MAY 27, 2013
OUR BROKEN JUSTICE SYSTEM
Chapter 1, Going to prison
KIMBLE: I didn't kill my wife.
GERARD: So, you didn't kill your wife. Not my problem. I don't care…
GERARD: That's right, Kimble... I'm not trying to solve a puzzle here. I'm just the poor working man that's paid to hunt you down. (The Fugitive, 1993, Screen Play, Tommy Lee Jones (Inspector Gerard), Harrison Ford (Dr. Kimble).
“Well you gotta remember, the Dr. Kimble case was very high profile. A cop or marshal could literally make a career by being the man who brought in Kimble.” (Movie reviewer)
A LIVING PARABLE
I said I was sorry. We didn't mean for it to turn out this way, but were at a rock and a hard spot and afraid for ourselves. Things just got a bit out of control. You know, I had a job to do and couldn't quite get it all done.
Maybe I stretched it a little, but I felt under the gun, and one thing led to another. Besides, everyone was in on it too. It wasn't as if I was the only bad one. Then one thing led to another, and in no time, we were so busy covering up, we were doing nothing right. What choice did I really have?
I’m not really a bad person. It’s not like I ever did anything like this before, or will again, but this was different, and everybody got caught up in it. The truth is the doctor isn't really such a nice guy; he was always pushing to get things done. Didn't he know we tried? But after awhile we were all trapped, and I had enough respect for my co-workers not to rat on them. Besides, he had it all: money, a big house, nice cars, and a great family.
Personally, I didn't like any of it from the beginning. I thought it would all blow over in time. None of us ever dreamed the feds and the lawyers would pick up on our stories as they did. But what’s a girl to do? Nobody told them to waste ten years trying to bring him down like they did. I think they just got caught up in the possibilities and their passions took over.
You know, nobody there could make it fit either. Each investigator worked hard looking for a smoking gun. The next thing I knew another agency was called in. I couldn't keep it all straight. Personally, I wanted out; it wasn't like I wanted his money, but the other girls said we all deserved something out of it. After all, we did mean well, at least at the beginning.
The government people scared me to death. It was like they smelled blood or something. They have a way of making you feel guilty or something. And somebody is going down, and if not him it’s you. After they got what they wanted from me, I felt dirty, and called up my friends for consolation. That’s how they make you feel. Personally, I think they all made a mountain out of a molehill. It wasn't me who ruined his life. Personally, I don’t think he deserved any of this.
Going up against a Government, hell bent to obtain a conviction is a lesson in futility. So seven years into it, I cried uncle, and gave it up to the Father. I accepted a plea bargain. At the very real threat of spending the rest of my life in prison, my remaining attorneys suggested I accept a plea bargain. Everything I had built up in a lifetime career of public service in medicine was gone. My medical license, my reputation, my family’s financial security, and my freedom. I was broke and in hock for several hundred thousands of dollars.
“There is no sound louder than the slamming of a prison gate.”
(Professor David Protess, Medill Innocence Project, Northwestern University)
“To think that slamming people behind bars, breaking their spirits, and destroying their souls could do anything other than lead to more evil is the ultimate naiveté”. (Mark Olson)
Atwater is the model for the next generation of Federal Penitentiaries, recently built for high security and not creature comfort. We walk through a maze of corridors, through one locked door after another. The décor is reinforced rock. Eventually we enter a large open area with an administrative section and my cell-to-be for the next several hours. After a few cursory questions, fingerprinting, and a mug shot, I almost happily retreat behind the locked bars to my cell. I am dog tired and no longer feeling very courageous. The metal chair is cold and the wholly visible stainless steel toilet seat even more so. There I wait, scarcely caring what comes next. I am reminded of a scene from an old James Cagney movie, but in this remake, I am Bugsy Siegel.
Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor who now is a professor of criminal law and ethics at Los Angeles’ Loyola Law School, calls the phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty to crimes “One of my biggest concerns. Unfortunately, it happens all the time,” she added, because guilty pleas “take a lot less work.” Overwhelmingly, defendants charged with felonies plead guilty rather than stand trial – more than 95% of convictions statewide occur before trial. (“Tainted Trials, Stolen Justice,” San Jose Mercury News, 1/25/06).
I’m mostly on the sad side of the page. Sometimes I’m gripped with this claustrophobic fright. For forty hours now, I’ve been confined to a room smaller than my home closet. I struggle to stay sane, trying not to dwell on my lot. I walk about the cell, read, nap, and talk to my roommate, the Lord. I ask for His protection and pray for courage.
My mood flashes from acceptance to discomfort, then on to gloom,close to losing control.– becoming increasingly aware I ever was in control. Much of my day is spent in prayer. I’ve cleared my calendar and given Him my full attention. I’m starting to learn the meaning of fear of the Lord.
I pace the floor, do sit-ups, stretch, and try back exercises. I do these with intention, if with little passion. I read, rest, and nap. I’m determined to remain physically, mentally, emotionally, and particularly spiritually fit. I try not to relive the past
It is about 9:30 AM and already I have walked 1350 steps, about 200 more than yesterday. That’s progress.
All is not lost.
The Warden pops by. “How are you doing, old man?” Knowing how abrupt these visits, I pipe up with, “I haven’t had soap or shaving gear.” He said they are on the way. Brazenly, I ask about my Camp transfer. He speaks of their need to complete paperwork. “It shouldn’t be too much longer.” I figure calendars and clocks haven’t yet caught on at Atwater.
"The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will forever
be liable to abuse." ---James Madison
Yearning for TLC, I asked the next “face” appearing at the slit whether my wife will be permitted to visit. He doubts it. My initiation to prison culture. No matter how page three of the inmate handout “The Rules and Regulations,” reads, “visitors are allowed”! Emphatically, I’m learning staff doesn’t much cozy to the prisoner rights theme. They seem to make up their own rules from day to day. Compromised, I ask permission to call home, the guard believes that possible, then directs another to fetch me a requisition form.
It never arrives.
A fellow inmate, a dynamic African-American “brother” manning the book cart, rescued me last night. Several hours after hearing the next book distribution is six days away, Mr. Right comes walking down the hall touting “books for the bored.” I opened the slit and hollered out, “Any bibles available?” He had none; they appear not a popular choice. Once again, I felt like the perpetual loser. But minutes later, my “brother” re-appeared, bible in hand. He had retreated to his own cell, found his own, and gifted it to me. I’d have given him the shirt off my back, if I had one.
I wound up with the King James Version of the Holy Bible, and just happened to flip open to First Chronicles, and there facing me was The Prayer of Jabez,
“Oh that you would bless me, indeed,
And enlarge my territory,
That your hand would be with me,
And that you would keep me from evil,
That I may not cause pain.”
So God granted him what he had requested.”
I Chronicles 4:10
Thereupon, knowingly blessed with the spirit, I resolved to read the Bible cover to cover. I should make good time. There are few distractions
Today I respond to the morning cries of “Rec!” Heretofore I had no idea what the rant implied. Braving an inquiry, I heard “rec” is short for “recreation.” The guard goes away muttering loud enough for the neighborhood to hear – “How stupid can they be?”
Undaunted, I go to “rec.” This consists of an hour of walking inside a cage. There are maybe ten comparable cages, each a private affair. One cage, one man. The men in the animal cages appear considerably tamer than the guards hosting them. While we walk aimlessly about our locked boxes, they prowl about our cages laughing all the way.
At first I didn’t know what to do for rec, so I started jogging. I ran around my cage one hundred six times. Each thirty-six steps made one time around.
My cage had a small blue ball. I tossed it against the wall, but soon grew weary from the combination of Atwater air, prison sadness, and old age. Bending down to catch the ball on the short hop no longer came easy. Fortunately, the young man in the adjoining cage was without a ball. I caught his attention and soon succeeded in ramming it through the chain links.
Bad news. The guards notice I still wear my wedding ring. They insist it has to go. They express concern my finger “will be lopped off along with the ring.” My fat fingers will not allow me to simply remove it, and how I have tried since being forewarned! All I have succeeded in doing is make my fat finger fatter. Having been well briefed in how wanting is the medical care here, I do hope the metal cutter is both sharp and sterile.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you where ever you go”
Bill and Pam Ziering Ziering@pacbell.net 831-250-7921 In His service