The Jaws That Bite, The Claws That Catch: Conversations In Prison

By Gary Brooks Waid

The penalty for the possession for Crack Cocaine is loosely termed the "hundred to one law" in prison. This description refers to the inordinate amount of time our young people are receiving in federal court.

I've been an inmate in the United States federal correctional system for a little more than six months now and have just recently finished my introduction and training. I was captured and arraigned, pleaded guilty and went to my sentencing and through all of it listened closely to my many advisors. In this system of laws and legal opinions in which I find myself, I have been schooled and have learned that it seldom pays to buck the suits. If you anger the prosecution you may never recover. Just one case in point is the trial and conviction of inmate #________________: Mr. Jerome Street.

Street is here in pod H-s of the Seminole County Jail in Sanford, Florida on what is called "rule 35." That means he's testifying against someone or actively working for the feds in return for some time off the twenty-three year sentence he received three years ago for his involvement in crack cocaine. Time will tell if his efforts merit any consideration, but I pity the poor guy he's going to testify against , because Street has twenty-three long reasons to say what he's asked to say in court.. He's only twenty-two years old now and has been inside three years, which means if he must do all of his sentence excluding good time, he'll have been completely acculturated into the federal system and virtually worthless to society. He was just beginning his adult life when the shit hit the fan and, like so many young men in here, knows almost nothing about what it'd like to live and work and go about the general day-to-day banalities of everyday existence on the outside. In the catch-22 that is the federal court system, the most ignorant are the most endangered, and Street, at age nineteen, was and still is a perfect example.

When I first arrived in H-3 a few months ago and began meeting all the inmates, Street was a guy I pointedly avoided. A large-framed, overweight man with an old-fashioned afro, his very dark pigmentation exaggerated an intense, practiced lack of expression. The folds of thick skin around his eyes seemed to enhance and perpetuate a squint of disdain or disrespect, and the fearful image he projected was aggravated by his poor vocal skills. I was

frightened by his looks and didn't understand him when he talked, which made us both unease and mistrustful of each other. To add to his already unbecoming appearance, the skin on his neck and upper arms was affected with psoriasis or some similar nervous disorder which gave it a scaly, alligatored appearance and made me want to step back to avoid contamination. I freely admit that my prejudice was based solely on appearance and miscommunication. His angry shell was impenetrable to someone like me who had only befriended Black who were amenable to my friendship. As a final backhand to my sensibilities, Street, in order to arm himself in the often cruel environs of confinement, practiced the jailhouse hobby of growing his fingernails out in long, ridged blades which he used as tools as well as weapons. The effect was ugly and lethal and managed to alienate him further from my attention.

During my first month inside I watched a fight involving Street and another inmate and the viciousness of his attack was frightening. One moment the prisoners were arguing about a baseball game and the next, someone had crossed an invisible line. In only a few seconds, the air in the pod became charged with Jerome's overpowering rage and, like a pressure drop before a storm, the quiet afternoon was transformed into something swollen and menacing. In a slow, articulated series of freeze-frame pictures, I witnessed what was, for me, a totally unreal spectacle. I watched as Street stalked the other prisoner, circling silently and with deadly intent, his breath coming in forced explosions of control as he planned his destruction.

I was new to all this and could not than, and cannot now hide my overwhelming reaction to the violent collage of heat and power that infected the room. Faster than I could follow, Street lashed out and bloodied his adversary as someone might swat a mosquito. In a perfect swell of color, like a flower blooming, there appeared gouged, parallel furrows of viscid pink arcing across the man's cheek and down his neck. With a frantic, panicked lunge, he fell backwards over himself in his effort to get away. Then, as quickly as the fight began, it was over. Like a breeze from the sea, the charged air cleared and all the men in the pod turned away in exhalations of relief. Inmate Street is a dangerous, volatile person, I remember thinking. I would stay away from him at all cost.

For weeks, I avoided any contact with Jerome but, as I began to understand a little of what the Black inmates were saying when they spoke to me and as they began to come by and tell me things or ask something, I was occasionally able to decipher more of Street's words and could pick out meaning where before there was only monosyllabic nonsense. My problem with the younger Black guys was I needed them to slow down when they spoke but was too timid to ask. Street was the fastest talker of them all. He could blurt something out much quicker then I could comprehend it and, like an idiot, I would smile and shrug my shoulders and generally act like a fool. You have to understand that there's always a Black/white thing, a friction in here, and I didn't want to risk offending this explosive man. Then something happened. As I became entrenched in a cowardly dismissal of Street and his young Black friends, circumstances lent a hand in my institutional education and cleared the pathway I needed for understanding. I was granted an interpreter.

A housing pod in the Seminole County Jail is a cluster of two-mad cells surrounding a common room--the whole thing accessed through steel doors and accented by windows of bullet-proof glass. As We, as prisoners, are subject to the rules of the institution., including provisions for dress, cleanliness, decorum, etc. One day, during cell inspection, my roommate of the moment was caught by the sergeant without his prison-issue "reds" on. Instead of the maroon uniform we're all required to wear during certain hours, he was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. For breaking the rule, he was sent to the hole. Almost immediately, I was assigned a new roommate. Alvester Scott, or "Zeus" as he is called, is the biggest guy in this pod. His legs are like oak trees and his chest is sculpted with bumps and bulges of muscle that most of us have never seen before. He's bald and Black, and when he smiles, his chicklety grin takes over his face like the chrome bumper on a Buick. From the very first day, we got along great. He didn't talk to me in ghetto-speak but enunciated his words carefully in deference to my skin color and generic education. I, in turn, tried very hard to make him comfortable with me and worked at giving a good impression and an open account of myself. Before long he would come to me for all manner of small things he didn't understand. "Hey, roomie, what do that mean?" he would ask, and I would try to help with whatever it was he wanted to know. On the other hand, with his quick, unobtrusive translations, Zeus was able to help me understand more and more of the Black inmates including Street. My own fear was soon a non-issue in day-to-day dealings with any of the men, and I felt more a tease with even the most obtuse of the younger prisoners, white or Black. Pretty soon, I became a better listener, and they began to trust me a little.

One evening after lights out, Zeus and I were sitting on our bunks talking and Street came down to get a drink of water at the fountain in front of our cubicle. He stood there for a moment and then, out of the blue, began to tell us his story. Although he was addressing Zeus. it seemed important to him that I listen. He began to slow his speech and pronounce his consonants with deliberate care so that I could more easily understand. In his whole life, no white man had ever mattered much to Street, so I took it as a compliment that he would choose me to open up to. I was very careful not to interrupt and to display all the right emotions at the proper time. In the end, I was moved. What emerged was a painful allegory of the federal system as told by one of its victims. Here is his story.

Jerome Street was arrested and convicted on a conspiracy rap. That is, he wasn't actually caught with anything. He was ratted on by some of the guys he sold crack to. As a nineteen-year-old street dealer, he didn't understand exactly what federal conspiracy laws were about, and because he felt there was no real evidence against him--no cocaine or paraphernalia--he decided to go to trial. His court-appointed lawyer, one of many in the public defender's office, had ample reason to discourage him, but did not. In a perfect example of the inattentive communication between indigent clients and their lawyers, the man wasn't able to persuade Street that he was in any real danger of conviction. Street remained unconvinced even when he was told that no physical evidence was necessary and that proof could be wholly represented by a man's testimony. The days of solid evidence were long in the past, and eyewitnesses or even hearsay testimony worked fine in the courtroom of the nineties. Even so, Street reasoned that anyone he sold drugs to would have to testify in court in front of a jury, and these witnesses were all addicts--unreliable, uneducated jailbirds--whose word would have to be considered suspect,

The prosecuting attorney, Dick Smith, tried to make a deal, but there was so much time involved--ten years--that Jerome wouldn't budge. Imagine how ten years in jail must seem to a nineteen-year-old kid. Anyway, any time you take your case to trial instead of accepting a plea, you run the risk of angering the prosecution, and that's what Street was doing. At this point, the Public Defender should have talked to Street. He should have made a special effort on his client's behalf. He should have been candid and brutal and told him the truth--made him look at the truth. But the Public Defender's office is stretched to its limit just trying to deal with all the pleas and paperwork from the hundreds of cases it oversees, and Street was overlooked. There's no way proper representation could come from such an ineffective, inundated staff. The lawyer should have said, "Look, you're Black. You don't present the proper appearance. Your demeanor will scare the jury. You're just what the prosecutor looks for in a defendant. He will eat us up. Don't do this." Failing that, he should have gotten Street's attention any way he could: "Hey, you dumb mother------, you're going DOWN."

But Street was never forced to look at the whole picture. For some reason, he had no respect for his opponent's ability to construct a credible case. He told Zeus and me that, in his interview with Smith, when a deal was still being talked about, he laughed in Smith's face. Can you imagine? Someone older--more worldly--surely would have known better. Bet Jerome didn't think about the possibility that to a white man his eyes, his speech and his brooding look displayed a sinister bearing that would work against him in a public forum. And now, by laughing, he had really pissed off the prosecutor.

As the court date drew nearer, Jerome became more and more confident even though Smith had added extra charges to the original indictment. Sometimes the penalty for taking your case to trial is either more time or more charges, and Street felt that while the prosecutor's blatant choreography was a low blow, anyone could see through Smith's ploy. He would be vindicated. The whole court would see that all those additional trumped-up offenses were bullshit. He still thought he couldn't lose. He still believed. In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, he retained a misplaced confidence in the system. He didn't realize that by angering Dick Smith, he had ruined his chances for a fair trial. Inmate Jerome Street had inadvertently converted what he thought was a legal issue into an adversarial confrontation, one in which rules of evidence were less important than results.

In the middle district of Florida, juries are almost never a collection of your peers. They tend to be populated with older, usually retired professional or middle-level blue- and white-collar citizens. Former cops, teachers, clerks and mechanics are only sprinkled with the occasional younger Black man or woman. This is because the population base tends to be older down here, and also younger people are usually busy working and raising families. It stacks the deck against guys like Street. because retired folks are apt to be afraid of the image he invokes even before they hear anything. They see the degradation of their neighborhoods and blame a generic stereotype very much like Jerome. Keep in mind also that under federal law, no jury can be told of the sentence or other penalties their verdicts might signal. A guilty verdict will get the dealer off the street, and lengths of time are never revealed. At the end of the day, the good citizens go home confident that they've done the right thing, not realizing they have just put a boy away for twenty years on a first offense. During the jury selection, Street saw the unusual proportion of older people and was beginning to be alarmed, but with the bravado of youth, decided to ignore it. Maybe at this point, he still might have been able to pull out, but he didn't, and the trial began.

During the opening statement, as Smith described the terrible things he would prove, an unbelieving Street laughed out loud in open court. He brayed disruptively and gestured with his hands, and as Dick Smith talked, Jerome swiveled around in his seat, scanning the courtroom in derisive contempt, scorn imprinted on his flawed Negro face. I have an image of a large, intensely angry Black man--very unattractive--openly baiting the prosecution in front of the jury. I have seen Jerome's vitriolic outbursts and the powerful image he evokes. He scared me badly in that instance , and I can't but wonder what it must have done to the jury to see his caustic behavior displayed. Whatever Smith said on that day probably didn't matter in the minds of those people; Street was finished.

As the trial progressed, it became clear to Jerome that the witnesses were lying., that they were talking about kilos of crack and huge payoffs that he had never seen. The truth was being buried under an avalanche of bullshit, and in spite of all Street's urging, his attorney was not challenging any of the damning testimony. The lawyer claimed he was hamstrung by the judge and the rules of cross-examination. "It's us against them," he said, "and we have nobody to dispute what they are saying." The fact that the witnesses were testifying in order to get time off their own sentences didn't evoke so much as a yawn from the trial participants. It would seem that in any fair court of law, you shouldn't be able to bribe witnesses, but that is exactly what had happened, and the defense was powerless to point it out or question the motives of these prisoners.

During lunch that second day, Street was put in the holding cell next to one of the witnesses, and he asked what was going on. "You don't know, man," said the frightened inmate. "Smith says I's gonna do life. He told me fifty years. Hey Jerome...he made me, man....He made me. We all had to do it.

All his life, Street had thought older white people in power had an unrealistic sense of fair play, and now he was finding that the opposite was true and that, if anything, he was the one with the misplaced sense of honorable intent. He expected Jimmy Carter and got Nixon. What he was just beginning to understand was that these people were playing with his LIFE as if it were inconsequential. They had put together a scenario in which he played the part of the bad guy just by sitting there in his costume of blackface, scaring the jury with the historical menace of his race. Had he been Hispanic, the vision of a swarthy bandito might have served the same cause. Before I ever knew Jerome Street, I can remember wondering what sort of mind was in there behind those untractable eyes. Imagine again what a bunch of retiree jurors were thinking.

By the end of the second day, it was evident that Street's only defense was based on his denials, and they weren't going to be enough. He would need something physical and concrete. He would need to prove his own innocence in the convoluted legal atmosphere of the federal system, and he had nothing with which to make his case. All he could hope for now was mercy.

It was the third and last day, and Smith, after going over all the evidence he had presented, was beginning his closing speech. He had assembled a stack of packages on the table in front of the jury. He had reasoned, and the court had agreed, that the jury was entitled to know what ten kilos of crack cocaine looked like. His show-and-tell display was probably as damaging as anything he could have done, and there was no objection from the defense. I find this unbelievable. The packages were not, nor had they ever been, Street's. They were not evidence; they were a prop.

Prosecutor Smith stepped to the table and scanned the pile slowly before looking at the people sitting in the jury box. He carried himself with easy confidence, making eye contact with each member of the panel before he spoke. This would be his killing moment, the moment he excelled at. His style of delivery was perfected over years of prosecuting young offenders in front of an older generation of men and women trying to do the right thing but shackled by their hysterical fears, fears built skillfully by manipulation and coercion in this cloaked and official theater.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury," he began, "what you see before you on this table is what this proceeding is all about. This is what is destroying America. Walking over to the table, he touched the top of the stack, "This is what your chidden and grandchildren , your friends and neighbors, the people you work with and go to school with, this is what is killing them and destroying their lives. Take a careful look, ladies and gentlemen, this is Crack Cocaine." Smith reached up to adjust his collar. His voice, barely more than conversational at first, had begun to rise in agitation. The warmth of the courtroom showed on his face and his carefully coifed hair was beginning to relax. Clearing his throat, he spoke once more:

"You see these packages--these little bales--and can't really comprehend, can't really believe what I'm telling you. You can't believe the power of this insidious drug. You can't understand how it can wipe out communities; how it can pit brother against brother and father against son; how it can strip people of their will to live, even; and how it can scour the minds of our young people." He lifted one of the packages and hefted it up and down as if he were checking its weight. "Not very big, is it?" he asked the assembled listeners. "Not much at all, really, like a wrapped up pound of coffee or a rolled up Sunday paper.... How is it possible, you think, that something so small, so simple looking, can be so devastating?" He dropped the package back down with visible disgust. "Well, believe me, ladies and gentlemen, it is possible. It is the single most heinous tragedy to befall our generation. It is uprooting the moral fiber of this great country and flushing it down the toilet!" He paused to sip from a water glass that had been placed on the evidence table in front of him. Setting it back down carefully, into one, then another and another of the jurors' eyes, and as he did, he silently pleaded for understanding. He wanted them to know his pain and to see and feel his anguished, doomed appraisal of our modern times. He began speaking again--louder this time--and as Street listened, he heard something foreign, something sour, something beyond his scope of understanding. Smith began to challenge the jury, intoxicating them with the fears and paranoia of our shocked, media-drenched age and forcing them to think about our own private pasts when life seemed simpler, more honest, and in the seemingness of memory was purified into the clean colors and smells and shapes of long-ago innocence. Smith's voice sang out in the bright bays and dark corners of the people's minds and as Jerome listened, he felt the powerful heat of the rhetoric and realized that the man was ignoring any facts that might be relevant to the case and painting a picture of a larger reality. "What does this speech have to do with me?" Street thought. "What does it have to do with my case? Why is Smith blaming me for the downfall of America? What is he trying to prove?"

As Smith raged on, Jerome realized fully what he was up against. He wasn't just a crack dealer on the street; he was the embodiment of all the sins of his people and of his generation. He was an example to a frightened, world-weary jury of older citizens who wouldn't judge the crime but the catastrophe of an OCEAN of crime. Slowly Jerome saw, and the roaring in his ears and the rasp of his exhalations signaled his awakening. His heart began to pound as this new reality came to fruition in his mind.

"LOOK," screamed Smith, "at our city when you drive home tonight. What you will see is PLAGUE. It's in our homes and in our workplaces, in our schools and in our churches. Our hospitals are filled with it, and our babies are sick with it. It's plague, ladies and gentlemen. and it's as devastating as anything we've endured in history. THIS...STUFF...IS...KILLING...US! Smith's voice broke as he raised his right arm and pointed at the shocked, immutable figure of the defendant. "AND THERE IS THE MAN RESPONSIBLE! THERE is the animal that is doing this to our children! That scum sitting there would not even blink at the thought of a baby's death or a mother's ruination. He would GLOAT. He would PREEN. He would enjoy the evil with his despicable drug!"

The power of evocation was unmistakable and catastrophic. As Smith spoke he lifted one, then another of the small bales and shook them over his head as his words rang out in the courtroom. "This garbage is what Mr. Street is all about! This garbage I hold in my hand is what he revels in! What he lusts for! This is what he laughs for, ladies and gentlemen, and he is laughing. He is laughing at all of us. He can't control himself. He can't stop the laughter."

The jury simmered with anger. Some of them, their intentions unrestrained, were glaring at Jerome in dark loathing and their judging eyes chronicled their every emotion. They were lost in the poetry of hate, perfectly dressed in the accents of hate and dancing its unfamiliar dance. The unassailable logic of their hatred could never be surmounted or mollified or pleaded with or reasoned with. Street--the killer, robber, rapist, druglord. The pornographer, laugher, destroyer of God's laws, dealer, filthy killer nigger Black scum who dares come before this body of honest people and expect something, anything by revenge and retribution....

As he witnessed his own crucifixion, tears began to well up in Jerome's eyes and he was blinded. "That's not me," he thought. "No...that's not fair, that's not me..." But the court did not hear his thoughts or see through his eyes. The court was in the hands of the prosecutor and his resourceful presentation was capturing the day.

"You saw him laugh, ladies and gentlemen. He laughed at everything you've worked for and prayed for in your lives, and he thinks he has a right to those things by destroying, by tearing down, by hurting and killing what we hold so dear, things like hard work and honesty and compassion and love. Well, I'm here to say that he does not have that right! He does not have the right to take our neighborhoods and our workplaces and our streets and parks and shops and TWIST and TWIST and BURN and DEFILE and DECIMATE our lives with his filthy greed. He has no right! He must be stopped! He will be stopped! YOU are going to stop him!"

Looking down into his lap, Jerome could only see blurred images through a lens of tears. In the center of his focus, the edgeless form of his constantly moving fists worried powerfully and kneaded into themselves like the tired hands of an old woman. His long nails had driven deep into the palms, cutting the skin, and sticky ribbons of thin, colorless blood lined the folds of his wrists and the crook of his thumb. An intolerable pain crushed his heart. "No," he thought, "this is not right. Please...this can't be right..."

Ignoring Street's tears, the prosecutor whispered his last entreaties into each motion-charged face on the panel. He was slow and deliberate, and his voice was theatrically edged with the tympani timbre of despair: "When that man laughed in this courtroom, what did you see? Did you see something vile? Did you see an ugliness, a corruptness? That's what I saw. Did you see a monster who would dare gloat at your hopelessness and that even now feels nothing but hate and contempt for you? Did you, ladies and gentlemen, see what I saw? What I know? What every good law-abiding, God-fearing person has got to know? Look at him! Look at that monster! HE IS WHY THIS COUNTRY HAS BECOME WHAT IT HAS!"

By the end, Jerome was openly crying in the courtroom. His mask of bravado had been stripped away, and he was sobbing uncontrollably. "It's not true," he thought. "That's not me. How can he say that? It's not true; it's not fair. Please listen...would you listen? Just don't look at me like that but listen to me and help me with this." His breath came in heaving gasps. Tears poured down from his eyes, and his cheeks shined like boot-tips in the fluorescent glare of the courtroom. Sounds of the trial fell away. Thoughts battered him. Hopeless, terrifying, like hail on tin in violent dreams, the panicked noise from within that can only be heard inside and seen from the backs of the eyes; the ageless sound of abandonment. "Please help me...please....That's not the real me. I'm here, in here, not out there. Listen, don't look for a minute but just listen to me. Please, please, oh please....God in heaven, they think I'm not human. I want to say I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything I've done but I'm not what he says. I'm not what you think. I'm a real person, not a cut-out figure or a doll or a tar-baby or some f------ show on television. I'm so sorry for doing what I did and being what I am and looking like this. I'm sorry for the color of my skin and I'm sorry I can't speak right and I'm sorry that I scare people and that I can't look them in the eye without fear. Please God, I'll cry and I'll beg and I'll be the sorriest mother------ you ever saw, God. Please God, I'm so sorry, God, please let them realize that I'm a man and that I bleed just like they do. Please listen to me. Please....

Jerome's mind was adrift in an impossible fantasy of forgiveness, and he couldn't stop it. He couldn't look up. He couldn't look away. They had said things they had no right to say, thought things they had no right to think. What right had they to assume, to presume to know these things, to blame him, to castigate him and pin the world's afflictions on his shoulders? He was just a man. He wasn't what they were saying. He wasn't....

However Jerome felt that day didn't matter. It didn't matter that he was singled out or that the prosecutor took liberties at trial or that the judge didn't see fit to stop the harangue. It didn't matter that the evidence was a lie or that the extra charges were bogus or that the rules of law had gone unobserved. In three years, no appeal has been filed , and non will be forthcoming. Not for Street. No way. The best he can hope for is an opportunity to witness another man's destruction and to profit from it by swearing to something that may or may not be true. This is the Federal system. Whatever Street might have wanted to say on appeal would be useless. He couldn't talk for himself anyway. Nobody would understand the words. They couldn't understand the words of an undereducated, uncommunicative ugly Black man. Not a chance.

As I listened to Street's story that night by the water cooler, I read the passion in his unpassionate eyes and the anger in his monosyllabic voice and I saw, for the first time, the tears of a misunderstood man whom I could not identify with, but whom I saw--I really saw--and I wondered who could ever tell his story so everyone could see. Sometimes in stories you can move the pieces around. You can reconfigure and retell and reveal hidden aspects and replace the trueness of something with irrefutable fact. You can take out the meaning and bash it over the head and put it back to mean something else or to still be true but only in a certain light. That's not the way it is in this case. You can't change these facts. Jerome was found guilty of a larger crime than he was capable of and he was given twenty-three years. He will do 85% of the time unless he begins the process of lying in court and incriminating someone else on down the line. It won't be hard. There're younger men coming up all the time--an endless supply--just waiting for an outlandish opportunity to be bigshots. For that adolescent misjudgment, they'll get tons of time in which to sit and think and be bitter, and won't America be proud of itself. Won't Americans just sit up and gloat! "See how we do our criminals? See what you get if you grow up slow in America?"

When I was a young man, I lived through a catastrophic historical error in judgment. The Vietnam War will always be the most ill-defined, poorly thought-out case of criminal self-flagellation in our history, and now, because of some equally stupid policy makers in this era, we are again destroying a whole segment of our population. Our elected officials are not only fucking up whatever tenuous relationship America has with its disenfranchised poor, but they're painting them with the stars and stripes of a select membership. I live in a clubhouse of common hate that is housing hundreds of thousands of young adults.

In the pod here at the Seminole County Jail, some of the inmates call Street the by the unkind moniker, "magillah." Magillah will take the willfulness of youth, the anger of his race and his unfortunate looks with him to prison for many years. He won't be going to work at the dairy or to movies on quiet Sunday afternoons. He won't be fishing with his friends on summer mornings and he won't be marrying the young girl he met not long ago at his mother's beauty shop. There won't be any babies curling up in his big, hairy arms, and buying a new skateboard or a silly toy for the son or daughter he will never have is also not in the picture. His Christmas eves will be bleak affairs with angry-eyed inmates whose love of life and pride in themselves were also shattered by the razored chains of lifetime sentences. In fifteen or twenty or twenty-five years, he won't be able to watch with pride as his imagined children grow up and graduate and have families of their own. At twenty-two, Jerome is the benumbed soul of America whether he likes it or not. He's the dark puzzle, the monster rumbling in the closet. He is the faulty instrument of our destruction, and if you don't believe it, then you are either not awake or a fool. The momentum of his example is just now beginning to formulate and divide and multiply and coalesce and it will carry us all into the abyss with mind-numbing velocity unless we stop it. Jerome's life will truly be an example. I guarantee it. His jaws will bite and his claws will snatch, and may God have mercy on our souls when that happens.

Author's note:

In writing this account, I realize I've had to depart from the wheel of total accuracy. I've allowed a certain amount of emotion to color my story. But there is a larger truth involved here--larger than any word-for-word quotes from the prosecutor--and I was forced to allow that truth to be presented. For that I make no apology I did not have court transcripts on which to base my dialogue, but only the emotional confessions of one man who, after all, is the brunt of this calamitous joke in the first place.

All over the United States, judges and prosecutors are rebelling against the inhumanity of the "hundred-to-one law" and tired of the pyramid style witness testimony it fosters. It is an immoral system that promotes lies. Excesses of prosecution are endemic to this system. They're not just allowed, they're encourages and paid for, and they're supposed to be there. No one can blame one prosecutor or one judge for his or her zeal in putting people away. After all, prosecutors are paid to prosecute, judges to judge, and unless the underlying foundation is changed, they will go on doing their jobs to the best of their ability and our young people will go on living in quicksand in a nation that does not want them.

How dare we! How dare we penalize our children for our greed and our mismanaged society. How dare we even consider confining our children for lifetimes because we have failed. How dare we think that our kids are sacrificeable. Shame on us; shame on our house. We will be excoriated by our progeny. We will be roasted by our chroniclers. We will be vilified by our history and rightly so. In our spiraling commitment to fear, our seeds are already planted. A haunting reign of madmen is upon us,. If you don't think so, just spend a week in the county jail. I dare you.