Archive for February, 2011

28
Feb
11

no laughing matter

The other day I was talking with one of Alex King’s attorneys who said he doesn’t read newspapers anymore.

“I get my news from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report,” I replied. It was a jovial moment, and I didn’t mention Public Radio which, like Comedy Central’s fake news programs, I also stream.

Sometimes the news is so disheartening, though, the only way to swallow the bitter pill without gagging is to take it down with a sweet swig of humor.

While researching the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” the other day, I read about Tim, an 11-year-old middle schooler in Arvada Colorado, who last October was arrested and hauled away in handcuffs for drawing stick figures in school.

Tim’s therapist had told him to draw pictures when he got upset, rather than disrupting the class. Tim is being treated for Attention Deficit Disorder, and the school knew it. So Tim drew stick figures of himself with a gun pointed at four other stick figures, and the words “teacher must die.”

Tim felt better and was throwing the picture away when the teacher saw it and sent him to the principal’s office. After it was determined that Tim posed no threat, school officials notified his parents, and returned him to class.

So it was a shock to his mom when the police showed up that night, handcuffed Tim, and took him away in a squad car to jail. Tim’s mother begged police to let her drive her son to the police department and to let her stay with him through the booking process, but they refused. At the jail Tim was booked and fingerprinted, his mug shot was taken, and they put him in a cell. Tim says he thought he would never be able to go home again.

He was charged with a third degree misdemeanor—“interfering with staff and students at an educational facility.”

I don’t know about you, but stories like this make my blood boil. My first reaction was that the best next place where a school shooting should take place is Arvada Colorado—line up those school authorities against the wall and give ‘em a Chicago-style valentine. And these mental midgets are teaching kids?! The gene pool obviously needs some cleansing.

Then I caught myself. If I were a kid, they’d try to arrest me, too, for thinking this way.

Calm down, Dan. Get a grip. Lighten up. Be like Stephen… here’s what he ran on his Valentine’s Day show:

http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/374291/february-14-2011/the-enemy-within—toddler-edition

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Beau Brummels performing “Laugh, Laugh”

27
Feb
11

free paul henry gingerich!

I’m pleased to announce that Paul Henry’s new website has finally gone live this weekend at http://www.paulhenrygingerichtrustfund.org/ and http://www.freepaulhenrygingerich.com .

Because of delays in the trust fund paperwork, the site is not processing donations at this time—but we do hope to have this issue resolved in a few days. In the meantime, we can now begin using the site to get our message out about the true story behind the death of Philip Danner and Paul Henry’s role in trying to prevent it.

Please circulate the above links to everyone you can. This is important because the more people who visit the site now, the sooner the search engines will begin turning up the website in their search results.

Let our public campaign to Free Paul Henry now commence!

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Roger Daltrey performing “Free Me”

26
Feb
11

trouble

I’m not going to go into details at this time, but I received a phone call at the end of the day yesterday that suggests there are a number of factors which will make Alex’s deliverance from his current troubles more difficult or, at the very least, more uncertain.

As unfair as it may seem, a big thing that could affect these factors is what the media in Pensacola may choose to do with the story—and right out of the gate it does not appear that “fair and balanced” seems to be a priority for the media except in the Fox Network use of the phrase.

I have always felt that the most dangerous and hostile place for Derek or Alex to live is Pensacola. It is a place where a single drop of blood in the water will draw the sharks—a view which is unfortunately being confirmed by the biased media coverage of Alex’s fender-bender so far. The Pensacola media are predisposed to inflate any innocent error, no matter how innocuous, into a capital offense. It is just the nature of the prevalent mentality in that unhappy corner of our imperfect world.

After an initial flirtation with Pensacola, Derek wisely chose to live elsewhere. But Alex fell in love with a girl from Pensacola and moved there, which I suppose offered the additional allure of his reclaiming or restoring things denied him in the abject deprivation of his childhood—a possibility no doubt encouraged by his family, which has been deeply scarred by events since 2001. An overpowering desire for redemption is shared by them, too.

Like just about anyone who read the sensational media coverage surrounding the 2001 crime and 2002 trial, I had developed a very negative impression of the family which was not tempered until I met them and got to know them in their homes. I now feel deep compassion for them and see in them that which Derek and Alex both love. Everyone has changed and grown as a result of the family’s shared nightmare, and I respect and admire them for it.

One of the first things I did after meeting the family around the time of Derek’s release from prison was to apologize to the boys’ mother for the judgmental and hostile feelings I had harbored about her for so long. I was wrong to have believed what I read in the newspapers. Reality is always more nuanced than what the media can depict in soundbites. Like the unforgiving public in Pensacola, I had forgotten that and had succumbed to my own shallow thinking.

I can see now that one of my major tasks in the coming weeks must be to reach out to the Pensacola media and help them to develop coverage of Alex’s current troubles which will serve a deeper public understanding of the truth. The media deserve a chance to rise to their higher aspirations, too.

Like Derek’s and Alex’s family, and the boys themselves, the community must be given an opportunity to grow and better itself through this tragedy and what it has to teach us all.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Cat Stevens performing “Trouble”

25
Feb
11

time out

By evening yesterday, I’d worked myself into a pretty dark mood. Dealing with Alex’s situation was pretty frustrating as I kept thinking on and off all day of him being caged in the Escambia County Jail—and for what?! There were other frustrations, too. I kept thinking of Paul Henry caged. And Jordan.

All these kids locked up by uncaring bureaucratic systems that seem designed to only inflict damage and harm… absolutely resistant to common sense… systems that just seem to magnify human stupidity… callousness… brutality.

Life’s not fair and yesterday there wasn’t that much I could do about it. It just got to be too much, so I took a time out and went looking for new music that might lift my spirits.

I found a Belgian girls’ choir called Scala that was just the medicine I needed.

 

These girls hail from the city of Aarschot and perform under the direction of two classically-trained brothers named Steven (piano) and Stijn (conductor) Kolacny, who had a vision of a young women’s chorus performing imaginatively reworked covers of songs made popular by Radiohead, U2, Rammstein, Nirvana, etc., as well as original compositions.

 

Since Scala’s first rehearsal in 1996, the chorus has become a sensation, an international phenomenon. They’ll be touring the US in April.

Maybe they’ll lift your spirits too.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Scala & Kolacny Brothers performing “Ohne Dich”

23
Feb
11

unforgiven

I learned only yesterday that Alex King is back in jail again and facing the possibility of a revocation of his probation.

He was involved in a minor traffic accident shortly after midnight last Thursday morning February 17th, and fled the scene on foot. A little later at a Pensacola apartment complex, he was arrested and charged with violation of right of way, leaving the scene of a crash, and violation of a driver’s license restriction; was placed in the Escambia County Jail; released on a $1,000 bond; and then rearrested the next day when it had been learned that he’d tested positive for opiates—a parole violation. He is now being held without bail in the county jail until his appearance at a March 25th hearing where the court will decide if he goes back to prison, spends time in jail, or is returned to probation.

All that I know about Alex’s situation is based on the little that Derek was able to tell me and other particulars gleaned from Florida media reports. I’m not a newspaper reporter, so I’m not going to run through all of the details of the accident except to say that Alex was with a friend and that no one in either car was seriously injured.

My main concern at this point is what the State of Florida is going to make of this and how it will impact Alex’s future. Alex is on five years’ probation through 2013 for a 2005 “escape attempt” at Okeechobee Juvenile Corrections Center, where he was serving a seven year sentence for the murder of his father. Following this incident in which he spent a night in a classroom in the facility after escaping from his cell, Alex served out his full term as a model prisoner. The five year probation sentence was wisely applied instead of additional prison time which would probably have resulted in his demoralization, ruination, and loss to the world.

Today I’ll be calling key people in his support network to make sure Alex receives the help he will need to make the best of this situation. I’ll be spending the day figuring out what additional things you and I will need to do to help him get through this in one piece.

Alex is a very smart kid, but in some ways very lacking in the kinds of experience that you and I take for granted. He spent his whole childhood in prison.

The first prison was created by his father, where he was isolated without friends and outside contacts except for Rick Chavis, a pedophile adult who preyed on the boy and manipulated Alex into convincing Derek to vent his rage by murdering their father who stood in the way of Chavis’ domination of Alex.

The second prison—two facilities, actually—was provided by the State of Florida where Alex was surrounded by dysfunctional people who were negative role models as bad in their own ways as was Chavis.

There is precious little in Alex’s early life to help him negotiate this difficult transition from prison to freedom and self-responsibility. His father was a man who was overwhelmed and continually defeated by small problems. It is only since Alex’s release in 2008—just three years ago—that Alex has been surrounded by good people who have been positive role models. After spending 85% of his life in dysfunction, it should be no surprise to anyone that these positive influences have been insufficient to prevent this relatively minor stumble and lapse of judgment. A parole violation and traffic accident are not violent or serious crimes.

I made the mistake of reading through public comments made to the stories of Alex’s re-arrest, and I am dismayed at the ignorance and intolerance and meanness of people. I don’t understand how people who have never lifted a finger to help Alex can be exhibiting such umbrage over this recent incident. They make it so abundantly clear that, no matter what he has and continues to suffer, Alex is still unforgiven and being held to a standard that few people can or do live up to in their own lives.

If anyone is “entitled” to be pissed off at Alex, it would be me if I were so inclined. Hell, I have invested huge amounts of time in him and raised large amounts of money to help with Alex’s legal defense for the escape charge. Yes, I am disappointed this has happened, but I am not disappointed in him.

Alex is doing the best that he knows how to do. Everyone and everything in his early life failed him, and it is utterly retarded for anyone to now feel that he has somehow let us down.

When the time comes that I ask you to help, I hope you will please join me in once again showing Alex that we still believe in him and will cover his back.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Talk Talk performing “I Believe In You”

(postscript)

I’ve spent a couple hours on the phone talking with Alex’s mother, parole officer, etc., and it appears the “opiates” detected were a medication for which Alex had a prescription and had taken for the pain associated with cracked ribs sustained in the accident. So, contrary to the impression being stirred up in the media tempest, Alex had not been partying that night and panicked for more complex reasons based on his prior experiences with the law.

He has, in fact, been enrolled in school, getting good grades, and walking a straight-and-narrow path. The accident happened in foggy conditions while Alex and his friend were driving a short distance to a convenience store.

The hate-mongers in Pensacola will believe what they will, but the truth is that Alex is a good kid who is simply being dogged by his unfortunate past.

22
Feb
11

change agents

It is looking like people all over the world are losing patience with their leaders.

Crowds have taken to the streets in the Middle East and are toppling their governments. An epidemic of joblessness among the world’s educated young people is resulting in resentment and restlessness with the status quo. Protesters and renegade lawmakers in Wisconsin have brought the work of that state’s legislature to a standstill. Reactionary forces almost everywhere are beginning to yield.

Even in my work, I can see that the number of Guardians in Indiana’s state prison system is increasing. The Children’s Hope and Voice network has grown by almost 50% in the last few weeks.

Unrest and insurrection are in the air everywhere. Youth is on the march. Fresh young ideas are coming to the forefront. For better or worse, individual people are taking matters into their own hands as their perplexed and geriatric leaders stand by in helpless disbelief.

Just as the cycle of the solar year entered the fortnight of Sigel ten days ago, the 54-year economic/political cycle has entered its period of Sigel. People are beginning to see the light. The pulse of change is quickening. We are entering a period which will be characterized by the irresistible ascendancy of change agents.

Authority has no choice but to either facilitate change or get out of the way.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan performing “Change It”

21
Feb
11

shackles

 

“I guess this means I’m family,” I said, after Eva handed me the near-empty chocolate ice cream container and a spoon.

Jerry’s the only other person I’ve seen eating the remains of an ice cream batch out of that container. I felt honored, and Eva wasn’t even going to charge me.

Eva claimed there wasn’t enough ice cream left to fill a single order, but I’m not so sure of that. It seemed like a regular double-order to me, except this time I had to pay attention and not get chocolate on my forearm (brown knuckles were unavoidable).

I like to think of myself as being so damned free and independent, but the truth is my heart is chained to the Shack. I rely on my daily visit there in the same way a prisoner in solitary confinement must rely on his one-hour shackled release to the exercise yard.

There’s a parallel there, but no comparability. My own solitude is so much pleasanter than a prisoner’s.

I’ve been hearing about the anguish being suffered by 15-year-old Colt Lundy now that he is in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. The boy’s torture and mental deterioration have been like uninvited shade-like visitors at the door. I wish they would go away and leave me in peace.

The other night, Colt was so distraught that the only way he could be silenced is the prison authorities shot him up with drugs. These shades are menacing and they will not leave me alone.

I wish I could send the kid some of Eva’s “Love Shack” ice cream. Colt needs a shot or two of love each day, not a solution from a syringe.

I wish the shades would go to Judge Reed’s door instead.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Ramones performing “I Wanna Be Sedated”

20
Feb
11

city on the hill

One of the most stunning realizations coming out of my youth justice work is that it’s the so-called “foreigners” of the world who are giving more of themselves to see juvenile justice reform happen in America than most Americans are.

You can see it in the comments to this Diary. Gloria is from Spain. Dani is from South Africa. “JC” is a Frenchman living in Japan. Wolfgang is from Germany, usw.

It was Wolfgang, in fact, who alerted me to the existence of Paul Henry and, judging from the “feel” of developments over the last two months, who has profoundly changed my life. I have never even met the man, and yet it was at his direction that I chose a fork in my path that has caused me to make some particular lifelong commitments.

As I look at the major donors to Jordan Brown’s trust fund—those individuals who have given $1,000 or more—without exception they are all people from Europe and Canada.

Americans have given in large numbers compared to the number of donors from other countries—and I do not say this to in any way imply that I am not grateful for their generosity—but the gifts from Americans have been smaller amounts which are infrequently more than $50 and rarely over $100.

With ample justification we Americans believe ourselves to be a generous people. We’re not stingy. No, my comparison of gift sizes results in a measure of another phenomenon entirely.

It is, I think, an indicator of our sense of resignation as a nation.

It is a measure of how much abuse we have been conditioned to tolerate in our and our families’ lives. It’s a measure of how much we’ll put up with, how out-of-our-ways we are willing to go to accommodate official insults to our sense of morality, offenses that betray and compromise our most cherished values.

It’s a measure of how much we fool ourselves into believing that we are free.

I have the strongest impression that these foreigners believe in American values more than we do. It is as if they are drawn to the image of America as a gleaming city on the hill, and upon entering the city discover that its streets are choked with filth and criminals and desperate masses of paupers.

We who live in the city long ago adopted a cynical view of the realities of living at the gleaming summit in what we know is only a sham stage set. We have long ago accepted that the only substantial palaces in our gleaming city are inhabited by the dynastic princes of finance, commerce, and industry. We who are milling in the streets have long been accustomed to having to be satisfied with the scraps and leftovers doled out from the palace kitchen doors.

Thus, as we look around and see that even our own children are suffering in this ruthless reality—drugged in their homes, tormented in their schools, and raped in their prison cells—we shrug our shoulders and say: “Welcome to the real world, kid. Shit happens. Grow up. Look out for yourself. It’s either you or the other guy.”

When we see the throngs of street waifs, maybe we throw a few zinc coins to assuage our consciences, but we keep the copper, silver and gold for our own.

A curious thing is happening, however. “Our own” are increasingly being counted among the waifs, and being treated as if they have no value, and deserve no respect, in our city on the hill.

As Gloria points out in her comments to yesterday’s post, the United States has 4% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. Childlike behavior is being criminalized in the schools, and a growing number of children are being funneled into the criminal justice system for offenses as trivial as farting in class or as blameless as exhibiting autistic behavior. Children as young as eight are being treated more harshly than adult serial killers (in Arizona by the same prosecutor)!

Why must it take a lady from Spain to awaken us to what is happening here? Are we like the frog in the pot that allows itself to be boiled alive if the water temperature is raised slowly enough?

To be totally blunt, the history of the last century shows that the Europeans did an excellent job of boiling their young. Millions of young people, whole generations really, were wiped out in the two world wars. (This diary is named after one such generation of promising young people which was exterminated in the First World War.) So I do not believe that, in becoming so highly involved in American juvenile justice, Europeans are making any claim to moral superiority.

I do think, however, that they are hyper-sensitized by their relatively recent history to what it feels like when the temperature is slowly raised. They have learned from their history, and yes, they do believe in America’s shining ideals and promise, and they can see that we are throwing it away. This is why they are so outraged by the hypocrisy they see here, and why they are supporting our children’s rights and freedom as generously and unreservedly as they do.

One of my mentors, a brilliant anthropologist, once told me that you can learn everything you need to know about a civilization by looking at just four things: how a culture raises its children, cares for its sick, treats its prisoners, and buries its dead. He said that a culture’s morality is codified in its laws.

As I measure our culture against these standards, I can only conclude that our gleaming city is a depraved and immoral place. If there’s any hope for us to rise to the ideal that one sees from afar, we must begin rebuilding the city through our children.

Achieving the ideal is a greater task than you and I will ever see in our lifetimes. It will only be achieved by succeeding generations—but only if we can begin doing better for the children who are in our hilltop city right now.

An adult who as a child never experienced justice, love, compassion or understanding would be hard-pressed to provide any of those things to his children. We human beings can only create that which we can visualize. Yet sometimes our friends can see and visualize things that we cannot. Sometimes the view from Spain or Germany is better than our hilltop view.

Thank you, distant friends, for caring so much for America’s youth and for helping us see through your eyes.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to The Beatles performing “Fool on the Hill”

19
Feb
11

overdue

Yesterday I received a call from Chris Brown encouraging me to contact one of Jordan’s lawyers about a longstanding disagreement I have had with the legal team about their approach to media relations. By any objective measure, their approach has been an unmitigated disaster, and there has been nothing I have been able to do in almost two years to get them to change course.

Even though my last phone call to Jordan’s lawyer had gone unanswered for more than three weeks, I agreed to place another call last night. “He promised he will call you back right away,” Chris assured me.

But he didn’t call back right away, and I was not surprised.

I have long since given up and moved on. The reason for my call three weeks ago—an opportunity to make an appearance on a major network news program—has probably evaporated in the intervening time. Yet as I pointed out to Chris, it probably makes little practical difference because so many such opportunities have already been squandered along the way. This one can’t make things any worse.

I will continue to proclaim Jordan’s innocence on this blog and will make necessary updates to Jordan’s website, but it is impossible for me to do any more to help as long as Jordan’s lawyers keep sandbagging efforts to get the truth out to the broader media.

There is a reason I have been the only person writing about Jordan’s innocence, and there is a reason my arguments have failed to achieve any traction in the mainstream media: the lawyers’ refusal to show the media documentary proof that the claims I have been making about the evidence are true.

From the beginning, Jordan’s lawyers have failed (or refused?) to see that the prosecution of this case has been political, and not merely legal. They have persisted in their conceit that Jordan’s exoneration and freedom can be won in the courtroom exclusively, regardless of whatever is happening in the court of public opinion. That they have been wrong has been amply proved by the prosecution’s outlandish tactics and arguments which reveal its sense of impunity—that it can get away with anything, no matter how absurd, untrue and unfair, in making its case. (For example, the interlocutory appeal to the Superior Court should never have been necessary.)

I am convinced that Jordan could have been released, and his name cleared, long before now had his case been aggressively advocated in the media from the beginning. Yet it has not, and is not, being so advocated and as a result will likely drag on and on for a long time to come.

In the meantime, poor Jordan will continue to waste away in detention and will continue to be an object of sick people’s misplaced hatred.

My personal consolation is that we have learned from this unfortunate state of affairs and have approached Paul Henry’s situation in an entirely different way. Paul Henry’s lawyer Monica Foster would never have signed on to our advocacy team had she not agreed wholeheartedly that the case should command a high profile in the media. Already—less than two months into our initiative—this aggressive strategy is proving its efficacy. I am guessing Paul Henry’s freedom will be achieved before Jordan’s.

The juvenile justice system almost everywhere in America is broken, and it makes as little sense to depend on lawyers to fix it as to rely on leeches in the treatment of disease.

A more rational and balanced approach is long overdue.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Dixie Chicks performing “Long Time Gone”

18
Feb
11

no way

If anyone needs an explanation of how it is possible that the wrongful prosecutions of the young people I have been writing about can be happening in America, you must view a Frontline program I just streamed last night: ”The Confessions,” the story about the so-called “Norfolk Four”—young Navy men who were coerced by Norfolk VA police into making false confessions implicating themselves in a 1997 rape/murder with which they had nothing to do and for which a sexual predator—unknown and unrelated to them and linked to the crime by DNA—confessed.

It is the ultimate story of the police dreaming up a crime scenario and then twisting the truth and coercing malleable people to get the answers they wanted, regardless of the physical evidence or rational common sense. It is the ultimate example of a prosecutor pursuing a conviction for its own sake, and by any means necessary, without any respect for truth or regard for the lives and welfare of the innocent people who stood in the way of his winning in the adversarial arena of the courtroom.

Here’s the link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/the-confessions/. It is worth your time and attention.

There are two obvious villains in this story:

Former Norfolk VA police detective Robert Glenn Ford, who extorted the false confessions and has since been found guilty by a US District Court of extorting money from defendants in exchange for getting them favorable treatment. Sentencing is scheduled for a week from today.

Former Norfolk Commonwealth Prosecutor D.J. Hansen, who joined the Chesapeake Commonwealth’s Attorney Office in 2001, where he continues to lead the state’s wrongful prosecution of the Norfolk Four case despite overwhelming evidence that his original prosecution was an egregious error. Some guys are simply too small to admit they could be wrong, and have too little moral backbone to be true to what’s right rather than who’s right.

Yet there is a third “villain,” too—and I hope you will not accuse me of grinding an unrelated axe. My question is this: how is it possible that detective Ford, who by all accounts was a skilled and aggressive interrogator whose methods drew heavily on proven torture techniques (the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, intimidation, etc.), could have succeeded in gaining multiple false confessions from four sailors who had nothing to do with the crime?

The answer is: The young men’s schooling.

The young men had been conditioned by their schooling to be compliant to authority, and this compliance and malleability had been used and reinforced in their military service. One of the innocent men was so passive and mentally slow that he eventually believed he did have something to do with the crime. In every case, the coerced confession carried more weight in court than objective evidence—who in the world, the question was asked repeatedly, would ever confess to a rape and murder if one weren’t guilty?

The answer is: Victims of operant conditioning such as is delivered in our schools!

As I watched this Frontline episode and its interviews of these unfortunate young men who had bought themselves up to eleven years of wrongful imprisonment by caving in to the demands of their interrogator, I kept saying to myself that I would not have been capable of making the same mistake. But then, I have always been a “failed” product of American schooling. (The only time I was ever suspended from school was for insubordination—and I’m still proud I stood my ground!) I have always had a problem with authority, which is one of the main reasons why I live in this desert mountain “no man’s land” outside the grasp of almost all authority.

In the coming weeks I will be writing about a phenomenon in America that some are calling the “School-to-Prison Pipeline,” a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from appropriate educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out. “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while high-stakes testing programs encourage school administrators to push out low-performing students to improve their schools’ overall test scores.

To this point, the main focus on the Pipeline has come from civil libertarians who view the phenomenon as mainly impacting Black and Hispanic and “Special Education” kids—but this identifies only the tip of the problem.

The vast majority of young people who are damaged by the School-to-Prison Pipeline—a strategic design continuum—are normal whitebread kids who never get in trouble, who tow the line and maybe even become obedient sailors and soldiers or schoolteachers.

As this Frontline episode makes so clear, the most effective means of imprisonment is mental. We are becoming a nation of slaves with invisible shackles and chains which are forged in the schools.

We’re only slaves if we agree to be.

And I say “No Way!”

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Charlatans (UK) performing “A Man Needs To Be Told”

(ps)

Please go to the comments to today’s post to see a just-received message about Jordan Brown from a man who needs to be told a thing or two–then do what you will.




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