“You seen? We got a black man as president,” Terri asked me as she was waiting for the C/O to unlock the door of the tier remotely. Most inmates get election results well after the general public since they lock up in their cells – and away from communal TV’s – before the last results are announced.
“Yeah, I heard on the radio. I mean, in January we will,” I explained.
“Obama’s not president yet. He was only elected. That’s why call him ‘President-elect.’ The election doesn’t make you president. It just chooses whogoes through the process of becoming president in January.”
“No matter. He gettin’ us out,” Terri told me with one decisive nod.
“Oh no, he…he has no jurisdiction over state crimes, so he can’t.”
“A black man is president,” Terri said, pressing her index finger and thumb together and pushing them toward me in that what-don’t-you-get gesture. “He’s gonna free the slaves and we outta this bitch.”
Sixteen years ago, four presidential terms ago, I was walking behind Witherspoon Hall to class, happy that [Bill] Clinton won the election. He went on to create a criminal culture where everyone who got arrested went to jail for a long fucking time. Fifteen years after I voted for the Comeback Kid and he swung the election, that tough-on-crime shit he allowed trickled down to me and I’m here, giving basic civics lessons to people because he didn’t shore up education spending like he should have. You never really understand how you can become the law’s landing strip until it touches down on you. And runs your ass over.
Congress and [President] Bush passed the Second Chance Act a little over six months ago – right after I didn’t get a first chance – so they’ve started doing something. Maybe Terri’s right. Maybe Obama will finish it. Maybe we are outta this bitch with Barack up in the Oval. It’s funny how disempowered people finally have hope just because the man in charge is black. Is that all it takes?
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM OCTOBER 30 – NOVEMBER 5, 2017
↑↑↑↑ Last week = the one time I’ve sided with the prosecution and cheered them on. ↑↑↑↑
And there are too many juicy criminal justice topics in this Manafort indictment mess.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s business partner and indicted co-conspirator in laundering millions of dollars, Rick Gates, was represented by a public defender because his attorney wasn’t there (because he hadn’t been hired). One of the burdens on public defense systems is being the stand-in until wealthier defendants retain counsel. Of course, they don’t have to investigate or draft any motions for these clients (not that they do that for their poor, qualifying clients) but hours of public defense time is spent standing next to for defendants because judges fear having anyone without an attorney next to them, even if that lawyer does nothing. Contrast this with the fact that, last week, a Louisiana Supreme Court refused to hear a case and a concurring opinion actually found that a suspect who said “Get me a lawyer, dawg” to police didn’t ask for counsel; instead Warren Demesne asked for a “lawyer dog” – like Tulane Law has a night school program for pugs who then get admitted to the Louisiana Bar. If the lawyer were a public defender, I hate to break it to you; he’d have been better off with the dog.
Your lawyer can take the stand against you if you lie to her and she passes the lie to the prosecution. It’s the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege (e.g. you can tell your attorney which banks you robbed but you can’t confer with her on which branch should be next) and Mueller et al. made sure Paul Manafort’s lawyer was required to take the stand and testify last week because they’re sure he’s taking the adage that ‘the law is a shield, not a sword’ to an extreme to get his hired legal help to peddle his bullshit for him. Using the crime-fraud exception was strategic, not in terms of prosecuting Manafort, but in warning all of the high-priced lawyers who will accompany their clients to upcoming interviews with the Mueller team (no one’s coming in alone like they do in the movies) that passing on a client’s lies won’t fly in this investigation.
File this one under “Don’t push it.” Manafort offered to put up close to $12 million in assets to avoid house arrest. With aliases, multiple passports, places to land overseas and a bunch of money that even the government says it can’t track, he was lucky to get house arrest in the first place. My guess? If they cut him loose off the bracelet, then it isn’t because of any way in which he secured his bond. He’s cooperating.
CTO Walters’ dedication to public service led him to make another announcement over the intercom before he headed out for the Halloween weekend. I was sitting in my cell and heard it on the overhead speakers.
“I will come in on Monday and check the tapes and see if anyone was parading around in costumes and if I see one of you with anything on ya’ll’s heads, you will all go to seg for 30 days. No stopping on the Boardwalk or Madison Avenue, you’re all going to seg[regation],” he warned in his Southern twang.
“I think that was a Monopoly reference,” I said out loud, to myself, alone in the cell, and heard from the rec area:
“Princeton, you gotta help us.”
Three women were panting at my door at the news, their frenzied speech buffered by the cell door. For some reason, it’s impossible to hear someone when they’re right outside your cell door, but they’re crystal clear when they’re down the hall. Walk into any housing unit and you’ll find at least one woman who’s practically kissing a doorjamb. Another woman’s inside doing the same thing, just like I was.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Didn’t you just hear that? Motherfucker says he gonna put all us in the box if we dress up on Saturday. We got the party and all.”
“What that got to do with me?” I’ve found that, sometimes, I can communicate better in here when I speak in song lyrics.
“He can’t do that, put people in seg when they didn’t do nothin’?
“You’ve been here longer than I have and multiple times. You ever gone to seg for nothing?” I asked.
“Yeah, um, I was on the walkway, see and…”
“No, I don’t need to hear what happened. Costumes violate the rules but, even if they didn’t, they can do whatever they want. And they do. And you know that.”
“So I can’t tell you whether he will check the video and put you in seg. Seems extreme, but who knows? If he does he can get you for hiding your identity or a flagrant [disobedience].”
“But I made cat ears and Regina crocheted a leprechaun hat,”Allie wined through the steel frame of my exit and bounced like a disgruntled child. “What’s wrong with a costume?”
“Well, we’re in prison.” It’s the catch-all explanation for everything here, mostly because it must be. Women think that every legal thing they did on the outside flies inside. It doesn’t. It can’t.
“Weigh it out. Is it worth going to seg for you to wear these yarn ears? If so, go for it. If not, abstain,” I advised to the crack of the door.
“What’s that mean?” I paused for a moment to consider this moment, one I definitely won’t forget. Self-restraint is foreign in here. No one has ever taught many women in here the concept that they can foregosomething risky, even downright dangerous, as a form of future self-preservation. Even less likely is the prospect that has someone recommended this type of decision-making.
It comes across as entitlement – I can break rules and avoid consequences – but it’s really just a lack of knowledge, of training. I don’t know if it would be futile to start explaining those concepts now or whether they’re here exactly to get that lesson. And if they are, I don’t know that I’m the one to dispense it. After all, I am wise about this because I don’t give a shit about this little Halloween soiree. Maybe if I had something I cared about on the line, I’d get a little daring myself. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it in the past.
“Listen, we’ve all worn masks our whole lives and a costume since we got here. It won’t kill you not to be extra extra for just one day,” I told them. Final answer.
They ain’t tryin’ to hear that.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 23 – 29, 2017
Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, we will knowwho’sabout to take a collar in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation. And so it begins.
Two Bronx public defenders wrote original commentary for The Marshall Project highlighting a new study that I hadn’t seen when it came out. Racial disparities in plea-bargaining outcomes are greater in cases involving misdemeanors and low-level crimes; being accused of major crimes evened out plea bargain outcomes. Also, white defendants with no criminal history usually received reduced sentences (all except me) but black and white defendants with criminal records were treated similarly.
Here’s where criminal justice reform makes no sense. The main gripe with mandatory minimum sentencing laws is that they strip judges of discretion in sentencing. Then reformers push risk assessment tools that also strip judges of discretion. It seems to me like any inroads made into eradicating mandatory minimum sentences get erased with these computer programs. Read this oped in The New York Times by a former Facebook engineer/Harvard Law student to understand why these tools can be dangerous.
You have a call from…Chandra… an inmate at York Correctional Institution. This call may be monitored and/or recorded. You may start your conversation now.
“Chan? Happy Birthday,” my father said.
“I talked to the warden, you know, about your mail delay, and he said your mail is probably delayed because you’ve been moved 37 times.”
“Is that true?”
“Hal-owe. Happy birth-day!” It was my mother, intervening. My father probably waved her over to another extension. It wasn’t uncommon for my parents to sit two yards from each other, talking to the same person on the phone, each on different receivers.
“Hi. What is happening? They’re putting you all over the place?” she asked.
“Daddy said they moved you 37 times.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. This is terrible,” she said and sighed.
“They’ve moved you 37 times in a little over five years?” my father inquired, on a cross-ex.
“Yes. But every time I go to seg, that’s two moves, you know. One in; one out. Maybe three, if I land in 3-South first.”
“And how many times have you been to seg?” he asked, even though he knew.
“Well, then, let me ask you this, Chan.” That’s Ronald Bozelkoish for You’re not making any sense. “What happened in the other 25 moves? When you didn’t go to seg.”
“Umm, I moved. One regular unit to another.”
“This is absolutely absurd. So they move you every other month? Is that what you’re telling me? And this has been going on from the beginning?” Ronald was demanding information for an action plan.
“Well, except for the moves inside the unit.”
“What is that?” He needed to check.
“Like when they move you from one cell to another inside a unit. You stay in the same building. Or half of the building,” I explained.
“How many of those?” my father asked.
“I dunno. Two or three for most of the units.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
“No,” I said. I wasn’t.
“Why didn’t you tell me this was happening to you?” my mother asked.
“That I was getting moved? Why?”
“Because we would have done something about it,” she explained, exasperated.
“‘Cuz it didn’t occur to me. I just want my mail on-time.”
“But that won’t happen if they keep moving you like they are, okay?” my father explained. “When did they move you last?”
“Today?! On your birthday?” My mother was horrified.
“Where are you now?” my father asked like he was a 911 operator trying to ascertain the location of an emergency.
“I’m still here, in the prison. I’m in One North again.”
“What is One North? What is that about?” came from my mother and “Where were you before?” came from my father.
“We need to stop this,” came in unison.
“Well, I have only, what? Eight months left? How are we gonna stop it now?”
I am getting far too pragmatic.
I always hated moving in here. You stay at the same address you just get filed under another number. More than anything else that can happen in this facility, moving cells made me feel like we’re chattel, like we had to be stored in a different container. Where we would be could change, but we always, always had to be stored somewhere. It was burdensome organizing for the staff, like they had to find somewhere to stuff us.
I never realized that I might hate the moves because the staff has gone pretty far to make me miserable with them. Normally, operations [administration] will move you only if you’re in the prison, i.e. not at court or an off-grounds medical appointment, and only during first shift. Unless its an emergency in the cell, like when my toilet started flushing non-stop without anyone’s using it and they moved me and my roommate to another building at night, you’ll be moved before 2 PM.
Unless you’re me, anyway. After a week in court during a week of snow and other delays (meaning I had about 10 hours of sleep for the week, aggregate) they moved me once at night – which is unheard of, unless there’s an emergency. But there was none that night and there was every reason to let me stay where I was.
Paralyzed by fatigue, I couldn’t even carry my stuff anymore and the C/O picked up my bags and carried them for me. They’re not allowed to do that and I was so grateful to him that I didn’t even say anything a few months later when he threw a roll of silver duct tape straight into my face. When I was on the phone. That was when I lived in One North another time, about 20 moves ago.
Moving is a security thing in every prison; they like to mix things up so no one gets too comfortable where they are, has time in one place to dig out a Shawshank tunnel. But what happened to me is excessive and I, in my mind the smartest person at this address, didn’t even catch it even though other long-term inmates move about a third as often as I do and average inmates move about a fifth as often as I do. As much as I complain about this place, somehow I missed the fact what was happening to me wasn’t right. I’m actually pretty good about feeling slights and bitching about them, too good at it maybe. But I miss the real stuff hunting for the piddly offenses or ways to get a reaction from people. If I just understood and mourned some of the things I’ve suffered for what they are, I’d probably calm down.
I remember when I had to meet with the eleventy-billionth shrink and she went through my file.
“So you know that this is abuse?” she asked, talking about every possible psychiatric intervention that had been foisted upon me.
“Well, it’s more just family dysfunction,” I half-agreed, amiably, so I’d be allowed to leave.
“Okay, but it’s also abuse,” she said.
“I mean, I guess. But not really. My parents love me, I know that.”
“Love doesn’t force,” she told me. I never thought about it that way. I’ve loved many people, things, situations and always thought I could force more out of them with threats and generally bad behavior. I was never forced to go back to that doctor and I always wondered why.
After that birthday call, I’ve decided that the cycle of abuse isn’t propelled by anger. The fact that ‘hurt people hurt people’ isn’t because they are in pain so they make a conscious decision to share the torturous wealth. Abuse is fueled by ignorance. People don’t know what constitutes abuse; that’s why they so easily pass it to others. I’ve reached 41 years of life and I still don’t know all the ways I’ve been abused and all the ways I’ve abused many people. I simply never knew what I was doing or what was being done to me. It’s not an excuse; it’s a fact. Because so many women get moved here every day (especially me), it didn’t really occur to me that these moves might be another form of mistreatment. It felt that way, but every allegedly legit thing that’s been done to me felt the same. I didn’t even know.
Every worker, when she checks in for work in the morning, has to report her housing unit.
“Ms. Bozelko, thank you. Zero-South,” NY Giants said as he placed a deliberate check mark next to my name on the roster the next morning.
“No, it’s One North.”
“They moved you again? Oh boy.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s happening again,” I told him and went to put on my boots. And as I slid on the chunky black rubber and started to think about how much abuse, incoming and outgoing, I never recognized, I didn’t know that no one would ever move me in that facility again. I couldn’t yet see how, even subtly, just acknowledging abuse stops the cycle.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 16 -22, 2017
As part of the organization’s “Whole Pie” series, the Prison Policy Initiative conducted the first formal count of incarcerated women in the country. It turns out that 15% of incarcerated women – around 30,000 of them – are sentenced but live in jails, not prisons. It might seem like a minor distinction, one related to jurisdiction alone, but it’s not. The difference between prisons and jails have everything to do with quality of life so we are really harming 30,000 women by not finding them a place in a prison. That sentence sounded nuts; I know, but it’s true. For a good explanation about the difference between prison and jail, click here, on the legal website HG.com (HG stands for Hieramos Gamos, Latin for ‘marriage of opposites,’ which means that the site’s founders think it’s almost impossible for anyone who isn’t a lawyer to understand anything about the legal system, an arrogance that might explain why they let their sentenced female clients languish in jails, but I digress.) Another 25% of women live in jails but are unsentenced. They suffer, too. Maybe not as much. Maybe more.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced the Corrections Oversight, Recidivism Reduction, and Eliminating Costs for Taxpayers In Our National System Act last Thursday. It’s a mouthful for the same old shit. Literally; the same bill was introduced in 2015. The day before the new version was brought out, law enforcement leaders sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump but they haven’t responded. And they won’t.
A federal trial judge in Brooklyn says he’s going to hold a hearing on the perceived prevalence of lying by New York city police officers. There’s no way to be sure without an exhaustive search of all court decisions, but this could be a first. And a discussion of the credibility of police testimony writ large is needed. So this should be good. And still, ultimately, not get us that far.
“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.
“He who represents himself has a fool for a client, Bozelko,” the strip search C/O said when I got back from court. She told me to make sure my lawyer doesn’t force me to take so many court trips. I didn’t have one, I told her.
“I’m different,” I replied.
“Oh, you’re smarter?” she huffed.
“No. He who represents himself does have a fool for a client…because he’s a ‘he.’ I’m a female. Totally different game.”
Representing yourself is a different game, but it isn’t always a losing one. According to the limited data available on the subject, pro se criminal defendants usually fare no worse than their represented counterparts. Erica Hashimoto, a law professor, conducted one of the only studies of the effectiveness of self-representation and found that, at the state level, pro se defendants fared better than their represented counterparts. Half of all pro se defendants walked away without a conviction; only 25% of attorney-represented people cleared the conviction hurdle. Of the self-represented people who were convicted, only half of them were convicted of felonies whereas 84% of represented people who lugged convictions out of the courtroom carried the extra weight of felony status.
Only 42% of self-represented defendants entered into plea bargain agreements while almost twice as many represented defendants, 71%, folded and pleaded guilty. Of those pro se litigants who displayed their layperson chops at trial, 2% of them were acquitted of all charges. It doesn’t sound promising for the DIY legal set – until you learn that only 1% of represented defendants were acquitted of all charges after trial; pro se defendants are twice as likely to get themselves acquitted.
The results in federal courts were comparable, and both upended the idea that counsel is necessary for access to a criminal court.
And this pisses off everyone in a courtroom The right to counsel doesn’t exist (if it does at all) for the protection of the defendant. It exists to make lawyers feel needed, like they have some knowledge that no one else can get from reading the same books.
So far, I’ve had one lawyer who told the jury three times that there was no reasonable doubt in her closing argument and used Buck Cherry’s “Crazy Bitch” as her ringtone (Angelica Papastavros), another one who didn’t know I was going to be sentenced and cried when I got screwed (Tina Sypek D’Amato) and who needed me to write out the direct examination questions for her in another trial, a third who never contacted an alibi witness and lied about hiring an investigator (Dean Popkin). I have a habeas attorney who went to the trouble of subpoenaing necessary phone records yet made sure that he secured only half of them. Even after all of that, I dared to hire the dude who represents the WWE star who’s here – I’ve never heard of her, Sunny, but apparently she’s big on the wrestling circuit – and then she told me in the medical unit that he was removed from her case for “inappropriate behavior,” whatever that means in reference to someone who fake fights other people in costumes. I mean, would she mind if he threw her against a wall? What’re we talking about here when it comes to propriety?
With these fine legal minds barricading me from injustice, what kind of an asshole would I be to get another lawyer?
The right to self-representation was established by the Supreme Court in 1975 in Faretta v. California and it’s supposed to be absolute. In practice, though, it’s not; lower courts have tacked on limitations to the right: the request has to be timely made, it cannot be made for the purpose of delay, it must be made prior to the start of trial. Because of these conditions – rules that are essentially made up because they don’t appear in the original decision – many people are denied the right to represent themselves. I was denied when I wanted to represent myself and prevent Papastavros’ perfidy because my request was made after the jury was selected. There are at least 2509 defendants who were also denied that right if appellate decisions are any indication. That many people appealed court’s ruling denying their motions to represent themselves.
Another, older Supreme Court decision has enabled these encroachments on the self-representation right. Gideon v. Wainwright, the seminal 1963 case on the right to counsel, held that due process rights are violated when laypeople are left to represent themselves against criminal charges. When Faretta was decided twelve years later, the right granted to defendants to represent themselves wasn’t so much an individual right to self-determination as it was the right to reject a court-appointed, taxpayer-funded attorney who would be assigned to you without your even requesting him.
Even though the petition that launched the right to counsel into the nation’s highest court was handwritten by a pro se petitioner – Gideon himself – the idea that self-represented defendants are very unlikely to receive a proper defense was part of the Gideon Court’s reasoning and ended up creating the welfare model of criminal defense that we use today. As many as 90% of defendants in various jurisdictions are indigent and qualify for appointed counsel. Many of them languish in jail because there aren’t enough attorneys for them and the lawyers that are available are so overburdened that they can’t even render effective assistance. But people’s cases won’t move without them.
It would be unjust to force all, or even most, of these defendants to represent themselves just to jump-start prosecutions. Too many people facing criminal charges are functionally illiterate, don’t know how to do legal research and even more have trauma histories that affect their self-concepts and confidence to challenge adversaries in a meaningful way.
But data shows that many people can represent themselves effectively, better than the lawyers that they’re waiting for. This isn’t a total vindication of the collective ability in prisons, but more an indictment of modern criminal defense. If there were a way to combine the defendant’s knowledge of the case with the attorney’s expertise and experience into a representative team, we might move cases through criminal dockets more quickly and effectively.
There is a way; it’s called hybrid representation and, while constitutionally permissible, it’s disfavored by courts because the see the right to self-representation and the right to counsel as mutually exclusive; Gideon and Faretta can’t work together. But this isn’t true. It’s the lawyers and the courts who won’t work with defendants if they want to keep their cases moving.
The Faretta decision actually says the right to represent yourself and the right to a lawyer are the same right, just different facets of it. Yet courts will either create situations which amount to self-represented suicide or they force government assistance on litigants. They rarely allow anything in-between.
If I could get over my anger at my attorneys, the in-between might work for me, too. Working as a partner with someone so I can shape my own fate yet still feel some trust in someone who fulfills their duty of loyalty to me might help me from having to flip the bird to the judicial branch. That’s how pro se representation is interpreted. I don’t kid myself that anyone, including me, sees it as a mere constitutional exercise.
No defendant in Connecticut can have hybrid representation; it’s outlawed for everyone. Instead, the pro se defendant has “stand-by counsel”; the attorney can’t jump in and correct something he might do against his interests. All the attorney can do is answer questions when asked – if the fool knows to ask them.
If more courts recognized hybrid representation and allowed a team to represent defendants – the client and the lawyer together – then we might be able to start moving this backlog of people who are waiting for counsel around the country. And produce fair results.
Hybrid representation does more than clear court clog. There’s an empowering message in hybrid representation which is that the defendant has the ability – and the duty – to clean up his own mess. Rather than being served by a “public pretender,” the defendant can get real and contribute to the resolution of his own legal problems.
Not enough defendants have demanded hybrid representation – it’s banned in many states – because they don’t know about it or they think they’ll never win if they try to help themselves. Statistics say that they can prevail – or at least fare better – if they pitch into their own defense. Hybrid representation holds tremendous potential for relieving the criminal defense problems around the country. Refusing to explore this solution makes fools of us all.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM FROM OCTOBER 2 – 8, 2017
Obviously, the news was filled with stories of the Las Vegas concert shooting, one of the largest crimes in the history of the country, including the fact that the shooter – amazingly enough – had no criminal record. Many terrorists don’t have rap sheets and convictions. Looking for them amongst convicted felons is a waste of time.
The New York Times reported that prison guards in Alaska put collars and leashes on naked inmates while forcing them to walk in front of female staff members and left them in cold, filthy cells without proper covers. The investigation that discovered these abuses isn’t notable just for the horrors within it, but because it was written by an ombudsman, a dying breed of correctional supervisor. If Alaska didn’t have an ombudsman, these human rights violations may never have come to light. (Translation: this kind of correctional chicanery is happening in facilities in states without an ombudsperson.)
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. took two hits this week. First, ProPublica, working with The New Yorker, dropped the bomb that Ivanka and Donald Trump, Jr. dodged a felony indictment for fraud years ago, after their attorney, Mark Kasowitz, made a $25,000 donation to Vance’s re-election campaign, only to have it returned prior to Kasowitz’s meeting with Vance. After the prosecution was shuttered, Kasowitz reappeared with a $32,000 donation to the same campaign, a contribution that was returned only recently. Then, days after this Trump bombshell, it was revealed that embattled Miramax founder Jeffrey Weinstein’s lawyer donated $10,000 to Vance’s campaign four months after Vance decided not to charge Weinstein with sexual assaulting a model. I’ve said it before; I will say it again. Prosecutors are inherently dirty.
In here, the sign of seasons’ turning is waiting in a line. One in the fall to get a coat. Another in the spring to hand it in. The good coats are the army-green barn jackets and they usually go to the long-term inmates, women like me. The low lottery numbers catch the nylon ecru short ribbed jackets. Anyone wearing one of them is clearly in the lower prison caste because no O.G. wears those swingy, cream-colored jokes. I went coatless all winter when one was thrown at me when I came through the doors of A&D [Admissions and Discharges] in December 2007 and the autumn coat waiting lines had long dispersed from the building. I used it as a pillow instead because you couldn’t buy a pillow back then. Now, for my sixth jacket, my unit had been called the day before for the line-up, when I was at court, so I left work early to dodge the fate of flimsy, light-colored winter gear because I don’t need something soft and superfluous to rest my head. I bought a nylon bag of air, labeled “pillow,” years ago.
“[C/O] Boxman such a motherfucker. I hope they tell his wife how he be fuckin’ [C/O] Questionable Taste up in here in A&D on third shift!” First-in-Line announced. She must have just been yelled at by him before I joined the queue.
“Oh, shit. He fuckin’ her? I knew it. And they doin’ it here in A&D? That’s nasty.” Third-In-Line declared.
But I was laughing, hard.
“You think it’s funny Questionable Taste a damn home wrecker? How they get you is how they leave you,” First-in-Line instructed me without turning around.
“No, I mean someone having sex in A&D.”
“It’s nasty, right? This shit look dirty,” Third-in-Line checked with me as she looked to the floor and the walls, made a sour face.
“It’s funny. Intercourse in Admissions and Discharges? That’s hilarious. I had no idea the staff was so euphemistic,” I told them before I broke back into giggles.
“What that mean?” Second-in-Line asked.
“A euphemism is a polite way of saying something out of bounds in normal conversation. So…you know. Admissions….discharges. Instead of saying ‘sex.’ Like sex is a series of admissions, get it? Followed by a discharge…?” I explained, haltingly.
Between the kids they had, the prostitution charges they racked up, this crowd in line had way more sex than I ever could and they still didn’t get what I was saying. I felt like Steve Buscemi in [the movie] Fargo when he’s trying to explain the old “in-n-out” to the outcall girl with him in the nightclub. They were nonplussed by my wit and uninterested in the language lesson.
Originally, I thought the name they gave to the prisoner loading dock – “Admissions and Discharges” – was odd, like anyone was giving consent for us to enter; we’re wanted at the prison’s front door – which happens to be way in the back – as much as we wanted to arrive there. It’s not like that second-shift crew, headed by the C/O who sits diagonally in the corner of the front desk, is psyched to unlock the doors and let our shackled feet short-shuffle in.
Then I thought “A&D” was just a nod to the mental health epidemiology within, which is extensive and screaming for remedy. I read that the Cook County jail in Chicago is the largest mental health provider in the state of Illinois. It was reasonable to assume that, through using that name, they were treating us like patients. But any medical etymology is purely accidental.
“Admissions and Discharges” was the terminology used by English workhouses in the 13th century until not that long ago, places like the one where Dickens’ character Oliver Twist dared to ask for more. It was England’s welfare program; poor people had to turn themselves in to get food and shelter and live in government custody. Workhouses were prisons without the prosecutorial prelude. And all you had to do to be admitted to inpatient welfare was have nothing and be hungry. So the place didn’t turn into a hotel, they enforced hard labor as a incentive to avoid getting yourself in such a jam that you couldn’t handle your own business anymore. In short, to get your gruel, you did grueling labor to align yourself with (former prisoner himself) Saint Paul’s rule that ‘He who shall not work, shall not eat.’ When they thought someone had a chance to fend for themselves outside, wardens got even more Christian and tossed them into the warmer weather.
The same thing happens here every autumn. As chill reluctantly admits itself to the air in September and October, and sleeping in a tent on any patch of land whose owners aren’t around to call the cops won’t work anymore, women intentionally place themselves in justice’s way and turn themselves in for shelter and food. Proposition a police. Surrender themselves on an old warrant. All to get meals and dry, warm lodging for the winter because poverty’s a crime.
Now you can get the food and shelter without being in physical custody. I don’t get how modern society has liberalized itself enough to recognize the dignity inherent in being free yet still allows people to exist in such indigence that they’re willing to give that liberty up in order to survive the winter. And, if they’re lucky, score a green coat in the style the fashion industry calls a “work jacket.” It makes me wonder if the person who chose them for the modern workhouse knew that.
“That what you call sex? Additions and discharges?” Second-in-Line asked me and shook her head and said “Motherfuckin’ white people.”
“Admissions. Admissions and discharges. And no, I don’t. Well, maybe, after today. I’ll call it ‘gettin’ a little A&D’.” And then they started laughing with me.
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 25 – OCTOBER 1, 2017
Former New York congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner is going to prison. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison last Monday for sexting a teenager, although his real crime is enabling the rise of Breitbart News (no one paid attention to Breitbart until they broke the “grey underwear” story). Here’s what former prisoners wanted him to know about the public service venture he’s headed into.
Hannah Kozlowska, a 2017 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Criminal Justice Reporting Fellow, a fellow Fellow of mine, reported for Quartz on Walmart’s extortion of shoplifting suspects. If you get nabbed for allegedly boosting something from the retailer, you get a chance to take a 6-8 hour course which costs you several hundred dollars. Or you can choose to have them call the police and get arrested, whereupon you get another chance to pay several hundred dollars in bail. The program was created because, in many districts, the majority of calls to law enforcement were from local Walmarts so it might save taxpayers money in reduced police costs, but it will also make Walmart and the private company administering the program a lot of money.
James Holmes, the man sentenced to life in prison for the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, was moved to a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania because Colorado corrections officials didn’t feel he was safe in the state system. This comes after fits and starts over Colorado’s failure to disclose Holmes’ location to victims’ families. I understand the need for transparency in corrections and I agree that victims and their families are stakeholders in the process of justice, but I do not understand why the victims are so invested in knowing where Holmes is sleeping. Is it fear because they think he’s likely to escape? If so, how would knowing where he was in custody help prevent that? I know these people have been indelibly harmed by Holmes’ actions, but too many times the whims of victims run the system.
Once it was a typical Lifetime-style movie. After a tragic setback, the heroine relocated to a new town where no one knows her. In their unfamiliarity with her, the community underestimates her until she reveals – piecemeal – her mysterious past and the strength that kept it entombed inside her.
That story might have worked in the 1980’s and 90’s but it would never fly today. The heroine’s new community will know her life story before she can change the name on her mailbox because, well, Google. The fact that no one is the keeper of her own narrative anymore makes TMI impossible. Society’s savage when it comes to secrets. If he could have seen society’s modern insatiability when it comes to secrets, F. Scott Fitzgerald would double down on his (alleged) observation that there are no second acts in American lives.
I’m wouldn’t have been so bothered by my felony convictions and imprisonment if they could’ve been concealed; that’s how narcissistic I was when I got here. The fact that someone would know about my prison stint bothered me more than the actual conditions of custody themselves. Nights on these two-inch mattresses were filled with divine bargaining. God could extend my prison sentence – a significant one already – if I could just be sure that no one would ever know I’d been here.
My skyward offers have gone unheard and I can now accept that my thinking was delusional. But I found my cure reading two gospels that confinement forced me to examine more closely than I ever would have before: the Bible and Howard Stern’s Private Parts. Amongst other lessons like “poor in spirit” has nothing to do with a bad attitude, disciple Matthew teaches that it’s not necessarily love that wins; it’s humility. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled” – which I knew because I thought I was too important to be jailed and yet, here I am – but sometjing I hadn’t even considered: “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It’s exactly what happened to Stern. After vowing to his audience he would never lie to them again, he let loose truth all over his listeners, revealing genital realities, lecherous inclinations, bodily functions and unabashed humanity. His failures and embarrassments coronated him the King of All Media.
I have no idea if Howard knows this, but he ripped a page right out of Jesus’ playbook in structuring his kingdom. The disciples, according to Deacon Dolan, were a bunch of outsider weirdos, the Beetlejuices and Nicole Bass’ of ancient Israel. Matthew himself was a tax collector, which at the time, was worse than being a robber and a snitch together. Saint Peter was a manic hot-head who nobody wanted around, “the stone the other builders rejected.” Others were bumblers. I’m sure one of them had a high-pitched voice like Eric. And yet they, too, built an altar where millions worship. The apostles were a Wack Pack.
The proof that you have real power is an ability to take people at such deep margins of society and make them revered, historical. And you can’t do that unless you get to their level by exposing yourself as the most rejectable incompetent ever, so reviled that they want to nail your Fartman costume-covered ass to a cross.
You’d expect a system of rehabilitation to recommend radical confession, but even they know what I’m planning to do is dangerous. Correctional staff advises you to conceal your past for as long as you can get away with it.
“Admit it only when asked,” instructs the re-entry counselor at the prison. From employment to school applications to any endeavor that requires acceptance, the general wisdom is to let people do a few things – like 1) get to know you; 2) learn that they like you and 3) stay seated on the other side of the table – before you detonate your details on them.
Not only would I feel like I was springing essential information on people after well after it was opportuned, the wait-to-reveal strategy doesn’t work if what all these recidivists tell me is correct. Even the legal protection from these Ban-the-Box laws that are bouncing around to prevent potential employers from asking about a criminal record until everyone’s about to seal the deal – will make me look like a liar when I don’t disclose my past right away. People will hold the convictions against my character anyway and my explanation – Everyone told me not to say anything and you didn’t ask yet! – will probably undermine any promise I might have projected.
That’s why I know I need to tell people I did time very soon after I meet them. Almost immediately. Like, before I tell them my name.
“Oh no, you’re not feeling the effects of a felony conviction, are you?” the nice people will fear, knowing that collateral consequences assure that punishment never ends in this country.
“No, I’m feeling the effects of thirteen of them,” I will say.
I’m flattering myself that this practice will be efficient and extremely honest, but it will really be a form of aggression, classic preemption. When I tell people I’ve been in prison, a silent “You got a problem with that?” will hang in the air with all the subtlety of swinging nunchucks. Subconsciously I want to retain a victim mentality, so if anyone is going reject the other, it can’t be me pushing someone away.
Pretty much everyone knows someone else who’s considered as bad as I’m made out to be. Sometimes that person is themselves. I was in prison and revealing it is not only true, it gives people permission to have problematic pasts. The sinkhole of mass incarceration has sucked in so many lives that new acquaintances might even reveal their own justice involvement after I lift the shroud of shame.
Especially if their convictions pre-date a digital age, many of them probably never told anyone outside of their family because they didn’t have to. No one could unearth their histories without their consent but their secret burdened them with a heavy thought: what will happen if someone eventually finds out? As the first person they’ll come out to, I plan on relieving them because, per Matthew and Howard, there’s no need to be ashamed of anything that’s real.
Others have very good reasons to be wary of an ex-con. I feel no obligation to convince them of any other way to behold someone with a criminal record. Take me. Leave me. Your call. That’s freedom.
Besides, this is an efficiency matter. Spilling a sordid past is a great social sorting mechanism. If someone is going to hold it against me in the future, I want the rebuff up front and to waste no time.
Abject rejectability might not make me a queen but I think it will be my edge when I re-enter society. Opening the interpersonal trench coat and exposing all that deserves cover is likely the only way I can compete when I leave. Instead of putting my name on my mailbox, I’ll put: Inmate No. 330445.
When people ask me:
“Paper or plastic?” (I don’t even know if that’s still a choice being offered), I’ll answer:
“Prison. I was in prison.”
“Do you want fries with that?” someone will pose to me over a cash register. I will reply:
“I want you to know I was with the worst of the worst in prison. And sort of I fit right in.”
When a server asks me:
“Have you decided on anything for today?”
“I’ve decided that this meal is better than anything I ate in prison for years. I worked in a kitchen there, you know, a unique place where the customer and the server are both always wrong.”
When a physician inquires as to how I’m doing, I’ll answer:
“My health’s okay, but I’m terrible person. I think I’m smarter than you, yet I wasn’t smart enough to keep my ass out of the joint, much less finish graduate school.”
When some perfect, stable person whose quick moves dodged them right out of dysfunction uses that collected, cucumber tone with me:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Prison exacerbated my every disorder I have and made my mind a sieve, so nothing.”
Eventually they’ll get so tired of of this that they’ll get very stern with me:
“Ma’am. I have other things to do here. It doesn’t make any difference in my life that you were in prison.”
And I will say:
And I will win. So I will fix my crown upon my head, whereupon it will crash down on my knee or my foot, making me shriek in pain and display my weakness for all, because that’s what the powerful winners do.
THREE IDEAS IN JUSTICE REFORM FROM SEPTEMBER 18 – 24, 2017
In an attempt to control the opioid epidemic, drugstore giant CVS is going to limit new patients with new prescriptions for opioid drugs to seven days’ worth of pills – which means all of the prescription fraud is about to shift to Walgreen’s and Rite-Aid unless they follow suit. This is a good idea overall, I think, but someone I spent time with in prison pointed out that she takes opioids legitimately (meaning she has a non-forged script) and pain makes it hard for her to leave the house. If this rule applies to her, she needs to leave the house four times more now. I hadn’t thought of that because I was concentrating on a memory I have of another woman I met at York CI who forged a doctor’s signature so well, the only way he could tell if he wrote it was to check his patient files. Her forgeries were for people whom he never examined. I bet she’ll avoid CVS now. It won’t be worth the risk of arrest for seven pills.
A $75 speeding ticket case has reached the Iowa Supreme Court and it’s not some diehard self-represented person who won’t let it go. The case is actually very important because it’s about privatizing police services. Cops with a private company are writing tickets to bad its bottom line. Innocent people are getting caught up in someone else’s agenda. Congratulations, Marla Leaf (the petitioner who got the bogus ticket); now you know what prison discipline feels like.
Another lawsuit was filed, challenging the wages paid to detainees by private prisons, this time in Washington State. The last one was filed earlier this year in Colorado. I have always said this is bad move. If anyone has to pay detainees or inmates a minimum wage, they’ll just hire people outside the facility and then people inside will have nothing to do. These lawsuits might shut down the entire job program within these facilities and that’s a bad idea. All it will cause is more idleness for people inside. Do you need directions to the Devil’s workshop?
“Yo, Patriots, don’t we gotta be evacuated or nothin’? Go back to our cells?”
Hurricane Sandy was thrashing everyone else in the state – and the seaboard – but if you didn’t have access to a TV or radio in here, you’d never know, even though York CI is almost beachfront property. At least on the maximum security side, there aren’t many trees to lurch and spasm in the wind. To me, right now, [Hurricane] Sandy looks like heavy rain.
“Prison is the safest place you can be during a hurricane…” Patriots assured us. He fills in for Bengals on Friday mornings and he might be right. When society shifts into every-man-for-himself mode during a disaster, inmates are some of the few people who someone’s looking out for, mostly because we can’t – and no one want us to – flee. We’ve already taken cover in an impenetrable bunker when we were sentenced. Generators wait for years to be called into action to keep our ‘home’ humming. My life – crappy as it may be – was totally un-interrupted by Sandy. Even though I couldn’t move, I still escaped the storm. Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t an upside to incarceration.
We were lucky to work but Patriots might have the Freaky Friday curse. Man-made disaster has struck every Friday he’s come in when Bengals was off. One kettle broke as it was stirring 200 gallons of American Chop Suey. I had to run alongside the kettle, back and forth, with a piece of cardboard to catch the Chop Suey castoff so it wouldn’t pile up on the floor cause a worker to slip and bust her ass.
Another Friday morning brought with it a broken pump machine that sprayed a steady stream of 212-degree black-eyed peas into a black inmate’s eye. If I made up a story like that, people would say it was over the top; it was almost like someone set it up.
Now, in a natural disaster, he came in to cover for Bengals again to supervise us as we made 1000 gallons of chicken tetrazzini. If I were him, I wouldn’t have tempted fate.
But this Friday morning was calm. Three kettles rotated silently, spinning chicken and green pepper strips in sauce made from dry milk and butter. No other creature in the facility was stirring. Food Prep probably was the least-disrupted, smoothest-running place in the state.
“Bozelko, can you pull out two racks of chicken and prep ‘em?”
“Sure,” I agreed and went inside the walk-in cooler. I pushed the metal rack on the cooler door, cleared the vinyl curtains and had just come through when:
THUNG! THUNG! THU..THU…THU…THU…NNNG! rang out at 20 decibels, followed by an inmate voice from some far recesses of the kitchen:
“Some shit is broke.”
And the kitchen went dark.
Power usually goes out without a sound. It’s the silence from deleted TV screens and extinguished fluorescent bulbs that helps alert you that something happened. Not this time. No one lives to describe the noise of Armageddon but I’m guessing it sounds like this.
“RECALL! Everyone back to their units!” Patriots boomed. “Bozelko, back that chicken back in.”
“How’re they gonna force an evacuation of the tetrazzini?” I asked him. “You have three kettles to pump and chill.”
“Bozelko, we don’t have power. No pump machine, no chillers.”
What Patriots meant was that 600 gallons of a hot, creamy meat-and-vegetable concoction were going to crust over in their containers unless he scooped it out, by hand, into the garbage. Another disaster. I felt really bad for him but I had to trudge back to my housing unit like everyone else, for the opportunity to hide from the storm with my cellmate and not move for days. That’s how Sandy finally struck me.
I was looking more glum than usual when I walked to Mr. K’s desk in the unit. Before I could even say anything, he shot instructions at me:
“Quick, quick shower. PTA only [inmate-speak for ‘pits, tits and ass’] and you gotta get back in your cell fast.”
“Have I lingered before?” I asked him. Storm or no storm, I always scurry inside.
“No, seriously, Bozelko. Because the fuckin’ back-up generator blew, all of the doors are unlocked. Scaring the shit out of me. You guys can come out and do anything.”
“I thought prison’s the safest place during a hurricane.”
“Not for us it’s not.”
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 11 – 17, 2017
1. Van Jones wrote an op-ed this week for CNN blasting correctional administrators in Texas and Florida for failing to move prisoners during the recent hurricanes. But it is also worth considering how many more prisoners were properly moved this time around than during previous hurricanes. The New Republic and Houston Press reported what happened to inmates s during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, respectively, but those stories didn’t appear for months, years, while this time many news outlets ran stories of evacuations, or lack thereof.
2. So, basically, Harvard University doesn’t like felons. Last week included two stories of the Number 2 school in the nation rescinding offers to women convicted of felonies because of their crimes.
The New York Times and The Marshall Project broke the story of Michelle Jones, a woman who served more than two decades in an Indiana prison for killing her 4-year-old son. While behind bars, she became a published scholar of American history, which is almost impossible. Her academic work was so good she was accepted into Harvard University’s vaunted doctoral program in history — until two American Studies professors raised questions about whether anyone who had committed her crime deserves to be admitted – and whether Fox News would drag them for accepting her.
Then the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government decided to take back an invitation to former prisoner and Wikileaker Chelsea Manning to become a Visiting Fellow because Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, flaked on an appointment to speak at the school and criticized the decision.
And in case anyone needed a reminder, here’s the scoop from Business Insider on why Princeton is really better than Harvard.
3. If you’ve got a warrant out in your name or are undocumented, Motel 6 will drop a dime on you, at least to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Phoenix New Times reported this week. The irony in this story for me is that Motel 6 knows it’s not family or luxury lodging; many people who stay there probably have a real need for privacy, and not just because they might be cheating on their spouses. In short, if Motel 6 keeps out the “riffraff” they’ll lose their clientele.
At 8:46 AM, the minute the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, York CI holds a moment of silence, a minute to honor people who died on this day. I thought the place was unfeeling enough not to conduct a memorial like this at all, much less include the inmates in it, but they do. I suspect it’s because the C/O’s compare themselves to the brave souls we call “First Responders” and feel some comity with them even though denying a confined woman a tampon – or even giving it to her freely – doesn’t really compare to running into tons of melting, burning steel that are about to collapse on your head, just so you can free someone else who’s been imprisoned by it.
If I haven’t heard the 8:46 AM announcement on the overhead in, then I hear it from the kitchen supervisors’ belts; their radios announce when it’s time to pay our respects. The control room transmits the request for one minute where
And the 1000+ women here haven’t been able to pull it off once. Ever since I’ve arrived, the 60 seconds of silence gets hijacked and driven into some foolishness.
2008: “Yo, the TV gotta be off for it to be silent?”
2009: “I don’t give a fuck about no planes. I’m gettin’ my shit [commissary].”
2010: “Is medical [building] open?”
The ten-year anniversary should be different, I thought. Advance notices that this shut-the-hell-up moment was coming, I decided, might minimize the interruptions. Because prison is noisy, silence might be jarring for some women in here if they don’t understand why the human sound that surrounds them the other 525,599 minutes of the year has vacated the space around them. Especially if they’re PTSD’d out, any change in the atmosphere might trigger their hyper-vigilance, panicking them, causing the careless decision to open their mouths at an inopportune time.
“Okay, listen, listen up. It’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this year, remember? And we do a moment of silence at 8:46 to honor the people that died. So, around that time, let’s pay attention to our surroundings and, if everyone’s being quiet and not talking, then let’s not say a word until we know that moment is over, right?” I announced to the other food prep workers. The kitchen’s been under renovation for months and we were just sitting around.
Amongst the vacant stares and less than diligent nods came:
“Somebody always fucks that shit up.”
“I know, but I think it’s because they forget that it’s coming if they haven’t heard the announcement. So I’m announcing it now, ahead of time, so that people remember: don’t interrupt the silence.”
And I interrupted their conversations three more times with reminders.
“Remember: no talking.”
And when the minute-hand lapped the stubby hour-hand and stretched straight out to the “9” on the clock, I prepped people again with a one-minute notice, until that thin sliver of a second- hand did its round.
Then I held one hand to my lips and the other up in the air like I was asking for help, which I was. Please show me you can do this.
And it worked for about 25 seconds until Tracey, the “new” lady who’s been here twenty times, came in from the hallway.
“What’s going on?”
When fifteen sets of glaring eyes set upon her, she realized.
“Oh, it’s that thing she was talkin’ about?”
This, for me, wasn’t about the tragedy of 9/11 or the fact that people perished for no reason other than criminal masterminds, full of rage, beat the United States aviation system at its own game. It was about our potential. It’s really no wonder we can’t get any respect. We’re incapable of honoring anyone’s valid instruction, memory or humanity. This realization telegraphed itself from my pursed lips and rotating head. But I still never said shit.
“You tried,” [Kitchen Supervisor] Bengals said, reading my disgust, only after we’d firmly hit 8:47.
“If they can’t shut their traps for one minute, when they get multiple advance warnings from a pain-in-the-ass like myself, how likely do you think it is that they’re going to have the willpower to stop using drugs, not beat the piss out of someone or just generally rise to the challenges of being a good citizen?”
“It’s not likely at all,” he conceded. “But you already knew that.”
THREE IDEAS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE FROM SEPTEMBER 4 – 10, 2017
Prisons and hurricanes are a bad combo. Check back next week for a diary entry on what it was like to be in prison during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. But the storms are upon us now, causing some serious problems.
The New Yorker ran a pretty interesting piece about inmates in Texas during Hurricane Harvey, using the inmates’ own words. Note that prison locks don’t work when the power is out and people were excited to have Port-A-Potty’s delivered…so they could eat again.
Grady Judd, the sheriff of Polk County, Florida, threatened to take into custody anyone with an outstanding arrest warrant who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma’s path. Most of the warrants in the county east of Tampa stem from unpaid traffic tickets and other low-level offenses and the people who would be pulled in on them posed no danger for anyone in the hurricane shelters. Given the fact that state and local authorities are at a loss of how to evacuate all the prisoners who need to be moved, I think it’s safe to say that Sheriff Judd is less concerned about public safety than he should be. Taking someone into custody when you may not be able to guarantee their safety isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
Seven thousand prisoners in Florida had to be relocated in buses and vans from unsafe facilities that likely couldn’t withstand Hurricane Irma’s forces. The Connecticut DOC can barely handle transporting about 100 prisoners per day, and only to court and back to confinement. I can’t imagine what it is like for the Florida inmates going through this. They have to be shackled and cuffed and ride in vehicles with no shocks, probably for hours, only to arrive at a place that will, necessarily, be overcrowded with little space for them to sleep. If I had the choice between prisoner transport or having my roof blown off, I might just stay put. Seriously.
And, even though it’s an older piece, it’s worth reading Alex Chemerinksy’s article on how Louisiana lost 6,000 prisoners from the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina.
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.