> This is actually an operations research problem. Like the ad I saw on
> the NY subway that said the most number of heart attack deaths occur
> in Queens, so you are fortunate because the best heart hospital in the
> five boroughs is in Queens. What this means is that if someone has a
> heart attack there is a high probability that the ambulance will be
> routed to Queens, then, if they die, the doc declares, "Dead in
In one of my Operations Research courses back in 198<mumble>, I recall that
our textbook and/or professor relayed this unverifiable but plausible tale:
During the infancy of what is know called 'Operations Research' a study was
performed in <country> during <war> to examine fighter aircraft damaged by
enemy ammunition, in order to determine which parts of the fuselage should
receive additional or improved shielding.
A then-Junior Researcher pointed out that they were only able to examine
the aircraft that had been able to RETURN from battle.
Jeff "Hilarity dis-ensued" Zahn
>In one of my Operations Research courses back in 198<mumble>, I recall that
>our textbook and/or professor relayed this unverifiable but plausible tale:
>During the infancy of what is know called 'Operations Research' a study was
>performed in <country> during <war> to examine fighter aircraft damaged by
>enemy ammunition, in order to determine which parts of the fuselage should
>receive additional or improved shielding.
>A then-Junior Researcher pointed out that they were only able to examine
>the aircraft that had been able to RETURN from battle.
Per my memory (my copies of his books are buried under
tons of coal and human remains), Richard T. Feynman
claimed this in his very own book, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman".
Anyone able to double check my neurons? Thanks.
Knowledge may be power, but communications is the key
[to foil spammers, my address has been double rot-13 encoded]
This reminds me of the tale* of the researcher who subjected some prison
inmates to an intelligence test and concluded that crime was caused by
low intelligence. It was eventually pointed out that he had documented
that criminals of low intelligence spend time in prison.
* An extensive Google serach failed to turn up a useful cite.
That's not even the right conclusion. The right conclusion is that
people of low intelligence spend time in prison. This could occur
just because they're not able to effectively defend themselves when
the charges are false. Unfortunately, we're unable to produce statistics
that tell us how many of the people in prison actually committed the
crimes for which they are serving time.
> This reminds me of the tale* of the researcher who subjected some
> inmates to an intelligence test and concluded that crime was caused by
> low intelligence. It was eventually pointed out that he had documented
> that criminals of low intelligence spend time in prison.
In 1978 I was working for the state of Utah. I was asked to produce
statistics from the criminal history system. The data entry and rap
sheet printing module had been written a few years earluer, but they
hadn't written the stat module because there was no data.
The manager said I should select cases where the arrest occurred in
the past year (or two or three), and had reached final disposition. I
tried explaining that this would skew the stats toward quick
dispositions, eg, someone arrested for a felony two months ago would
show up if the case was promptly dismissed but not if it had gone to
trial. He also wanted to exclude cases where any of the data was
missing, and I tried to explain this would select against complex
cases. He must have thought I was crazy.
While the police were very good at entering data, the court data was
spotty, because they saw it as police system to produce rap sheets.
Some had convictions without sentences, some had sentences without
convictions, where both conviction and sentence were present the
indictment date or trial date was missing. In the end we produced
stats that showed no convictions whatsoever.
I also asked if a murderer is hanged is that a suspended sentence.
Once I told him it was a joke, he eventually got it.
Vaguer memories available upon request
Or that smarter people are better able to conceal/deny/evade punishment for
the crimes they commit....
From a personal and anecdotal standpoint, forty years ago the USN did not
require "lawyers" for defense and prosecution slots for Special Courts
Martial, the type of curt in which medium level offenses were tried. In my
3+ years as ajunior officer on abig ship, I was called upon (either by
command and in a couple of cases by accused sailors) to defend a dozen or so
alleged perpetrators. I can in all honesty state that every one of them was
guilty of an offense, although in several of the cases, of a lesser offense
than the one charged. I got a few off, and was noted among miscreants as
being highly successful in working the "Lesser Included Offense" waltz.
Since returning to civilian life 40 years ago, three two month terms as
"Foreman" of the local grand jury - The District Judge who handles criminal
cases and I are close, but I don't remember doing anything to him to deserve
the ghastly fate of indicting folks for offense grand and petty. Grand
juries, contrary to popular belief, are only occasionally likely to indict
ham sandwiches, but are exposed to such clumsy, amusingly laughable (were
the matters not so serious) and ill-suported lies, inventions, and
confabulations by policemen, defendants, their girlfriends, mothers and
friends (and their lawyers, now and again), that by the end of the couple of
days of listening to Assistant DAs (the novitiate for most criminal defense
lawyers) and assorted folks clamoring to testify in their own or others'
defense, cynicism sets in, along with the awful realization that criminal
conduct and stupidity are mutual bonding agents.
Based on my experience, there may well be a handful of doofuses in prison
innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, but I'm comfortable
that few if any of them are not guilty of a laundry list of other offenses,
pettier or equally or more serious. I'm sorry. It's (in my view) not like
TV or the movies.
TM "maybe just a finger or two, noty the hand" Oliver
This sounds more like Freeman Dyson, who did operations research as a
statistician for the RAF's Bomber Command during World War II. Feynman
worked on the Manhattan Project.
I don't remember a discussion of battle damage versus armor plate, but
in his book _Weapons and Hope_ Dyson mentions some of the counterintuitive
analyses he did during the war, showing that stronger defensive armament
on British bombers made them more likely to be shot down instead of
At one point, Dyson recommended that the nose and mid-upper turrets
be removed from bombers, since they couldn't fire in the direction
from which most German nightfighters attacked (behind and below the
target). Removing the turrets would reduce weight and aerodynamic
drag, allowing the bombers to fly higher and/or faster, which would
make successful attacks less likely. There would also be two fewer
crewmen on board when a bomber was shot down.
Bomber Command decided that the psychological benefit for bomber crews
of thinking they were able to fight back against nightfighters outweighed
Dyson's argument, though, and the turrets were kept.
Dyson also argued that improved tail guns with radar to direct them
would make matters worse. This would allow the tail gunner to fire at
any aircraft that came into range without first acquiring visual contact.
German nightfighter losses would increase, but since the probability was
higher that the other aircraft would be another British bomber bound for the
same target, losses from friendly fire would increase even more.
I've also heard it attributed to Barnes Wallis.
> From a personal and anecdotal standpoint, forty years ago the USN did not
> require "lawyers" for defense and prosecution slots for Special Courts
> Martial, the type of curt in which medium level offenses were tried. In
> 3+ years as ajunior officer on abig ship, I was called upon (either by
> command and in a couple of cases by accused sailors) to defend a dozen or
> alleged perpetrators.
I received instruction in the UCMJ in that era. I understand the "rules"
were that the defense was supposed to have a more senior officer than the
Most of my cases were less than grandiose, "Missing Ship's Movement"
requiring convinced the Court that there was no intent, simply drunken or
romantic miscalculation resulting in the lesser "Unauthorized Absence". My
coup was my last case, a sodden seaman returning from Liberty charged with a
typical inflation of intent, "Attempted Forcible Sodomy". Getting him off
for simple assault took fast talking and convincing the panel that an
essential element of the charge, tumescence, was absent and given the state
of inebriation, unlikely to be found any time soon.
TM "Bull Ensign has own Acey Deucey (1) set." Oliver
(1) USNavy's own breed of backgammon. Normally played only by officers
along with bridge (and pitch in rare venues, both descendants of
Hornblower's whist), and rarely seen outside active service. Seaman play
cribbage and pinochle. Snipes live in unlighted spaces and are only
allowed above the 2nd deck for coaling ship and decommissioning ceremonies,
after which they are marched speedily to a new ship, leaving a trail 'baccy
blobs and grease stains to foul the pier.
> > This reminds me of the tale* of the researcher who subjected some prison
> > inmates to an intelligence test and concluded that crime was caused by
> > low intelligence. It was eventually pointed out that he had documented
> > that criminals of low intelligence spend time in prison.
> That's not even the right conclusion. The right conclusion is that
> people of low intelligence spend time in prison.
Actually all that could be concluded would be "Prisons contain persons
of low intelligence."
Just passing through, again
>In one of my Operations Research courses back in 198<mumble>, I recall that
>our textbook and/or professor relayed this unverifiable but plausible tale:
>A then-Junior Researcher pointed out that they were only able to examine
>the aircraft that had been able to RETURN from battle.
References to entertaining stories and Operations Research always
remind me of Robert E.D. "Gene" Woolsey of the Colorado School of
Mines. He edited one of the major O.R. journals back in the 1980s and
his columns were the highlight of every issue. His mini-bio (probably
self-produced) is at http://www.informs.org/Speaker/bios/Woolsey.htm.
Some of the chapter titles in this
http://www.lionhrtpub.com/books/wp1main.html look awfully familiar and
are probably the stories I hazily recall.
"I'm gonna act grown up/That's my plan"
jack_dominey (at) email (dot) com
R.I.P. Bob Denver
Do you have the slightest evidence for this belief?
DNA evidence has exonerated *hundreds* of prisoners in the US. In the
vast majority of crimes there never was any DNA evidence, and one can
reasonably expect that the same proportion of people convicted of them
Of course it's possible that nearly all of the people exonerated were
guilty of other equally serious crimes for which they were never
caught, even though the vast majority of them had had no prior arrests
or convictions, and had no subsequent arrests or convictions after
their exoneration. But it's also possible that you're the guy who
mailed those anthrax letters four years ago. I have no evidence, but,
hey, it's possible. You can't prove you're innocent.
I do know of one case where I am absolutely 100% certain, beyond the
slightest shadow of a doubt, that the person convicted was completely
innocent of any crime more serious than jaywalking, ever: My own
case. 28 years ago I was sentenced to six years for a burglary I
didn't commit. Other than that, my record has always been perfectly
If it could happen to me, with a high IQ and SAT score, it could
happen to anyone.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if more than half the people in US
prisons are innocent. The criminal justice system is not designed to
figure out who is guilty; it's designed -- or rather has evolved --
to put as many of us in prison as possible for as long as possible.
That's what police and prosecutors are rewarded and promoted for, and
demoted or fired for failing to do.
As part of this system, the state is quite correct in keeping me off
juries, as I would almost never vote to convict anyone. I know that
police routinely lie on the stand, that confessions are coerced, that
people are pressured into falsely testifying against others, that
witnesses are fallible, and that police labs often fake evidence.
Keith F. Lynch - http://keithlynch.net/
Please see http://keithlynch.net/email.html before emailing me.
"National Security Letters"
WELCOME TO OUR U.S. POLICE STATE ...
Your friendly FBI, the organization that did nothing to prevent 9/11,
is busy issuing national security letters (NSLs) that force businesses
to release your library, video, Web site, subscriptions, and other
personal records that would otherwise be protected by privacy law:
- What NSLs add to government data banks is information that no
commercial service can lawfully possess.
- NSL:s enable "investigators" to look for "conspirators" by sifting
the records of nearly anyone who crosses a conspirator's path.
- Recipients of NSLs are permanently barred from disclosing the
- Anyone who gets caught up in an NSL investigation never gets notice.
- It stands to reason that if the U.S. government monitors the Web
sites and books individuals read - those people will stop visiting
those "disfavored" sites and reading those "disfavored" books. Saves a
lot of matches.
- Do you know what "contact chaining" means? (see article)
- Do you know what "link analysis" means? (see article)
- Do you know what "data mining" means? (see article)
- When Asscroft was Attorney General, he ordered that "the FBI shall
retain" all records it collects and "may disseminate" them freely among
- Once a DSL file has been established, an individual's personal file
can be scrutinized again and again without a fresh need to establish
- The FBI is not obliged to describe what it is looking for, or why.
- U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, in a ruling that is under appeal
(natch), held that the law authorizing NSLs violates the First and
This situation has been stealthily growing under the Patriot Act, like
a lung tumor. An indifferent U.S. public generally neither sees or
hears any evil. Yet.
And our esteemed U.S. GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES - REPUBLICAN AND
DEMOCRAT - do not have the guts to challenge these actions.
DNA testing and results are applicable to a tiny, almost infinitesimal
percentage of all crimes and convictions. "Hundreds" of prisoners
exonerated sounds a bit of exaggeration if compared to actual press reports
(with some finite sumber in the few hundred range over several years), but
if one counts the something over 100,000 aremed robberies in the US each
year and the fact that most folks convicted of armed robbery have previous
criminal records, I'm confident (and willing to play statistics batteles
with you with all confidence of winning the skirmish) that US prisons are
hardly full, even crowded, or lightly dispersed with innocenbt convicts.
> Of course it's possible that nearly all of the people exonerated were
> guilty of other equally serious crimes for which they were never
> caught, even though the vast majority of them had had no prior arrests
> or convictions,
Why in the world would you believe that? The defendant in US criminal
courts overwhelminbgly have previous arrest/conviction records (or juvenile
records). The stats run something over 5 to 1. Murder and rape defendants
are the ones with limited/no criminal records, largely because those are
most often offenses against acquaintances/family members.
> and had no subsequent arrests or convictions after
> their exoneration. But it's also possible that you're the guy who
> mailed those anthrax letters four years ago. I have no evidence, but,
> hey, it's possible. You can't prove you're innocent.
> I do know of one case where I am absolutely 100% certain, beyond the
> slightest shadow of a doubt, that the person convicted was completely
> innocent of any crime more serious than jaywalking, ever: My own
> case. 28 years ago I was sentenced to six years for a burglary I
> didn't commit. Other than that, my record has always been perfectly
I suspect that a 6 year sentence for burglary in a case in which the
defendant has no criminal record is more than unusual in my own jurisdiction
and most every other with which I'm familiar. Whiler I accept your
protestation of innocence (I have no reason not to), I expect that if the
case was a burglary of a habitation, that there were some personal factors
connecting you to the crime, and that viewed in all its details, there was
more to the issue than you as an unrelated, unconnected alleged
perpetrators. I have seen burglary charges in which the perp's entrance to
the home had nothing to do with intent to "burgle", and the charge became a
convenient evasion of reality by the DA or the police, so in yor case, I'm
quite unwilling to give you the benefit of the doubt without a great deal
more than what you've offered above.
You believe the jails are full of innocent folk, and have personal
involvement and experience - with convicts, on every record the quickest to
portray their personal innocence - to support your claims. That's a
position which seems to be refuted by every serious study I've ever known
> If it could happen to me, with a high IQ and SAT score, it could
> happen to anyone.
> I wouldn't be at all surprised if more than half the people in US
> prisons are innocent. The criminal justice system is not designed to
> figure out who is guilty; it's designed -- or rather has evolved --
> to put as many of us in prison as possible for as long as possible.
> That's what police and prosecutors are rewarded and promoted for, and
> demoted or fired for failing to do.
Oh, Bullshit! If you really believe that, reasonable if your own
incarceration was unjust, you've let emotions get in the way of reality. To
claim that more than half of US prisoners are innocent is simply irrational.
> As part of this system, the state is quite correct in keeping me off
> juries, as I would almost never vote to convict anyone. I know that
> police routinely lie on the stand, that confessions are coerced, that
> people are pressured into falsely testifying against others, that
> witnesses are fallible, and that police labs often fake evidence.
....and while each of the above are true, and now and agian the innocent are
convicted, unforgivable and inexcusable abuses of authority, to use it as
evidence that vast numbers of convicts are innocent is simply not
supportable by any rational method of analysis.
> DNA testing and results are applicable to a tiny, almost
> infinitesimal percentage of all crimes and convictions.
Yes, that's what I just said. Do you agree that about the same
proportion of the far larger number of those for whom there never was
any DNA evidence are also innocent, even if they can never prove it?
If not, why not?
> "Hundreds" of prisoners exonerated sounds a bit of exaggeration if
> compared to actual press reports (with some finite sumber in the few
> hundred range over several years),
How is "hundreds" not the same as "some finite sumber [sic] in the
few hundred range"? I'm only allowed to say "hundreds" if it's an
*infinite* number of hundreds?
> but if one counts the something over 100,000 aremed robberies in the
> US each year and the fact that most folks convicted of armed robbery
> have previous criminal records,
Perhaps in part because police and prosecutors prefer to pin charges
on those with previous records.
If someone commits armed robbery, and is not actually caught in the
act, they're not significantly more likely to be convicted of armed
robbery than is a random innocent person. And possibly less likely
to be convicted than a random innocent person with a prior record.
> I'm confident (and willing to play statistics batteles with you with
> all confidence of winning the skirmish) that US prisons are hardly
> full, even crowded, or lightly dispersed with innocenbt convicts.
I'm confident that you're mistaken. But how would one collect these
>> Of course it's possible that nearly all of the people exonerated
>> were guilty of other equally serious crimes for which they were
>> never caught, even though the vast majority of them had had no
>> prior arrests or convictions,
> Why in the world would you believe that? The defendant in US
> criminal courts overwhelminbgly have previous arrest/conviction
> records (or juvenile records).
Then perhaps the authorities should think carefully before indicting
someone for a serious felony if they have no prior record whatsoever.
> The stats run something over 5 to 1. Murder and rape defendants are
> the ones with limited/no criminal records, largely because those are
> most often offenses against acquaintances/family members.
I think the crime with the lowest recidivism rate is suicide bombing.
> I suspect that a 6 year sentence for burglary in a case in which the
> defendant has no criminal record is more than unusual in my own
> jurisdiction and most every other with which I'm familiar.
This was in Virginia, home of the infamous 21-day rule. If you're
convicted of murdering me in Virginia, and sentenced to death, and 22
days after the trial ends I show up alive and well, they will go ahead
and execute you anyway.
> Whiler I accept your protestation of innocence (I have no reason not
> to), I expect that if the case was a burglary of a habitation, that
> there were some personal factors connecting you to the crime, and
> that viewed in all its details, there was more to the issue than you
> as an unrelated, unconnected alleged perpetrators.
Details are on my website. It was a burglary of an office building.
> You believe the jails are full of innocent folk,
You don't think the hundreds of DNA exonerations prove that I'm right?
That is hundreds, not out of the millions of people who are convicted
of felonies, but out of the tiny percentage of those cases in which
DNA evidence existed, was collected, and wasn't destroyed after the
original trial. Hundreds out of hundreds, in other words.
> and have personal involvement and experience - with convicts, on
> every record the quickest to portray their personal innocence - to
> support your claims.
I have a lot more than that. A great many books have been written on
the subject. I suggest you read some. For instance:
_Presumed Guilty_ by Martin Yant, 1991, hardback, ISBM 0-87975-643-8.
Covers many cases, and discusses one at a time in detail the most
common causes of these false convictions.
_Actual Innocence_ by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, and Jim Dwyer,
2000, hardback, ISBN 0-385-49341-X. The authors had helped to free
37 wrongly convicted people with their Innocence Project. In this
book they explain how people are falsely convicted of serious crimes,
and how the authors managed to prove many of them innocent.
_In Spite of Innocence_ by Michael L. Radelet, Hugo Adam Bedau, and
Constance E. Putnam, 1992, trade paperback, ISBN 1-55553-142-3 and
1-55554-197-0. The ordeal of 400 Americans wrongly convicted in the
20th century of crimes punishable by death.
_Adams v. Texas_ by Randall Adams, paperback, 1991, ISBN 0-312-92778-9.
The classic case of an innocent man falsely convicted of murdering a
policeman in Texas in 1976, and coming within a few hours of being
executed. He was eventually completely exonerated, and set free after
thirteen years in prison, thanks to the makers of the movie "The Thin
Blue Line" which was about his case.
_Witch Hunt_ by Kathryn Lyon, 1998, paperback, ISBN 0-380-79066-1.
The 1992-1995 outbreak of child molestation accusations and
convictions in Wenatchee, Washington. Children were coerced into
claiming they had been repeatedly raped by their parents, teachers,
ministers, and other adults. The children of those other adults were
then coercively questioned in turn. So were the adults, who were
offered reduced sentences if they confessed and implicated others in
the supposed child sex ring. The whole thing snowballed until hundred
of people were accused, many of whom were convicted and sentenced to
lengthy prison terms. Eventually they were all exonerated, and many
are now suing for millions of dollars.
_Convicting the Innocent_ by Donald S. Connery, 1996, trade paperback,
ISBN 1-57129-021-4. How Richard Lapointe was falsely convicted of a
1987 murder and rape in Connecticut and sentenced to life without
parole, due to a coerced confession.
_Until Proven Innocent_ by Arthur J. Harris, 1995, paperback, ISBN
0-380-77733-9. About the false indictment of Charles Panoyan for
the 1988 knife murder of Donna Decker in Davie, Florida. He was
_Circumstantial Evidence_ by Pete Early, 1995, paperback, ISBN
0-553-57348-9. The false conviction and death sentence of Walter
McMillian for a 1986 murder in Monroeville, Alabama.
_Mockery of Justice_ by Cynthia L. Cooper and Sam Reese Sheppard,
1995, paperback, ISBN 0-451-40763-6. The false conviction of Dr. Sam
Sheppard for the 1954 murder of his wife in Cleveland. The case that
inspired the TV series "The Fugitive" and the movie of the same name.
_The Wrong Man_ by Kevin Davis, 1996, paperback, ISBN 0-380-77815-7.
The false conviction of John Purvis for a rape and two murders in 1983
in Fort Lauderdale Florida, due to a coerced confession.
_Mean Justice_ by Edward Humes, 1999, paperback, ISBN 0-671-03427-8.
_Victims of Justice_ by Thomas Frisbie and Randy Garrett, 1998,
paperback, ISBN 038079845X. The false conviction of three meen for
the 1983 kidnap, rape, and murder of ten year old Jeanine Nicarico in
Illinois, despite the confession of another man. And how they were
freed after 12 years in prison.
_A Promise of Justice: The Eighteen-Year Fight to Save Four Innocent
Men_ by David Protess, Rob Warden, and Robert Warden, 1998, hardback,
ISBN 0786862947. The false conviction and death sentence of Dennis
Williams, Verneal Jimerson, Willie Rainge, and Kenny Adams for a 1978
rape/murder in Illinois. And how the authors proved they were innocent
and got them freed after 18 years on death row.
_May Have God Have Mercy: A True Story of Crime and Punishment_ by
John C. Tucker, 1998, paperback, ISBN 0385332947. The 1982 conviction
and 1992 execution of Roger Coleman for the 1981 rape and murder of
his sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy in Virginia. Makes a convincing case
for his innocence.
_Bloodsworth_, by Tim Junkin. The first person to be exonerated by
DNA evidence. ISBN 1565124197.
_Wrongly Convicted: Perspectives on Failed Justice_ by Saundra
D. Westervelt. ISBN 0813529522.
Convicts have no motive to lie about their case once they've been
convicted and have no appeals pending. A great many of them admit
their guilt. A similar number deny it. Of those who deny it, some
admit other equally serious, or more serious crimes, including ones
for which they were never caught.
> That's a position which seems to be refuted by every serious study
> I've ever known of.
>> I wouldn't be at all surprised if more than half the people in US
>> prisons are innocent. The criminal justice system is not designed
>> to figure out who is guilty; it's designed -- or rather has evolved
>> -- to put as many of us in prison as possible for as long as
>> possible. That's what police and prosecutors are rewarded and
>> promoted for, and demoted or fired for failing to do.
> Oh, Bullshit! If you really believe that, reasonable if your own
> incarceration was unjust, you've let emotions get in the way of
On the contrary. It's not a conclusion I reached until over 20 years
after I was released from prison, after a great deal of thought,
study, and discussion.
> To claim that more than half of US prisoners are innocent is simply
My claim is that *nobody knows*. It could be 30%. It could be 70%.
I think it's unlikely to be much less than 20% or much more than 80%.
I went to your website. I read closely the material related to your "false"
imprisonment (some of which rings quite accurately, while other portions
seem to be fabricated from somewhat more self-justifying bolts of cloth).
In the final analysis, one single factor contributed the over-whelming
portion of the situation which caused your imprisonment. All the
justifiable claims of bad lawyer, bad lawyering, oppressive police (not
nearly so oppressive as I've seen police be) amount to nothing beside one
clear immutable statement....
You pleaded guilty.
Clothe it as you may, in the face of what seem honest and earnest
protestations of innocence, you admitted to a crime of which you were
accused. Were you swayed by your lawyer's efforts/non-efforts? While he
seems to have been either inept or worse disinterested, the account of his
words and actions don't quite add up
Having a former appellate (admittedly chief justice of a civil appeals
court) judge as a little sister and a criminal district judge/high school
mate as a neighbor, I did a quick anecdotal survey. Mine (Texas) is in a
relative a "harsh" jurisdiction, but neither of them could recall ever
hearing of any case involving a non-residential first offense burglary
drawing a 6 year sentence (or even "state" jail time, i.e. an actual
sentence of more than a year). Obviously, Virginia, has far harsher penal
practices. Or in your case, there's at least the appearance of more factors
at play than you've provided in the narrative
While you make a case for your own innocence, nowhere in your website or
writing to date, do you provide any, repeat any reason to believe that a
sizeable, 5%, 10% or even more of convicted felons are innocent of the
crimes for which they were convicted. The books you list illustrate
exceptions to the system, mistakes as occur in every system from the local
Wal-Mart's Human Resources Dept. to FBI recruiting efforts. The
"validation" for the criminal justice system is that in many cases
exceptions receive attention and redress. Yours didn't and now no one
seems ready to sign on to cure your claimed misadventure in the justice
system. I'll admit, however, to finding less credibility, far less in fact,
in your claims after reading that portion of your website than I held prior
to doing so. Even now, throughout the narrative, their are bits and pieces
which simply don't add up.
A great many people plead guilty even when they have a case, on the advice
of their lawyer. Criminal lawyers give this bad advice on a regular basis.
Sit in on a courthouse and you see a long litany of the stuff. It's terrible,
and occasionally tragic (e.g. apparently in Keith Lynch's case).
If you plead guilty, you're very likely to get a lessor sentence than
if you're tried and convicted. Not just because you may be allowed to
plead guilty to a lessor charge than you would have had you gone to
trial, but also because the system doesn't like having to try people.
Gosh. List of "red scare" horrors which have come true in the
1) You are better off pleading guilty in a show trial,
2) All the horrors of "socialized medicine," now available from
For those (like myself) who are too stupid to ignore this thread, I am
wading in because Keith is the victime hereandvictimes deserve support.
> In the final analysis, one single factor contributed the over-whelming
> portion of the situation which caused your imprisonment. All the
> justifiable claims of bad lawyer, bad lawyering, oppressive police (not
> nearly so oppressive as I've seen police be) amount to nothing
> clear immutable statement....
> You pleaded guilty.
When I went to bed last night, I fully expected to wake up to find
that TOliver was being a complete and utter asshole. I see my
expectations have been fulfilled.
TOliver, I hope that tomorrow your grandchild is arrested and then
subjected to three months of psychological torment until they
confess to masterminding the 9/11 hijackings and killing Charles
Lindberg Jr. Of course that won't happen because your family has
money, and people with money are entitled to trials. Keith didn't
have money, so he got railroaded.
Anytime someone says a victim of the court system "pleaded guilty",
you can be sure he is a fascist elitist, who wants to keep the lower
classes in their place so that he can continue to enjoy the privileges
of the high station which God so wisely bestowed upon him.
Keith's story demonstrates why guilty pleas should be abolished.
There is no such thing as an uncoerced guilty plea. To illustrate,
let me tell you a story I am familiar with.
My friend Lee did four years for a crime I am quite convinced he did
not commit. I did not know him until after he got out, and he's not
real smart and not a good story teller. It took several rounds of PPQ
over the course of more than a year for me to recreate this reasonably
accurate (though assuredly somewhat flawed) story.
Lee was indeed a criminal. He purchased and used illegal drugs. (By
TOliver's logic he therefore deserves to be convicted and punished for
crimes he did not commit.) He was purchasing cocaine at a particular
house. There were four residents at the house. One could stop at the
house at any hour of the day or night and find one of those four ready
to sell cocaine.
One day Lee revealed to them that his first name was actually Leroy.
They seemed fascinated by this factoid, which Lee could not
understand. The reason was that the people in this house were getting
their drugs from someone named Leroy. They knew that Leroy had
powerful friends who could get people killed. They knew that Lee had
no such friends. They agreed that if they were busted, they would all
roll on Lee. They knew they could conflate Lee with Leroy and the
story would stay believeable.
A few months later the house was busted. They all implicated Lee, and
pled down to misdemeanors by agreeing to testify against him. Lee had
no money, his parents had no money. Lee got a public defender. The
job of a public defender is to get poor people convicted and sent to
prison while consuming a minimum of the court's time. Any public
defender who tells you otherwise is a liar.
Lee wanted to fight it, and told the PD that. The PD agreed that
there was no real evidence against Lee, and said he would get it
dismissed. But then Lee languished in the county jail for a year. He
kept thinking he had court dates, bu they would come and go. He would
find out days or weeks later that his PD had had the court dates put
off. There's a law in California that ou have the right to a trial
within six months, but his PD had waived that right.
Several times, detectives or prosecutors (Lee didn't know the
difference) came and interivewed Lee without his PD present. They
always told him that they wanted him to rat out higher ups. At one
point George Deukmajian (then California Attorney General,
subsequently Governor) came to him personally. He told Lee he could
walk if he would tell where the plane and the boat were. Of course
Lee knew nothing about a plane and a boat.
Prisons have (or had) better facilities than jails. This is part of
the coersion system to get defendants to plead. I heard a judge say
from the bench "Any sentence to the Los Angeles County Jail is a
potential death sentence." After a year in jail with his "speedy
trial" still months off, and the threat of 20 year plus sentence
hanging over him, Lee agreed to a plea bargain and did three more
years in prison.
Based on this and many hundreds of other stories I have read, I
conclude that no guilty plea is proof beyond reasonable doubt.
Therefore all prisoners who did not get a trial are presumed innocent.
At least 3/4 of prisoners are there based on pleas (often plea
bargains obtained with the coercive threat of far longer sentences).
In some jurisdictions the ratio of pleas to trials is over 10 to 1.
QED. Keith is right, TOliver is wrong (and an utter asshole). This
discussion is over (though I will be making one more post in a few
 California expression meaning "enemy of all that is good and true".
 Singular. See http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/genpr.htm
 It has been a long time since I say these stats, and this memory
is vaguer than most. If someone can direct me to stats showing how
many prisoners actually were found guilty in "a speedy and public
trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the
crime shall have been committed" I would be most appreciative.
Well, it all started in 1977. I was 20 years old and had recently
moved away from home and started renting an apartment in Rosslyn
(northeast Arlington) Virginia. The apartment was on the 6th floor,
and had a great view of the Potomac river, the Capitol, and the
Washington monument. I could also see the Lincoln memorial if I
leaned out the window.
The rent was $182. My other expenses were very low, as I ate only
inexpensive food, and little of that. My entertainments were the
public library (a three mile walk) and the museums on the mall (a four
The only problem is that I had no income. I had never had a real job,
so my resume was blank.
I fished TVs and stereos out of the garbage, repaired them, and sold
them. I bought and sold books. I babysat a few times. I went to a
lot of job interviews. I walked to the FCC headquarters and took
all their tests and passed them all, which got me a Radiotelephone
First Class license with Radar Endorsement and an Amateur Extra Class
amateur radio license (I had already had a General Class amateur radio
license). (They wouldn't let me take the Radiotelegraph license test,
since you have to have worked as a telegrapher for five years first.)
I would not have taken these tests except that the FCC had recently
waived their previous $4 test fee, so the tests were free. I thought
the licenses would help me get a job. They did, but not until much
I decided I needed to get a roommate, so I could pay less rent. A
fellow name of Bill Sheilds was recommended to me by a friend of a
friend. Bill lived with his parents and his 13 year old sister about
two miles away. He attended Yorktown High School.
I started hanging around with him a lot. I discovered he shared
my interests in computers and electronics. He told me about how
unpleasant life with his parents was, and about how authoritarian his
father (a General in the Air Force) was. He was quite eager to move
in with me, and his parents agreed to it. I met his parents and his
sister on Thursday, December 1st 1977 when they invited me to dinner.
That day is still just as vivid as yesterday. More vivid. I don't
remember what I ate yesterday but I remember exactly what I ate that
day. I can close my eyes and visualize all of the furniture and
decorations, even though I was only there that one day and once more
two days later when his parents helped him move his belongings to my
apartment. He had lots of neat stuff, including a bicycle, a stereo,
and an 8 inch telescope.
He lived there for eleven days. After school, he would bring home
some new things, such as a toolbox, a pager, an answering machine, and
a somewhat decrepit printing terminal (a TI silent 700). He said that
some of this was in his school locker all along, and that the terminal
had been discarded by the Air Force, and had been given to him as a
going away present by his father.
Then, on Wednesday Decemeber 14th, at about 3 pm, as I was reading
Olaf Stapledon's "Odd John", and as Bill was listening to his stereo,
there was a knock on the door. I looked out the door lens to see
who was there. Nobody was in the field of view, so I sat back down.
A few seconds later the knocking resumed. I angrily asked "Who's
there?". I stood there for a minute waiting for an answer, then I sat
back down. When the knocking resumed a few seconds later, I opened
the door and looked into the hall. A policeman kicked the door all
the way open, tearing a chunk of skin off my wrist. Several policemen
poured in, some with guns drawn. One read me my rights and told me
he had a search warrant for four stolen terminals and a bunch of
other stuff, while two others started ransacking the apartment.
One terminal was in plain sight. Another one was in Bill's closet,
and I didn't know it was there since I respected his privacy.
I later learned that two more were found at the home of a friend
of his, whom he implicated.
Bill and I were made to stand leaned over with hands against the wall.
When I turned my head to see what the police were smashing, one of them
hit me in the side of the head with his pistol and told me not to move
or turn my head or he would 'blow me away'.
Bill and I were handcuffed and led away. We were taken through the
apartment lobby, in which we were stared at by what seemed at the time
to be every tenant of the building. We were driven a mile up Wilson
boulevard to the Arlington Courthouse in seperate cars. We were
photographed and fingerprinted at the same time. Bill didn't seem too
concerned about the whole thing. He was joking with the police woman
who was taking the pictures, asking if he could keep a copy as a
'souvenir'. I started to ask him to please tell the police that I had
nothing to do with any thefts, but I was interrupted by a policeman
who told me not to talk. I was lead away into a holding cell. It was
the last time I ever saw Bill Shields. For someone who had such an
effect on my life, I knew him for only about a month, and had lived
with him for only eleven days.
A few eternities later, I was taken out and told that my bail was
$2500 and I was given my one phone call. I called my mother, who was
soon in tears. She said she didn't have the money, but would try to
raise it the same day. I remember asking her the time and date (it
was the same day, December 14th). For some reason, knowing the time
seemed very important to me.
I was left in the holding cell overnight. I didn't sleep at all.
The holding cell had a view of the police desk, and I just sat there
and stared at it, and listened to the drunks and prostitutes they
The next morning, I was asked if I wanted to confess. I told them I
had nothing to confess, and tried to explain. They didn't want to
hear my explanations. They took me upstairs to the real jail, where
I was locked into an isolation cell. I still had my own clothes on,
which were starting to smell. My belt (which I needed to keep my
pants up) and my shoelaces were taken away.
The isolation cell had nothing to distract me. No police or
prisoners to talk to. Nothing to read. Nothing to look at or listen
to. At first I said to myself "this isn't too bad" I paced back and
forth for a few minutes (not easy to do in a 5' * 7' cell) , then said
to myself "let me the hell out of here I can't stand it any longer!".
The same day, I was taken to court, where I was arraigned for one
count of of burglary. I said "I plead not guilty your honor". The
judge looked at me (my hands on my pants to keep them from falling)
with disgust, and said "You can't do that. This is an arraignment.
Take him away." I was taken back to my cell.
The cell contained a sink/toilet and a bunk. I could drink all the
water I wanted (with my hands) but there was no food. Eventually my
fear and shock began to become exceeded by my hunger. I started
hollering for some food. I kept doing so. After my voice was
completely hoarse, I was brought some. I also insisted on a phone
call, but I was not allowed one.
I was in there for three days. Three times a day, I was brought
some food. (The food wasn't much worse than what you get in a high
school cafateria). The guard who brought it said nothing, and
responded to none of my questions.
After three days, at about 3 am I was taken to a room filled with
police. They asked me if I was ready to confess. I told them I was
innocent. One of them said "ok, lets take him back". I pleaded with
them to let me explain. So they let me stay and explain. They didn't
seem to believe a word I said. Then one of them said that they had
found my fingerprints and my handwriting at the scene of the crime,
and asked me how I explained that. It didn't occur to me that they
were lying (they were) nor did I wonder why a burglar's handwriting
would be found at the crime scene. (Much later, I learned that the
burglar had written "YOU LOST SOMETHING" on the wall in one of the
offices that was burglarized, in block letters that look nothing like
mine (yes, I saw them myself, eventually)).
They also claimed that my footprints, that is, the prints of the
shoes I was then wearing, had been found in one of the offices
(another lie) and asked me how I would explain that. I once again
insisted that I had never been inside the building in question, and
suggested that possibly Bill had borrowed my shoes (since it didn't
occur to me that they were lying or that they were out to get me).
They seemed to be happiest when I tried to recount the last two
weeks in minute detail. They were taking notes. They kept trying
to catch me in contradictions. They insisted that they succeeded.
I told them they were all crazy and demanded that they let me go.
They took me back to my cell, and left me there for three more days,
after which they took me out and interrogated me again. They kept
threatening to take me back to the cell and leave me in there for
weeks if I didn't "cooperate". They started misquoting what I had
told them three days ago. I kept insisting I hadn't said those
things. I was getting very confused. It was the middle of the night
again. I had been cut off from all outside contact except for one
phone call for a week. A very long week. I statrted doubting my own
senses and my sanity. This, I have since learned, is all too common
when someone is in an unfamiliar environment, cut off from friends and
family, deprived of sleep, and surrounded by people who seem to all
agree when someone says something false, and disagree with everything
you say. Especially among young people. In fact, there are many cases
where someone "freely" confessed after several days in police custody,
to a crime it was later proven that they did not commit. This is what
the "Miranda warning" and the "free phone call" rules are designed to
After an hour of this, when I tried to remain calm and say "No
I didn't say that, let me explain what happened", "No, you are
mistaken", "No, I have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure",
"No, I have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure", "No, I
have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure", trying to be a
sane island in an insane sea, I finally lost it and started screaming
"GET ME OUT OF HERE. GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE" over and over again.
I continued to scream that as they lead me back to the cell.
The next day (in the daytime this time) they tried a different tack.
Two really mean looking redneck types (just like the Evil Sheriff in
all those TV shows) started talking to me "man to man". They told me
that I had a bad attitude, that they wanted to help me, but that I
apparently thought that it was all a game. They said that they had
put me in solitary as a great favor to me, and that I was acting
ungrateful. They told me that if I didn't start cooperating, they
would have to put me in the "population". They told me in disgusting
detail what a "buck nigger" with a "twelve inch dick" would do to me
within the first hour, and told me that if convicted for all my crimes
I would receive 260 years.
I just sat there, hoping none of it was true. After an hour of
this, I was returned to the cell. That evening, I was awakened, given
a jail uniform, and put in the "population". I didn't make a very
good first impression with the other prisoners, as my first questions
made it clear that I thought that it was the following morning rather
than the same evening. But they soon decided I was better than the
previous inhabitant of the cellblock, who had been sent to a mental
hospital for attacking a guard with a spoon.
I got along much better with the prisoners than with the guards and
the police. We spent most of our time playing cards and reading
books from the jail library (mostly relgious books, but better than
nothing). And one prisoner loaned me some books by F.M. Busby, whom I
had never heard of before, and who is now one of my favorite authors.
I was allowed one five minute local phone call per week. I usually
called my parents, who told me that they were still trying to raise
money for the bail. They told me the court would appoint a lawyer
for me (I already knew this) so they wouldn't have to pay for one.
I met with the lawyer they appointed for me. He seemed kind of
bored by the whole thing. He kept glancing at his watch. He told me
that he would not be available for my indictments, but that all I had
to do was answer "not guilty" to everything. He said he thought they
had two or three indictments on me. He refused to speculate on what
I was taken to the courtroom. The judge slowly read 16 felony
indictments, "... did with malice aforethought, on or about the night
of December 4th 1977, take, steal, and carry away ... having value in
excess of one hundred dollars ...". I said my lines. "Not guilty".
"Not guilty, your honor". "Not guilty". Someone in the back of the
courtroom started snickering after the tenth indictment or so. Not
Trial was set for February 8th. February 8th? 1978? That was EONS
away! My bail was raised to $5000.
My lawyer met with me twice. He told me that things looked bad. He
said that he had spoken with my parents and my friends, and there was
no hope that I would be bailed out. He said that if it went to trial,
that they would have a seperate trial with a seperate jury for each
of the sixteen charges, and the whole thing would take a year or more.
He also said it was virtually certain that I would be found guilty on
some of them, and receive a ten or twenty year sentence for each one I
was found guilty of. He said that the only reasonable course for me
was to "plea bargain". He explained that since the prosecutor's case
was so weak, he would be willing to throw out most of the indictments
in return for my pleading guilty to one or two, and that I would get a
suspended sentence, and I would be out by February. The only bad part
is that I would have a felony record. He explained that this was no
longer considered very important, and that lots of people had them and
it was no impediment at all. He said that if I didn't go along with
this, that he would withdraw from my case. He conceded that the court
would appoint another lawyer if this happens, but he pointed out
that not only is he a close personal friend with the judge and the
prosecutor, he is an "officer of the court". He also said any other
competent lawyer would do exactly as he did, since no lawyer wants to
see his client screw himself. And finally, he said he though he could
try some of his influence to see if he can't get the date moved up a
little earlier, so that it will be all over with sooner.
Well, I believed all of it. What a fool I was. EVERY lawyer is an
"officer of the court". This guy is payed by the state a fixed, and
rather low, rate for every case. Not only does he not get any more
for working extra on a case, but if he does that, the state is likely
to replace him with someone more cooperative. And without state
revenue, I imagine he would have to find some honest line of work. If
he were any good at lawyering, he would be making a lot more, working
for clients who can pay. Most of the rest of what he said was lies.
If only I had it on tape or in writing, how I could burn the bastard!
I was supposed to be given the plea bargain agreement, to read and
to sign, several days before the "trial" (which remained February
8th). I first saw the things when I was in the courtroom, with
everyone waiting on me. There was a stack of about 20 of them,
supposedly all identical. My lawyer dumped them in front of me and
said "sign these" just when the judge was talking to me. I started to
read the fine print on the first one, then said to myself "The heck
with this. I've got to trust him. The alternative is too horrible
to think about." So I signed them all. The judge asked me if I was
admitting guilt of my free will and wasn't coerced. I said that I was
doing it of my free will. He then asked me if I was really guilty.
I said no. He asked me again. My lawyer whispered into my ear "dammit,
say yes, its just legaleese, it doesn't mean what it sounds like".
I thought for a moment about the year of trials followed by ten or
more years in the state penitentiary (which I had been told was the
certain outcome if I didn't say "yes"). I said "yes".
The judge set sentencing for March 23rd. Six weeks! That's nearly
as long as I had already been in there for! But what could I say.
This was to give the probation department time to write a pre-
sentencing report, which the judge would use in deciding what sentence
to give me.
Well, the six endless weeks passed, an hour at a time, a minute at
a time. I finally (around March 1st) got a copy of the agreement I
had signed. I was upset that it didn't mention any limitations on the
sentence. Also, the other charges were not dropped, but were "nolle
prosequied" (pronounced null prossed) which means they aren't going to
prosecute now, but reserve the right to do so at any future time.
My lawyer finally returned my call after a week, and explained that
this was all normal, that nolle prosequied charges are never really
brought back, and that the judge knew that I was innocent, but was
required by law to do things this way, and that I would get probation.
I asked him when do I get my copy of the pre-sentencing report. He
told me it wasn't completed yet.
On March 23rd I was taken to the court for sentencing. I felt a
mixture of fear (that something might go wrong) and elation (that I
was surely about to go free).
The probation officer (a black woman) said that she had not yet
completed the report. Sentencing was rescheduled for March 30th.
What an anticlimax!
On March 30th, my lawyer gave me a copy of the report about half an
hour before the sentencing. As I read it I got madder and madder.
It was full of lies and half-truths. It said that I had spent most
of my childhood going to "special schools". She didn't mention that
they were schools for the gifted. The implication of course is that
they were reform schools or something. She said I had had no previous
convictions as an adult. True, but it imples that I had some as a
child (they aren't allowed to mention any in such reports, apparently).
I had not. I had no previous convictions, arrests, or even tickets.
Ever. (Neither have I had any since then.)
She quoted my high school gym teacher (who flunked me) but not any
of my other teachers (who gave me As and Bs).
She quoted a lot of stuff my parents told her out of context (I later
discovered she misrepresented herself to them as a "social worker" who
was gathering information on my childhood to "help me". She said I
had gone to a psychiatrist for several months when I was 13. This is
simply FALSE. I have NEVER gone to a psychiatrist. The closest thing
to that that I can think of is that I was given a full day intelligence
test by a school psychologist when I was 12.
I later learned that this particular probation officer is extremely
prejudiced. She makes all black people look like saints. She makes
all white people look like monsters.
I was lead into the court. My parents and several of my friends
were there. The judge spoke about how "baffling" he found this case.
I was visibly very angry (I was later told by my parents). This was
certainly because of the pre-sentencing report. The judge asked if I
had any corrections to the pre-sentencing report. My lawyer said "No,
your honor" but I stood up and described all the errors I had found,
in what I thought was a calm tone of voice. When I was finished, the
judge then asked the prosecutor if he had any corrections to make.
The prosecutor had one. The name of one of the companies I was
accused of burglarizing has been misspelled. The judge directed the
clerk to correct the misspelling. Not a word about my objections to it.
The judge then sentenced me to six years in the state penitentiary.
I waited for him to say "suspended". When he didn't, I nearly
fainted. I wish I had.
For my sentencing, I wore a suit and tie, borrowed from my father.
This was only the second time in my life (that I recall) that I had
worn suit and tie. The first time, I wore a rented suit and tie for
my high school senior yearbook picture. I was able to fit into my
fathers clothes only because I had lost so much weight in jail.
It didn't do much good, obviously. I haven't worn suit nor tie
since, and don't plan to until they put me in that pine box and lower
me into the ground.
I was led back to the cellblock. The cellblock was shared with six
other prisoners. In the cellblock there are seven seperate cells, 5'
by 7', containing a steel bunk and a sink/toilet. Three walls of the
cell are cinderblock. The third wall, which includes the door, is
made of vertical steel bars. I have been told that those bars contain
smaller bars within them, which are free to roll, so as to make sawing
through them difficult. And that the space around the smaller bars is
filled with pressurized bright orange day-glo oil, to make detection
of sawing attempts easy for the guards.
The door is made of identical steel bars, and leads into the
dayroom. The dayroom has a TV, a sink/toilet, and a long low table.
No chairs. It is about 5' by 40'. The two narrow walls are made of
cinderblocks. One of the long walls is the front of all the cells.
The other is also made of steel bars, and faces the hall. Across the
hall is an identical cellblock. There were also identical cellblocks
to the left and right of ours, and to the left and right of the one
A part of the long wall that faced the hall was the door. It, like
the doors to the cells, can only be opened by inserting a special key
into a box in the hall. The box is normally locked, and can only be
opened by another key. As far as I could tell, nobody carried both
keys, thuse it always took two guards to open any door. Actually,
there are two doors in series to each cellblock, arranged sort of like
an airlock. They are never opened at once. I guess that is to keep
the prisoners from all rushing out and overwhelming the guards.
In the halls there are video cameras every few yards. The monitors
are in the permanently manned control booth near the visiting room and
the elevators, at the convergence of all the halls.
The jail was only about a year old at the time I was there, and was
usually fairly clean. I never saw any rats, spiders, or insects
there. It was heated, air conditioned, and well ventilated, which was
fortunate as most of the prisoners smoked and I am allergic to smoke.
From 8 am until 4 pm the cells were locked and we were required to
be in the dayroom. This was very uncomfortable as there were no
chairs and the floor was cement. From 4 pm until 8 pm the cell doors
were open, and we were allowed to be in our cells or in the dayroom.
And from 8 pm until 8 am, the cell doors were locked and we were
required to be in our cells. (These hours might not be completely
correct, it's been a while.)
There wasn't much violence or rape. But there was a lot of talk about
it, and about how this warn't nothing, wait until you get to the real
We played cards and watched TV and read and wrote letters. We ate
three (small) meals a day. All in the cellblock. We were allowed
two 15 minute visits a week. For visits, you would be taken from
the cellblock to the visiting room, which was just like in the comic
strips. The prisoners and the visiters could see eachother through
a sheet of heavy glass with chicken wire in it, and could speak to
eachother on telephones. The reasons for that setup were to prevent
things from being smuggled into the jail, and to make it easy for the
guards to monitor conversations.
Mostly we sat around and were terribly bored in the cellblock. It
was common to not leave the cellblock for weeks at a time. It was
then that I did yet another thing that I greatly regret. This was
before my sentencing, and I have never been sure whether the judge
heard about it, and if so, whether it influenced the sentence in
I became curious about the doors. The door to my cell was mostly
out of the guards view. We could hear them coming down the hall, they
jangled so, with all the keys and coins they carried. Prisoners were
allowed neither keys nor coins nor anything else metallic, so any
clinking or jangling we heard had to be guards.
Anyway, I started fooling around with the door. There was a slot
in which the door rides open and closed. I tried poking around in
there with my finger. I tried listening and watching closely when
it was opened and closed. One time I put a book in the way when the
door was about to close. The book was a bible, several organizations
donated hundreds of them to the jail, so it was about the only thing
in ample supply in there. When the door closed, it mashed the book
right in two, and closed securely. As usual, I could not budge the
One day, when the door was open I started poking about in the slot
with my toothbrush. It didn't quite go, so I rubbed the handle end of
the toothbrush against the concrete floor until it fit. There was a
thing inside the door that felt like it almost wanted to go up, but it
kept sliding to one side or the other. So I managed (I forget how) to
grind a kind of wide groove in the middle of the end of the handle, to
make it kind of like a stubby two pronged fork. I then found, after
some more fishing around, that if I got it in just the right place and
pushed straight up and a little to the side with about 50 pounds of
force, something gave, there was a soft click, and the door was then
free to slide open and shut by hand, with about 10 pounds of force.
Having done this to the door to my cell, I did it to the doors
of all the other cells in the cellblock, with all the prisoners
permission. I felt I should open all the doors since that way if the
guards noticed, they wouldn't have any idea which one of us did it.
That evening, the doors all closed normally, and proved to be firmly
locked. I was able to reach through the bars and unlock it, as I had
done when it was open. Having unlocked it, I left it closed, so
nobody could tell.
This went on for a couple more days. I showed some other prisoners
how to do it, at their insistence. I didn't think anyone could escape
even with this knowledge, since the halls are patrolled all day and
all night and only lead to other cellblocks and to the permanently
manned control booth adjacent to a different kind of locked door.
One day, some guards took me into a room and told me that they
needed my help. They said that the door to the hall in one of the
cellblocks refused to work with the electrical keybox, and they knew
that I had a way to open doors without that. They promised me that
this would not be used against me if I was to help them by opening the
door, and show them how I had done it.
They took me to the door in question and I opened it in about 3
seconds. They were all visibly impressed, as were the prisoners in
the cellblock, who had not seen that trick before. I showed them a
couple more times how to do it.
The next day, I was given a short hearing in which I was accused of
opening the cell doors over a period of several days. In my defense,
I pointed out that I had not done this since I was promised I would
not be prosecuted for it. The guards pointed out that this was not a
court hearing, but an internal jail matter, and nobody had promised
that that would not happen. I was sentenced to 15 days in solitary
confinement, and 30 days 'good-time' lost. I appealed in writing to
the sheriff (who supposedly ran the jail but was never seen there).
I later learned he had denied my appeal.
Solitary was pretty boring. No TV, no reading or writing, no
visitors, no personal posessions except a toothbrush. A new
toothbrush. They had confiscated the hacked one.
The door was of a more old fashioned kind. I didn't try to open it.
On the other side of the door (made of bars) was a room no larger then
the cell I was in. The door to that room was solid steel, and I could
not see or hear beyond it. In the other room, out of reach, was a
spotlight and a camera, both pointed at me. The spotlight never went
out, not even at night.
I was fed the usual meals, by a guard apparently under orders not to
talk to me.
I tried to scratch the days into the wall, as prisoners always do
in the comics, but I had nothing that would leave a mark on the wall.
So I soon managed to loose all track of how many of the 15 days had
gone by. I amused myself by doing long calculations in my head, such
as calculating the digits of e (pi is too hard without pencil and
paper) and factoring random integers.
Finally, the 15 days were over and I was taken to a different
cellblock (apparently my place had been taken in my old cellblock).
The next day, some welders came in and welded on the doors to make
my trick impossible.
A few days later was my sentencing.
Nothing much happened for a month. Than a friend visited and gave
me important and exciting news. A friend of a friend's friend was a
lawyer, and he had agreed to take my case. Not only that, but he felt
that he had a good chance of having the sentence thrown out or radically
reduced as the judge had neglected to take into account some special law
regarding sentencing people who are under 21.
In late April, a friend visited and told me that a friend of a
friend's friend was a lawyer, and had agreed to take my case. Not
only that, but he felt that he had a good chance of having the
sentence thrown out or radically reduced as the judge had neglected
to take into account some special law regarding sentencing people who
are under 21.
Actually, I had been sentenced not to six years, but to two
consecutive three year terms. My new lawyer told me that what was
most likely is that I would be granted resentencing by the judge and
the judge would make the two consecutive terms concurrent instead.
After a few weeks, I got a letter saying that the resentencing had
been approved! It was scheduled for June 23rd, less than a month
away by then. I was finally satisfied that it would be over soon.
Surely the judge would decide he had put enough of a scare into me,
and commute the sentence to 'time served'. Even if he made the
senteces concurrent, I would be eligible for parole three months
from then. Never did I dream of what actually ended up happening.
A psychiatrist was hired at the lawyers insistence. He interviewed
me for about 20 minutes. A week later I saw his report on me. It
wasn't very accurate or very complimentary, but it did say that it was
impossible that I was guilty, and that sending me to the penitentiary
would be the worst possible thing.
In the middle of the night on June 22nd I was awakened and moved to
a solitary cell. I was told that I was going to be taken to the
penitentiary in the morning. I explained that I had a court date
that day, and demanded a phone call. I was not given a phone call,
or materials with which to write a letter.
In the morning, several prisoners including me were taken down the
elevator, led into a sealed garage, and handcuffed inside a windowless
van. There were chains around my ankles and my wrists, and the chains
were bolted to part of the van. There were no seatbelts.
We sat in there for maybe an hour or two before the van started moving.
You have no idea how boring a trip can be when you can't see anything.
It was uncomfortably hot.
After several hours we were let out, into another sealed garage. We
were led to some toilets (two of the prisoners had already wet their
pants on the trip) and were then told to strip and led to a shower.
I recalled something about a shower at Aushwitz...
Evil smelling liquids were sprayed on us, and after we had been in
the shower for a while, we were taken out and had all our hair cut
off. We were still naked.
After that, we were issued prison uniforms. They had large numbers
stenciled on the back, but they did not have vertical stripes. We
were photographed and fingerprinted and given two minute medical
Then we were given a lecture by the warden. He explained that there
was a fence around the compound and anyone caught trying to cross it
would be shot, unless they were electrocuted first. He said only
one person had ever managed to get over the fence, and he was found
drowned in quicksand in the swamp outside. He told us that we were
at the "Southampton Reception and Classification Center", a part of
the Southampton prison complex, in which all new prisoners are given
numbers and at which it is determined which of several prisons or road
camps in Virginia each prisoner will be sent to. The center was only
a few months old. Apparently it hadn't yet been opened when I was
I told the warden, the chaplain, and everyone else who would listen
that I was supposed to be in court in Arlington. Nobody seemed
terribly excited about it. I wasn't allowed a to make a phone call
or to mail a letter.
We were all issued plastic cards like you get at a high-tech firm.
The card had my picture on it and my height and weight and my arrest
date and my discharge date. My discharge date was December 14, 1983.
Of course at the time that was somewhere in the far distant future.
As distant as May of 1988 is now. My weight was 199 pounds. (I had
lost a lot of weight in the jail.)
I was put in my cell. It was larger than the one at Arlington jail.
And it had a window! I looked out the window in amazement. Only
then did it occur to me that I had not seen the outdoors for over six
months, and that I had managed to miss the whole winter and the whole
spring. I had a fine ground level view of the grass, and of the fence,
and of the woods beyond the fence. I was even able to open and close
the window. There were square bars in it to keep people from crawling
There was an ordinary looking screen in the window, behind the bars.
I removed it to get a better view. It fell outside. Fortunately, I
was able to get it back by fishing for it by dangling my shoe with the
I explored the cell. Other than being larger, it was much like
the one in Arlington jail. I noticed that the caulking between
the cinderblocks wasn't ordinary mortar but was a rubbery stuff.
I saw that someone had a hiding place, where a piece of it came out.
I searched for more such hiding places, on the chance that there
were more and one was not empty and I was being set up for something.
I didn't find any more. There was a flourescent light above the
sink/toilet. Unlike everything at Arlington jail, it was vulnerable,
like something you might find in a house. In the jail, everything was
built so that nobody could possibly break it. It was very depressing.
And this light, with a light switch, was quite pleasing. Also, we were
served meals in a cafeteria. And in the daytime we were allowed to
stay in our cells or to go down the hall and watch TV in the TV room,
which had benches you could sit on.
That first evening there was a thunderstorm. Great show! The power
was out for hours. Lightning was crashing within a mile of us. The
rain was coming down as hard as rain ever comes down. I never realized
just how wonderful the sight, sound, and smell of a thunderstorm
The next day we were let outside. Most of the prisoners were playing
soccer. I just sat on a bench and soaked up sunlight. I found a piece
of string. That evening, I discovered I had a nasty sunburn.
That evening I tied the string I had found to the lampcord, and the
other end to the side of the bed. That way, I could turn the light on
and off without getting out of bed. True luxury!
During inspection the next day, the string was confiscated.
We were given a sort of IQ test in a room just like a classroom.
The test was pretty simple. A few questions near the end were
challenging, but I had time to devote to them since I had finished the
earlier questions quickly. At least it was something to get my mind
of the situation. Later, I was retested in a one-to-one session with
Finally, I got some mail. My friends and my lawyer had discovered
the situation and were trying to get the resentencing moved to June
There was a canteen at which food and cigarettes could be bought
if you had money in the prison account. You just had to show your
plastic card. After a few days a friend sent me ten dollars, and I
bought some Pringles potato chips.
Days went by. June 30th came and went. Finally, I got word that
the judge said he could not resentence me or order me brought back
for resentencing because I was "outside the jurisdiction". The judge
claimed that I had been moved because of a mistake made by a clerk.
My lawyer said he would appeal it to the state supreme court.
I decided that the place I was at was as good as any place to serve
my sentence. There were positions for a small number of prisoners to
work in the cafeteria and the laundry. I decided this would be a good
place since it was new and since most of the prisoners are there too
short a time to start forming networks of trouble.
My request was denied.
In mid-July I was moved to another prison in the Southampton complex.
I was told this was temporary. The place was somewhat older and had a
more permanent prisoner population. Also, it had a library. Instead of
cells, there were a sort of barracks consisting of trailers stuck end
to end to make a kind of plus sign shape. A plus sign of plus signs,
consisting of 16 trailers, with a small real building in the center.
We were pretty much free to wander around. A feature I didn't like
was that we had to do our own laundry. A feature I did like was that
we were allowed unlimitted collect phone calls during certain hours.
We were allowed to be outside during all daylight hours.
After seven days, three of us were put in the back seat of a prison
car, and driven to the Bland Correctional Farm (named for Bland
county, in which it is located). It was an all day drive, since
we started in southeastern Virginia and ended up in southwestern
Virginia, which is closer to Cleveland than to DC, and where the
nearest 'big city' is Bristol Tennessee, population 14,000, which is
about 80 miles away. The 'city' of Bland is 20 miles away and has a
population of 369.
On the road, I had fun waving at astonished children in cars going by.
I looked eagerly at the cars to see if they looked any different than
they had seven months earlier. I couldn't really tell.
With great difficulty I was able to pocket a dime I found on the
floor of the car (I was handcuffed). Later in the trip, I was somehow
able to slip the handcuffs off, which got the driver real worried when
he noticed at the end of the trip.
So I had finally arrived at Bland, where I was to serve the rest of
I was given a bunk in a 'dorm' in building 1. This 'dorm' is a sort
of barracks, with bunk beds about 2 feet apart down both long walls.
There were 4 such 'dorms' in the building, 2 on each of the 2 floors.
There were 4 buildings, and one would move from building to building
over the months or years that you were there. Building 2 had no
additional privileges. Building 3 had something minor, I forget.
Beds farther apart, I think. Building 4 was the 'honor' building.
Prisoners housed in building 4 had individual cells. And they were
allowed out on 'yard' 30 minutes earlier than everyone else. 'Yard'
was 2 hours in the evening when prisoners were allowed to wander
around outdoors within the compound. They could just walk around,
they could go to the canteen, and they could visit with prisoners in
The 'dorm' had plenty of (barred) windows, from which the
wire-enforced glass was mostly missing. This didn't bother me
since it meant there was plenty of ventilation, and the place wasn't
air-conditioned anyway. The ventilation was important to me since
most of the prisoners smoked, and I am very bothered by smoke.
The canteen, open only during yard, was a small store run by guards.
You could buy snack foods, cigarettes, tobacco and rolling paper,
combs, razors, padlocks, fingernail clippers, batteries, writing
paper, envelopes, pens, and stamps, there. If you had money in the
prison account, you could get canteen tickets which were 3 inch
by 5 inch cardboard cards with 1s and 5s and 10s all over them,
representing cents. They could be spent in the canteen, and were
marked off by using a hole punch on the 1s and 5s and 10s. They
were also used as currency between prisoners, although stamps and
cigarettes were a more common currency. Prisoners weren't allowed to
have cash on them, and incoming mail was always inspected for cash,
which would be deposited in the prisoner's account. Occasionally they
missed seeing some money in an incoming letter, or money was smuggled
in. Since real currency was quite rare for those reasons, it could be
traded for twice face value.
Prisoner's accounts did not earn any interest.
The canteen was all metal mesh on the front, and had only a narrow
slit for handing the guard your canteen ticket and getting the food
or whatever. One major problem was that the prisoners in the 'honor'
building were let out 30 minutes earlier than the rest of us, and
they would immediately head for the canteen, find out what was in
short supply, buy all of it, and sell it to the other prisoners at a
considerable profit. Stamps were a favorite for this trick. I often
had to pay 25 cents for a stamp. This was when they were 13 cents.
Next to your bunk was a small metal locker. You could buy a padlock
for it. It was strongly recommended that you keep everything in there.
Things were stolen if you literally turned your back for 10 seconds.
Prisoners were allowed to have radios, cassette players, and
calculators, so long as they were shipped straight from the retailers
or manufacturers in unopened boxes. I noticed that nearly half of
the prisoners had these things. This seemed odd, since most of the
prisoners were probably broke, as I was. I asked about it, and found
that there was widespread abuse of credit cards. People would get
credit card numbers, either make them up or have some friend not in
prison get some from a dumpster. They would then mail order all sorts
of stuff. The return address was 'BCC', which I guess many retailers
thought was a community college (in Virginia there are several
community colleges, such as NVCC and SSCC). Also, the local post
office knew to send any letters that went to an unknown address in
Bland to BCC. So prisoners sometimes used return addresses like
"Joe Smith, president/Hypertech Inc./Suite 1200/1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue/Bland VA 24315" and it would get to Joe Smith, inmate 912345.
Retailers would finally discover they were duped and send dunning
letters. But there wasn't much they could do. One, just one, once
had the nerve to show up there and, escorted by guards, reclaim his
tape player. (Several months later this scam was discovered by the
Washington Post, and the guards started returning all packages not
Adjacent to the room with all the beds was a bathroom with several
stalls and one shower. I should say several toilets not several
stalls as there were no walls between them. And there was no shower
curtain. No privacy anywhere. Those were the only places you could
be at night.
During yard the door to the outside was open and you could go in and
out, or visit with prisoners in other 'dorms'.
Every two hours or so was 'count' when you had to stand at attention
next to your bed (or wherever you were working). Count was not taken
at night. At night the guards all left. Guards were still in the
towers outside the fence, but none were within the fence. It was made
clear that at night they shoot not only prisoners trying to get over
the fence but anyone seen outdoors. They had spotlights, rifles, and
shotguns. I don't know whether they had machine guns.
There were six buildings. At the front was the administration
building, which was adjacent to the only gate in the fences. On the
left were buldings 1 and 4. On the right were buildings 2 and 3.
Those 4 buildings contained all the beds (about 1000) and building
3 also contained the canteen and the laundry. In the rear was a
building containing the cafeteria and its kitchen.
Surrounding all the buildings were two 20 foot chain link fences
seperated by 30 feet. The fences were electrified at the top, and
immediately outside the outer fence at each corner and a few places
between there were permanently manned 30 foot guard towers. At the
top of both fences was electrified barbed wire. On the ground between
the fences was lots of semi-rolled-up razor wire. Like something from
World War I. Outside the fences was about 100 feet of cleared area
before the woods start. Two prisoners were shot trying to get over
the fence while I was there. One of them had had a shorter sentence
I mentioned that we had all been issued ID cards, which had our
picture and our discharge date on them. These cards weren't actually
used for anything at Bland. Anyway, people would show off how far
away their discharge date was. In Virginia a life sentence is the
same as 100 years, for purposes of computing discharge date. Anyhow,
we were all suitably impressed by this fellow whose discharge date was
in the 22nd century (2106 I think) until this guy with lots of tattoos
showed us his, which said Monday, December 14th, 4291. Psyched us
all out! Though the guy really was pretty mild. Don't know what he
was convicted of. I never could figure out if it was for real or a
clever forgery. I think it was for real. That date was easy for
me to remember since December 14th was the day I was arrested, and
the year 4291 is, believe it or not, mentioned in a Heinlein novel.
And it really is a Monday, I later figured out. Wonder how the
state knew that.
The prison population can roughly be divided between long-timers
and short-timers. It had little to do with the length of your
sentence. It had to do with one's attitude. A long timer is someone
who doesn't give a damn anymore. He plans on never getting out. So
he figures he can do as he pleases while he's in, since it's all he's
got. A short timer is someone who is expecting to get out. He tries
not to get into any additional trouble.
There were short timers with multiple life sentences, and long
timers with two year sentences. It was impossible to predict.
The long timers essentially ran the place. I, of course, was a
short timer. I was hoping that my lawyer would get me rescheduled for
resentencing within a few weeks, and in any case I would be eligible
for parole in June of 1979, 11 months away.
In some ways Bland was much more liberal than Arlington jail. For
instance prisoners were allowed to have dangerous things like razors
and padlocks, and were allowed outdoors, and were allowed to have
contact visits (meaning you could sit in the same room with your
visitor, rather than being seperated by a wall of glass) (but not
conjugal visits (meaning you could be alone with your visitor)).
The guards exerted much less authority at Bland than at Arlington.
Everyone knew that the long-timer prisoners were running things at
There were 4 security grades. Minimum security prisoners, mostly
those whose discharge date was within a few months, were allowed to
do all sorts of things such as work alone outside the fence and even
drive trucks between prisons. Medium security prisoners (of which I
was one) were taken outside the fence in the daytime and made to work
on the farm. We were guarded at gunpoint. High security prisoners
were not taken outside the fence. Maximum security prisoners were not
at Bland at all, but at maximum security prisons such as Mecklenberg
(I was astonished to recently read of a successful escape of 6 death
row prisoners from Mecklenberg (they have all since been recaptured
and some of them executed)).
Two kinds of prisoners that prison culture does not tolerate are
child molesters and snitches. I don't know just how, but the
prisoners who ran the place always knew everything in one's prison
record. No child molestor could get away with claiming he was in
fact in for something like robbery or mugging little old ladies. At
Arlington jail all that ever happened to molesters was that they got
cursed at and spit at a lot, and sometimes got beat up. At Bland,
they were simply killed. Within 24 hours. And it did them no good to
claim that they were actually innocent. The prisoners have a very low
standard of evidence. I was very thankful that my supposed crime,
burglary, was considered perfectly respectable.
Snitches were given similar treatment. It was a very bad idea to be
even seen alone with a guard. The first week I was there, a suspected
snitch was found dead in the 'honor' building. His head had been
bashed in by the usual weapon of choice, a padlock in a sock.
As far as I know, they never found out who did it.
Another favorite weapon is a 'shank', a knife made out of any random
piece of steel, and sharpened for many hours until it is razor sharp.
Razor blades were seldom used in weapons, but were popular for suicide.
At first I thought that prisoner's aversion to snitches was for the
practical reason that they didn't want anyone to snitch on them. And
because they were too scared to snitch for fear some prisoner would
discover this and take action against them. But I later discovered
that this feeling runs much deeper in a lot of prisoners, as proven by
the many cases where a dying prisoner refused to say who knifed him.
Not that this means there weren't a lot of snitches. There were
plenty. The events described in Paul Brickhill's true story _The_
Great_Escape_, in which several hundred American and British
prisoners of war in Nazi Germany were able, in a compound very similar
to BCC, despite minimal resources and constant surveillance, to
construct realistic looking documents, uniforms, guns, working
compasses, several tunnels with ventilation, electric lights, and
trolley tracks, and to escape, would be quite impossible at BCC
because of snitches and the general lack of cooperation between
I found my many conversations with the other prisoners very
instructive. The great majority of them did not claim to be innocent.
What they did claim was that almost everyone in the world was
also guilty. Many of them would go on for hours about how people
committing 'white collar crime' are running the country. Many of them
were on many junk mail lists, and showed me the junk mail to prove
their point. I did have to admit that a lot of the junk mail did seem
to fit their world view, in that instead of offering an honest product
at an honest price, it would make extravagant claims such as 'you have
already won ten million dollars' or 'you will get either a thousand
dollars in cash, a solid gold bar, or a new Rolls Royce, if you visit
foobar estates at no obligation', and it came in envelopes that
pretended to be telegrams or messages from government agencies.
Prisoners had nothing but disgust for guards, describing them as
'too lazy to work and too chicken to steal'. It was interesting that
they did not really have contempt for honest hard working citizens,
but did feel that they were all either suckers who were being ripped
off by their employers, the government, landlords, and stores, or else
that they weren't really as honest as they seemed. Prisoners did not
really have anything against policemen, judges, juries, or people who
call the police. I never heard of anyone saying that when they got
out they wold take revenge on anyone who was just doing their job,
such as the owner of the house they burglarized, or the judge, or the
police. A few did say they planned to avenge themselves on fellow
crooks who had let them 'take the rap' or occasionally on a judge
they described as crooked.
I symathize with a lot of this. Of course much of it is just
rationalizations, but they do have a point. It would be interesting
to see whether it would indeed reduce the crime rate if government
would stop lying to the people, if stupid junk mail and TV ads were to
become a thing of the past, if we heard less about coupons, rebates,
50% off sales, and bait-and-switch, and if more employers and
landlords were to give people a fair deal.
They feel that it is acceptable to steal from anyone except
children, and to kill anyone but children. Of course there are
exceptions to these rules. One prisoner was telling me that he had
burglarized hundreds of houses without being caught, and then one time
some children in bed saw him while he was burglarizing a house he had
thought nobody was in (he tested houses by knocking hard on the door
for several minutes before breaking in). The children later testified
against him in court and he got 40 years. He was paroled after
10 years, and immediately went back to burglary. He had nothing
personally against the children who had testified against him, and he
did not attempt to seek them out and harm them. But one time when he
was burglarizing a house he thought nobody was in, once more he found
some children in bed.
This time he killed them all, for his own protection.
Well, the parents were coming in just as he was leaving, so he did get
caught, and he was given three life sentences for the three children
(this was before the death penalty was reinstated in Virginia) and one
more for the burglary. Of course he denied everything in court, but
once he was convicted he didn't mind admitting it to anyone. (He is
one of the few people I met who I think really deserved to be locked
I heard all sorts of strange stories. I don't know how many are
true, but that doesn't mean they aren't quite instructive on prison
culture. Most people there weren't worth talking to. Half the
prisoners were black, and I couldn't understand what most of them
were saying. Many of the whites were from southwest Virginia, and I
couldn't understand them either. (I have been told by MA and CA types
that I have a Virginia accent. I don't believe I do. In any case,
there are several Virginia accents. I find the southeastern accent
understandable enough, but the southwestern accent might as well be
Greek.) The people I could understand generally shared few interests
with me, and were only good for an hour's conversation. But there
were a few people in there who were worth talking to.
One prisoner claimed to be a doctor. He had a German accent. Lots
of people accused him of being a Nazi doctor. But apparently he had
simply had sex with a teenage patient of his, and her parents found
out and were not amused. Actually, he didn't seem very bright for a
doctor. I bet him $100 that sodium was a metal. He accepted the bet,
but refused to pay when I proved I was right.
Another prisoner claimed he had been a crewman on a nuclear
submarine. He gave me enough detail about the sub and about shipboard
life that I was convinced he was telling the truth. The story of his
arrest was quite fantastic. He said he was ashore in Norfolk late one
night and really hungry with no money. He said that he then broke
into a 7-11 or something like that to get some food. He said he had
never done anything like that before. And he was walking down the
road a few minutes later when the police picked him up. It turned
out that they did not want him for the burglary but for rape, though
at first he thought that was just a ploy to get him to admit to the
burglary. The woman said she was not sure if he was the guy or not,
but the police kept interrogating him all night long, and finally
told him that if he signed a confession, they would ask the woman
one more time and if she still wasn't sure they would let him go.
At the court, the woman was sure it was him and he got 40 years.
And he never was even accused of the store burglary.
One thing I found fascinating was to explore prisoner's perception
of the world. It was quite a distorted view. Some of them thought
that one third of the population was in jails and prisons. And that
only ten percent of the population had graduated high school. And
less than one percent had graduated college. (I recently asked a
yuppie friend of mine what percent of adults in the USA had some
college degree. He estimated 80%. The correct percentage is 25%.)
A lot of prisoners thought that my story was unusual. I suppose it
was. Many of them thought that I was some sort of computer criminal
mastermind. One of them said that he knew that all programmers played
chess, and insisted that I play chess with him. He became violent
when I refused and told him that I do not play chess. He wasn't
interested in playing Qubic, my favorite game.
One prisoner insisted that I teach him how to make millions of
dollars through computer crime. He paid no attention when I told him
I had been convicted of the mundane crime of burglary, and that I knew
very little about how one could steal with computers. So I decided to
see how persistent he was. I had no intention of telling him anything
useful. I might have, had he claimed he was innocent and wanted to
learn something constructive. But he said he was just out to rip people
off. He had no idea how much was involved in computers. He was a high
school dropout whose math ended with fractions.
So I taught him how to convert whole numbers from decimal to
hexadecimal, binary, and octal, and vice versa. When he had mastered
that (after several weeks) I taught him how to convert fractional
numbers as well. After that, I started teaching him PDP-8 machine
language. Shortly after I began that, he gave up.
A few of the prisoners were quite good scrabble players, and often
beat me at it. Various card games were the favorite games, but I soon
learned not to try playing cards with these crooks. I never did talk
anyone into playing Qubic with me.
One thing that really bothered me about the whole system is the way
they renamed everything. The jail was not called a jail, but a
'detention center'. Prisons are 'correctional centers'. Guards are
either 'sheriff's deputies' (in the jail) or 'correctional officers'
(in the prison). Prisoners are 'inmates' or 'offenders'. Former
prisoners are 'ex-offenders'. (I am no great fan of the alternative
term 'ex-con' but at least it's more accurate. 'Con' to mean you were
convicted of something, which I was. But 'offender' implies that I
did the crime, which I didn't. I prefer 'former prisoner' which also
handles the case of people who spent time in jail and were not found
guilty, or whose convictions were later overturned.)
We would be awakened in the morning (I don't recall the hour but it
was before sunrise part of the year) and taken out through the gate
and assembled in the parking lot in front of the admin building. We
were then either marched or taken in an open bed truck to the work
site. My first full day, I was given a dull sickle and told to mow
some grass. Now I've always considered myself to be kind of macho
when it comes to grass. When I was a kid I used to mow grass with a
non-power mower. None of the kids I knew in the mid 1970s had that
experience. But a sickle? A dull sickle? I had never used such a
thing. I didn't know they still had any, except on Russian flags.
Anyhow, I was written up for not sickling hard enough. This was a
sort of kangaroo court, held the following evening. I was given a
reprimand and a mark in my record, and told that if it happened again
I would be put in solitary for two weeks and have some good time taken
Good time is short for 'time off for good behavior'. All prisoners
get it automatically. One day for every three. This means that a six
year sentence is actually a four year sentence, unless your good time
is taken away, which it can be in kangaroo court. Of course they
can't keep someone with a six year sentence more than six years
without taking him to a REAL court, and getting him convicted of
something new. And refusing to work is not a crime.
In less than a week, I was moved to building 2. It was just about
the same as building 1.
I soon settled into a routine. Breakfast, 12 hours of work in the
fields, dinner, lying around the 'dorm', yard, lying around the 'dorm',
bedtime. Once a week was laundry day. Once a day was mail call.
The land was much too hilly for mechanized farming. We had to carry
manure buckets up and down 45 degree hillsides, and spread the manure
by hand. Picking and planting were done mostly by hand. There was a
hay baling machine, and a truck for taking the bales to a barn. I was
one of the people, for several weeks, who had the job of getting the
bales out of the truck into the barn, and stacking it in the barn.
I had never realized that cows needed so much hay. We must have
stacked about 10,000 hundred pound bales in the barn. And after that
there was another barn to fill. And after that, two more.
It was nasty work. The only way to grab a bale was by the string
holding it together. And if you didn't do it just right, the bale
would come apart. The string cut into my hands, and the hay itself
was horribly scratchy. I can't imagine anyone sleeping in hay, it's
Once again, I was accused of not working hard enough. I was sent
back to building 1 for two weeks. When the two weeks were over, I
decided to stay there, as most of the building 1 people had decided,
which was why one could move to building 2 so quickly. The building 1
people were more laid back in general, and I preferred their company.
But after a while I got to the point where I could toss hundred
pound bales around without much difficulty. At about that time, we
started working in the cannery.
The cannery is where food is canned, supposedly to be eaten later at
Bland and to be shipped to other prisons in Virginia. But it seemed
to me that most of it must have been leaving the system altogether,
presumably at someone's great profit. It has been claimed that it
costs several thousand dollars to keep a prisoner for a year. I don't
believe a word of it. We grew far more than we ate at Bland, the
buildings were all built many years ago and were falling apart, the
guards were payed minimum wage, and there were maybe 50 prisoners per
guard, and land was very cheap in that area, as it wasn't good for
anything except hand farming. I am convinced that we made the state
quite a profit.
Anyway, in the cannery there are leaky steam lines everywhere and
the temperature and humidity were both about 100. People's clothes
and even their hair got mildewed.
My first task was to sort green beans. To toss out the bad ones
before they get ground up and put into cans. The person I replaced
had lost a couple fingers on this task, since his hand got into the
slicer. I was allowed no breaks for the 12 hours I was there, and it
was made clear that if I let any bad beans get through, or discarded
any good ones, that I would be in great trouble. I had to ask
permission to go to the bathroom, which I was criticized for doing too
often. I was on this task for several weeks before being given an
easier task, putting one salt tablet in each empty can, and checking
the cans for rust.
There was a huge steam vat, in which the beans, already in the cans,
were cooked. One time when they opened it to take out the cans they
found a dead body in there. I couldn't help but see it. And the
expression on its bloated face.
There was also a huge freezer. People liked getting locked into it,
as it gave them an excuse for why they stayed in there. It was the
only cool place.
I wouldn't have minded the conditions at the cannery so much if I
had been able to to shower when I returned to the 'dorm'. But the
shower was monopolized by the long-timers. The only way to get a
shower was to stay up way past midnight. Even then, your feet weren't
clean since the shower was always backed up and there was sewage all
over the floor, since all the toilets also leaked.
After I had been at Bland for several months, I heard from my lawyer
that the state supreme court had turned down my appeal. No grounds
were given. I hadn't even been appealing my conviction, but rather
the fact that I had been prevented from attending my resentencing,
which had then been cancelled since I wasn't present. The appeal was
an attempt to gain me a resentencing. The lawyer said he had fully
expected this, that the state supreme court always turns things down,
but that you have to take that step before you can appeal to the
federal district court. So he appealed the state supreme court's
decision to the federal district court.
Prisoners often had fun by sabotaging the work. In the cannery,
people often tried to wreck the boiler, jam the conveyers, smash the
cans, etc. I only did something like this once. We were loading a
truck with boxes full of cans of green beans and apples. I noticed
that despite the prisoners seeming to exert a lot of effort in lifting
the boxes, the boxes were empty! So I assisted in loading hundreds of
boxes, most of them empty, into the truck. The guards never found
out, at least not that I heard of, that they had been fooled.
The weather turned cold. I had never noticed that it had been a
comfortable temperature for a few days. Once it turned cold it stayed
cold. Now that the cannery might be comfortable, we were outside
again instead. We dug up potatos and spread manure, mostly. We also
did some road work, and some landscaping on the warden's house.
It became winter. We were given light jackets, but they didn't help
much. As I said, the windows in the 'dorm' were mostly broken out.
The wind never stopped blowing and it was always below freezing.
The toilets, the sinks, and the shower became frozen solid. Then,
I understood why they leaked so much when it was warmer. The only
source of drinkable water was snow and ice from outside brought in
and melted in coffee cans. Fires were kept burning all night in the
'dorm' in a futile attempt to stay warm. In the day, during all
daylight hours we were outside doing useless things like picking rocks
off a hill and loading them into a truck and then spreading them on
another hill. And then moving them back a few weeks later. At least
it kept you somewhat warm. I wondered how I could ever have despised
Then I was transferred to the sawmill. Logs were sawed up into
boards. It was dangerous, but at least you could get warm there.
There was a fire barrel and you could get warm if you stood near it
and turned around. If you did not turn around, your clothes would
start smoldering if you were close enough to keep warm. Fortunately,
the guard who ran the sawmill was fairly humane and let us take
frequent breaks at the fire barrel, since even shoveling wood chips and
lifting 200 pound logs couldn't keep you warm enough. One day when it
was really cold and windy, we went into a building near the sawmill
instead of to the sawmill. The building had a wood stove and a
thermometer and a radio. The wood stove was glowing dull red, and the
temperature in there was a comfortable 65 degrees. The weatherman on
the radio said the temperature was minus twenty and the wind chill
factor was minus 85!
The winter of 1978/1979 was a very cold winter in the hills of
southwestern Virginia. Working at the sawmill wasn't all that bad as
there was a firebarrel and frequent breaks. But then one day some
prisoner sabotaged the sawmill. He (or they) cut the hose to the
fuel tank, letting all the kerosene leak out on the ground. He also
slashed several conveyer belts and tried to jam the gearbox with ice.
I don't know how he accomplished this without being seen since there
were always at least three armed guards around us watching us.
The guard who was in charge was livid. He said he had tried to be
lenient with us and see what it got him. He asked the culprit to step
forward, and when he didn't, he promised to have all of us transfered
to other work groups. Sure enough, that's just what he did.
One problem with Bland is that you could never get enough food. The
food we were served at breakfast and dinner (there were no lunches)
was a kind of grey porridge and sometimes bread. I don't know what
happened to all the food we grew on the farm. I know that beef,
chickens, apples, green beans, potatoes, and tomatoes were produced.
The main sources of nourishment were what you could buy in the canteen
(mostly junk food) and what you could eat on the job. I ate several
whole small tomato plants that we were supposed to be planting.
I later learned that most of the tomato plant is poisonous. It didn't
seem to hurt me any, though.
Several prisoners froze to death in the solitary cell. The standard
sentence in the unheated solitary cell was two weeks. One of the
survivors told me that the trick is to sleep in the day when it is
slightly warmer, and to stay awake all night and remain active, doing
pushups or jumping jacks.
I heard from my lawyer that the federal district court had turned
down my appeal of the state supreme court's rejection of my appeal
that the circuit court should have let me attend my resentencing,
which was cancelled due to my absense, which was caused by the same
court. He said it was possible to appeal to the court of appeals, but
recommended that I not do so since I would be up for parole in June,
by which time the court would not have acted, and since the parole
board always turns down a prisoner who is still appealing his sentence.
I agreed to let it drop, though I said I would wish to pursue it if I
was turned down for parole.
I was paroled in June. I had a job within 48 hours, thanks to the help
of my friends. Two and a half years later I was uneventfully released
from parole. I've been in no legal trouble since then. Not even a
>In further violation of the BOP, without Keith's permission, and
>without editing (including the partly duplicated paragraph) here is
>the story from Keith's website:
The amusing part is that every former criminal tells variants of the
I watched a former neighbor deal drugs and weapons from his house. I
also watched as the police came and hauled his ass off. (After myself
and other neighbors attempted for over two years to get him shut
down.) To this day he insists he was framed and railroaded - he
insists he never sold drugs. (Despite the fact that I saw money and
packages exchange hands on multiple occasions. Despite the fact that
he openly bragged of being a dealer to anyone who would listen.) He
insists he owned no weapons. (Despite the fact that I saw them in his
house and watched him carry them openly to and from his car.)
A sailor of my acquaintance was convicted of damaging government
property. (He narrowly avoided the much worse charge of sabotage.)
He insisted the hammer blows (14 of them) were accidental - he was
working on a piece of gear next to the one he damaged. (Never mind he
shouldn't have been working on the gear he damaged, the gear adjacent,
or any gear within 50 feet... none of it belonged to his division.)
I've seen too many people that I know/knew (by witnessing the crime)
to be guilty insist otherwise. I see no reason to accept a random web
page as 'proof'.
Touch-twice life. Eat. Drink. Laugh.
-Resolved: To be more temperate in my postings.
Oct 5th, 2004 JDL
And this is different from the tale that the falsely convicted
Look at it this way: I have been charged with 16 felonies in my life.
All 16 were during the 11 days when I had William Kelly Shields as a
roommate. He went on to rack up more convictions, and a dishonorable
discharge from the Army. Finally, just last year, he committed suicide.
There are just over 11 *thousand* days on which I *could* have been
charged with a felony. (12 thousand days ago I was too young.) What
are the odds that all sixteen would be during that particular 11 days,
if I, not my rommmate, were the guilty one? What is one thousand
to the sixteenth power? Ten to the 48th, right? In other words,
the a priori odds of my guilt are slightly less than one in
One in a million million million million million million million
But hey, some guilty people claim to be innocent, so that proves that
anyone who claims to be innocent must be guilty! That's what passes
for logic to you? If you paid to go to school, you should demand your
Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. I've been
trying to make sense of what happened to me for 28 years.
> In the final analysis, one single factor contributed the over-
> whelming portion of the situation which caused your imprisonment.
> All the justifiable claims of bad lawyer, bad lawyering, oppressive
> police (not nearly so oppressive as I've seen police be)
Is that parenthetical comment suppposed to be a criticism? If I
claimed that the temperature got down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit here
last winter, would you be skeptical on the grounds that you've heard
of much colder winter temperatures?
> amount to nothing beside one clear immutable statement....
> You pleaded guilty.
Most indicted people do, innocent and guilty alike. The system is
set up to coerce or trick people into doing so. The court-appointed
lawyer lied to me about what would happen if I pled guilty, he lied to
me about what would happen if I refused to plead guilty, he lied to
me about what pleading guilty meant, and, last but not least, he even
lied to me about what I was pleading guilty to!
He said I'd have a chance to read the plea agreement. But the first
time I ever saw it was in a thick stack of papers covered with fine
print handed to me to sign in court, with the judge and dozens of
other people all waiting.
I had been led to believe I was pleading guilty to being the sole
renter of record, and sole over-18 renter, of an apartment in which
there were, unbeknownst to me, stolen goods. I never denied being
guilty of *that*. I didn't realize until years later that this
*wasn't even a crime*!
The lawyer told me that the judge knew I hadn't really done anything
wrong, and that it was all a technicality. My parents told me, as
they had all my life, to trust authority, even when I couldn't make
any sense of what the authority was telling me.
I learned better. So did my parents.
> Clothe it as you may, in the face of what seem honest and earnest
> protestations of innocence, you admitted to a crime of which you
> were accused.
For sufficiently small values of "admitted."
> Were you swayed by your lawyer's efforts/non-efforts?
You said you read my web page.
> While he seems to have been either inept or worse disinterested, the
> account of his words and actions don't quite add up
I think you mean uninterested, not disinterested. No, he was neither.
He was simply paid by the state a small fixed sum per felony, win or
lose. If he made the slightest effort to win a case, his per-hour
income would have dropped to less than minimum wage. And he would
have never again been called up by the state, which was almost
certainly his sole employer. In other words, there were two
prosecutors in the courtroom, one of whom masqueraded as my attorney.
It happens every day. It's a big scam. The only thing unusual about
my case is that I refused to remain quiet about it. Most people who
are falsely convicted treat it as something shameful, and never tell
anyone. But I know the only ones who should be ashamed are the people
responsible for the scam, not its victims.
Oh, one other thing that's unusual about my case is that I was hired,
right out of prison, by the supposed victim. The president of the
small firm I supposedly burglarized knew I was innocent. The burglar
had written something on the wall. My friends showed him letters
I wrote from prison, and he could instantly see it wasn't the same
handwriting. He also saw, from the content of the letters, that I
would make a good employee. And I did.
The writing on the wall never came out in court. Partly because I
never had my day in court, but mostly because the police didn't know
about the writing. You see, in their investigation, they hadn't
actually bothered to go so far as to *show up* at the crime scene!
After all, it was nearly a mile from the courthouse and police
headquarters. They just took the report over the phone. Did the
burglar leave fingerprints? It's anybody's guess.
> Having a former appellate (admittedly chief justice of a civil
> appeals court) judge as a little sister and a criminal district
> judge/high school mate as a neighbor, I did a quick anecdotal
> survey. Mine (Texas) is in a relative a "harsh" jurisdiction, but
> neither of them could recall ever hearing of any case involving a
> non-residential first offense burglary drawing a 6 year sentence
> (or even "state" jail time, i.e. an actual sentence of more than
> a year).
I can't prove a lot of what I say, but I *can* prove that. Or, at
least, it's a matter of undisputed public record.
> Obviously, Virginia, has far harsher penal practices.
Sentences vary all over the map. The same judge who gave me six years
made headlines a couple years later by giving a rapist probation.
Last I heard, one guy in Virginia was serving 40 years for one ounce
of marijuana, and someone in Oklahoma was serving 99 years for
indecent exposure. But kill someone with a car, and you probably
won't spend even one night in jail, so long as you aren't drunk, and
your papers are in order. And don't get me started on the "Can Spam"
law, which pretty much *legalizes* spamming.
Until last year's supreme court decision, for a husband and wife to
privately have oral sex was a felony here in Virginia. I'm not very
old, but I can remember when being married to someone of a different
race was a felony here in Virginia.
Is Virginia or Texas worse? Virginia is the only state with the
21-day rule. But Texas is the only state in which the governor can't
pardon you. In Virginia, he won't, but in Texas, he not only won't,
but *can't*. Also, Texas leads in per capita executions.
> Or in your case, there's at least the appearance of more factors at
> play than you've provided in the narrative
Real life is always more complicated than any narrative. One thing
I may not have mentioned is that my cellmate in jail was accused of
murder, and I was told that if he should happen to confess to me, and
I were willing to testify to that fact, that all charges against me
would be dropped. Perhaps I was really sentence to six years for
refusing to perjure myself.
I wish I could look up that guy. I can't remember his name, but it
was in all the papers at the time. He was accused of killing several
gays at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington. I don't think I ever
found out whether he was convicted or not.
> While you make a case for your own innocence, nowhere in your
> website or writing to date, do you provide any, repeat any reason to
> believe that a sizeable, 5%, 10% or