It’s been a while since I’ve written an update. It seems like since I wrote last (one), the entire world changed. However, because it’s nearing the end of the year, I am going to try to get a few of these out. I’m generally no good at the end of the year; starting on my oldest daughter’s birthday until my youngest daughter’s birthday in early spring, it seems like I’m bombarded by one “special occasion” after another. In prison, “special occasions” serve more as “days of remembrance” rather than days to celebrate. The long and short of it is — the end of the year sucks. All the joy, happiness, togetherness and communion evoked by the holidays sit like stones in my stomach each year that I’m a hostage. They serve more to embitter me than to bring any sort of joy. So typically, each year I cease communicating with everyone for a while and I just “gut it out” until it’s over. The reality is that I endure this hostage crisis in regular denial of my circumstances, for all the good that does.
Earlier this year I had I brief conversation with an Uncle whom I rarely speak to. He asked me some questions about the “justice system” that seemed to be pretty typical of mainstream thought about how “just” our system is. So I thought I would address this topic today as it is such a large part of my new reality.
I know that most people have blind faith in the fairness of our justice system. I know because I used to be the same way. I thought people who whined about how “unfair, biased, racist, classist, or unjust” our system was were just lazy crybabies trying to find a loophole around normal moral behavior as is expected by the social contract. Then, one dark night, I crossed a dirty cop in a parking lot and thus began the set of events that led to me to being in prison for basically the rest of my adult life. The night I met that crooked cop all of my illusions were neutralized. It didn’t matter that I was white. It didn’t matter that I was a combat veteran who had fought for his country. It didn’t matter that I didn’t do drugs nor had no criminal record. It didn’t matter how educated I was, or that I was a conservative Republican WASP who hailed from a long line of Conservative Republican WASPs. It didn’t matter how much I loved my country or even that I was fully supportive of the police in their “war on crime” I believed what I had been socialized to believe my entire life. Cops were the good guys, robbers were the bad guys and it was just as simple as that.
When I was in the military I jumped out of airplanes for a living. The type of jumping that I did was, for the most part, referred to as “mass tactical” jumping (Mas Tac). We would all jump onto the drop zone en masse. One hundred to one thousand paratroopers in the sky at one time. It was always quite dangerous. One of my “claims to fame” actually is that I am the only Colorado resident in the state’s history to jump into combat twice. The thing about Mas Tac jumping is that the Army expects up to 20% causalities on each jump. The Army sees this as an acceptable loss ratio. The dead, wounded, or unlucky have just “slipped through the cracks” in light of the mission. In much this same way, our judicial players — and indeed our citizenry — view the “justice system” and those who “slip through the cracks” as acceptable loses. The system works most of the time, and sometimes people just get “caught up in the mix” (like Brianna Taylor for instance). Those innocent men and women that do have their lives destroyed by the system are viewed as acceptable losses in the “war on crime” (notice the military terminology by law enforcement).
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in law and order. I have been all over the world and I have visited several third world countries. I know what lawlessness looks like and that’s not the world I want my precious daughters to grow up in. However, I’ve read hundreds and more of judicial opinions since I’ve been incarcerated. I’ve worked on dozens of cases of wrongfully incarcerated men. I’ve met dozens of combat veterans who have been demonized by the system as “Rogue Rambos” the way that I was. I’ve interacted with thousands of convicts since I’m been behind the fence and from those, there are hundreds who do not deserve to be deprived of their liberty.
My first experience with how truly, disgustingly unfair the system can actually be was with a guy I met in the Fayette County Detention Center when I first went to jail in 2010. The young man’s name was Raequan. He was a young African American, 18 years old and barely out of High School. A few days before his 18th birthday, Raequan’s brother was murdered over a basketball game. His second oldest brother, who I surmised was in a gang, gave Raequan a small caliber pistol for his own protection. About a month later on his way to the corner store one afternoon, 5 men surrounded him and aggressed upon him on the street. As they closed in on him from all sides, the panicked teenager pulled out his small pistol and fired 3 rounds directly over his head — “just to scare them off.” His would-be attackers scattered and the whole incident was avoided without anyone getting hurt or any loss of life. There were multiple witnesses to the “crime”. Someone called the police and even though there were no victims (and the police knew about his brother), Raequan was arrested and taken to jail. To his surprise, he found out that he was being charged with Attempted Murder. When he went to his Preliminary hearing a few days later, he was given a bond of $100,000. Even a novice of the law would assume that without a victim or “Serious Bodily Harm”, the charge would more appropriately be Wanton Endangerment (a Class D felony) instead of Attempted Murder (a Class B felony). However, the REASON for the excessive charges is essential to my point.
The issue at large here is a monetarily incentivized Police, Prosecutorial, and Incarceration system. What happened to him is modus operandi for a system that wants the biggest “bang for its buck”. Plea Extortion is simply just another tool in the wheel box of prosecutors incentivized by “winning” instead of providing Justice. Plea Extortion is exactly what it sounds like—if a Prosecutor can convince a judge to deny an accused person a bond, or set the bond so high that an accused person cannot pay it, then the accused person will have to sit in jail until the conclusion of the case (which in most cases takes 18 to 24 months). When the Prosecutor comes to a defendant after 24 months in jail and offers them a plea bargain (often times offering the charge that should have been charged in the first place as in this case) a defendant will be excited to accept it — because it gets them out of jail!
In Raequan’s case, a charge of Wanton Endangerment (a Class D felony — the lowest form of felony) means the teenager would have been entitled to a very low bond which would have allowed him to return to his life and face his accusations without losing EVERYTHING. However, with a trumped up charge of Attempted Murder (a Class B felony — the same threshold as 2nd degree murder which requires a victim, intent, and Serious Bodily Harm), if he got a bond at all, the bond would be so high (100,000 — 1,000,000) that he couldn’t pay it forcing him to stay in jail awaiting the resolution of the case. This dichotomy is completely by design. Despite language enshrined in every State Constitution (as well as the Federal Constitution) guaranteeing an accused person (known legally as a “pre-trail detainee”) a reasonable bond, the accusers know that the easiest way to maintain the status quo on the “conveyor belt of justice” is to simply extort a plea bargain out of a defendant. Denying a defendant their freedom before their guilt has even been proven is the easiest way for a prosecutor to get the most “bang for their buck”. They get a guilty plea to add to their statistical conviction ration (to show off on their resume at their private practice job interview) without even having to spend the time preparing a case for trial. In Raequan’s case, because of the trumped up charges he had spent 9 months in jail (unable to pay his bond) and away from his life. I was incensed at the blatant injustice and was capable enough to file him a Bill of Particulars which asks the Commonwealth for their theory of the case. In my amateurish way, I pointed out that not a single element of the charge met the statutory requirements for a first degree crime. The judge immediately amended the charge to a Class D Wanton Endangerment and that day his bond went from 100,000 to O.R. (Own Recognizance or no bond). If this hadn’t happened, Raequan could have spent another 12 months awaiting his trial date, and right before his trial the Prosecutor would have come to his court appointed attorney (that he’s only met once) and offered him the Class D Wanton Endangerment charge in exchange for a guilty plea. And Raequan in his ignorance — like so many others — would have taken the deal to get out of jail, consequently making himself a young, black, male, teenage felon. But hey, at least he’d be out of jail… see how easily that works? He went home that day which eliminated the Prosecutor’s leverage. If you look at our “justice” system, I mean really look at it, you see it for what it is — Incentivized Capitalism. And that is essential to my point.
Police departments get their funding allotted to them based upon their statistical arrest data — thus, there is a monetary incentive to arrest people (ever heard of arrest quotas? Wonder why there is such a thing?) The Prosecutors fall in line because their jobs in the private sector — or future political ambitions — depend on maintaining a high statistical conviction ratio. Judges and Public Defenders (PD) are notoriously overwhelmed with burdensome caseloads and merely want to clear their dockets. When I was in County Jail, each PD had a caseload of approximately 300 – 500 clients. During the course of their cases, typically lasting between 18 – 36 months, the defendants without the means to afford representation met their PD an average of 3 times. The easiest way to clear the dockets is to fall in line with the Plea Extortion racket. And for anyone who is not familiar with the “for profit” prison industry, this industrial complex has a net profit of 4 BILLION dollars a year. There is an incentive at every stage of the process to deprive a citizen of their liberty — FOR MONEY! To incarcerate a citizen is to profit off of their misfortune (engineered or actual). Right here in the “land of the Free” and the “home of the Brave” it’s profitable to deprive citizens of their FREEDOM.
I ask you dear reader to consider that realization through my eyes. I gave my life to my country. I bled for her and took life for her. I watched my brothers die for her because I believed that our system was worth dying to preserve… But I was simply swept up in the illusion of the Land of the Free. Socialized from birth to believe in our own greatness. I recall a 4th of July speech by Fredrick Douglas in which he condemns American citizens for bombastically celebrating their freedom and touting their greatness whilst enslaving peer land condoning their deprivation of freedom. One day, many years ago, I woke up in a cell. Innocent of what I had been accused of, broken and dishonored but guilty of challenging the “unquestionable” authority of someone with a badge. Broken, dishonored and alone, I realized that my lifelong faith in the American Justice system was sorely misplaced. I remember looking at the young Raequan, just a teenager blindly accepting his circumstances and I committed my greatest folly once again. I said No.
I could go on forever about these injustices, but I won’t. Like Mike Pence said at the VP Debate, most Americans blindly trust in the “justice” system. And I am just a “convict” who has lost his credibility. But I have seen and experience these things personally. Many of you know my story, but most are unaware of just how INSANE and CORRUPT our “justice” system is. Our politicians are not incentivized to change the status quo because “out of sight, out of mind” is an old American mantra. As our country becomes more socially aware, I hope that we — the forgotten — do not slip through the cracks. I hope someone hears me… hears US. If not for mine, or your own sakes, then for the sakes of our children. So that they don’t live in a world where freedom is just a fallacy. Incentivized Incarceration for profit is just that — the antithesis of what it is supposed to mean to be an American.
Thanks for enduring my drivel one more time.
Ranger RLTW! (Rangers Lead the Way)