Iíve had a lot of time to think about it. It
has been over sixteen months now. Iíve gone to 45 two-hour
menís counseling sessions. For my own hearings and progress
reports, Iíve gone to two courts a total of about 25 times.
Iíve also gone to these same courts just to observe another 10
or 15 times. Iíve submitted papers. Iíve written letters. Iíve
read books. Iíve talked and talked. I complain to friends
until they vanish or tune out. But nothing seems to change.
Somehow Iíve gotten into this legal trap, this legal maze, and
I canít get out. No matter what I do, I canít prove to the
courts that I am innocent. To say I am deeply discouraged puts
I do know this: I do know that the Hall of
Justice, the criminal court that is attached to the big City
and County Jail... whatever it purports to be, I know what it
is. It is a hall of violence. Institutional violence. It pins
men down and calmly, coolly, professionally, uses attorneys to
take societyís revenge. The physical punishment of another age
has become psychological torment and cruelty. Aside from fines
and mandated programs, it cuts out chunks of peopleís time. No
scars to the body but torture for the mind. The system has
gotten good at this. Its agents follow the thick blue book.
The penal code. The book instructs them how exactly to
bludgeon violatorsí lives.
I think it is within us. The need for justice,
the need to answer hurts, insults, and thefts. The need to
address fears (which newspapers and television are busy
pouring fuel on). The need for revenge. The need to feel
secure at any price. These needs are inside each person. So
rather than everyone taking justice into their own hands, they
try to sweep it all up and put it into this building, the Hall
of Justice. In these halls and in these courtrooms, peopleís
lives are torn apart. Families blown up. Dreams and spirits
crushed. Jobs, homes, property, and money lost. Money
flows. Maybe I just have a twisted way of looking at it, but
when I see a judge giving a man one year in jail it is the
same as watching an ear being cut off. Five years? A foot
surgically removed. Bloody. Thirty years... they're chopping
off a manís two legs with castration added. Quietly. Politely.
Legally. Legal violence.
I am deeply discouraged. I wish I had never
been thrown into this. But because I have been, I think, ďOK
buster, Iím going to keep going back until I learn all about
you! You are as blind as you are out of control! You are not
human: you are a machine. The state legislature spins the
dials. Those lawmakers have not spent one day in jail in all
of their lives. They have no idea of the reality of what they
I keep telling the lawyers, judges,
counselors, and probation officer that Iím innocent. But why
the hell would they listen to me! They donít. All the guilty
claim they are innocent. But Iím really innocent. Iím
the victim! My wife said I pushed her into a window, but I
didnít. They told me itís domestic violence. They branded me.
She was the violent one, not me. She accused me. Falsely. They
donít listen. She is a woman. I am a man. Case closed. She has
a black belt in martial arts. That really never came up. They
are getting tired of me. They do this work of theirs and they
have learned to not listen. They say, ďIf you werenít ready
for the consequences, then you shouldnít have done the crime.Ē
But I didnít do the crime. I didnít do the crime. I
suppose Iíll have to have that chiseled on my grave. Anyway,
why do they act like this? If the goal is peaceful harmony,
then why do they abuse wrongdoers so violently? They have done
ten times to me what they say I did to my wife. I loved my
wife. They certainly donít love me. They keep showing me that.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I get your message.
Courts have many advantages over people like
me. For one, the process takes so long that they can simply
wait until stones melt into sand. Until people die, give up,
or go away. Until people are unable to pay legal fees. Charles
Dickens expresses this alien world of courts and lawyers very
well in his novel Bleak House. They can calmly wait until
February 31st comes around before acting.
My case, for example. The incident occurred
sixteen months ago and it just goes on and on. Hurry up and
slow down! Paper on top of paper. It never gets anywhere. Iím
still trying to get my case to the trial I should have had in
the first place. I am just human. They are a self-perpetuating
machine. Iím just a spark on their Bar-B-Q. They can go on and
on, decade after decade, with their roast.
I know it could be worse. It could be so much
worse. I keep telling myself that. Innocent men have been
executed. Dark skin is a red flag. I guess I shouldnít
complain. It could be something else. Just a week ago I was
talking to my old girlfriend Rosalind. She had sent Khadija and
me a nice wedding present. Last week she told me they found
cancer. She had an operation, but the doctors believe the
cancer has spread. She must go through a brutal regimen of
chemotherapy and radiation. Then last night I read an email
from her. The night before, she had been in the hospital. For
her chemotherapy they needed to put a tube in her chest. She
said it goes directly to her heart. Sleeping with that in her
chest was painful. She said she starts chemotherapy next week.
On the phone, she sounded so normal. She sounded healthy and
her spirits were good. She said that if this must be, if the
cancer should prove fatal, she has enjoyed her life and is
ready to go. I donít believe her. I think she tells people
that to calm down those who love her and are alarmed. I think
she wants to comfort us.
I believe the hours and days of peopleís lives
are precious. I donít know the best word. Sacred, maybe.
People charged with a crime have all these precious moments.
They have only so much time to enjoy and experience the world
they have, a world as ephemeral as it is fragile. I saw a man
in court one day. He looked like heíd spent the last twenty
years at hard jobs. He couldnít work because the tools were at
his girlfriendís. He said she wouldnít give them back. He was
arrested for violating a court stay away order by trying to
get the tools. The judge gave him 30 days but could have given
him more. He told the judge, ďThank you. God bless you.Ē The
man still didnít have his tools.
On one side of justice are the victims and the
pain and loss they have endured. We should never forget about
them (I am one of them). But revenge of any kind is not
the answer. That only makes more victims. People have no right
to hurt other people. They have no right to make a business
out of hurting other people even if they write it down, giving
themselves permission in triplicate. Repair people, empower
people, rehabilitate people (really rehabilitate them),
restrain people if they are dangerous, but never demolish
their lives. Never. The system does not have that right; just
as it does not have the right to own slaves or allow others to
own slaves. Even if it says they can because it has published
books that say it's ok. What can they be thinking!
Forgiveness, compassion, and mercy are the fabric of a just
and a humane society.
Say a man has a serious problem with his
temper and hurts someone badly in a fight. Or a man on heroin
breaks into a car to steal a coat with a wallet. Or two gangs
clash over the death of a seventeen-year-old member shot down
in the street three months before and two more gang members
end up dead. If people are so violent and out of control, they
will hurt and kill innocent people. Then, I know, society
canít just ignore their actions. Society has to get involved.
Just as when a person is ill and has a contagious disease. But
when things go terribly wrong, why cut these people up and
dismember them rather than helping them? Help them. Make
them whole. Why has society taken this road of violence? It
locks people up for years in these houses of pain. These
places of unrelenting psychological battering. It treats
people like trash that needs to be cleaned up. It approaches
crime the way exterminators fight termites, mosquitoes,
cockroaches, and rodents. People are not rodents. I often
wonder if television gave us this violent cynicism. What
happens on television? Destroy the bad guys, cut to a
commercial. Knee jerk. Flood the screen with violence to sell
more potato chips and breakfast cereal. Iím certain
sensationalist newspapers add to the frenzy. The courts have
no concept of the pain and harm they inflict. It is cruel and
Violence begets violence; any psychologist can
tell you that. Kick and torment and mistreat a dog, and it
will develop a sick and dangerous personality. Maybe the
courts' intention is to break the will of people the way
trainers break the will of horses. What right do they have?
We all know: prevention is the best cure.
Build healthcare centers, not extra emergency rooms. Create
jobs instead of prisons. Pay teachers better then prison
guards. Reduce guns and the media that glorify them. If people
are habitual criminals, then guarantee a job. Donít just throw
them armless into the water and punish them when they donít
swim. Donít whack off another leg when they return to drugs.
People need work. A decent, respectable job they can have some
pride in. A home to live in. For drug addiction, why donít
they develop strong medications that make the vulnerable sick
when they relapse? Cure addiction; solve future crimes before
they happen. Marijuana? Marijuana is a red herring of our
time. It is the dark genius of this system that it can
operate even without crime. With no victim and no criminal,
the machine still hums away at full speed, accelerating by the
use of many such imaginary crimes. It seems to me it is a
speeding truck with no driver.
The way to reduce crime is to fight the
endemic racism that has hardened into the system (often
concealed by monetary instruments like high bail and expensive
lawyers). If people are mentally suffering because they were
damaged by childhood violence and are susceptible to easy
rages and uncontrolled violence as adults, then treat them.
What good does it do them to lock them up in a correctional
zoo that is famous for mental violence? Thatís sweeping the
problem out of the house and into the street. Problem? What
problem? All swept away! All silenced.
The system itself creates more bitter, more
hardened, more violent criminals. Jails and prisons condition
people to come out hurt, injured, and angry. I canít
understand why nobody in the system seems to understand this.
Werenít violent gangs born in the prison system?
(Another one of those ďDidnít we train bin Laden?Ē dilemmas.)
The system increases the thing it is paid to prevent. And I
guess it's good for some people to perpetuate the secure jobs
and create the new jobs that the expanding criminal justice
system makes "necessary," but where does that leave us? It
leaves us robbed of billions of dollars we need for daycare
centers, job training, and schools, and it leaves us prey to
the monsters that the prisons create. The revenge of the
OK, I feel better. I just had to stand here
and vent. Iíve been studying this for sixteen months. I don't
know the answers. As I said to someone, ďIíve had a ringside
seat to the underbelly of the criminal justice system.Ē I
guess I had to let out a long, loud howl. Iím not an expert.
Itís been so frustrating. But these are my genuine
impressions. And I do know this: they presumed things about my
case that they were wrong about. They came in and did a whole
hell of a lot of damage based on what they decided. I tried to
show them how mistakes were made. They were not interested.
They told me many times that I am a liar. Who do these people
think they are? Iím not even African American. If I had been,
they would have had a real picnic!
Those who would protect the happiness,
the safety, and the wellbeing of members of our society seem
to be guilty of the most astonishing hypocrisy.
They are just so sure I am a lying, cruel
bastard. It would be funny if it werenít real. In sixteen
months I have been forbidden to talk to my wife even once
because they believe I broke the window that she broke. Iíve
spent thousands of dollars for mandated domestic violence
counseling, for probation, for legal assistance. Why? Because
Iím branded. Because Iím a man.
They are so sure I am guilty.
They are so wrong.
Maybe I miss the point. Maybe like cancer the
illness is almost invisible at first, and they need to pour
incredible amounts of poison into me to help me get better.
Maybe they need to nearly kill me to cure me. Maybe they need
to make me really suffer so I can someday feel good, whole,
and wonderful again.
Iíve been waiting for that day a long time