afternoon, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to end a pilot program that required anyone sending a care package to prison inmates to buy it only from one of six state-approved vendors. The decision had been caught in a debate over prison censorship and contraband but that had nothing to do with what was about to happen in New York’s state prisons. This was about how mass incarceration strangles free market principles. There’s yet another reason why the Trump Administration to push for reform beyond Thursday’s photo op.
And “Love After Lockup,” a reality show about people who get engaged to their prison pen pals, premiered on Friday night on WE TV. Pay special attention to the story of Scott and Lizzie, who’ve been together for two years and Scott’s sent her $20,000. That’s slightly less than $200 per week on commissary crap, if she spent it all. I have mixed feelings about this show. As much as it might be exploitive, “Love After Lockup” also is a non-schmaltzy look at re-entry. Not a terrible way to spend an hour.
A Christmas Carol is less about Christmas than it is about conversion. Scrooge indicted and reformed himself in a matter of minutes; he’s the single most efficient correction system in history.
Ebenezer didn’t embrace Tiny Tim’s plight by accident. Through the lessons of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, he spied his own demise, inevitable if he didn’t change. Scrooge took to a lesson that many of us resist: empathy isn’t some latent, oversensitive irrationality; it’s a survival skill that takes some field training.
Unfortunately, you can only get empathy through a somewhat exclusive club. Ask Inmate Dennis Kozlowski in New York. He got in before I did.
In 1995 in a Houston courtroom, at the sentencing of the former assistant controller of Tyco, a letter from the company’s CEO – the aforementioned Dennis Kozlowski – urged the judge to withhold mercy and sentence Girish Shah to “incarceration for a maximum term,” because, as Kozlowski informed the court, “wrongdoing of this nature against society is considered a grave matter.”
Ten years later, in a New York courtroom, that letter informed another sentencing court, the one that would impose penalty on Kozlowski himself for bilking Tyco of millions, more than Shah ever did.
You can call this whatever you want: karma, cosmic payback for Shah, or just the rule of law. I call it a new convert to the Order of Empathy. Dennis will never pull that shit again because now he knows how it feels.
It shouldn’t be that everyone has to go through the tribulation of a trial like I did to develop empathy, but that might be what it takes. Maybe there’s a point to arresting more and more people, locking them up, making the club more inclusive. Mass incarceration is an empathy diaspora.
There are recipes for empathy and others have mastered them without a fall from grace. If you want to be more compassionate, you could, as Atticus Finch – a criminal defense attorney, by the way – advised in To Kill a Mockingbird, “climb into [another’s] skin and walk around in it.”
Sometimes I see someone’s plight and get so overwhelmed with sympathy for them that I can’t feel empathy. Maybe it scares me too much, maybe privilege prevents it, but I don’t think I could have been very empathetic before this ride. How could I have imagined what other women in here feel? However unjust this has been, it was totally necessary. This lesson would have evaded me for the rest of my life.
It’s not just me. Few can imagine what another’s skin feels like. They think it’s too small for them. They are too big, too important, too moral, too smart, too cautious, too innocent, too rich, too white, for them to get inside it, much less take it for a walk.
But the skin will fit. And – Dennis and I will say the same thing – they won’t acquit.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM DECEMBER 18 – 24, 2017
This is the last diary entry to be published in 2017. I will leave you with three year-end, wrap- up ideas. Read them and decide what you’re going to do next year.
Here’s a quiz to see how much you’ve been paying attention to criminal justice this year. I got one wrong and I’m so ashamed.
Here’s a list of criminal justice campaigns that can win in 2018.
Here’s one professor’s wish list for criminal justice in 2018. It’s woefully incomplete but it will show you what reformers are up against if a professor’s wish list is so short and simple.
Also, if you need to park your bucks somewhere before the first of the year for tax purposes, here are three worthy places to donate. Click on their names to get to their websites and contribute:
PrisonPolicy Initiative – By combining data and compassion, this organization produces the best research on criminal justice, by far.
Second Chance Educational Alliance, Inc. – Volunteer teachers head into correctional facilities and teach college courses to inmates. Prisoners getting college credit for these courses and can earn degrees from Connecticut community colleges.
“My dad’s in jail. I don’t like to talk about it. Most people don’t understand,” the doll said on the news. The announcer went on to say that one out of 28 kids have a parent behind bars which was why Sesame Street was introducing the blue-haired, orange-skinned Alex, the son of an incarcerated father and newest puppet on the block.
“I mean, that’s kind of interesting, no?” I asked all the women in the TV area. “They aren’t making that character out of nowhere. They either got a lot of feedback that kids watching couldn’t identify with the stories or they read some demographic data that says that this was a good idea. We’re talking millions of kids.”
None even responded.
I’m not an abolitionist but if there is any argument that every prison should be razed to the ground it’s the effects that separating children and parents have on little ones. It is pure violence yet it looks as calm and procedural as these ladies sitting here in the rec area, ignoring another one of my pathetic goads to get them to talk about current events.
I waited for a legal visit once when another inmate came in and told the visits officer she was there to see her daughter through DCF [Department of Children and Families]. There’s a window where you can see visitors before they come into the visiting area and I turned to spy the cutest little girl I had ever seen. A small red bow wrapped itself around her tiny, dirty blonde ponytail and her shirt, a navy Ralph Lauren polo shirt dotted with white polo ponies, topped off jeans and Nikes.
“Is that your daughter? She is so cute. I say that to a lot of the inmates but really mean it when I say that to you. She’s spectacular,” I told the mom
“Thanks. Yeah, I know. It’s the last time I’ll see her for 14 years. They’re terminating my rights.”
“I can’t have contact with her again until she’s 18.”
And with that, the door opened and mother and daughter reunited like it was any other day and went into the play area, DCF supervisor lurking in the corner. They sipped non-existent tea and stirred invisible macaroni in a toy kitchen, both remaining composed about the fact that a system was killing each of them to the other. They’re dead to each other. For fourteen years.
Then [Attorney] Ruane arrived and we were escorted into one of the private rooms where I burst into tears. Literally. My face exploded at the thought of the conversation that was happening between parent and child in the play area.
“I get it. You wanna get out of here,” Ruane said as he unpacked carefully labeled folders. He works with his son, sees him every day.
“No. That’s not…” I shook my head. “You wouldn’t understand.” To this day, I can’t remember one word in any of those folders and my freedom was filed in there.
I hadn’t seen the mother here before and I haven’t seen her since so she’s not a lifer; she’d be living in this unit, watching the news with us if she were. She probably did something to kick off the termination proceedings, but how bad could it have been if she isn’t even doing the type of time I am? And DCF allowed them to say goodbye – would they do that if she posed danger to the child? Sure, a social worker stalked them from across the room, but would DCF permit that toddler to connect with a person who had beaten her or neglected her in a dangerous way? I assume there’s some theory of trauma that would prevent that. Let me rephrase: I’m sure there’s a theory of trauma – why didn’t it prevent this?
I bet that wasn’t the case but they still took her daughter away, to what appears to be an upper-middle class family that already loves and dotes on her. The girl will be okay but she won’t be the same. Doubt will follow her everywhere she goes, even after she gets wind of what happened to her fourteen years into the future. No accusation or conviction can extinguish a child’s love for and pride in her parents, but criminal charges make that love and pride smart in unending waves.
Why wasn’t I good enough to make you good? And if you didn’t do it, why didn’t you fight or fight harder? How did you take care of me when you can’t take care of yourself? I ask myself those questions every day. This entry has more queries, question marks and open ends than anything else I’ve written so far. And answers? There are none. I’m tenacious and introspective enough to find them if they were somewhere. They’re not.
Accepting that you’re a fuck-up is easy; no one knows how bad you are more than you do. But accepting that the person who you thought was perfect – and who was supposed to perfect and lead you – is more than just clay-footed and may have some very real problems navigating the world is excruciating. They call this adulthood, but it’s really just abuse.
In front of a blaring TV set that had stopped reporting on Alex, I zoned out remembering all of this: the polos, the puppets, the parents, the pain.
“Winks, what’s wrong?” someone asked.
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” I told them and headed back into my cell with my forefinger pressed against my lower eyelid. They can’t understand.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM OCTOBER 9 – 15, 2017
It’s really happening now…Our “law-and-order” president and his administration are quietly cutting funding for halfway houses. I refused halfway house placement because, to me, it was just moving prison to the street and allowing people to wear their own clothes. However, for someone who doesn’t have a place to live once they leave custody, halfway houses provide essential transitional living space. This is a guarantee of crime.
I attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Smart on Crime conference this week which had embattled Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. on the agenda. Conference attendees figured that he wouldn’t show up because he would have to face some questions about accepting graft guised as campaign contributions after giving the Trumps and Harvey Weinstein passes for obvious criminal conduct. Vance did appear at the conference and simply told people during the Q and A session (which was not recorded) in the audience that everything he did was legal. I have two thoughts on Vance’s reply that everything he did was legal. They are: 1) no shit, that’s the problem; and 2) he laughs at this as a defense when he prosecutes. Maybe he needs to open up to the fact that he’s more like his targets than he wants to admit.
And the Supreme Court of the United States just accepted (or granted certiorari to you legal eagles) a case, McCoy v. Louisiana, where a defense attorney ignored his client’s claims of innocence, refused to investigate an alibi defense and admitted that his client committed the crime over his objections. A Yale Law School clinic wrote a brief in support of Mr. McCoy and they argued that McCoy’s attorney switched sides and fought for the prosecution. The issue of attorney disloyalty needs to be addressed and outlawed by our highest court but I doubt it’s likely. The same court has already approved of conceding guilt on a client’s behalf in capital cases like this one. Plus, the standards of effective defense are so low now than nothing an attorney does is cause for reversing convictions. You should follow this case because if you think defense attorneys protect their clients. They don’t.
After I did the five-minute shuffle back to seg in dawn’s cold, I crunched up on my bed for hours, even slept a little through the next night, with no sheet still, like a bum.
That new C/O came around for count. He’s been here only a few months and he’s already looking women up when they get out, at least that’s what people are saying. I believe it. He asked:
“Ma, don’t you want to put that sheet down? Might be here for a minute.”
Only in prison would the word “minute” come to mean a long time. He wasn’t being nice.
In a York minute I found out I wasn’t going to be there long when another C/O, Reeger, came downstairs. Supposedly he asks the inmates to flash him.
“Let’s go, Bozelko. You’re moving,” Reeger told me, muffled through the glass in the door. I stopped caring about whether he’s a pervert or not.
“It’s count time, isn’t it?” This was confusing.
“What? You wanna stay?”
“Nope, no, here I am,” as I jumped from the top bunk to the floor.
The move to the medical unit – also the ‘overflow’ unit when they don’t know where to put you – was too fast, occurring during the last count of the first shift of the last day of the workweek. Wardens and captains wouldn’t be in for the next two days. Something else was happening.
They let me go to work from the medical unit which usually wasn’t allowed. I didn’t mind. Gino was working and he’s always serving up some levity. When I walked in without a uniform, Gino asked:
“You alright?” He heard what had happened. I wonder what he believed.
“Yeah, I’m fine. It was just a mush.”
The next few days were busy and buzzy. I worked doubles to avoid the medical unit where I was stationed. There was more activity than usual. Many captains walking around, even plainclothes investigators going into Building 6, the administration’s site. Rumors kept seeping into the kitchen. Keisha’s telling people that I had told her I had sexual contact with the C/O we were allegedly supposed to kill in her cockamamie fantasy. Reports like that get you thrown in seg, too. So I went to Gino and told him. I needed preventive help.
“Geen, I don’t want to go back to seg,” I was pleading with him to intervene.
“Don’t worry. You’re the least of her problems,” he advised.
“Well, yeah, true, but I’d rather pose low risk to her from out here, not in there,” I explained to him, pointing to the restricted housing unit which was just across the walkway.
“Don’t worry, you’re never gonna see her on this compound again.”
“Unless she comes through the line and threatens to kill me over an extra egg,” I pointed out.
“Don’t worry. It’s covered. Go about your business.”
Which I did, lugging garbage to the dumpster in the back of the kitchen as my friend, Monica, walked past on her way to a medical appointment.
Monica is the personification of the War on Drugs’ failure. Her surgeon mother and professor father (Yale School of Public Health – he helped found Connecticut’s hospice) couldn’t save their daughter from an opiate addiction. She worked as a news camerawoman in New York, shooting on location with the likes of Dan Rather. She had enough money to fill a suitcase with heroin for a vacation on the Connecticut shoreline – all for personal use – before she boarded Metro North. Where she got busted. That was in the 90’s. She’s been cycling in and out since and always felt it was her responsibility to bring me up to date on the language and the ways of the streets, since she knew neither one of us ever inhabited them. Monica is one of the few true inmate mentors I’ve had.*
“Oh my God, are you alright? I heard all about it on the news,” she said as she passed the kitchen.
“The news?” Is this what they’re calling inmate.com now?
“NPR,” and then she went into announcer mode. “Keisha D, an inmate at the York Correctional Institution for Women is facing two charges of sexually assaulting fellow inmates.”**
“When the hell was this?” I asked. I thought she relapsed.
“I dunno. Couple days ago? When you were in seg.” Everyone knew. Inmate.com operates on high-speed internet.
As she continued down the walkway, Monica turned back, just in case the lesson had been lost:
“You know that was meant for you?”
“Yeah. But all I got was a mush. That’s what they call it, right?” I checked.
“Yes, it is,” she called back as I rushed inside for confirmation. I didn’t know if I believed what I just heard.
“Geen, did you say [Keisha] won’t be on the compound because she’ll be classified to seg because she sexually assaulted two inmates?”
“So you’re telling me that these guys were so anxious to get Keisha to rape or kill me that they set this whole thing up and it backfired on them? She attacked other women instead of me?” I had to get this straight.
“Is that why everyone’s all in a frenzy and captains and state cops are walking around? They’re investigating what she did to these other women?”
“Yes.” Gino jokes around a lot. When he’s serious he has to stop and be still. Eliminate his smile. Which he did.
But I burst out laughing. That two women had to suffer even four minutes of Keisha’s deafening presence because they were caught in the crosshairs of the Bozelko Beef was unthinkable. The fact that they underwent God-knows-what violation of their will or bodily integrity is serious and a total abdication of the facility’s responsibility to keep its wards safe. It’s incomprehensibly irresponsible and totally traumatizing to these poor women. It was a horrible situation that, quite frankly, thrilled me. Not because two women were hurt.
The fact that Booz et al. were feeling heat for it was hilarious. Even Gino could see how I got some getback without even knowing what happened. He started laughing, too. I need to be clear here; neither I nor Gino thought that it was funny that women were assaulted. We recognize how devastating it is. We were laughing because the seriousness of the matter was falling at the feet of the proper sinners and they deserved it for being this callous and craven with the human bodies they get paid to protect. And the fact that they missed their target was even richer.
“Listen, c’mere,” he waved me toward his desk. “They told Booz he better leave you alone, too!” and he pointed toward the back of the dining hall. On the other side of that wall, the administrative offices of captains and deputy wardens hummed above industrial carpet and around intentionally bland décor, now facing the proof in a local courthouse that they’re incompetent.
“She’s gonna kill someone some day!” Gino laughed.
“I heard she already has!” I squealed.
“I heard you were gonna help her with the next one!” Gino screamed.
And our heads were thrown back in guffaw, laughing in a time when correctional staff actually devoted their workhours to gerrymandering the general population for the sole purpose of harming me. I hadn’t realized before this how important I am to these people and how pathetic this proposition is. Do people in here know that their lives are in danger over imagined personal conflict with me?
Days after I learned about this, I saw Booz on the walkway when I was walking back after work. Before this mess, he used to give me the stink-eye but now, nothing. He wouldn’t even look at me. I could be wrong, but I think he quickened his pace. And I swear, I swear he saw me smile.
When people get nervous and ask me what prison is really like – the marshals at court have asked, lawyers, newbies in lockup – I need to tell them what it is: a see-saw of schadenfreude. Whenever someone in the facility faces a personal problem, there’s someone nearby who delights at their predicament. At least until her fortunes take a dive. Then someone’s laughing at her.
It’s why inmate.com thrives so vibrantly with such sad – and even false – stories. That web of judgment and ridicule supplies us with the bad news about others that keeps us going.
We could, if we chose to do so, level ourselves out with empathy since everyone in here, every member of the staff included, is suffering in some way. I heard through the grapevine that one of the good C/O’s has a severely disabled son and she does this work for its stability and benefits. Booz was losing his house and that can’t be fun. Inmates are separated from their children. They get news that I dread: that one of their parents has passed.
Instead of empathy, though, there’s always someone smug with satisfaction at that suffering… until it’s her turn. If we were empathetic then it wouldn’t be prison anymore. Everyone on the same, elevated moral plane? Nah. Not here. What do you think this is? A government facility dedicated to rehabilitating people?
I started to laugh again. Out loud. By myself. Walking to my housing unit on the walkway.
As I reached the double doors, I realized how humbling this epiphany was. I am a sick fuck. Just like everyone else here.
*Monica passed away from pancreatic cancer in May 2015 in the hospice founded by and named after her father.
**I’ve never been able to verify that these events appeared in the news, nor have I been able to ascertain that they were never reported in the media. I did verify that Keisha D. was charged with two counts of sexual assault on February 23, 2010 in Geographical Area 10 of the Judicial District of New London. On July 28, 2010, after she had been released from York CI, she pleaded guilty to one count of Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree for whatever happened to those two women and was sentenced to three months back at York CI, the scene of the crime.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE FROM AUGUST 28 – SEPTEMBER 3, 2017
The State of Nevada announced that it will use fentanyl – the opiate that dealers have been using to cut their heroin to make kill bags – in its lethal injection protocol. Because it’s a first, no one really knows how effective it will be, even though it proves quite effective in the streets every day. If that isn’t a statement on where opioid addiction will land you, I don’t know what is.
The next time someone tries to look merciful by suggesting that a defendant should “just get probation” should read the report released Monday Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Researchers found that probation contributes to mass incarceration contributes as much as incarceration itself. Wondering how that’s possible? For-profit probation.
At the publication devoted to covering gun violence, The Trace, reporters found that two-thirds of gunshot wound victims aren’t insured. Medicaid, hospitals cover much of the costs, but the most is paid by victims themselves. Either this is a fact unacceptable in a country that claims to be concerned about crime victims or it shows how much drug gangs make if they can afford to self-pay for the bullets their members take – at least $20K per hospital stay for a gunshot wound.
To read from the beginning, Part One of Four, click here.
To read last week’s segment, Part Two of Four, click here.
I waited for hours in the medical hallway with Baskin standing right next to me. He walked away as soon as I was summoned into the office, now staffed by nursing students trying to prove to themselves that they would treat all patients the same once they snagged their RN’s.
“What happened?” one asked. Her hair was shiny, like mine used to be.
“Nothing, really. I didn’t ask to come here. I’m fine,” I said and touched my frazzled bun.
“They called and said you got hit by your roommate. Are you okay?” she lamented, over-concerned.
“Oh, no, it was just a mush. That’s what they call it, right?”
The student in a lab coat examined my forehead more closely than the doctor did when when I got the spider bite or when the C/O shot the laser pointer in my eye. Took my temperature.
“Um, do you know if I’m moving or not, because it’s after count time…” I asked leaning in closer to one of the students and she didn’t look at me. Instead, she locked eyes with Shiny Hair in silence, which was as clear a signal that I was fucked.
The door pushed open – a huge HIPAA [Health Information Portability and Accountability Act] no-no since it’s an examining room and any patient could have been undressed or receiving treatment – but rights will not stand in the way when you can bust Bozelko.
The door’s pusher, Lt. Booz, had returned to the scene and stood outside, flanked by C/O Brokowski – who doesn’t need rumors because all of the inmates watch him jump from jellies to every goddamned jam possible – and C/O’s Lambert and McMurray, who I heard is dating the operating captain. I don’t know if it’s true but I believe it.
Three C/O’s, along with one lieutenant, is the magical combination to disappear someone in solitary confinement.
“Lieutenant Booz, may I ask a question?”
Booz made sarcastic movements and expressions, like he would listen to me politely and intently, when everyone knew he wouldn’t.
“Can you tell me why I’m going and when I’ll be out?”
“You’re going because we need to investigate you. And, when you’ll get out? I have no idea. Turn around.”
McMurray cuffed me and the posse walked me down the hallway of the inpatient medical building out the door and to the right, to solitary confinement.
After McMurry strip-searched me and watched me don the red scrubs, she left, locked the door and slid the notice to me that they were holding me in administrative detention, in case the cuffing, strip search and being dropped into a basement room hadn’t tipped me off. “Pending Investigation.”
I didn’t even spread the pistachio-colored sheet out. I just hoisted myself on the black metal frame and landed on mattress with a crunch, the hunter green weave of fibers sounding every time I moved. At first, I was still, supine, as tears rolled out of my eyes sideways like the string on a mask.
The saline burn scolded me: you shouldn’t have said anything! But the alternative was to have Keisha needle me forever, deny me sleep and cause as much chaos as possible. If I hadn’t said anything, I would’ve still ended up on this human wrapper in this dungeon anyway, because they would have blamed both of us for Keisha’s quite remarkable ability to escalate any dispute infinitely. That is, if she didn’t beat the brakes off me.
I realized then that I never had a choice; that nothing would have kept me from the Restricted Housing Unit. It was impossible if I were assigned to live with Keisha; she would either kill/harm me, or drive me to misbehaving, or I’d hoist my own petard by asking for distance from her. I was never going to win. Assigning Keisha to me as a roommate was a set-up from minute one.
I turned and rested my cheek against the vinyl – sheet still by my feet where it couldn’t even pretend to protect me from the years of use on this mattress that I know was never washed once – and I could hear the tiny tap of each tear against it. Eventually my tears’ trickle tickled my nostril as a puddle collected. My nose ran, too, into a mass of moisture that I fell asleep on.
“Bozelko, get up, we’re coming down to get ya,” came a tinny announcement through the intercom.
“What time is it?” I asked and craned my neck toward the window. Still dark, but no thud-thud-thuddd of the trap doors for breakfast trays.
“I don’t have court,” I said to no one. Wake up time for court is at 3:30, not 2:15, in the morning, but mistakes thrive at York CI.
“Not court, investigation, at the LT’s office,” tinny voice told me.
“I have to go now?”
“Fuck! Yes. Why else would I wake you up?” he shrieked.
And, with that, another C/O appeared at the door and told me to kneel on the chair outside my cell. With my feet behind me, dangling off the edge, he shackled me and took me toward the the door.
As approached it, noticed it was a deeper dark outside than I remembered of night, like a navy rug. Runoff from a drainpipe was matte white, frozen so completely that I could see the icicle’s dryness, no heat in the air whatsoever to give it rinse with moisture.
I shuffled, shackled, though the still of cold so severe that it made me catch my breath. It was the only thing I could have caught, being cuffed the way I was. No one had delivered any underwear or bra to me when I was brought into the building and the red scrub set included pants that sagged on me, down low enough that a brisk pace could pull them right to the sidewalk and expose my unshaven legs and ass to blistering cold and burning humiliation – as well as a charge of indecent exposure. I wouldn’t have even been able to pull my red chinos back up quickly because that asshole held my arm to “balance” me. I’d been, in essence, hogtied and asked to walk that way through a freezing gauntlet, barely covered in cheap cotton.
So I walked even more slowly to prevent my pants from dropping, only extending the time I would spend in winter’s tightening clutch. What should have been a two-minute walk to the administration building became five, with the guy holding my arm in a jacket, gloves, hat and neckwarmer. The mist of human life coming out of his mouth while my teeth chattered uncontrollably. When I saw my reflection in the glass near the door of the lieutenant’s office, the soft ducts where my tears had depleted themselves puffed under my eyes. I was way beyond pitiful; I was ghoulish and twitching when he led me to Lt. Booz, bald and paunchy, sitting at a desk, ready to do his investigation into the matter, racking up overtime.
“It’s two in the morning,” I hiccuped out.
“I say when we do this investigation.”
“Oh-kay.” I was still shivering.
“So, your roommate, she spoke to us. She said you and her have some plans when you get out.”
Booz then went on to explain, in his wanna-be-cop delivery, that Keisha had told him – even wrote in a statement – that she and I were planning to meet up on the outside when we were released and she would, from her prostitution perch, induce C/O X to pay her for services and drive her to her usual spot, where she and I would proceed to kill him.
Booz et al. thought this was a real plot; they were sure Keisha had been talking about this – she’s tried to make the same plan every time she’s been here – but I hadn’t reported it, which convinced them that it was a real plot. I was in on it and a threat to Mr. X.
“Well, Keisha said that but I thought it was about as likely as her becoming secretary of state, so, no, I didn’t report it.”
“You got jokes, Bozelko? Think it’s funny that an officer’s life would be endangered.”
“No, sir. One-hundred percent serious. That’s what I actually thought. I mean, for that to be a real risk, C/O X would have to be in the habit of picking up prostitutes. I think we both know that isn’t true, despite what’s reported on inmate.com. And by Keisha herself.”
Booz’s face dropped like I just announced it was Law Day.
“We’re done here,” he announced.
“We are,” I agreed. And I knew I wasn’t getting out of the restricted housing unit for a while.
“Here, take these statement papers and write out what you just told me in the no-contact visit room, you know, since you’re such a good writer.”
So I did. Wrote it all out, still shivering. Shade and all.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM AUGUST 21 – 27, 2017
Many lessons emerged last week. Three of them are:
Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr., who has carried a gun for years fearing “nutcases out there who want retaliation,” was ambushed and wounded last week as he was entering his courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. The judge and a court probation officer fired back, killing the assailant, who happens to be the father of a young man convicted of rape in the same courthouse four years ago. Shooting a judge – or anyone for that matter – is unreasonable, unlawful and morally wrong, of course, but I would be remiss in not allowing this story to opportune a dragging of some members of the bench.
A study from Harvard Law School published last year found that judges follow the law far less often than we expect, particularly in criminal cases. Even when the law is followed, a disturbed litigant/defendant can act, well, disturbed, but those “nutcases” who want retaliation might have been screwed by a judge – and had no further remedy. A way to prevent another situation like this: everyone – including jurists – follow the law, in every case, in every way, because we’re all equal under the law, remember? LESSON: DON’T TRUST JUDGES (but don’t shoot them, either).
When it comes to sting operations, what counts as entrapment is about to get debated again. The Santa Fe Reporter and New Mexico In Depth looked at one case out of Albuquerque where an undercover ATF operative seemed to go too far. Jennifer Padilla thought she’d found a new boyfriend who cared about her kids and her effort to stay clean after several stints in jail and a long battle with drug addiction. As it turns out, Padilla was targeted by the informant, who encouraged her to relapse. After two months of dating, he asked her to help arrange two meth deals. Now Padilla’s back behind bars and the informant (who has a much more serious criminal record than Padilla) is still working for the feds…and probably dating someone else with a criminal record, low self-esteem and a future clear of lawbreaking…if she can get away from him now. LESSON: ON SECOND THOUGHT, TRUST NO ONE.
White nationalist and convicted felon Christopher Cantwell turned himself in to Charlottesville police last week on a warrant for one count of malicious bodily injury by means of a caustic substance and two felony counts of illegal use of tear gas, but surprisingly not for possessing a firearm, which is illegal in Virginia for people with criminal records – and clearly depicted in the Vice News special on the Charlottesville march that featured him.
But the real story here is that Cantwell was denied bail, a condition usually reserved for defendants charged with murder, people like his fellow white nationalist James Alex Fields, the driver of the Dodge Charger that killed counterprotester Heather Heyer on August 12, 2017. It’s true that Cantwell doesn’t live in Virginia, but fleeing and failing to appear later would have been hard for this dude after his cameo in the Vice News special and his subsequent celluloid hysteria about actually having to take a collar. While none of the media coverage of Cantwell’s arrest say this explicitly, a judge made a legal finding that Cantwell is dangerous and it’s not clear if the court knows about the guns or the threats from the Vice special. It’s entirely possible that the court found Cantwell to be dangerous for his beliefs, which is a very dangerous place for American courts to find themselves – and very uncommon as courts are usually glad to post a bond to get an accused person to inject some cash into a local economy.
I wonder if other white nationalists have been/will be treated the same way when they appear in criminal cases, as many of them have and will likely continue to do. While we’re on the topic, Cantwell’s video is a prime lesson in how to be a punk bitch when you find out there’s a warrant for your arrest. For Christ’s sake, there are bougie white chicks who’ve never cried before, during or after being arrested. You’re reading one right now. LESSON: TRUST ME, CANTWELL’S A SNOWFLAKE.
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.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM AUGUST 14 – 20, 2017
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.
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.”
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?”
“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.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM AUGUST 7 – 13, 2017
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.
Every woman in prison the nymph Thetis. Wanting to make her son Achilles immortal like her, she dipped him in the River Styx. She held him by the heel and Styx missed a spot, leaving a tiny invitation at the back of Achilles’ foot to anyone who wanted to take him down.
In here, we mother each other. I dip, you dip, we dip when we say: “I don’t judge you [for your crime]” and “The only person who can judge us is God” and “People make mistakes” and “I know you’re a good person,” spraying an invisible coating that will deflect scorn we get from the CO’s and in courtrooms, from people we’ll meet in the future. Protected, our self-esteem never will never die if we listen to each other. Condemnation will wait forever.
Thetis never wanted to vanquish her own son. If she had, it would have been easy because she knew vulnerability’s secret location, like we know what someone can be judged for.
Whenever rage rears its head it goes for the heel. Disputes over commissary or gossip or prison property rights devolve into accusations and name calling, using the words I hate: the conclusory nouns like ‘murderer’ and ‘criminal’ and any descriptors that invoke the crimes that brought women here. They call each other fucking thieves and robbers and forgers and the worst: they challenge others’ ability to mother their children, as if any woman with children who’s in here isn’t in the same boat on the Styx.
“Who the fuck’s takin’ care a’ your kids?” they shout at each other. Apparently, it’s a mark of real exclusivity not to have one’s kids in foster care.
While I’m screaming:
“Ladies, please! Let’s not conflate the person and the behavior!” they throw each others’ convictions, charges and arrest headlines in at each other, not even careful to aim for Achilles’ weakness since once we bring up each other’s crimes that impermeability isn’t limited to the ankles anymore. In fact, it’s gone totally. What the protector giveth, the protector can taketh away.
I think it’s telling that Thetis’s son, Achilles, gets nailed by none other than a provider of judgment, the judge of the ancient world’s Fairest of Them All pageant. Paris was his name and, in exchange for the opportunity to steal the world’s most beautiful woman from her marital bed, he rendered a decision in Aphrodite’s favor. Crooked bastard.
Of all the people who can condemn us morally, we do it to ourselves the most. The people who should judge least do it the most. Public enemy’s worst enemy is herself. If society acts like this when they get pissed at us, we’ll never be allowed to forget where we were.
As I am sitting in the back of the GED classroom typing this, Shirelle ran in, yelling, pointing to the hallway and devoid of any intent to work on her writing assignment.
“Motherfucking murderer, killer bitch! Dirty bitch. Go beat someone to death and stuff their body in a box you’re too stupid to get rid of!
“Whoa. You alright?” Kelly asked her.
“This bitch killed a bitch because she was jealous and stuffed her ass in an air-conditioner box. She’s a motherfuckin’ murderer and I’m not takin’ any of her shit.”
I knew exactly who she was talking about. The chick with the body-in-the-box was my cellmate.
“Wait…what’re you…aren’t you here for murder?” I asked Shirelle, eyes slitted into Whachyou talkin’ about Willis?
“Yeah, but I’m not that type of murderer, ‘kay?”
“Well, then,” I shrugged and sat in judgment, asking her to expose her heel like I was Paris, which I’m not because that motherfucker was murderer and a kidnapper.
“What kind of murderer are you?”
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM MAY 22 – 28, 2017
While some New York media outlets reported the arrest of three staff members at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center for raping inmates, only the New York Post reported how they were caught. “Three of Lt. Eugenio Perez’s five victims separately gave investigators matching descriptions of the prison guard’s penis right down to the nickname he’d bestowed on it…” is how the Post put it. Another lieutenant, Carlos Richard Martinez, posted “It’s only PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] when you don’t like it,” on Facebook. Leaving aside for a moment any discussion of the amount of class that these two federal employees have, it’s important to note that prison rape is so rampant that these two thought they would never get caught and, certainly, never be punished, otherwise they wouldn’t have shared their crimes and introduced their privates to inmates.
Lee Boyd Malvo, the 17-year old who was suckered into going on a serial sniping spree in 2002 watched his life without parole sentences sail out the window on Friday when a Virginia judge vacated them. I always felt that this kid, who lacked a positive male role model, was hijacked by John Allen Muhammad, a very ill man who was 25 years his senior, and brought into crimes he never would have been involved with otherwise. Malvo admitted well after his sentencing – when it couldn’t mitigate his punishment – that Muhammad sexually abused him. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional in Miller v. Alabama. Last year the Supreme Court applied Miller retroactively to sentences issued before 2012, paving the way for the Virginia judge to give Malvo another turn at sentencing. By all accounts (except the prosecutors’ – because they have to show how big their dicks are) Malvo is contrite and a well-behaved inmate. He deserves a chance.
This week brought three more instances of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s coloring outside the lines. Allegedly the man who ran the jail where four inmates perished in six months (including one who was dehydrated to death) plagiarized his master’s thesis, projects the image that he’s earned medals for valor when he really just wears a big pin collection like costume jewelry, and had someone who barely disagreed with him on a plane detained and questioned by his deputies. I almost want him to become the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security because this man will never quit this fraud, puffery and abuse. I think people need to know how corrupt and abusive law enforcement is and Clarke likes the attention; he’ll put law enforcement’s warts on full display so people can really understand who’s supposed to be keeping them safe.
Bad human behavior is irrational. Even highly once;ontrived crimes like murder or Madoff-inspired systematic fraud. We like to think that crime is rational so we can continue to think that well-thought out strategies will combat it, but crime is emotional in its soul. Psychiatrist Thomas P. Malone said that he could sum up every abnormal human behavior: it’s someone screaming: “For God’s sake, someone love me!”
We impose logic and numbers all over lawbreaking as if crime has some calculus hidden within it. We speak of crime in financial terms as is people are as predictable as market forces. We use phrases like “paying one’s debt to society” and “reparation” and “getting one’s due.” We rely on the mathematical certainty of talion – one eye equals one eye and one tooth exchanges for one tooth; correction is just reconciliation of existential accounts. But the solution to society’s problem of crime appears on no ledger; it’s no debit that can be counterbalanced with a policy-driven credit.
An experiment by graduate students at Harvard and MIT called GiveDirectly gives cash transfers to the poor in Kenya without any qualification as to how the money can be used. Instead of squandering it, Kenyans used the money to repair their homes with durable, cost-saving materials and to invest in small businesses. A totally free gift with no expectations or conditions caused the Kenyans to behave more responsibly than if they had been yoked with more responsibility. Go figure.
GiveDirectly’s inspiration came across the border from Mexico, a country that has distributed cash transfers since the 1990’s to more than six million Mexican citizens. When cash transfers replaced food subsidies – Mexico’s version of ‘food stamps’ or Basic Needs – every economist looking on feared the worst: that the money would be used for legal vices like alcohol and tobacco and that domestic violence would spike as families fought over what to do with the cash. The economists had their charts and tables turned on them when no one fought or drank away the money. Studies proved that the children of families who received the cash transfers – and could have spent it on anything – were healthier and better educated than the kids from families who received food subsidies – and didn’t have a chance to squander it, it made no sense. Everyone expected that grants of cash would fall prey to the worst in human nature.
One explanation offered by GiveDirectly’s founders is that people know what they need. When they have the resources to meet those needs, they take care of themselves responsibly. When they don’t get what they need, they squander absolutely everything they get. Only when someone feels secure do they act secure.
Within this explanation is a final answer we don’t want to acknowledge about how to prevent crime. For God’s sake, just love us.
If we just outrightly grant love – and forgiveness – to the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the least lovable, the least worthy of love among us, they will act responsibly with it. They will become trustworthy only when trusted, dependable only when depended upon, respectable only when respected, considerate only when considered, careful only when cared for, forgivable only after they’re forgiven, noticeable only after they’re noticed, valuable only after they’re prized. It makes no sense, t
t it’s empirically true.
Whatever it is, it’s not new. The chaplain always teaches the prisoners that: “…When you’re loved, you’re good…” meaning that people who feel loved behave well. Anyone can see this lesson in daily life: kids whose fathers take time off from work grow up to be more stable. Employees who feel valued don’t squander their time on Facebook. Ladies who feel safe in their fiancé’s love don’t carp and complain about what happened at their betrothed’s bachelor parties. Someone who feels slighted gets rowdy. Someone who feels cheated on grows sneaky and clingy. But someone who’s loved? She’s good.
“But why should someone who broke the law get treated better than everyone else?” a Prison Diaries reader wrote to me before they canceled the column. I never got to reply to that woman directly.
If I had, I would have said that the simple answer is that they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t because everyone should be treated with respect, and lovingly, as galling as that is. We have to love the unloveable, treat discards like face cards out of pure self-interest because not giving, not loving, not trusting enough leaves everyone in torment. That’s all crime is, the unloved tormenting the rest.
Besides, that’s balance-sheet style thinking that doesn’t work to improve anything. It is totally unfair that people who never broke the law, never did much wrong, are the ones who must front the capital of love, trust and care to underwrite long lines of unsecured interpersonal credit to felons, societal deadbeats, who may have paid off some of the principal of their debts to society behind bars but who still wade in interest and penalties called untrustworthiness and being burdensome. Rationally, you might not lend money – or love – trust or concern – to someone who cannot repay you but emotionally you might have to and and it looks like being unwise might be how to solve problems of social justice.
My sales pitch may sound strong but I don’t use my own product. I’m the worst spokesperson for this problem-solving of emotional problems. From being hurt, betrayed, cheated so many times I harbor such anger that it is inconceivable to me that I can, much less should, open myself or make myself more vulnerable. To me, it’s putting the other cheek even closer to the other person’s fist with the caveat: “Now don’t exert yourself when you hit me again.” But as I cling to the rationality of the pain response I remind myself that I risk being wrong if I open myself too much but I risk living in chaos, in torment, if I don’t open myself up enough. The anger I feel is the result, not the cause, of not opening myself up enough of not trusting people because I think they’re untrustworthy and forgetting, that, by trusting them, I can make them so.
I need to practice more irresponsible interpersonal accounting and reckless charity and write off all of the uncollectable debts I accumulate in my heart. If I become less an emotional moneychanger, then I can be a game changer and change the game in a responsible way.
Imagine: the $212 billion prison industrial complex and 2.3 million people in chains, completely erased by one Beatles song. It will never add up, yet somehow it works.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM DECEMBER 18 – 25, 2016
Everyone but me got something good:
President Obama commuted the sentences of 153 more nonviolent federal drug prisoners. He also issued 78 pardons to men and women who have served their sentences on December 19, 2016.
Florida Supreme Court invalidated hundreds of death sentences. The Sunshine state’s highest court found that death sentences decided by a judge, not a jury, were unconstitutional. More than 200 inmates are affected by the ruling, which only applies to sentences imposed since 2002. That means more than half of the people on death row will get re-sentenced. Read the decision here.
The Obama administration Tuesday unveiled a new regulation that allows incarcerated parents to reduce their child-support payments while they are in prison. Currently support payments pile up and, upon release, parents face accumulated debt and the temptation to return to crime. They’re off the hook for a little while, at least.
If she’s not a lawyer, then at least she’s rich, the type of rich that has no money. Prison houses the highest concentration in the world of wealthy people who never had any money.
The wealthy inmates are so rich that they forget where they live. During one week, an inmate claimed to live in Stamford, then Greenwich, then Farmington, then Litchfield, all upscale residential towns in Connecticut.
I know she lives in Norwalk and I know that she didn’t relocate; she lived with me during that week, a week containing a five-day lockdown during which neither of us moved at all, staying in our 9 x 12-foot cell, except to tread down a flight of stairs to pick up Styrofoam trays containing our three hots. If she said that she lived in a cell with me, only then would she have been telling the unglamorous truth.
Besides the rich, there are the uber-educated. One inmate boasted a PhD. I asked her “What’s your PhD in?”
“It’s in my house.”
These women must think that their partners-in-prison believe anything they say because no one can verify their claims directly without any internet access or glimpses of front pages. Because nothing can be verified, we have chefs, American Idol finalists, Boston University seniors (I never knew they had a campus in Norwich!), Mafia don-ettes (who obviously know that the women’s movement never invaded La Cosa Rostra) and accountants. Actually, the accountants are real. They’re here for embezzling.
There are a million explanations for the fibs: mental illness, denial of who they are or what they’ve done, escaping their current reality, trying to manipulate other people. It doesn’t take more than freshman psych to jot down a well-informed list.
Many women will soon be called on their double-dealing – referred to as “bipolar” even though they’re not – and ostracized as much as a group of prisoners can ostracize a woman with whom the state forces them to live with within 500 square yards.
I haven’t been ostracized yet for my lie because most other inmates have rarely experienced the kind of consistency and relatively gentle nature I display when I help them write letters, edit their schoolwork and help them complete judicial forms. These activities make me a good, nice person to them.
“You’re so nice. You’re like an angel, like Jesus the way you help people in here,” Gina told me.
“If you only knew … ” I replied and she smiled and nodded. I believe she interpreted my words to mean something like If you only knew all the good I’ve done in my life … but I meant was Angel? Jesus? Me? No fucking way. My water always stayed water. I never multiplied the fish patties or hamburger buns here and I have yet to rise from the death of criminal conviction. In a very un-Jesus-like way, I was a raging asshole for a very long time, yet they compare me to the Christ anyway.
I describe myself as a nice person. It’s as fraudulent a label as self-imposed ones on the inmate who says she was in the Broadway version of Nunsense or the one who says she was Penn State’s college TV station weather girl.
Before landing in prison, I literally fell apart; I mean in two pieces. The nice person in me showed up when things were going well. The darker angel of my nature appeared whenever my fortune took a dive. I swore at people, made fun of them behind their backs and generally spewed nastiness at everyone because something bad was happening to me. Bad things happen to good people, but truly good people remain good and behave properly throughout the duration of the bad things. I thought that hitting a bad patch excused me from having to comport myself with civility, mercy and kindness like all good people do.
Being mistreated gave me leeway to lash out, at least in my mind, but I was lying to myself, pathologically. As a result, people around me never knew what to expect from me. Was her kindness a lie? Does that explain why she just insulted me and called me a fucking idiot? People avoided me and the further isolation made me angrier and entitle me to more explosions. I was vicious and this was my cycle. Prison, quite frankly, is probably the only place that would reform me, the spaces between the bars acting like a mirror serving the ugliness of my behavior right back to me.
Initially, I was too scared to lash out at others here in prison because guards had so much more power than I did, inmates so much more experience than I. Silently, though, I convinced myself that I had every right -and probably even an obligation – to tell the staff who were so undereducated (despite the fact that many have college diplomas and a handful have advanced degrees) and inmates what I really thought of them, but I didn’t have time to do it. I was preparing to leave any day and leave them behind.
Then I sat with some nurse for a routine health screening. She knew my social and educational background.
“So, Chandra, what are you going to do while you’re here?”
“Nothing. I’m not going to be here long.”
“But if you are here for a while … your sentence is long,” she posed to me.
“Even if I am here for a while, there’s nothing here for me … ”
“What about cosmo?” she asked me, referring to the cosmetology course in the prison school.
“No. There’s nothing here for me. You can’t really be stupid enough to think I would go to cosmo,” l said, my words sounding like those of the haughty bitch in an after-school special. When I said them, the words seemed well-bred and tactful to me.
Then somehow a memory of a verbal altercation I had over the phone with one of my lawyer’s secretaries seeped into my consciousness. The secretary had made a snarky remark about me to my lawyer – the specifics of which I could not remember but, in hindsight, I’m sure I deserved – and I called her on it rather than forgiving it like my alleged nice personhood would have done.
“Who do you think you are?” I asked her “Do you think you’re special, that you have the right to put me down? Are you an Ivy League graduate, Patty? Don’t you realize that you don’t matter?” I asked her; my words were ludicrous, malevolent. And dissonantly calm because I was evil, ugly and essentially not a person anymore.
“Chandra, leave me alone,” she said. I had always fancied myself a person who doesn’t bother anyone. I proclaimed it everywhere. I’m not. That was a lie.
Everyone warns against the perils of self-hatred; “Don’t say that!” people chant around the person who says he hates himself. But, at that moment in the prison nurse’s office, I loathed myself. And for the insufferable effrontery I showed, l should have hated myself; my self deserved to be despised. It was through detesting myself on that cold winter night on a molded plastic chair, slippery from endless friction with the asses of other self-loathers that made me realize I needed punishment and rehabilitation to rid myself of the parts I hated. I think it’s why I’ve fought more to overturn my convictions than just get out. It’s like I know a revolution needs to happen but I know it needs to happen in here.
Confinement reveals false life stories because it unifies personalities; that’s what it did to me. You are who you are in prison and you can never be someone else and l don’t speak of identity theft. Those women who Jekyll-and-Hyde everyone at home – self-described angels who are really nasty ghouls who heckle and hide – must pick one persona and go with it. Eventually all fake life stories get abandoned, if not by their tellers then by the people around them who know they’re full of shit. It is what it is.
In prison, you need to decide who you are and then be that woman because she’s the only human being who will carry you through your time. It’s the one aspect of rehabilitation in which incarceration never fails: developing a type of self-reliance, even as one lives as a ward of the state. Being pulled out of society and out of your own cloud of lies lets you know how alone you really are and how the only one who can really fix you is you.
The way I got fixed was that I realized you can say you’re something for a long time but, eventually, you have to be it. Thinking and proclaiming that l was a decent person was a really nice verbal billboard but eventually I had to deliver the goods.
Prison isolates a woman from everything and everyone she knew but isolation is not without its perks. Often women isolate themselves willingly to achieve peace and reflection through meditation because introspection never happens in a crowd. I doubt that l would have attempted to answer the questions that plagued me, like why I value the elusive goal of having everyone like me, or why I’m so narcissistic if I had remained incarceration-free. As a free bird, I never asked myself why I’ll screw up my own endeavors to help someone who really needs to carry her own cross. Why must I be right all of the time? And when I am right why do I care so much if others still think I’m wrong. Or why do apologies – giving or receiving – frighten me so much? Could, as friends suggest, hate really mask jealousy? Before I came to prison, the amount of self-esteem I had was pretty little so I couldn’t and wouldn’t answer these questions. I haven’t locked in my responses as final, but since I got here, I’ve started to formulate truthful responses to myself. It’s about time.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 17 – 23, 2016
Ideas put prosecutors in the hot seat this week.
The Dean of the Valparaiso School of Law made a great point: the United States has an Attorney General and a Solicitor General but we don’t have a Defender General, someone who can provide some pushback on top prosecuting authorities when they’re making big decisions on law or who to charge with a crime. Read her piece in Indiana Lawyer here.
Since criminal justice reform bills often don’t pass, if they get voted on at all, a new idea has come up to change the system: vote out the prosecutors who keep the spring of criminal defendants eternal. The replace them with reform sympathizers.