You Here for Murder, Bozelko?
“Guilt is never to be doubted,” in Kafka’s short story In the Penal Colony, where sentences of confinement were too easy. In the colony, wardens carved prisoners’ punishments into their backs with needles over and over again until the carvings lacerated their bodies to the point of death. The executioner required onlookers to watch retribution’s visible demarcations, bloody invasions on human flesh. Beheading or poisoning the prisoner would’ve been more efficient, yet insufficient. It’s never enough that someone feels punishment; everyone has to watch the penalty as the perp wears it before she dies.
I wear it every day and I’m not entirely sure of it. Full length mirrors must have good lawyers because they never go to prison. Instead we have index-card sized mirrors, barely enough to see your face. When I look into one of these tiny rectangles, my face is usually splotched with red – not inflammation or acne – but crushed tomatoes; they’re in almost every recipe we make in Food Prep.
I saunter around all day with red globules in my eyelashes, on the crease of my lip, crimson paste smeared and flaky on my cheeks, matting the little hairs on my forehead. I know it’s there; I just don’t know exactly where it is on my face and I yet interact with the prison ‘public’ without so much as dry swipe of my elbow to clear anything off. The sleeve, too, is covered with food spills and I’ll transfer them to my visage. So I let it all stay where it lands. It’s like I’ve surrendered to tomato tyranny.
How a woman looks is so paramount in society that it shouldn’t have surprised me that personal care would be taken away from us alleged scofflaws. External manifestations of punishment are nothing new; we’ve never wanted people who’ve done bad to look good, or even acceptable. From Hester Prynne’s crimson vowel to the six-pointed yellow stars worn by Jews in Nazi Germany, few can deny the connection between reckoning and appearance. Your just deserts have to be spilled down the front of your shirt. Karma’s return must lay track marks. Even Jesus Christ, condemned to death and risen from the dead, couldn’t shake his stigmata. What could he have done? Cover them with his hands?
The physical destruction and shaming of women caught in criminal justice starts long before anyone lands behind bars. In too many cases involving female defendants, the perpwalk and court appearances are just a disheveling and disorienting red carpet. No detail is too meaningless for the public’s and the reporters’ focus. Someone who’s here with me was charged with assault and described as ‘paunchy’ at her sentencing even though that had nothing to do with the crime. Why did the reporter need to write that?
Another female defendant, this one in New York, charged with statutory rape, had her “pink-hooded sweatshirt, black pants and white sneakers with pink shoelaces” dissected by the press at her arraignment. Choice of shoelace color was included with how she allegedly had sex with a high school student because the media reports only what we need to know. If the shoelaces had been blue, that would’ve meant that she was innocent of sexual assault, but guilty of stalking him, never mind that she was never charged with that. Green shoelaces mean she co-conspired with Bernie Madoff. Pink means she’s very together, and therefore manipulative and guilty. The shoelaces had to be included in the story. It would have been reckless journalism to leave them out.
If you’re a woman in trouble, how you look eclipses what you’ve done. This phenomenon might be helpful if it introduced any doubt about your charges, but it doesn’t.
Even as my trial was covered in the New Haven Register, reporting inaccuracies and the names the press called me bothered me – but not enough; I was just glad that Connecticut courtrooms disallow cameras. Because of this rule, no reporters carried cameras with them to snap photos of me at the courthouse. Readers of the local press drew incorrect conclusions about my character and the evidence against me. My appearance, though, was still inconclusive to them and I was okay with that because, through taking care of my father post-stroke, I wasn’t ready for my close up after my cuff up. I didn’t look as bad then as I do now, but Joan and Melissa Rivers would have destroyed me.
I can’t blame beauty culture or the patriarchy or even the media for this. We do it to ourselves.
One inmate here, a woefully misplaced Manhattanite who subscribes to the New York Post, sometimes reads our writing class portions of her paper when it arrives, days late.
“Listen, Lindsay Lohan was wearing ‘a hot beige number by LA designer Raquel Allegra and a conspicuous gold necklace… crafted by New York City-based jewelry designer Judith Ripka,’ when she went to court,” she read aloud. “Must be nice [to be able to do that],” she huffed.
“What’s she charged with again?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” the subscriber said. “Lemme check here.”
Whether Lohan was charged with larceny or a mass shooting didn’t lead our discussion; her appearance was the top topic, even among women who’ve suffered bad hair’s speaking for them – even more than bad behavior – but both still talking trash.
Even though I don this tomato outfit every day and I’ve done so for years, the C/O’s are still bowled over with my appearance and the amount of tomatoes I wear when I walk down the sidewalk after work.
“Jesus, Bozelko, you here for murder?” they snort and laugh at their own jokes. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it 200 times. The staff is on their way to cliché.
And it’s not as if they don’t know why I’m here; despite the rules prohibiting their Google-stalking me and invading my master file, they’ve done it. Keeping me an institutional target is very important to them.
But it doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, whether I harmed myself or someone else, whether I am guilty or not, as long as I look like shit and they can remind me of it.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM JUNE 20 – 26, 2016
Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer spent four months working as a corrections officer in a private prison in Louisiana. His report came out last week and is really shocking in its detail of violence, corruption and danger for anyone walking inside these private facilities. Title of first chapter? “Inmates Run this Bitch.” Read it. It’s long but…wow.
Gawker.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that Georgia Superior Court Judge Bryant Dunham, Jr. and defendant Denver Fenton Allen went head-to-head in a Rome, Georgia courtroom with the judge’s telling Allen he should masturbate in front of the bench and Allen’s telling the judge to “suck his dick.” This transcript is long, too, especially for the justice it achieves. Another wow.
A Mississippi prosecutor was charged with aiding and abetting criminal defendants by supplying them with strategy on how to beat the charges against them. It’s true he should have done this in a courtroom – by making sure charges were dropped – but it should never be a criminal act to try to achieve justice. The end game of criminal justice isn’t convictions; it’s fair play. And it seems like that was the prosecutor’s point in outlining strategy for defendants and giving them copies of evidence of improper communications between the judge and the other prosecutors. A sad wow.