I received an e-mail last night from a reader asking for an update on Alex. To tell you the truth, I’ve been keeping that story in the background because we’ve entered a quiet stretch in the legal process, and while I feel comfortable talking about the legal stuff as it happens, I do not feel comfortable talking about prospective legal plans and events.
I can summarize his situation as follows:
Alex is being held without bail (in solitary confinement) on a probation violation charge initiated by the Florida Department of Corrections based upon two facts: Alex is charged with leaving the scene of a traffic accident on foot, and opiates were detected in a urine test the day after the incident. Alex suffered a cracked or bruised rib in the crash and had taken a single hydrocodone pain-killer the previous night. At the time FDOC filed the VOP (violation of probation) they did not consider or even know that Alex had a valid prescription for this medication. Nor did they apparently consider that, as a result of all the threats and abuse Alex has suffered over the years (many of them while incarcerated by the state and under its control), Alex suffers from a form of post traumatic stress syndrome which would predict and explain his flight response after the accident. He simply did not have the capacity to think about it in the same way you or I would, and this is to some degree of the state’s making. Flight was an automatic, non-volitional response.
When I raised these facts with his probation officer I asked her, “When are you going to withdraw the VOP?” And she answered that her department would not be withdrawing the charge. “We are leaving that decision to the courts,” she said. Pass the buck. Spoken like a true bureaucrat.
In other words, I thought, FDOC can de-rail Alex’s education and cause him to be jailed on the basis of charges made as a result of a flawed process in which FDOC failed to consider relevant information and failed to exercise the judgment and discretion one would consider to be benchmarks of basic competence and fairness.
Alex has already been in jail 103 days—3⅓ months, more than ¼ of a year—and his VOP case is still a long way from being heard. The longest jail time to which Alex can be sentenced for fleeing the scene is only 60 days. From the time that prosecutor David Rimmer decided to prosecute an abused child as an adult criminal instead of the confused victim that he truly was, the State of Florida has consistently subjected Alex to excessively cruel treatment. This is just more of the same.
Alex’s case is procedurally complicated. The VOP charge was filed with the court in Okeechobee County based in part on a traffic charge in Escambia County which must be heard in that county’s own court. Two courts, 546 miles (8 hours 41 minutes) apart. This naturally leads to screw-ups, delays, and longer incarceration. Alex has already missed two court dates—one in Escambia County and one in Okeechobee County—because the state held him in custody in the wrong jurisdictions for him to make timely court appearances. Alex’s next court appearance in Escambia County is June 14th (unless the state transfers him back to Okeechobee before then—it all depends on the state’s intent).
Because of the complexity, distance, expense, and hassle involved, we have not been successful in getting a top-flight private attorney involved. So for our defense we’re relying on the public defenders in each jurisdiction and, based on Alex’s assessments, we have a high degree of confidence in each public defender’s competence and potential effectiveness.
And remember, we’re not talking about an offense that would normally violate one’s probation. It’s not like Alex robbed a convenience store or was snorting cocaine at a rave. He’d been working hard at school and was doing well in a whole bunch of challenging subjects. He was doing what the state supposedly wanted. Now the state is screwing with him over a technicality with an excess of willful negligence and maybe even malice.
Thus far the state is giving every indication that it is less interested in supporting Alex’s rehabilitation and return to society than filling another prison cot somewhere within its money-making prison-industrial complex. But that’s just my take on what’s happening. I could be wrong and I hope that I am. Only time and events will tell.
While Alex’s legal ordeal slowly grinds on, my job right now seems to be mainly serving as a communications hub between Alex and his support network. I forward mail and messages back and forth in an attempt to help Alex keep his spirits up. Now that he is being held at the Escambia County jail, I am able to keep him in a steady supply of books and Ramen noodles.
The thing you may not appreciate is if you’re incarcerated, being in communication with people on the outside—your family and friends, your lawyer, with anyone at all—is like trying to thread a needle while wearing welding gloves. It is also very expensive. A fifteen minute phone call with Alex costs me about $20. Not everyone can afford that. Communicating with prisoners takes a lot of extra time and effort, too. The state’s control over a prisoner is so total, it can effectively prevent that prisoner from mounting an effective defense. Abuses happen. Florida is not a compassionate state.
That’s about as much as I can tell you about Alex right now without sliding into an outraged diatribe about Florida justice. Nobody likes a whiner or complainer, anyway. Alex doesn’t ever whine or complain and does a pretty good job at keeping me from doing it too much.
I need to live up to his good example and be patient.
Groove of the Day