Garlic, Tolstoy, Mike Tyson, and Prison Exits

The forward for my upcoming book: Any Day Now, Travels Through the Criminal Justice System. A narrative non-fiction, pretty much travelogue of the system as it really is. No camps with colorful characters ala Piper and Mr. Smith, just the real thing.

I was released from prison by court order. Immediate release. Immediate and prisons do not mix well. A universal fact of every prison I had passed through – they shut down, literally and metaphorically, when presented with anything out of the ordinary. A court order delivered at 2 pm was most certainly out of the ordinary.

So it came to pass that despite being a free man for over three hours, I stood in a holding area while a bewildered lieutenant tried to figure it out and the CO waiting to escort me off the premises read through my file like it was my prison league baseball card.

Done, finally, discharge paper in my left hand, brown mesh laundry bag filled with my journals and novel clutched in my right, my escort and I headed to a yard and the way out beyond the fence.

The last CO I ever spoke with was tall, almost consumptively thin, first generation Lebanese-American, and a true believer. In Christ and the Department of Corrections.

The moment we were out of earshot from the still shaking-his-head-in-wonder lieutenant, the CO asked, “So you were in Devens, huh?”

“Yeah,” I replied absently, somewhat understandably thinking of other matters.

“Lotta’ mob guys there?”

“Of course,” I muttered, couldn’t help but notice he had veered toward a van, “Ah, are we driving?”

“Have to, DOC rule, discharged inmates have to be driven off the premises.”

It’s a testimony to the four and one half years I had just endured that I didn’t point out that the parking lot we were going to was closer than the van by a few hundred yards.

 “So, about the mob guys,” he obviously was not going to be deterred, I knew exactly where he was going for the simple fact it’s where everyone who found out I had been in Federal prison went – still goes – but I made him work for it.

“What about them?”

“They live like the guys in Goodfellas?”

“You mean slicing the garlic with a razor?”

“Exactly,” pleased I made the connection.

I nodded, blurted out something about how they managed to hang out in the hospital, had their own TVs, ate well, slept on hospital beds instead of paper-thin mattresses over sheet metal, probably a lot more while I watched the double gates lurch open, stared up at the razor wire as we passed under.

We stopped fifty feet past the now closing gate, he turned to me, stared me in the eye, stuck a hand out, “Those mob guys,” he went on, oddly morose, “I mean, that’s not really the point of all this, is it?”

I shook his hand, left the van and the question unanswered.

‘That’s not the point of all this.’

I’ve thought about that on and off over the past few years, have tried in vain to figure out exactly what the point of it was and is. I have nothing. I try to think of what I learned. Some things, like it’s impossible to look ‘not guilty’ in a yellow jumpsuit, have no applicability in the real world. Others, like a few hundred ways to prepare Ramen Soup, actually do, would that I could even stomach looking at the things on the grocery self.

What I do have, in droves, are nightmares about prison. I don’t anticipate them going away anytime soon.hieronymus-bosch

These nightmares are not what you would expect – they sure as hell aren’t what I expected. No fights; psychos; evil guards; the hole; small, sad, brutal moments like instantly escalating conflicts over Jerry Springer v. Maury Povich; no cuffs, leg irons, or black boxes; overcrowded holding cells, back, hips, neck in agony; the stairwell ninja; any of a thousand, thousand little things that almost convinced me that Sartre was right, hell is other people.

My nightmares were – are – none of those things. Nor are they specific to any one prison, they inevitably take place in some composite of every prison and jail (yes, there is a difference) I was in with a little bit of my college’s campus tossed in for good measure. As I went to a Catholic school, I’m not planning on exploring the reasons for that any time soon.

The dreams: I’m in prison, somewhere, sometime, someplace fairly open where I already have a ton of commissary and writing supplies and books and, seemingly, the run of the place. As in doors magically open wherever I go; deference, if not outright obsequiousness from the COs. The inmates are respectful at worse, outright kind at best.

In other words, conditions I never came close to experiencing anywhere but would have killed for from August 28, 2005 through April 5, 2010. The thing is, though, in the dreams I have no idea, and no one can tell me, why I am in prison or when I’m being released. Usually, I can’t get to a phone, literally – like something out of Greek mythology I can see the phone banks, no matter how long or fast I walk they never get any closer. Sometimes, worse yet, I get to a phone, dial a number, the phone’s answered by the unidentifiable voice of the person I know can fix everything and we get cut off after ten seconds; I redial but can’t remember the last digit, try guessing, with each successive call I forget an additional number. By the end, if I haven’t woken myself up and headed for a few hours of late night TV, I only remember the area code.

97i/43/huty/9230/09If I stay asleep it escalates and frustration follows frustration until I explode in rage, scream that I know the law, threaten lawsuits and everything else in my legal and extralegal arsenal . . . to no effect.

Concern, some of it genuine, some of it patronizing, thin smiles from vague people, shallow nods, condescending ‘do what you have to do’s, but no one acts. Not surprising, it’s clear from the beginning that the only person who can do anything is on the other end of the phone line that always – always – clicks off ten seconds into the call. My only two options are to keep screaming or to just shut up. Usually, I shut up.

I never dream of the day I won my release.

Until I figure out the dreams, or figure out a way to change them, or figure out a way to get out of the dream prison without the phone call, or stop having them all together, I may not be the best person to dive into what ‘all this is about.’

This book is about what happened and what it was like. Everything else –102867977-GettyImages-453434162.530x298 conclusions about me, the criminal justice system, prisons, inmates, attorneys, judges, monolithic bureaucracies, crime, punishment, the United States, the World, I leave to the reader.

You’re in a better position than I to decide who’s right: Tolstoy or Mike Tyson.

Tolstoy: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Mike Tyson: “When I was in prison, I was wrapped up in all those deep books. That Tolstoy crap – people shouldn’t read that.”

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About Mr. Smith . . .

According to the somewhat archaic rules of non-fiction book proposals I’m supposed to mention competing books (well, books with the same general theme), note what makes Any Day Now different, and not comment about quality – just in case the proposal ends up in front of the editor who green-lighted the book I slam.

I’m not sure I get this part of the deal, presumably, like every other type of creative endeavor, a whole lot of crap sells and the editor/producer can embrace the cash while holding their nose on a pretty regular basis.

Anyway, I’m breaking this ‘suggested’ rule because this . . . competing  . . . title is just too contemptuous to ignore any longer. Plus, everybody I’ve (extensively) ranted to about it have carefully and compassionately pointed out that I need to bring this to the attention of a broader audience (i.e., not them).

So, it goes like this:

IMG_0694This the Amazon page for Jeff Smith’s book, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America’s Prison Crisis. Smith was a politician, now teaches at The New School, was convicted for lying to federal officers about election malfeasance. The book is interspersed with the story of his political rise, tracks from his many readings/research on prison, and sprinkled with his surefire ideas on how to fix the thing (and probably get back into politics).

In short, pretty much nothing of what I plan to do, certainly not in tone, style, layout, or content. So why do I care?

Here’s the thing, though, that has me … flummoxed: I was up to 3:30 the morning this came out reading through as much as I could without ponying up the $13 they want for the Kindle version (it’s surprisingly a lot between free looks and his interviews). I couldn’t put it down, but not for good reasons.

Because the whole thing is off.

It starts with the blurbs and gets worse in the first 80 pages of the book – he served ‘hard time’, a year in a federal prison, he had to duck the attentions of the Aryan Brotherhood, was threatened by the KKK, had a front row seat to gang fights, racism, worked 40 hours a week in a hot, dusty warehouse for $5.35 a month, a whole lot more.

Problem is, this stuff happens, it just couldn’t have happened to him. He wasn’t in a federal prison, he was in a federal camp. He was never behind bars because there are no bars, in fact, there are no walls, no razor wire, just an honor system and a couple of COs.

There most certainly are no members – past or present – of the Aryan Brotherhood or KKK. Or recognized gangs for that matter. They are security risks and even with good behavior – in the case of the Aryan Brotherhood that would include the sudden ability to walk on water –  can’t go to a camp. Ever. Nor can inmates with ten years of more on their sentences and Smith introduces several of them when we finally get beyond his educational and political background and into the ‘prison’ around page 50.

$5.35 a month is the amount paid to inmates with no-show jobs like policing the compound. Everyone who actually works starts at $.30 to $.45 an hour and can work pretty quickly up to $1/hr. Stealing and smuggling stuff from the warehouse or kitchen because if you don’t the other inmates ‘will take care of you because they can’t trust you’ is not only a blatant lie, it’s right out of a bad movie.Inmates respect those who don’t take stuff and won’t jeopardize their good time, probably because it leaves much more for them.

It was pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Smith’s stories are from high, medium and administrative prisons, relayed to him by inmates who had been in them at one time or another. He adapted them for his use.

Look, this guy’s judge gave him a year and one day sentence. He was allowed to wrap up his affairs before surrendering, was dropped off at the ‘prison’ by his wife, released to a half-way house after a little over 8 months – so, hey, about that title. The first clue he wasn’t in prison should have been when his wife drove past the federal penitentiary. Another hint you’re not in a real prison is being allowed to drive a car.

Here is his corrected Amazon page:

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My outage – and it  is outrage – centers around lying about his ‘year behind bars doing hard time’ and passing off inmate stories as his own in order to draw conclusions about the system that support his theories.Theories he claims he had before his arrest.

Look, he wants to write a book, great; he needs to talk about his intellectual prowess on every page while disparaging that of most everyone around him, okay; thinking he has the answers because he was inconvenienced for eight months, not remotely okay.

This pretty much makes him the Brain Williams of prison correspondents.

About Jared . . .

jared-fogle

I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of speculation, baseless opinion, not so subtle hopes that Jared Fogle get the full prison experience, and many,many really bad memes about Fogle’s prison fate.

None of them are remotely close to Jared’s impending reality. So, sorry everyone who took the time and effort to post all over social media the fervent hope that Jared get gang nine-inched by the general population or be tossed in solitary until he losses all semblance of sanity – he’s going to be as comfortable as one can in prison for the next x number of years.

Jared doesn’t need to share the fears of the Office Space crew …

… because Jared pled out in federal court and he’ll be going to a Federal Medical Center for ‘therapy’. As long as he attends classes, he’ll be awash in commissary and perfectly safe from the non-sex crime inmates. He’ll be safe because it’s made clear to every other inmate in the place, most there for medical procedures or to work, that anyone touching a sex offender will be on a bus touring every federal facility in the country before the body hits the ground.

Physically, he’ll be safe, mentally, he’ll be in heaven. No hiding his proclivities, no operating in the shadows, he’ll be surrounded by like-minded men, engaging in banter he could only have dreamed of before.

He’ll lose his freedom, lose the ability to go where he wants, spend his money, travel . . . what he won’t lose is his celebrity status.

It’s not anywhere near what the people want for Jared, but, at the very least young girls will be safe from him. Maybe that’s enough,

Innocent Until Investigated…

In this town, you’re innocent until investigated ~ Christopher Plummer to George Clooney in Syriana

imageI listen to people (endlessly) talk about ‘Deflategate’ and I realise they have no conception of what an investigation is. They hear ‘investigation’ and immediately conjure up a team of unbiased, dedicated sleuths doggedly following leads, discarding the bad, following the good, rewriting the narrative of the crime to fit the clues until they find the one-true-absolute answer.

This does not happen – if you stop to think about it for a second or two you’d realize it can’t happen – in the real world because if it did about one crime a year would get ‘solved.’

I blame Law & Order (all versions). Everyone, from the cops to Sam Waterston, and everyone in-between are adamant on getting the ‘right guy’, they plea bargain only to insure that a guilty person they may not be able to convict is taken off the streets.

They can do this because everyone in the show is working on exactly one case at a time.

In the real world, when someone is suspected of something they are targeted with white-hot intensity and tunnel vision. After all, a suspect is a suspect for a reason. It takes something earthshaking to remove that suspicion.

That something earthshaking is never – never – going to come from personal testimony. To paraphrase Graham Greene, it’s impossible to explain anything to anyone with power. Especially when they are hardly predisposed to believe you, a suspect. They will listen, they will interrogate, they will spin the answers to meet the narrative. Hence a replaced cell phone becomes ‘destroyed.’

This is why any still-breathing criminal defense attorney will tell you to never submit to voluntary questioning.  Never. Because there is no way to answer the question: “Mr. Brady, when did you stop beating your wife with deflated footballs?” when the guy asking it is picturing the act in his head.

I talked to an investigator once. Once. I didn’t have an attorney –Capture that’s not quite accurate, I had an attorney, I just didn’t have the $15,000 he wanted to start – which removed the ‘sorry, love to talk to you but my lawyer won’t let me,” easy out and left me with the unenviable option of refuse the interview and look even guiltier or open my mouth and make it worse.

By all accounts I did alright, not that it really mattered in the long run. Chunks of the ‘interview’ have stayed with me these last ten years, one thing in particular just plain festers:

The detective was pleasant enough, until he asked me about a case I defended on behalf of the clients who had gone a long, long way toward putting me in the damn chair in the first place.

“How could you defend them?” Came out of nowhere and with real vehemence.

“Because the suit was meritless,” my very meek answer.

He waved the complaint at me with real malice, “You remember this lawyer’s affidavit?”

“The guy bringing the suit?”

“Who else? Yeah the lawyer from Florida, you remember his affidavit?”

“Sure do.”

“And?”

“He lied.”

“Why would he lie?”

“To win the suit.”

“Well, he makes some real bad accusations at your clients, how could you continue to represent them after readin’ this kinda shit?”

“Because, he lied.”

“So you say.”

“So the court agreed, the case was dismissed.”

“Doesn’t mean anything.”

“Means the court agreed he had no case, as did his lawyers, ’cause they withdrew right away.”

“Still doesn’t explain Gowing’s accusations,” he would not let up, just got increasingly angrier, almost threatening me with the rolled up complaint (I kept picturing him resorting to ‘bad lawyer, bad’). His reasoning – if a South Florida based securities attorney filed a lawsuit, it must be true, regardless of its final disposition.

I had nowhere to go with that kind of logic thrown, literally, in my face, weathered this for a good fifteen imageminutes until he calmed down and moved on to something else.

So, talk about tunnel vision. The detective was intent on hammering me with the affidavit, but had no interest on checking it out. Had he done so, he may very well have stumbled upon what the FBI did a year or so later – a massive scam, international in scope.

I didn’t find out about it, for obvious reasons, for four, five years, but the lawyer in question was running a serious Ponzi scheme and a variation on the Nigerian oil scam, took in tens of millions over ten years or so. Gowing was arrested about two years after my interview, he will be released from federal prison in August, 2028.

Briscoe and Logan would have figured it out.

A Prologue from Pre-Trail Detention

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        The ‘Backstairs Justice System’

My client pushed back on a protesting plastic chair until he leaned against a cinderblock wall the color of watered-down pea soup. He waved at the table in an ‘it’s all there’ motion, folded his arms and waited.
I flipped open a tattered, coffee stained file folder, it contained a creased, equally stained police report. Damn thing took an eternity for us to get and it looked like they dug it out of a Starbucks garbage bin.
“I going to find anything different from what you’ve been telling me?” I asked.
“What do you think?”
“That a no?” I smiled to remove the sting of my professional skepticism. He had been talking to me about his case for at least two months – to the point where I had his version memorized. I believed him, but then, I had believed a lot of things that had been somewhat outside the strike zone truth wise.
“Yeah,” He confirmed. He was Terry Jones. Black, 6’2”, 260 on a light day, cut in ways that were simply not possible two decades ago when I was his age and steroid technology was in its infancy. He was also smart as hell and loathe to show it.
“Okay, then,” I opened the report, flinched at some unidentifiable musty smell, and began scanning for key words. Found them.
That did not go unnoticed, “Find something?” Terry asked with only a slight ‘told you so’ edge.
“I did.”
“Great.”
I moved the report with a well-gnawed fingernail, “According to this, you’re walking down – “
“Up, Counselor,” he corrected.
“Up Atlantic Street, two am on a Saturday morning.”
“They got that right,” he seemed impressed.
“And here I thought downtown Stamford closed at midnight – at the latest.”
“Check cashing place and Chinese restaurant stay open,” he studied the molting gray tiles above us.
“You were getting cash for moo goo gai pan,” it was not a question, it was the beginning of a legal theory.
“Love that shit.”
“Many street lights up that way?”
“None that work.”
“So it’s pretty dark?”
“No, it’s very dark.”
“And the cop?”
“Cop car slams on its brakes four feet from me, cop jumps out, screams what the fuck I’m doin’ . . .”
I looked down at the report, turned the page while making a mental note to really wash my hands later, “Don’t stop now.”
“I don’t say nothing, he grabs me, pins me up against the wall – “
“Searches you.”
“Punches me,” he snapped, “then goes through my pockets and finds a bag.”
“Of heroin.”
“A small bag,”
“Right,” I turned the page, read down the arresting officer’s report, stopped, reread, then again, “all there, just like you say -”
“But?” Terry asked, concerned.
“But, cop says he had probable cause, big time.”
“What was it?” Terry, with professional curiosity.
“Seems he saw you walking … up … Atlantic with a gun in your hand.”
“What the fuck?”
“You saw him coming, tossed it in an empty lot.”
“That’s a fu – “
“Relax, Terry,” I said lowly. And he did. Not the usual client in that respect, “listen, what color was this cop?”
“What?”
“What race was he?
“Whiter than you, man.”
“I’m as white as it gets, Terry,” I admitted in complete frankness.
“Nah – you got all those freckle things, the cop, he was like glow in the dark white.”
“Okay, so – “
“Those things are freaky, you know,” he grinned viciously.
“What things?”
“Things you’re covered with, freckles, man …”
“No, they’re – “
“Never see bro’s with ‘em.”
“Dennis Johnson, asshole,” I snapped.
“Who?”
“Celtic guard, hall of famer? Black – “
“Of course.”
“And freckled.”
“Really?”
“Really … how ‘bout we get back to you – glow in dark white cop sees black guy walking at two in the morning with a gun in his hand and walks over and requests that he stand against the wall.”
“He wrote that shit up,” he marveled, rolled his eyes, began playing with the zipper of his canary yellow jumpsuit.
“Sure did.”
“That’s jus’ … I don’t know, it’s …” for a black guy who had been arrested a half dozen times before his thirtieth birthday and had seen it all he was the picture of nonplussed.
“Fucking ridiculous,” I finished for him, “… if you had a gun he would have either emptied his Beretta into you or called the SWAT team.”
“It’s Stamford. Counselor, he wouldda’ done both.”
“And here you are alive and well to tell the tale,” I pointed out.
“What about the gun? They got some bullshit evidence of that?”
I paged through the statement careful to touch only its corners – it really did stink in a purely non-metaphorical sense. Terry thumped down off the wall, plastic squealed across the linoleum.
“It’s – “
“Not there,” he finished for me.
“Nope, disappeared from the lot while he was arresting you.”
He sighed, “What. The. Fuck.”
“An extensive search of the empty lot found nothing, they figure someone – or something – wandered off with it.”
“Bullshit.”
“Regrettably, they didn’t have the manpower or equipment to search the lot at night.”
“Bullshit,” he again stated the obvious.
“Yup,” I confirmed, “but – “
“How we gonna handle this?” He asked, the way only someone fucked over by the system since puberty could ask an attorney unsurprised by said fucking over.
“I have to think but – “
That was truncated and obliterated by the 1950’s vintage loud speaker high over Terry’s shoulder:
‘WRAP IT UP, GENTLEMEN. RECALL. RECALL. RECALL’
“Later, Counselor,” Terry stood, headed out the door.
“Yeah, talk to you …” I grabbed the file, pushed back my Ocean State Odd Lot plastic chair with ear piercing results, stood, got to the door, zipped up my canary yellow jumpsuit – the things were a bitch to walk in otherwise – and headed into the cellblock and my cell, ten down from my client.

The Box

Someone, somewhere, sometime last week asked me to explain ‘plea bargaining’. My first attempt was fairly pathetic and I was about to bag it with a ‘I can’t talk about it’ sigh of self pity when the perfect image hit me – the box. Then the whole thing fell into place and it goes like this:

When you are held in pre-trial detention, in the absence of bail and most forms of common decency – the ‘back stairs justice system’ I oft times talk of – plea negotiations are surreal. Cut off from family, friends, potential witnesses and access to files and, well, evidence, it’s pretty much like playing poker without being allowed to look at your cards.

My plea ‘negotiations’ began with “Okay, hey, they may convene a Grand Jury and try to get an indictment, but if you get ahead of it, save them the time and trouble and waive indictment, they’ll offer anywhere between 20 and 34 months.”

“What are the odds in the grand jury? Really? Well, if they can indict a ham sandwich…”

“If you don’t waive [the almost sure] indictment and you make them move forward, the offer starts at 42 months.”

“If you take it all the way to trial, by the eve of trial the offer’s 72 months . . . lose the trial and they start at 120.”

“So, whattaya think?”

maxresdefault (1)That’s the pitch and a pretty good reason 97% of all federal cases end in plea bargains. My journals and notes are filled with graphs, charts, flow charts, tables trying to figure it all out while adding in ‘good time’, half-way house/early release, the works. I spent just over three months screwing with the many, many, many permutations.

The whole time I assumed, of course, that the ‘other side’ was doing the same, really putting in the hours to achieve a ‘just’ solution. Continue reading

The Ice Cream Truck and Baltimore

What happened to Freddie Gray? I have no idea. Obviously. I do, however, have an inkling. As would anyone ever transported by police, sheriffs, marshals, Correctional Officers, or any one else in law enforcement who transports more than one prisoner at a time.

In Connecticut, the DOC transports inmates with court dates to local jails for parceling out to the courts. They use buses and vans. Connecticut State Marshals move inmates from jails to the courts. They use the Ice Cream Truck. AKA, the Plea Bargain Express.

The Ice Cream Truck is exactly what it sounds like, it is one of these:

icecreamtruck no

Turned into one of these:

icecrtruck1

A squat, tinny, dark truck, split into two sections by a sheet metal wall etched with  graffiti going back to first Bush Administration. Low metal benches run along both sides; the roof is about three and a half feet high. Inmates are manacled together in legs irons, cuffed with the cuff chained around their backs so they cannot move their arms more than a few inches. Continue reading