"Then what is freedom? It is the will to be responsible to ourselves." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Tales from an American Gulag, Part 1
You meet the strangest kind of people in jail. For instance, people who occasionally give in to a useless or self-destructive habit, or people who, wittingly or unwittingly, associate with questionable characters. It's not that these people are unusual. Probably every one of your neighbors would fit into one of these categories. What makes these people strange is that they sit in jail. I recently had an opportunity to sit in jail myself, for five and a half months, and learn their stories.
Every time I would collect an inmate's story, I would tell him my 'policy': that I would collect details of his story as told by himself and then have someone on the outside verify details from court filings and police reports. Only one inmate flinched (and ran) when I explained this policy, so I have not included his story. All others had no reaction when I explained it, which indicated to me they had no fear of being contradicted.
Two other factors testify to the truthfulness of these men's stories: the intensity that accompanied their recitation and their self-criticism. When men tell of events that they feel very strongly to be true, intensity resonates in their voice and fire burns in their eyes. I heard the intensity and I saw the fire.
When men explain events of their lives that could be construed as shameful behavior, it is generally safe to take their testimony as truth. For, when a man relates shameful behavior, he expects to lose a friend, an opportunity, or an advantage. The only thing to gain from such an explanation is truth ' and its consequences. On the other hand, when men relate stories to embellish their appearances, their words are to be discounted. That type of information must come from third parties.
These men knew they had not led perfectly clean lives, and they did not hesitate to tell me about their mistakes, their remorse, and the penalties they knew they had to pay to reform--or rather, the penalties they thought they had to pay. Their presence in jail represented penalties they never expected, and as a result, made them very angry men.
Although I told inmates that I would verify their stories from outside sources, I have not done so. The simple explanation is that my situation leaves me with no time and without any resources to do so. Instead, verification will have to be done by others. For those so inclined, a helpful piece of information is that all these men, save Nguyen, were housed in the same module as I (3A of the Santa Ana Jail) during my incarceration from March 15th to August 31st of the year 2003. Nguyen was in the same building, but I don't remember the exact module.
Although these men unhesitatingly related their stories to me, many of them would later come to me and ask me not to publish their stories because they feared retaliation from the authorities. From these men's stories, a common purpose of the government became clear. Every time a victim attempted to assert a right, the government would multiply the penalty. For example, my cellmate Saul would ask two times to speak to a lawyer. As a result, his penalty would go from no time and deportation to 30 months and deportation. Several of these men related that, when they asked for a jury trial, the government threatened them with 15 years, while a confession of guilt would bring only three years jail time with three to six years of probation.
These men are short of vision and therefore easily intimidated. They plead guilty and accept the government's offer. What they fail to see, however, is how easily a probation officer can fabricate a probation violation, and turn the final three months of probation into a new package of one or two years of jail time followed by six more years of probation.
But, I am ahead of myself. Let me tell their stories. Then I'll briefly explain why I had to be put in jail:
Stan (not his real name) had previously served time for drug use or possession. He was now in jail for a probation violation, due to one of his drug tests being 'dirty.' When someone violates probation, he is taken before a judge to determine new penalties. At this hearing, Stan's probation officer (P.O.) asked for the maximum, which was on the order of 12 to 18 months of jail time, along with an additional three years of probation.
Stan was a high performance character. He owned a mortgage company, with two or three offices in Southern California . At the meal table, he was irrepressible, as he regaled everyone with locker-room stories. He probably thought he was funny, but in truth, and I admit this reluctantly, he was closer to hilarious.
Unfortunately for Stan, his P.O. was on a power trip. After Stan's 'dirty' test, she had an arrest warrant issued and held on to it for three or four weeks. In the meantime, Stan visited her office two or three times. She could have executed the arrest warrant at any of these visits. Instead, she sent a sheriff's deputy to Stan's office to arrest him there, so his ten to 15 employees and one or two customers could witness the spectacle.
Apart from his useless habit, Stan is a sensible man. If his P.O. had requested him to come to her office to be arrested, he would have gone. He knew the alternative, and had nowhere to run.
Michael delivered firewood in the Big-Bear area for a living. He likes to use one and a half grams of speed every two weeks. One day an acquaintance, Vinnie, calls and wants Mike to obtain some speed and a gun for a 'friend' who needs the speed to reduce pain from an illness. Vinnie says the friend owns a machine shop and has so much pain from cancer that he has to use speed to get out of bed and go to work. He also wants a pistol for target practice, something that he enjoys in his spare time.
Vinnie assures Mike that the friend has no criminal intent. Mike feels sorry for the 'friend' and agrees to make arrangements as a favor. The deal includes 112 grams of speed and a registered pistol, both supplied by Spike. They all meet in a parking lot. Mike never sees or touches the cash, speed or gun. The meeting is filmed and audio taped by law enforcement agents. Mike and Spike are arrested. Mike is now looking at 200 to 280 months cut out of his life.
This was not Mike's first drug-induced disaster. Several years earlier, he was stopped on the road with his wife and her girlfriend. The cop found a bag of marijuana under Mike's car seat. The cop asked who owned the bag. No one answered. The cop explained that if no one claimed it, he would arrest all three for possession of it. Mike then volunteered that the bag belonged to him, and he was immediately arrested. I don't remember his jail time on this charge, it may have been one half or a full year. I do remember that, as he reported, his wife left him the day he went to jail.
All of this has left Mike a bitter man, and I don't know if he has yet identified the source of his troubles.
(Vinnie was used in similar routines to set up four others and send them to jail. He got into this 'profession' as a result of being arrested for selling/possessing drugs and explosives. The government offered to drop charges if he would help them entrap gullible drug users.)
Danny worked eight years as general manager of a car dealership. He quit and was hired as general manager of a start-up restaurant in an effort to become self-employed. He was a good friend of the owner, or so he thought. Unfortunately he didn't know all he should have known about the owner, who was under surveillance for drug dealing. Danny was arrested, on the basis of a taped phone conversation, along with eight others on drug charges -- seven on conspiracy charges.
One of Danny's responsibilities was to find suppliers for menu items. In this connection, Danny called the owner to tell about a potential supplier for the menu item, chili poppers. The phone conversation was taped and the so-called authorities construed chili poppers as a reference for some kind of drug. It was all that was needed to throw Danny into the conspiracy net.
Danny appealed to a friend to help arrange bail. The friend agreed to put up his house as security. But there was a problem -- the friend had a prior conviction for drug use. The prosecutors informed his friend that he would be questioned about it at the bail hearing and arrested as a co-conspirator. Of course, the friend backed out, and the bail hearing was cancelled.
A trial was scheduled for October. It was eventually postponed to February to give the government more time to dig up (or manufacture) evidence to support its charges, as the evidence on hand was flimsy at best. Or perhaps prosecutors were using the extra time to look for a judicial assassin who would conveniently overlook such deficiencies in their case. Regardless, they were ultimately successful in sending Danny to prison.
Saul is about 32 years old. He was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. with his mother in 1978 with a visa. He had become a successful independent handyman. He had three or four serious charges as a teenager. He attempted to run down a cop with a car when he was drunk, he was arrested for driving on a suspended driver's license, and he assaulted a non-paying employer who did not approve of his daughter dating Saul. He also dealt drugs while he was a student in high school, but told me that he discontinued this 'business' after leaving school.
In an earlier case, a public defender extorted a false confession that Saul illegally entered the U.S. in 1978. He was deported soon thereafter, but later returned. Once Saul was back in the U.S. , he managed to build a successful home repair business. He did numerous construction favors for relatives (including a brother who is a sheriff's deputy). These favors, however, did not prevent some of his relatives from becoming jealous. They simply could not understand how Saul could become so successful. He had bought a home on about two acres of land in San Bernardino County . He had a swimming pool, a boat, and a motor home, among other things. He obtained some of these items as trades for work he had done for customers. But baffled by lack of understanding and blinded by jealousy, one of Saul's relatives reported to the FBI that Saul was dealing drugs. The FBI placed surveillance on him for two months. They couldn't find any evidence of drug activity. He was arrested anyway and charged with illegal entry.
I shared a cell with Saul for five and a half months. During that entire time, he would constantly volunteer for work details at all hours of the day and would routinely clean our cell. He seemed to be his happiest when working, or when studying his high school GED lessons. Like all self-motivated people, he did not have much respect for silly rules. He would frequently get 'written-up' for violations of such ' having too many t-shirts, or keeping condiments (one ounce packages of catsup, mustard, or grape jelly) in our cell. These write-ups included disqualification from work details. However, he worked so well that most of the time the guards would overlook these write-ups and send him out on the work details anyway.
Within hours after his current arrest, he was brought before an INS review officer. He was offered deportation with no jail time. When he requested to talk to a lawyer, he was returned to jail. Within a week he was brought before a review officer a second time, and offered six months and deportation. He still wanted to talk to a lawyer. He was returned to jail again. Within another week he was brought before a review officer a third time, and offered 30 months and deportation. He was told that at the next interview, he would be offered 37 to 72 months and deportation. He accepted the 30 months, and was promptly returned to jail.
What was Saul's crime? Neither he nor his mother, from the time of their entry into the United States in 1978, took welfare. That was the government's claim, of course, but it was both false and hypocritical. From our earliest history books we learn that one of the devices used by governments to suppress the rebellious or independent mind is to quarter strangers (sometimes soldiers, sometimes aliens) among those who display too much independence, too much integrity, or ask too many of the wrong questions. Accordingly, the federal government has opened our borders and invited every freeloader in the world to come and eat out the substance of the American worker.
So why was Saul put in jail? Allegedly, it was payback time for both the American taxpayer and for Saul. For taxpayers, they received 'payback' for the burden of welfare payments Saul and his mother never occasioned. For Saul, he had to 'pay' for all the welfare that neither he nor his mother took. Now, the government will extort some $30,000 to $50,000 a year from American workers to keep Saul in jail, depriving him of his liberty and destroying his business in the process.