Writing from Prison
by Todd Newmiller
"Will the kindly judge squelch the 5 or 6 brazen nymphs?"
- Typing exercise in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
[part of CAD program at AVCF]
I would think the above phrase would seem absurd in the for-real world, it certainly seems absurd from where I sit on this side of the wormhole. As though my existence has any shortage of absurdities.
I’m sitting in my drafting class killing time, having completed everything I need to complete for the foreseeable future, with the exception of three drawings I still need to complete but won’t be able to do until I can get on a drafting table, which won’t happen until this afternoon. Like everything here, the rule is to take your time – the Boredom here is vast and powerful, its shadow capable of blotting out the sun and the sky and the hope that is so precious to day-to-day function.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been almost incapacitatingly depressed. In the prison environment, this is an insoluble problem, unless you’re inclined toward the chemical straitjacket and shuffling gait of the vastly over prescribed psychotropics. You see, depression is a sign that this system is working precisely as designed, sucking the life and the hope out of those labeled malefactors (many arbitrarily so) by "the best system there is." That the system is built on sound principles is little comfort when those principles fail you, and you find yourself deprived of freedom by a system that has been excused every fault based on the very specious reasoning it would be somehow unpatriotic to bring the functioning of our institutions into agreement with the principles that were espoused in their creation, with the oaths sworn by the officers of those institutions.
Wednesday March 21, 2007
"To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore more dangerous engine of arbitrary government."
- William Blackstone
Quoting the above, Alexander Hamilton argued in "The Federalist" that the state’s authority to detain may be even more dangerous than the power to take human life. I would argue that, even more insidious than confinement without accusation or trial, is the act of confinement following the merest appearance of trial or process, or a trial corrupted by the willful deception of officers of the court.
"Publicity is justly commanded as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policemen."
-Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money
Unfortunately, the gatekeepers of publicity in this country become, year by year, more consolidated, more entrenched, more beholden to political and corporate interests, more timid, less willing to look unflinchingly at the excess of either government or businesses, and less likely still to unmask such abuses to the public.
To be objective is to approach whatever the subject honestly, open to all possibilities; to be aware of one’s own bias. Objectivity is not timidity – it cannot be found in a reticence to report the truth directly and unwaveringly. For journalism to be of value, journalists cannot take the position that the truth is unknowable, nor report as though all sides are equally validated by the facts, unless the positions of the players are not polarized around those facts. Not all interpretations of fact are equally valid – to pretend they are is not journalism, nor is it of any value.
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
- Ephesians 6:12
Thursday, March 29, 2007
"They sent me to a level 3 yard, that’s where I stayed."
Snoop Doggy Dog, "Murder Was the Case"
Like security anywhere, security in a level 3 prison is an absurdity – a highly inefficient and bureaucratized procedure that may result in many different things, so long as the heightened level of safety is not among them. The most likely result is an increased level of inconvenience and an entire class of self-security personnel.
You know that feeling you get when you’re at the airport or at the DMV? That is the sum total of my existence. I live at the DMV. I have only one basic transaction that I need to perform, and an entire bureaucracy to overcome in order to accomplish my task. My task is to get out of here. Currently, the earliest date any of the clerks can give me before that can get done is November 29, 2028. Might want to bring a book – it could be a long wait.
Back to the inanities of security. As I go to drafting class every morning, and again in the afternoon (unless class is cancelled, which is a frequent occurrence), I show the guard my I.D. (which makes sense) and pull back my top shirt to reveal the name tag on my t-shirt underneath. What this accomplishes, I have no idea. As I leave class at the end of the morning and again in the afternoon, I remove any items from my pockets, setting them in a little wooden box for inspection. I’m then given a pat-down of widely varying thoroughness, than I pass through a metal detector before I can reclaim my I.D. and am eventually released into the courtyard.
Anything metal would be picked up by the very sensitive metal detector. Anything non-metal that could fit in my boots would not be caught by either the metal detector or the pat-down. In the meantime, I’m not allowed to take paper out of the building unless it’s carried in a folder, in which case I can carry out a maximum of five (5) sheets of paper. I feel safer already.
Of course, beyond all this is the absurdity that this system exists at all. After being charged, I posted bond and spent fifteen months in the community, posing a threat to no one, before being tried by liars and convicted by idiots. Immediately upon my conviction, I became a monster so dangerous that I’m not allowed to step beyond the fences of this prison (or the walls of the county jail), unless I’m shackled hand and foot and under constant surveillance by two guards. Upon winning my appeal (or, god forbid, such time as the state arbitrarily decides I’ve spent enough time in prison for a crime I didn’t commit), I’ll presumably be released to the same level of freedom I enjoyed before my conviction. This is insanity. If I was safe enough to be on the streets for 15 months prior to my trial, I’m certainly safe enough to be out on bond while I await my appeal. A law passed by the state legislature in 2000 statutorily bars me from an appeal bond – this in spite of the growing evidence of widespread wrongful convictions both within the state and nation wide. Why deny the possibility of such relief to those who have already spent significant time out on bond and posing no threat to the community?
Moreover, the reality is that, even with the draconian sentences being handed down in Colorado, most of those currently incarcerated will someday be released back into the community. Reflective of the capricious way that laws are enforced, suspects prosecuted, and sentences handed down, release from prison is not infrequently equally arbitrary, having more to do with the passage of time than anything else.
At the heart of all this is the central problem of incarceration as a means of punishment. While incredibly expensive and certainly punishing, incarceration accomplishes nothing but the passage of time, while robbing the state of potentially productive citizens. Taken together, the costly and directionless warehousing of so many citizens, the high rate of wrongful conviction, the phenomenon of vindictive prosecution, the capricious nature of our legal system, and the endless swelling of the ranks bad laws – these amount to a criminal enterprise of troubling proportions, most of which are extralegal in nature or that are specifically protected by statute.
When will the electorate demand that public officials face the same criminal and civil accountability as everyone else? When will we as a people demand an end to the class barrier that exists between the public and the agents allegedly employed to work in the public interest?