At the outset of Ken Kesey's iconic novel One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, the narrator, Chief Bromden, shares his personal feelings regarding his suitability to tell the story. He has after all, been deemed criminally insane, and ordered to the confines of an asylum. The very institution whom he seeks to shine some light on regarding their state sanctioned malfeasance, has him under its thumb and actively disables him. Chief had a circular way to points of clarity in his mind, but the essence of his thoughts there seemed clear to me; sometimes a story must be told even if no one is willing to listen. Near the end of chapter one, just before he begins, Chief puts it thusly: "You think this is too horrible to have really happened, this is too awful to be the truth! But please. It's still hard for me to have a clear mind thinking on it. But it's the truth even if it didn't happen." The True Believers cannot be informed. When one’s sense of safety and well-being is hinged on faith in a system, the truth is irrelevant. Predetermined certainty in the form of blind faith as an entity, will not and can not be questioned. It is heresy to the inflexible mind. The struggle between reality and perception is ongoing for many, but for some, it’s strictly about perception until the wolves of reality come for them. The Chief is ever so subtly giving the finger to those he perceives as part of the problem, those who would rather not look if it’s not affecting them, and he's doing it with practiced discretion.
This is a real account, in diary form, of an injustice that only made news or mattered to the person being wronged. A six year ordeal which is technically ongoing and therefore names and dates are changed. But not distance or length of term: six years is not fiction.
Let's say you're driving down a road. A car speeds up alongside, swerves in front of you and you're slow getting to the brake, causing the speeding and aggressive car to tap your vehicle, sending them skidding off the road, killing the driver. You stop, and as police arrive, they question you and release you. Then the police reappear nearly three weeks later to arrest you for first degree murder. After all, you were directly responsible for that driver’s death. No one made you go out on that road, and you admitted you were slow to brake. Intent is a classification of privilege, especially if you were driving an old jalopy and the dead driver a brand new Mercedes-Benz. You are a murderer unless you can afford to prove otherwise.
In another scenario, the aggressive driver is injured, but at the scene explains to the police what happened, just as you do, and you are released as the injured is taken for first-aid. The next day someone explains to the injured person being a "victim" pays, and is essentially a growth industry in the state of California. Be a victim, and receive 30 thousand, 40 thousand, even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state! In this instance, the "victim" received 32 thousand dollars for an injury suffered 17 years prior which was never repaired. A lucrative example of procrastination and state encouraged corruption. It is a tool leading to convictions, as well as a complete disregard for the truth.
Applying such logic, in a completely different circumstance, I was given a six year sentence for a charge of "Great Bodily Injury", on a first prison term. It was corrupt, an abuse of power, and totally acceptable since I could not afford a real attorney. By real, I mean of course, someone I could afford to pay enough to side with me. When the attorney draws a check from the same source as the DA, it's okay to question whose interests are being taken into consideration. Justice has a pretty steep price tag. Law and Order, Crime and Punishment, are not secondary concerns because there are no secondary concerns. Convictions are the sole pursuit of the judicial system today. It's why America is the runaway worldwide leader in percentage of population that becomes incarcerated, and it is not even close. The 1990's produced three great growth industries: Temp Agencies, Casinos, and prison building. Fantastic indicators on a society's direction.
What I learned today?
Monday - Aug. 21, 2006: It was a long, educational day. Being arrested is not anything I recommend, but there were some things, some bits of information, had I not been arrested – twice, in that same morning, for the same thing, by the same officers, on the same spot, about 30 minutes apart, (yeah, I know, weird, but not that weird, not yet!) – I would have completely missed out on a tremendous learning experience: a genuine perspective changer. It starts with the handcuffs. Things immediately start to look different in that posture with the hands locked together behind the back, and from there, it never ends. Nothing looks quite as simple, or easy, or real, or safe ever again, so the lessons keep rolling in, just coming at me, like firing squad bullets. But that day, the most important lesson I learned, was a citizen unaffiliated to law enforcement can overrule a detective handling an investigation of a case. It probably helps to have been a local government employee, perhaps a county I.T. person for 20, maybe 25 years to become familiar with local enforcement. Arresting someone is just another favor between guys who understand the local workings then, but overriding a detective when the arrest is ordered voided resulting in my unhand-cuffing and release from the squad car, and having me rearrested is more unique and not exactly textbook police work. The fella who might be an I.T. guy and knows how things work locally, sure got mad on his cell phone over my uncuffing. A couple times he screamed red-faced with spittle flying onto his cell. I could see the spit better than make out the words, but his tone clearly raged with expectations which left the words moot. He wanted something done his way, regardless of any detective’s orders and sounded like he knew he could rage this one through if he applied the correct decibel level. I was surprised, since I stood in one spot waiting to see what would happen, how snugly the cuffs were squeezed onto my wrists when the officer returned to re-arrest me. I gave no hint of fleeing or struggling. Being empowered by whoever called back to overrule the detective was invigorating for the officers. Where there was tentativeness and silence a half hour before, there was aggression and verbal taunting now - without a word from me to alter anything. There was no thought of escape, no sir, only to what degree the damage would be permanent, and it was weeks before I could grab an object or make a fist with my left hand again. It’s all about provocation from then on. If the suspect is not dangerous, or not guilty of the alleged crime, perhaps the detained can be made to appear so if treated barbarically enough by those entrusted to ‘protect and serve’. But so what, whatever was said on the phone from the higher-up made it alright to hurt vermin such as myself; the call transformed me. The cuffs were on a long time as business was tended to which required me to sit in the sundrenched car with a couple of window cracks for air. More consideration would be extended to a dog they did not want dead, assuming such a beast exists to these public servants. It was sweat lodge sweating for a few hours, and I appeared recently showered and grim for my county ID wristband picture. And suddenly, I was worse than a dog no one wanted alive. At 45, it was the most enlightening day of my life so far, and with 2,177 days to go, it set the bar for all that would follow, all the lessons of Jurisprudence yet to come.
Tuesday - Aug. 22, 2006: I learned breakfast was served around 3:50 A.M. in county jail in San Diego, and it does not seem too early if one is still being booked from the 10 A.M. arrest the previous day. The booking was both more tedious and more degrading than I had imagined. More tedious and more degrading than I had imagined: this would come to be something of a mantra for me over the next six years. But what else could be expected, everyone was only doing their jobs in my reclassification as a sub-human. Innocence till proven guilty are just funny words at this point. It quickly becomes a battle of will, and once isolated from the former world, introduced to the new people and ways of life, anything to replace the misery becomes acceptable. Maslow never considered such a stage of existence when arranging his ladder of needs. Most everyone went immediately back to sleep after eating, save for the one or two out of 120 who had court that day and me. I could not sleep after being out in the main room with everyone else. The uneasiness I felt, the stares from the tattooed faces at the new guy – or ‘fish’ as the new members of the tank are called – as I stood in line or ate, did not require me to look back at them to feel them staring. They were not trying to be coy or sneaky in glancing at me. They wanted me to notice them staring, beginning the never ending tests for weakness which most of them were unaware of conducting, so ingrained was this behavior towards other people it went unnoticed by almost everyone, even myself to some degree, after a while. The tension might be something some get used to dealing with, I never did, and it is my gut instinct one never wants to get that comfortable around it, cause then you’re home. Once you’re at home there, you can never leave for very long.
Wednesday – Aug. 23, 2006: The offer of a lie detector seemed just what the situation called for and a remedy to return me to the sunlit world which was only a rumor now. An existence devoid of windows offering a glimpse of sunlight makes the absurdity of breakfast before four A.M. much more palpable, as very quickly I was without a sense of time of day or night, like being in Las Vegas, except for everything else. Lie detectors cannot detect themselves, and after seeing how they are administered and manipulated to produce prescribed results, one cannot help but conclude that shortcoming alone renders them a moot exercise launched from a false premise. But what the hell, real investigation takes time, money, and effort. If you’re arrested as a personal favor to a privileged government employee, those aspects of law enforcement only become relevant as the situation warrants, and with no money for a defense – at least, not 70 or 80 thousand – it is never necessary. Guilt is a forgone conclusion; the lie detector, a damning formality; court appearances, posturing to humor the excessively educated. The truth is, justice has no more relevance than one’s purchasing power. But the lie detector was still a great learning experience, and so well play acted by the actors, to not praise their performances would be shortsighted and ignorant on my part. The cripple playing the role of bitter semi-quadriplegic (he had minimal function of his right hand, allowing him to move levers on his wheelchair, on his electronic board of influence, and to chug one Mountain Dew after another.) conducting the test was superb. Giving a man whose parachute did not open during mindless machismo displays of behavior the opportunity to unconscionably produce deliberate spurious results in order to ruin the lives of others as his had been ruined, was brilliant, and there, the first true twisted and sadistic face of evil sat. Chain drinking Mountain Dews and forcing his self-destructive tale onto his next victim, the level of his animosity towards the world was unmistakably apparent as his assistant – who would vanish shortly - finished strapping me into the chair he tells me: “If you’re guilty, I tell people don’t take the test, you can’t beat it, but if you’re not, this is just the thing.” There are four indicators of lying on the graph, each with a different colored ink reflective of some bodily tell. Three body functions can say you are telling the truth, the fourth, which may be indicating untruth still rules the day. It is not a democratic system of discovery. One band is wrapped tightly around my chest, linked to measurement of my breathing. On several occasions during the repetitive questioning I drew a deep breath, without exception, each deep breath was greeted by the man in the wheelchair telling me, “Stop taking such deep breathes,” in increasingly angrier tones. I tried to follow his instructions, because he seemed genuinely annoyed with me after the second or third reflexively drawn deep breath. It was a nerve wracking experience conducive to producing deep breathes, but if it was making the man angrier at the world than when he woke up that morning, I was bound to try and stop. It only made sense. At the tests conclusion, he pointed at what I think was the green line, and said, “See that?” I saw lines, four different colored lines. “That line indicates a shortness of breath, which indicates you’re lying.” I felt myself whirl mentally in confusion, then angry, though not showing it, realizing what was happening I asked. “But you told me to stop taking such deep breathes!” I looked around at the equipment. “Is there an audio recording of this test?” He chuckled at the suggestion, moving slightly in his crumpled slouch neatly contained by the motorized wheelchair. “No,” he said, never looking at me again with his glassy dead eyes, “there’s not.” I learned that polygraphs do not detect lies, but if you're a vindictive wallowing cripple with a lack of conscience and a score to settle with the world at large because your parachute did not open correctly, there is work for you, there is the perfect job: lie enforcement.
Thursday – Aug. 24, 2006: On this morning I learn first what a bail hearing is all about, then what an arraignment is, though I cannot recall which came first. At a bail hearing, if you have procured the necessary ten percent - in my initial case, $1500 of 15K - the DA requests the bail be raised. Mine went up to $50,000 with the wave of a hand from the bench. Then a list of charges were read against me; Mayhem, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Robbery, and Great Bodily Injury. I had no clue what Mayhem meant, legally speaking, and was appalled to find out, not only because it was so far removed from the truth, but because it carried potentially decades long sentences with it. I have never held a loaded gun in my hands in my life and only had experience with a knife as it relates to eating. Robbery was ironic, as the place I was accused of robbing was filled with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise stolen from me which I had chalked up as a loss and a learning experience. But nothing left with me, not one item of the goods stolen from me. The Great Bodily Injury charge, if intent and truth are ignored is a conceivable stick. Like the driver of the jalopy, I was there and in some regard responsible.
Young Hispanic gang members, who my life had very little exposure to prior to the previous three days, were suddenly abundant and my days filled with new cultural exchanges that would become the sociological safari of life the next six years. An uneasy coupling born out of self-preservation linked all members of the Caucasian population with the Hispanic gang members in a strange alliance designed to offset the looming threat of being viciously pummeled by black detainees in the event of a riot. Hispanics and Whites vs. The Brothers and the Others, were how the teams were presented to me. Being outnumbered nearly two to one everywhere was nothing new apparently to the black fella’s, and they offered no indication of concern. It did not ease my state of mind as I got to know the guys on my side a bit more. Having a tattoo enveloped body from head to toe may intimidate a soccer mom emerging from a grocery store into a dark parking lot, but it could not faze the occupants of this zoo less if they were selling Girl Scout cookies in that same dark parking lot. My neighbor in the next cell was a 20 year old ‘Southsider’, the accepted English nomenclature for the official term, Surena, a loosely woven ‘Mexican Mafia’ of sorts, which had far too many members to be anything like the Mafia I had heard about growing up in New Jersey, and with apparently no admissions test to vet out the unqualified. It was easier, but no less misguided, than declaring membership to the Republican Party; which oddly enough, many also did. My young neighbor was eager to tell me about himself. He was one of a dozen or so children – the specifics elude me though the generalization of this caricature is etched indelibly into my mind – raised by a single mother, no father of relevance because he too is incarcerated somewhere, and already a father himself several times over, with more than one “baby’s momma”. The only specific remaining intact from this first of thousands of verbal encounters, are of his tattoos. Face and head tattoos were brand new to my eyes then, and he noticed me reading his scalp as he spoke, which oddly enough, somehow made me feel rude. He did not mind though, and wanted to make sure I saw the ones not as easily visible. “Check these ones out, Homie,” he said sounding prideful of the exterior of his head while ignoring the interior. Then he closed his eyes. I was not sure what he wanted me to see for a second, then I spotted it, on the back of his eyelids. The word ‘Game’ in stylish cursive script marking his right eyelid. On the left, in the same script, ‘Over’. All well and good and I commended him on showing the foresight to plan ahead, which was so often lacking in 20 year-olds, but I was really hoping for something more optimistic from a fellow teammate in the event of a race riot.
Friday - August 25, 2006: Reality was slow settling in for me. Five days in and I was still living somewhere else in my head. I thought about what was going on at the pub I frequented on Friday's, who might be there. Sadness and depression settled upon me first, and became my reality. I never truly accepted my status as a criminal –still don’t - but I had no choice with the depression. On this morning, shortly after breakfast, but well before dawn, I was called over the intercom and informed I would be moving to another jail, furthest from the part of town where I lived, into a windowless basement where day and night disregard one another and everyone grew paler and more anxious - not in that order. The cells were just under six feet wide, and almost 11 feet deep. Instead of two to a cell, now there was three of us. A toilet from the wall at the foot of the triple bunk, a metal stool mounted into the floor in front of a metal tabletop mounted into the cement wall. The bunk was not mounted, but weighed hundreds of pounds, and therefore considered safe since no one was going to walk through the sliding metal door who could pick the bunk up and hit someone else with it. Hopefully. I showed up with my court papers at the ready, available to whomever might want to have a look and see what brought me to the societal cesspool. In theory, the "Shot-callers", at least in the white and Hispanic groups, were looking for child molesters, rapists, or anyone accused in a variety of anti-social activity with a sexual hook deemed truly unsavory by the status quo trendsetters. The career guys, those doing life-on-the-installment-plan, seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to spotting these types of miscreants. They could spot them from a distance, through little scratched up windows or portals on doors only big enough to let mail or a small tray slide through. No one asked me for my paperwork, not once in six years, but perhaps because when I showed up to a new place I learned quickly to just leave it out, though I never offered it to anyone after the first year either. People from these settings, these institutions of justice, can spot one of their own quickly, as well as someone such as myself who had no incarceration experience prior to this 2,178 day whirlwind tour of hell. They viewed me as a novelty right from the start. I had no tattoos, could spell fairly well, most all of my teeth, and before long was even writing poetry for estranged wives and girlfriends, as well as statements to be submitted or read before sentencing. They could spot a deviant even quicker than someone with no criminal background. Of course, they were looking much more intensely for them, yet I have no memory of instances where once a questionable guy was sighted and informed he needed to produce paperwork, that a fake heart attack did not ensue, or the guy turned out as suspected and dealt with subsequently.
Saturday - August 26, 2006: Making bail, like everything else connected to the legal system, had a malleable set of conditions which could be very easily personalized to thwart efforts to gain release. Bail, I learned, is much more than simply paying ten percent on an amount and getting released. As the $5,000 was raised to purchase my temporary release, new stipulations were added: I am not a California Native. I had resided in the state for over 20 years at that juncture; not good enough on this day. Being a non-native, the powers that be have the option of requiring either the full 100 percent of bail, or someone can sign over their house or some other equitable commodity to ensure against the "flight risk" I had coincidently become. Making bail is much more important than a matter of logistical convenience. People who make bail are viewed differently than those who don't. When bail is posted one's file goes into a different category of consideration. It is the first judgment rendered on a suspect. A bail posting defendant has resources, perhaps property or some roots to the community, or family and friends who might be in a position of influence to raise a fuss if someone they care about is being judicially skewered. People who can make bail might even know someone with the sort of influence to override an investigation being conducted by detectives with the local police department, and it is safe to assume, those unable to meet the financial measure of bail, do not have such connections. As plea bargaining ensues over the course of weeks and months ahead, a defendant commuting to court without the ankle shackles, cuffs and angry armed escorts are not only going to be offered more lenient deals, but the defendant eludes the urgency to compromise unwisely created by the subhuman and dangerous conditions found in nearly all of California's County jails resulting in many accepting unjust over sentencing. It’s the drowning person grabbing the razor sharp sword to be rescued. Those who make bail also avoid logistic nightmares in the event of a jury trial, though I saw few go to trial – or ‘to the box’ as it’s said – and only one reach fruition. It’s quite rare because unless a case is high profile the legal fees are astronomical. The system is so crowded and overwhelmed at every station of operation or human storage, there is simply not enough hours in the day to allow each case the consideration it deserves. We were not shooting baskets, and it struck me as outrageous the nonchalance given towards acceptance at missing once in a while and sending an innocent person to prison. Why isn’t everyone entitled to heroism from the prideful first responders? Would they decline to save someone in the event of an emergency if they suspected the person in need deserved otherwise? Because when you are the individual having evidence withheld which would benefit the case, it is a state of emergency. I once was a proponent of the death penalty and voted in favor of the three-strike initiative. Having witnessed firsthand the apathy regarding truth and the barbaric disregard for human life permeating the "Halls of Justice", I would not trust the institution as a whole to correctly solve the problem 2 + 2 if four was not the answer squelching departmental budgetary concerns, or fueling an "Officer of the Court's" political ambition.
Sunday - August 22, 2006: In what would be the first of many surprises, I was caught off guard and bemused by the sight of a makeshift religious service in the dayroom, or common area, as soon as the cell doors clicked open for the 90 allotted minutes. During the week, either the lower or upper tier was permitted out of their box at a time, not both. As the weeks passed at this facility this continued to happen, sporadically, and apparently on no determined schedule, but both tiers would, on occasion, be released together. A grizzled veteran of the system explained to me both tiers were supposed to be out each time the dayroom opened. The fact that rules were being followed meant someone – a Captain, a human rights group – was in the building. Normally only one tier or the other got dayroom time. With everyone out more attentive surveillance was required. There was a huge one-way mirror which loomed over the center of the room on the wall opposite the cells. From the other side of the mirror, first responders perched to observe us societal miscreants. Or the concealed room could have been empty; it was impossible to tell. The activity going on and going unchecked among some of the fella’s proved to me no one was watching. The adlibbed church service was made all the more absurd by the added numbers, but from a safe distance, I watched. It was as close as I came in a week to looking at someone directly or staring. Everyone had their own personal bibles, many with their names engraved on the covers, and often, the lone possession of a detainee. It did not take long to realize as soon as another possession was acquired, more often than not, the bible lost much relevance and attraction. In prison later, the vanishing of religious fervor upon discharge from the system was referred to as “Giving Jesus the shake at the gate”. Yet a couple of days earlier the same guys would go looking for their smiting rods if I used the name of the Lord in vain, or explained God doesn’t want credit, or blame, for chow hall slop being served, so there’s no need to convulse in the throes of spiritual ecstasy giving thanks for what is clearly the work of Man. And a sick man, with a flying saliva problem, at that. The service devolved into a rotating shouting match; religion on acid and steroids. Each guy got up and took a turn proving he’d seen at least one or two televangelist in his life, though I doubt anyone ever saw this ‘battle of the bands’ format during a service. Each “preacher” tried to out histrionically perform his warm-up act. The huge cement dayroom created a word gobbling echo and I could not clearly make everything out, though not for a lack of volume. I seriously doubt if perfect acoustics would have made any message more discernible. If they were screaming the words from ‘War and Peace’ on the top of their lungs, and I was only catching 70 percent, I believe I could have filled in the blanks better. This was a brand of sanctimonious gibberish I was not exposed to during my nine year term at St. James elementary school. The priests were usually too hung over to scream like this on a Sunday morning. I went back to the cell and slid the door over to use the toilet without a small, but still hostile, captive audience present. I never did get comfortable with guys giving a running commentary on every failed attempt to extricate some modicum of waste from my body, but my obvious discomfort with the extremely public toilet situation never failed to amuse the endless stream of institutionalized renaissance men who found nothing odd in carrying on a face to face conversation while simultaneously wiping their ass. These were the play-by-play men covering my bowel movements, or more often, my failed bowel movements. Through the nearly closed cell door, the latest preacher sounded like he was screaming himself hoarse with heartfelt anger, except for the long dramatic pauses. Even the pauses were obnoxious as the preacher allowed prolonged time for his wisdom to penetrate the tattooed craniums and sink in. The guy after him sounded like old newsreel footage of Hitler with the volume up too loud. I wondered if it was English or had he began screaming in tongues, and should I hurry in case he’s about to pull a snake out of his bag of tricks and whirl it around over his head to cast away demons. In this place, he’d need one big snake to get that done. When I reentered the dayroom, I noticed it was not just the revolving preachers, but everyone who bothered to speak was screaming to some degree. There was what could best be described as a steady roar of mindless sound. No information being transferred, and nobody listening, just someone else waiting his turn to scream. As I caught a few slivers of conversations here and there walking in circles around the room perimeter, I realized the echo washed out the clarity of what was said more in the center of the room. I went back to the cell next lap around, genuinely scared by the level of truculent shortsightedness being expressed all about me. It was the first time I ever heard a sermon with the words "bitches" and "motherfucker" in it. Though to be fair, I really was not paying attention in church back at St. James.