Archive for February, 2012

29
Feb
12

heat wave—and getting hotter!

I hope you folks who are still shoveling snow won’t hate me for telling you this, but last night was the first night in my (failing) memory that I slept with the windows open and without propane burning. Glory hallelujah.

Oh, I have no illusions. There will be more cold weather after this, but last night is a major milestone.

Another—and I heard it on the street—is that, barring any more interference from the state inspector, Jerry and Eva are hosting a Sunday night supper this weekend and will reopen the Grub Shack next Monday morning after their year-long forced hiatus, thanks to Big Brother.

So life appears to be improving and getting easier and more agreeable for those of us out here who are not evading Obama’s ICE agents and secret police.

It’s Leap Year and I’m going to take the day off from writing. I’ve got some phone work to do, plus it wouldn’t hurt to do a little work around the house. There’s a sink full of dirty dishes waiting for me.

Maybe you can find a good excuse to play hookey, too.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Diana Ross and the Supremes performing “Heat Wave”

 

Blade Reed Update

A high official of the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) called today and informed me that Wabash Valley Correctional Institution is removing Blade from solitary confinement today and returning him to the D Unit.

While this is a major step in improving the conditions under which Blade is being held, it is by no means a complete solution.  We will continue encouraging and pressuring IDOC to place Blade in a setting that is more appropriate for a young person with his particular disabilities and special needs.

The most important things you can do are to (1) sign the petition at the link below and (2) continue writing letters to officials, reminding them that the whole world is watching, and will continue to watch, until Blade is finally in a safe setting where he will receive the rehabilitative services he needs and is protected from any further sexual abuse and violence.

In addition to pursuing legal remedies, we will continue turning up the political heat until this situation is fixed. We are thankful for your help and support over the last few days in stoking the fires. We are also extremely thankful that top IDOC officials are taking this seriously and working with us in good faith.

We’re making progress. We are doing good things together. Blade is better off because of you. Thank you most sincerely.

 

(Postscript)

It is 24+ hours since my conversation with the IDOC official, and Blade has still not been moved from solitary confinement. We have been unable to learn what exactly is going on within IDOC. It is a large bureaucracy and we have witnessed serious wrongdoing among the lower-level staff that is in violation of any number of laws, both state and federal.

You can be sure some elements of the organization are in a high-alert defensive mode. It is now more critical than ever that you sign the petition, write letters, and make phone calls to demonstrate to IDOC that whatever they may do will be happening in the full light of public scrutiny. This situation has moved into a high-stakes phase. Blade’s safety depends on you.

Please Sign the Petition!

https://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-torture-of-autistic-juvenile-blade-reed-in-the-wabash-prison

28
Feb
12

things to come

Yesterday it was announced that children under the supervision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) will no longer be housed in a privately-run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement under the terms of a groundbreaking settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
 
The lawsuit charged that conditions at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, operated by GEO Group, Inc., the nation’s second-largest private prison corporation and which houses youth convicted as adults, are unconstitutional.

The federal court in Jackson MS will enter a consent decree on March 22, which will likely be remembered as the beginning of the end in the US of torturing kids with solitary confinement. This is the first time a federal court will have categorically banned a state from subjecting young people to this morally reprehensible practice.

View the ACLU’s press announcement here: http://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/groundbreaking-federal-consent-decree-will-prohibit-solitary-confinement-youth.

The decree will ban Mississippi’s use of solitary confinement as a form of punishment for anyone under the age of 18, even if they were convicted as adults. Furthermore, it will require that kids convicted as adults are to be housed in facilities governed by juvenile justice rather than adult standards. MDOC will be required to provide the youth with a broad variety of rehabilitative services and strong protections from sexual abuse and violence—exactly what we are demanding for Blade Reed in Indiana.

While in solitary, youths are held in almost complete isolation and sensory deprivation with virtually no human contact, without books, paper or pens, radios, pictures, access to television or any kind of recreational activity, and are denied all visits, telephone calls and even mail from their families. As we have seen with Blade Reed at the Wabash Valley Correctional Institution, if prison staff tags a kid as suicidal—which they often do with punitive motives—that kid is stripped naked and denied a mattress, which is more likely to drive a kid to suicide than to help improve his state of mind.

At the same time that this announcement was coming out of Mississippi, Indiana officials were engaged in a disinformation campaign addressed to those of us who have written to the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDOC) about Blade Reed’s mistreatment.

In an identical form letter sent to at least two of our people, Ombudsman Bureau director Charlene Burkett, a direct appointee of Governor Mitch Daniels, made the following assertions which we know to be patently untrue: that Blade “has adjusted well in the unit where he is placed. He has received education and has done well working with administrators. They actually bring school directly to him and he is reportedly doing quite well and is working towards receiving a GED, which seems to be inconsistent with any claims of him being severely Autistic.”

In point of fact, Blade functions mentally below the level of a 12-year-old, his autism is thoroughly documented and known to IDOC, he is failing in his GED efforts, he is being harassed and tormented by the prison staff who report to the administrators with whom Blade is supposedly working so well, and he has adjusted so poorly to his adult prison setting that he has made at least two suicide attempts and was, in fact, under a suicide watch at the very time that Ms. Burkett was making her disingenuous, incredible claims.

This “ombudsman” is obviously not an honest broker, but a public relations flack assigned to the impossible task of holding back the changing tide. Ms Burkett, either tell the truth or please just keep your mouth shut! You are only making a bad situation worse and destroying your personal credibility (and possibly your career).

The situation at Wabash has taken a turn for the worse. In a shake-down yesterday of Blade’s cell, a sharp file was planted by the guards, who proceeded to call Blade a “little fucker,” a “disgrace to the human race,” and who threatened: “We ought to kill you, you little bastard.” We know the nail file was a plant; otherwise Blade would have used it last week when he tried to cut his wrists with his fingernails.

Time is running out and the situation is rapidly deteriorating. Blade is stressed and scared.

Many of us who work as juvenile justice advocates have had a growing sense that society is approaching a “tipping point” where we will collectively realize that the “justice” and “corrections” industries have gone terribly, horrendously wrong in America—so wrong that we subject many of our own children to torture in the delusional belief that we are disciplining them into better people… a degeneracy no less mad than the incestuous father who claims he is teaching his daughter to become a good wife by raping her.

“Based on available data, there are at least 80,000 prisoners in isolated confinement on any given day in America’s prisons and jails, including some 25,000 in long-term solitary in supermax prisons,” according to Solitary Watch. This estimate is prisoners of all ages; the portion which is juveniles is not known.

“It’s been known for a long time that prolonged solitary confinement causes terrible suffering and psychiatric breakdown even in mature healthy adults—let alone in emotionally vulnerable children and teenagers,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the ACLU National Prison Project. Solitary confinement worsens pre-existing mental illness and disabilities in kids like Blade, and kids under the age of 18 are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of solitary.

“It devours the victims incessantly and unmercifully,” Alexis de Tocqueville reported more than 180 years ago from a prison in New York. “It does not reform, it kills.”

The effects are so well understood that international law recognizes that solitary confinement can rise to torture and now prohibits solitary confinement of any person under the age of 18, strongly condemning it as a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment.

Tragically, the United States has been moving in the opposite direction: since the 1990s, 47 states have actually made it easier to try kids as adults and to incarcerate them in the same harsh and dangerous conditions to which adults are subjected.

Yet this Mississippi ruling is a harbinger of things to come that will eventually sweep across the nation, including Indiana. As we know, the courts in each state unfortunately move at a glacial pace, and every state has legions of professional liars who, like Ms. Burkett, are assigned to carry out delaying actions that will only forestall the inevitable.

But Blade is running out of time right now. He cannot wait for the courts to grind through their process nor for public perception and political pressure to overcome the resistance offered by bureaucrats who paper over the state’s official brutalities. Blade needs relief now.

I got out my calculator and found that only 1 in 5 of those who have visited the Diary in the last 3 days have gone on to the petition site and signed on. I had hoped we might do better than this. Maybe it’s my fault for not being more persuasive.

I implore you to please take an extra two minutes right now to click on this link and sign the petition to stop the torture of Blade Reed at Wabash. Even though he has been released from the “strip cell,” he is still being held in solitary confinement. We must break past the barrier of official lies and get him out. Your small investment of time may help to save his life. Seriously. Truthfully.

Please visit this link now and sign the petition for Blade Reed!

https://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-torture-of-autistic-juvenile-blade-reed-in-the-wabash-prison 

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Knickerbockers performing “Lies”

27
Feb
12

lebensunwertes leben

Yesterday one of our readers from Germany took me to task for yesterday’s post, “Namaste”, concerned that my urgings that we should look for and address the Divine spark in our adversaries might be interpreted by some to mean that we should back off on the intensity of our attack.

No, no, no… this is not what I meant at all.

If anything, my call was—and is—for a more surgical and strategic approach, an arguably more intense attack, on the forces of evil which dominate our nation’s interlinked “news & entertainment”, “education”, “law enforcement”, “justice”, and “corrections” industries.

In my view, the American system of industrial-strength social control and economic exploitation is the mature embodiment of design concepts pioneered eighty years ago by the likes of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, among others.

Put more bluntly, we’ve out-nazied the Nazis, and most Americans don’t even realize it.

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, we cling to the comfort of our “Land of the Free” mythology while our freedoms are being gradually and systematically eroded away with our passive assent. We do not sound the alarm because, in part, we have failed to learn from a history obfuscated by other myths promulgated by certain powerful political interests. For example, most people do not realize that the notorious “extermination camps” in WWII Europe were established with the primary purpose of being slave labor camps. Yes, hundreds of thousands died in the camps, but many more thousands were imprisoned and slaved there. I wonder if there wouldn’t be a greater outcry about America’s growing prison-industrial complex if more of our citizens understood its pedigree?

I wonder if the system’s treatment of so many young people like Blade Reed as “throw-away kids” wouldn’t be more widely and more vociferously condemned if people recognized its similarity to the Nazi concept of Lebensunwertes Leben (“life unworthy of life”), which was used to imprison, sterilize, and euthanize people who were labeled criminal, degenerate, dissident, feeble-minded, homosexual, idle, insane, weak, etc., thereby eliminating them from the chain of heredity? If more people recognized this connection, even law-and-order types would not be so quick to accept children being charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned as adults—sometimes for life without the possibility of parole—which is our way of saying that some kids’ lives are “unworthy of life.”

When he was a young man before the war, one of my mentors was a member of a delegation of young Christians who had secured, through the intercession of a couple of Hitler’s close friends, an audience with Heinrich Himmler. They were attempting to affect a change of heart in the Reichsführer, an effort doomed from the start. They had not done their homework. They were too full of themselves and their own fervor. They did not appreciate the depths of hatred that Himmler harbored for Christianity, that their earnest pleas would be dismissed out of hand. If they had been a group of young Germanic pagans espousing Aryan ideals, they might have gotten Himmler to listen. They might have been able to touch the Divine spark that, yes, even resided in the Reichsführer’s black heart. But all they got for their troubles was Himmler’s piercing, burning, hateful stare.

If we are to marshal forces for change, we must understand precisely where to concentrate our resources in time and space, where to strike and why. Such targeting requires a thorough knowledge of our adversaries, their strengths, weaknesses, motives, and desires. And it requires sincere respect and empathy from us. Otherwise we will miss the mark and change will remain a vague and hopeless dream.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Cee Lo Green performing “Kung Fu Fighting”

 

Please visit this link now and sign the petition for Blade Reed!

https://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-torture-of-autistic-juvenile-blade-reed-in-the-wabash-prison 

26
Feb
12

namaste

From the high number of visits and comments on yesterday’s post, I know you have been anxiously waiting for new word on the developing situation with Blade Reed and the Wabash Valley Correctional Institution. Thanks to your interest and to the energetic efforts of some dedicated people, I am pleased to report there has been improvement.

Last night Stephen phoned me to say that Blade’s attorney spent four hours on the phone yesterday with officials at Wabash, who moved Blade from the “strip cell” to a normal (slightly more comfortable) cell in the solitary confinement unit. We surmise the prison officials got wind of our nascent petition campaign because the attorney told us “they were too agreeable. Getting Blade moved wasn’t all my doing,” she said.

If you have been out to the petition site, you will have seen that we already have more than 300 signatures, which is a respectable overnight result. (This is only the first day of the campaign.) You will have also seen that our campaign director Melissa Higgins has written a forceful argument invoking US and international law, which gives IDOC officials a sneak peek at the world of trouble they could create for themselves by setting in their heels and resisting a humanitarian resolution.

We didn’t plan it this way, but today the Indianapolis Star ran a front-page story about Paul Henry Gingerich and how well he is faring in IDOC’s Pendleton high-security youth prison.

(Check out Bobby King’s excellent article and more than 30 photographs at: http://www.indystar.com/article/20120226/NEWS02/202260353/What-life-like-14-year-old-killer-tried-an-adult?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|News.)

The contrast between Paul Henry Gingerich’s and Blade Reed’s situations could not be greater. It is stunning to consider the glaring differences between the circumstances of two of our boys, one placed in an abusive and shameworthy adult prison environment, and the other placed in a nurturing and praiseworthy youth prison environment—and this object lesson within the concentrated time period of a single weekend cannot be lost on IDOC officials.

I hope you will come to the same conclusions as I have: that first, adult prison is no place for a child, no matter how serious that child’s offense might be; and second, that IDOC does have it within its makeup and ability to do the right thing. Blade’s experience proves the first point and Paul Henry’s proves the second.

Blade’s condition has already improved since he was moved out of the “strip cell” last night. In a morning phone call to Stephen, Blade reported, “I’m tired, but I did sleep some last night. I’m still upset. I just wish they (the guards) would leave me alone. I just want to go back to D Unit (his original, non-solitary-confinement cell block).”

Stephen said he could hear some slight improvement in Blade’s tone of voice. “He sounded like he had a little more bounce in his step,” Stephen said. “I’m cautiously optimistic and keeping my fingers crossed.”

We want Blade to be transferred into the youth correction system so he will have access to the rehabilitation, mental health, and education services he needs to develop into a whole and complete person. If Blade stays at Wabash and continues to be treated as a throw-away kid, he will be transformed into a warped, damaged, and unredeemable beast.

I want to close out this post with a general admonishment to all of us. We have a tremendous battle ahead of us for Blade Reed’s redemption. It is likely to become very heated and, at times, even vicious. Last night and today I reviewed your comments, some of which were seething with righteous anger. But please let us not get carried away with emotion and disrespect those who would be our opponents.

We have law, morality, and ethics on our side, and I have no doubt that we will eventually prevail. But remember, we must appeal to the good which is within our opponents in order for them to freely change. We must always stand for What Is Right, not Who Is Right. If we want the prisons in Indiana and elsewhere to embrace a philosophy of rehabilitation and powerful new redemptive models, we must model that philosophy in how we wage our battles.

It is my profound privilege to be friends with a particular prisoner, Nathan Ybanez, who was incarcerated as a 16-year-old with a life-without-parole sentence in Colorado. He is 30 years old now and has lived nearly half his life in prison. Contrary to what one would normally expect, prison has transformed Nathan into a wise and holy young man.

In every letter he writes to me, he uses the Sanskrit greeting “Namaste,” which expresses the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us in the heart chakra, an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

It is my hope that, even in the heat of conflict, we will follow Nathan’s example by looking for and appealing to that Divine spark which resides in the hearts of our adversaries. This is an attitude of strength, not weakness, which cannot be resisted.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Little Peggy Marsh performing “I Will Follow Him”

25
Feb
12

suicide watch

Since February 2 when Blade Reed was goaded into taking a swing at another kid in the Wabash Valley Correctional Institution’s youthful offender wing, it’s been like watching a train wreck happening in slow motion.

Now I’m sorry I haven’t told you anything about this before now, but we were afraid the prison staff would carry out reprisals against the kid if we were to make any waves.

The staff has always reserved particular cruelties for Blade, but now it seems to us that the best way to protect him is to bring attention to the inhumane brutalities to which he is being subjected.

Right now things couldn’t get much worse for Blade, who is now in a “strip cell” in the solitary confinement unit without anything at all to occupy or calm him—that is, it couldn’t get worse unless the authorities were to take away his underwear or give him a razor blade (as has happened before). They’re tormenting a vulnerable, mentally-disabled juvenile.

This is state-sanctioned torture… and to what end?

The authorities would tell you they’re punishing Blade for fighting per standard IDOC procedure, and teaching him that fighting doesn’t wash at Wabash. But my take on it is that they’re meting out special treatment designed to break him or kill him, demanding behavior from Blade with which, as an autistic kid, he is not wired to comply. Despite his 16 years, Blade Reed has been evaluated and documented as functioning mentally somewhere around the level of a 10-year-old. He was functioning at an 8-year-old level at the time he was arrested and charged as an adult for his role as an accessory in a murder committed by his older brother, who called all the shots in his domineering relationship with Blade.

The incident that has landed Blade in solitary confinement was initiated by another prisoner who has taken on the torment of Blade Reed as a special pastime. He knows Blade’s hot buttons and knows that he can goad Blade into reacting to harassment that will get Blade punished much more severely than he will be punished. The authorities have consistently failed to keep Blade and his tormenter separated, and they appear to allow situations to escalate until Blade predictably does something stupid.

The other boy was confined to his cell for only five days without phone or recreation privileges; Blade was sent off to solitary confinement until April 5, where he is deprived of much more than phone and recreation, and subjected to conditions including sleep depravation that exacerbate his mental health issues.

With the full knowledge of the prison’s top administrators, a hearing was held on February 8, whereupon Blade was placed in “Disciplinary Segregation,” which is a prison euphemism for solitary confinement. From past experience, the authorities know this only makes Blade’s state of mind worse. This time, as a concession to help ameliorate the negative impact isolation would have on Blade’s wellbeing, the administration promised they would allow Blade to have a radio with headphones (which Stephen and Mrs. Reed paid for), but it was never delivered by the prison commissary.

Blade’s mother visited him on February 11, just three days into his solitary confinement, and she reported that Blade looked terrible. She said he had bags under eyes and drawn features. She said he seemed to be suffering.

Since Blade’s isolation began, Stephen has received two letters from Blade. The first one seemed upbeat and hopeful, and Blade promised to get through the ordeal the best he could. The second letter, however, seemed more ominous as Blade explained what he was facing and how it compared to his previous experiences in isolation. Some highlights:

“The last time I was here in the CCU, I had many problems. 

“#1 Most important, I got minimum to no schooling, and for the schooling I did get there was no help. I didn’t receive the material or help that I needed to learn.

“#2 Staff were constantly messing with me. I was rarely able to come out of my cell for a shower or recreation, and when I was allowed to, you know what happened.

(Note: See my previous post, “Worse than I Knew,” at:
http://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/worse-than-i-knew/.)

“#3 Recreation for us juveniles is supposed to be 2 hours a day. I was lucky to get an hour once or twice a week, when I did get it at all.

“#4 I was sprayed with mace and pepper spray twice, cell extracted, beat up, and harassed all the time by staff members.

“#5 Many times I went without eating because I was in a strip cell and staff would either not care to bring me my food or when they did bring it they would touch everything without gloves or wrappers protecting the food. 

“#6 They constantly kept me in a strip cell, for one point for over a month, and I was left naked with nothing. At one point I even went one whole week without a mattress or clothes, so I was forced to stay up for 4 days until I finally fell asleep on the steel bed.”

This morning Stephen received a phone call from Blade informing Stephen that he was being transferred from a normal solitary confinement cell to a “strip cell,” which is devoid of anything to occupy his time or make him comfortable. He has been stripped down to his underwear and does not even have a mattress. Blade has been placed on suicide watch for 72 hours because last night, having been sleep deprived for a couple nights, Blade lost it, began pounding on the door for the other inmates to stop making so much noise, and then attempted to cut his wrists with his own fingernails.

Instead of providing conditions which will allow the boy to sleep, providing some basic human comforts, providing the promised radio to help Blade occupy his mind, or exercising compassion or providing any other kindnesses, the authorities are turning up the intensity of the torment and punishments that destabilized the boy in the first place. It is not a prescription for a positive outcome.

We’ve had it, and we will remain quiet no longer. This treatment of Blade Reed by the state of Indiana is in violation of Federal laws and international conventions, and we intend to bring appropriate pressure to bear to end this outrage. But more immediately, we believe that Blade’s life is at risk and we will be organizing a campaign and publicity to get someone in authority in Indiana to intervene before it is too late.

Stay tuned as we organize our efforts and keep a vigil for Blade. If you believe in prayer, please pray for Blade—and for his captors, as well, who must experience a change of mind, heart, and behavior.

Please visit this link right now and let your voice be heard!

https://www.change.org/petitions/end-the-torture-of-autistic-juvenile-blade-reed-in-the-wabash-prison 

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Marc Streitenfeld performing “Suicide”

24
Feb
12

school is prison

Ask almost any child why they don’t like school and they will tell you (in these or equivalent words): “School is prison.”

The more bright, creative, and self-directed a child is, the more likely you are to get this answer because the “fit” between conventional schools and our highest-potential young people could not be worse.

Children learn best and most when they are free to decide and do for themselves.  Like all human beings, children crave freedom and hate to have it restricted.

They are biologically wired to use their freedom to educate themselves. (See my December 10, 2010 post, “Too Cool for School” at http://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/too-cool-for-school/, about the Sudbury Schools, where children explore and play freely and learn most of what they need to know about their physical and social world to be successful.) In conventional public schools, children are told they must stop following their interests, and instead, do only what the teacher tells them to do—which increasingly is preparing for standardized tests. This is why kids don’t like school and why school puts many of our best students to sleep.

Contrary to everything you are lead to believe, schools are designed to drum the potential out of children: they dumb down kids, extinguish creativity, and suppress initiative. Or put another way, schools are designed to “break” your child in the same sense as one breaks a wild horse for riding.

And here is the truth about schools that most parents would prefer not to acknowledge: if your child refuses to be broken, if your child’s spirit is too strong, if your child’s thinking is too independent and fearless, if your child is nonconformist and disdainful of arbitrary authority, your school is designed to ultimately and literally transition your child into real prison.

If you think I’m exaggerating, please consider this alarming fact: according to the December 5, 2011 Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 1 in 3 young people today will have been arrested by age 23—and this excludes arrests for traffic offenses. This compares to just 1 in 5 people arrested (23%) in the 1960s.

Young people today are not more lawless and criminal than in the past; most of these increased arrests are for offenses as minor as curfew violations, nonviolent drug and alcohol offenses, and normal misbehavior at school. We are criminalizing a wider range of normal human behaviors and, instead of working harder to keep kids in school, we are sending them off to prison at three times the cost to taxpayers.

Visit this site for a highly informative video about the problem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylsjGdfdyQo&feature=share.

Why is this happening? Quite simply, our society has invested in a huge build-up of prison capacity—beds to be filled—a growing proportion of which is controlled by private for-profit prison companies that are getting states to agree to occupancy guarantees in their service contracts. This increased prison capacity is fueling a relentless demand for more prisoners, and the hungry “corrections” industry (both public and private) is successfully lobbying for ever-more-severe laws concerning what is considered a crime and the length of time young offenders must be locked up for ever-more-innocuous transgressions.

The prison industry is targeting your children to meet its hungry profit goals, and it has turned to the schools to provide the mechanisms to feed its ravenous appetite for bodies to fill its cells and cots. Under the guise of “protecting” our children, police have been permanently stationed in the schools and regularly conduct intrusive searches and illegal interrogations of children outside the presence of parents, guardians, and attorneys.

The most vulnerable—children of the poor, children of color, children with learning disabilities and special needs—these are the first ones targeted, but they are by no means the only ones at risk. “Zero tolerance” policies with mandatory sanctions have been put in place for a wide range of offenses, thereby eliminating discretion and common sense as expectations for the ways that school administrators normally deal with disciplinary problems.

Children as young as four have been shackled and placed in juvenile detention facilities for an absurd range of offenses including “sexual harassment,” “threatening violence,” and “disrupting the learning environment.” In late 2011 an Albuquerque middle-schooler was even arrested by police for audibly belching in gym class and was hauled off in handcuffs to juvenile detention. What’s worse is the school authorities never notified his parents, who worried for the boy’s safety when he didn’t return home from school that day.

This has all gone too far.

The schools have become hostile and dangerous environments for children, not because of higher levels of real crime or physical danger in the schools, but because of school and police policies that place all children at risk of being shunted into the “school-to-prison pipeline” with irreversible lifelong consequences.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: compulsory public schooling is child abuse, and we are paying vast sums to inflict it on our children.

۞

Groove of the Day

Listen to Mojo Nixon performing “High School Is A Prison”

23
Feb
12

satisfice

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Stephen Stills performing “Love the One You’re With”

22
Feb
12

without merit

The Pennsylvania Superior Court today issued a ruling refusing to grant access to the public and media in Jordan Brown’s upcoming juvenile trial for the murder of Kenzie Houk and her unborn baby.

Lawrence County Judge John Hodge had ruled that Jordan’s juvenile proceedings should be closed to the public, and The Tribune-Review, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the New Castle News appealed his ruling in September.

The Superior Court ordered that Jordan’s trial be delayed in the meantime while the appeal was being considered, thereby overriding other statutes regarding the guarantee of timely trials for juveniles.

The newspapers argued before the Superior Court that  Jordan’s trial should be opened to the public because closing the proceedings should require a “compelling government interest” that was not present. The court’s opinion by Judge Jacqueline Shogun concluded that “denial of public access to the juvenile proceedings at hand serves an important government interest” because “under the facts of the case, there is no alternative short of closure of the juvenile court proceedings which will adequately serve the privacy interests of J.B.” The newspapers had argued that Jordan’s right to confidentiality (as guaranteed by statute) is a moot issue because, in the words of Ronald Barber, an attorney for The Tribune-Review, “That horse has left the barn.”

Bill Vidonic, a reporter for The Tribune-Review, invoked this same metaphor on the phone with me today and became angry when I reminded him that his paper was one of those responsible for having opened the barn door in the first place. When I asked Susan Smith, an editor at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette if her paper had any ethical standards about how crimes involving juvenile defendants are handled, she became flummoxed and refused to answer this or any more questions.

The ethical default in journalism is always to publish as much as you reliably know. But sometimes, especially in cases involving juvenile defendants or victims, journalism ethics dictate restraint and extreme caution. The ethical injunction in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is to “minimize harm.”

Jordan was 11 years old at the time he was wrongfully accused of the double homicide. He was charged as an adult by an unscrupulous district attorney and waived into adult court under an outrageous (and novel) legal theory that was ultimately overturned on appeal. Even though the newspapers can justify their public identification of Jordan on the basis of his having been initially charged as an adult, subsequent court proceedings have confirmed what any ethical journalist should have known from the start: Jordan was (and is) a juvenile.

The release of Jordan’s mug shot photograph to the media by a jail employee was unauthorized and, in fact, it was released in defiance of a direct order by the jail’s superintendent that the photo was to have been kept confidential to protect the privacy of a child. The newspapers splashed Jordan’s mug shot all over their front pages, sensationalized the crime, and uncritically reported everything the now-discredited Lawrence County PA district attorney John Bongivengo alleged about the crime—all of which has been disproved by analysis of the physical evidence by the state crime lab, a fact that has never been reported by the press.

“More than anything,” a top producer at ABC News told me, “it was the release and distribution of that photo that created the public perception of Jordan’s guilt.” These three newspapers were at the center of events that secured a lynch-mob conviction of Jordan in the court of public opinion and they have irreversibly damaged Jordan’s reputation.

And now, in today’s ruling the Superior Court justices wrote that the newspapers’ arguments for opening Jordan’s trial had “no merit,” and said that the Lawrence County Court “did not abuse its discretion in denying access to the juvenile proceedings.”

After this, will anything change in the way these newspapers report on Jordan’s case? I doubt it. Even in Vidonic’s story today about the Superior Court ruling, the background facts about the crime are reported in a way that seems to presume Jordan is guilty as charged. This is nothing new.

As early as November 2009, reporter Sadie Gurman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette told me she had obtained copies of the protection orders Kenzie Houk had taken out against Adam Harvey. She knew then that Harvey had threatened to kill Kenzie and that Kenzie and Adam had been engaged in a bitter child support and paternity battle. And yet she did not report on the possibility that Jordan, a little boy without a motive or any history of violence or trouble with the law, might have been wrongfully accused by police.

As I have become aware of the crime lab findings and other crucial information, I’ve personally informed reporters from the Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review (the New Castle News has never returned my calls) that the physical evidence suggests a handgun was the murder weapon, not a shotgun. I’ve written about that in this blog. Yet these newspapers have failed to report this information and, in fact, continue to keep reporting that a shotgun was the murder weapon.

What in the world has been going on all this time? Why are these newspapers facilitating this injustice?

As I have said before, it is my opinion that these papers don’t give a damn about the truth or any high-minded public interests; they want the court proceedings opened so the spectacle they created can continue. There’s money in spectacle and none in justice.

They have prolonged Jordan’s wrongful incarceration and have delayed Jordan’s opportunity to prove his innocence. Today when I informed Sandy Tolliver of the Tribune-Review that I had heard a decision had been made before today’s ruling that, if necessary, the newspapers would continue their appeal all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, she denied it saying, “We have not made that decision yet.”

Yet?

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Charles Murray performing “I Read It in the Paper So It Must Be True”

 

(Postscript)

The New Castle News will not pursue an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to gain access to Jordan Brown’s juvenile proceedings. The News’ publisher, Lawrence Corvi, announced on Friday, February 24,  that the paper has decided not to appeal the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling. A story appearing online early Saturday morning said the other two newspapers will not pursue an appeal, either.

Visit this link for a more in-depth explanation of the papers’ decision:
http://www.ncnewsonline.com/topstories/x1875166191/New-Castle-News-won-t-appeal-Jordan-Brown-ruling.

Now the only open question remaining is, “When will they begin reporting the truth?”

21
Feb
12

time machine

It’s been an annoying day—I won’t go into the details except to say events have reinforced the wisdom of my decision to live in physical isolation away from people—and I’ve been partaking in a little music therapy tonight.

You know, soul music from the days before black kids were gunning one another down  in epidemic numbers in our city streets… ’60s girl groups like the Shirelles, Martha and the Vandellas, Diana Ross and the Supremes… music that is nothing like today’s angry, misogynistic fare.

But the music that has put me in the best mood (and please don’t gag) is disco, because it takes me back to a time immediately before Holly was struck down by MS and everything changed; when we used to go dancing at the only disco in town, a gay nightclub, in the days before gay people enjoyed the level of tolerance they have achieved today. That was forty years ago and we were carefree, adventurous kids at the beginning of married life.

The following years were rich and beautiful in ways we could not have imagined then, because we had no idea of the adversities we would face together until the time of Holly’s death. But I still cherish the memories of those early years before we were tested… the memories of my dancing bride  these songs reanimate.

I sound like a sentimental old codger, don’t I? 

۞

Grooves of the Day 

Listen to The Hues Corporation performing “Rock the Boat”

Listen to Alicia Bridges performing “I Love the Nightlife”

Listen to The Pointer Sisters performing “Jump”

20
Feb
12

time to rise up

I was talking today with a reporter with one of the three newspapers that have been interfering with Jordan Brown’s Constitutional right to a speedy trial, and I want to repeat here what I told this reporter.

Today is the third anniversary of the crime and Jordan’s wrongful detention, and justice for Jordan is just as distant and beyond his (and our) reach as it was three long years ago… except that the idea of justice is today more tortured and abused, and we are more cynical and resigned to business-as-usual.

I think it is high time for all of us who have been following and involved in Jordan’s case to do some soul-searching and take action. This wrongful imprisonment of a child, the theft of his childhood, is the responsibility of more than just a few dishonest cops and prosecutors and politicians and second-rate lawyers. In varying degrees we have all allowed it to happen. Why have we not risen up en masse and demanded that the evidence, most of which exonerates Jordan, be examined? Why have we not demanded that this outrage against reason and honest justice immediately cease? We are all culpable.

The lawsuit being pursued by the three newspapers is threatening the freedoms of all Americans, not just the rights of a single child. The lawsuit might be good for the newspaper business, but it does not serve a higher good as long as the Constitutional rights of this child are being violated. These papers have no right to invoke First Amendment protections while they contribute to a denial of Jordan’s Sixth Amendment rights. If any of us start cherry-picking the Bill of Rights, if any of us start claiming that our Constitutional rights should preempt the Constitutional rights of others, then the whole ideal of freedom in America is doomed.

Who knows? Maybe the whole situation is already too far gone. A lot of people today are saying the Constitution is already null and void. But maybe we can still save it and get our freedoms back.

We are organizing a letter-writing campaign to the US Attorney General, the President, and to Pennsylvania Congressional members to ask for intervention in this case. The state of Pennsylvania has a statute called “Rule 600” that says a person should be tried for a crime within one year of being charged. The statutes regarding juveniles are even more strict: they maintain that a child must be tried within ten days of being charged. Jordan has already waited three years for a trial, and there is no certain end in sight.

Jordan is not doing well these days. He is fighting off depression and losing weight. He is losing ground with every day of prolonged imprisonment. Time is working against him. And remember: Jordan is innocent!

The real killer remains free in Lawrence County PA. He is a violent man, an alcoholic, and a threat to public safety.

Please visit http://www.facebook.com/events/212824898815204/ to learn how you can participate in this campaign to end this abuse of an innocent child and this threat to the freedoms of all.

Please act now. There is no more time to spare.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Bob Dylan performing “Chimes of Freedom”

 




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