Thursday, July 20, 2017

Free O.J. (Again)

O.J. Simpson Wins Parole:

O. J. Simpson, the former football hero and actor whose good-guy image vanished when he was accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend, will go free after serving nine years in a Nevada prison on charges stemming from an armed robbery, a state parole board ruled on Thursday.
Mr. Simpson, who turned 70 this month, went before the board as a man convicted of taking a group of accomplices, two of them armed with guns, to a cheap Las Vegas hotel room in 2007 to take hundreds of items from a sports memorabilia dealer. But it is the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which he was acquitted after the most-watched trial in history, that have cast the longer, darker shadow over his life and reputation.
After the robbery conviction in 2008, a judge sentenced Mr. Simpson to nine to 33 years in state prison, making him eligible for parole for the first time on Oct. 1. Based on his age and the fact that he was viewed as a model prisoner, the Nevada Board of Parole Commissioners granted his release the first time it was considered, rather than denying parole and making him wait years for another chance.
I really hope, for symmetry's sake, they release him on October 3rd. That was the day of his homicide acquittal in 1995, the day he was convicted of armed robbery and burglary in Vegas in 2008, and my f'ing birthday, which he's been ruining on and off since.

I wrote about the Juice last year, for the first time in years and years, when the plethora of documentaries came out reviving interest in him and his cases, and made the following observation:
Nonetheless, slowed down by the years in prison (the picture above was from 2015 when an appeal was rejected), the Juice comes up for parole in 2017. I would have bet against him getting it before these new documentaries and movies about him, but now that interest has been generated again on a national scale, I'm not so sure he won't be back on the streets by the end of 2017.

And the reaction will still be notable to watch.
It sure will.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Life With Parole

Invisible Punishments Haunt Former Inmates:

Parolees may not live behind bars, but they are far from free. Their parole officers have enormous power to dictate whom they can see, where they can go, and whether they are allowed to do perfectly legal things like have a beer. Breaking those rules can land a parolee back in jail — the decision is up to the parole officer.

Addiction is only one of the many challenges faced by those getting out. As prison populations drop, the number of parolees is increasing — people with layer upon layer of disadvantages that often date back to early childhood. For more than a year, “Frontline” and The New York Times followed newly released prisoners as they tried to find homes and jobs, reconnect with loved ones and avoid temptation, sometimes discovering that the system created to help them can also hold them back.

One of them could not buy his daughter the Christmas present she wanted because the halfway house controlled his spending; another, living in her own apartment, was told her boyfriend could not spend the night. For their part, parole officers were making difficult calls about the best interests of their charges, while navigating safety rules such as the one that affected Mr. Brantley: no contact between parolees and their past victims.
Which oftentimes includes family members and significant others...the very people who offer the only semblance of a support system for the inmates when they are paroled from prison.

 But the domestic violence concerns are real and valid.
“Flip this on the side,” Richard Sparaco, the executive director of the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, said about keeping the couple apart. “Who would be at fault here if no one paid attention and all of a sudden that victim was murdered by that person? It would be: ‘Parole, they knew about this and they did not protect this person.’”
And of course, all it takes is one case gone wrong, that gets sensationalized by the media, and pretty soon we're dropping even more draconian restrictions on probation or parole.

The Frontline documentary airs tomorrow night (7/18) and is already streaming online via the Frontline website. I've only watched a few minutes of it, but I can already predict it will become a staple of my 3150 punishment class going forward.

Most of the criminal justice reform rhetoric today, as I've said countless times on this blog, focuses on (rightly) getting people out of prison and jail. But if all we're doing is stuffing probation and parole to the gills, with overworked parole and probation officers carrying caseloads of 50, 150 or even 300 cases at a time, we're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Reentry has to become more holistic and address the issues central to criminality (lack of jobs, drug treatment, education, etc.). And using probation and parole without addressing these issues is a dishonest shell game that only serves to cover up the fact that we simply punish too many people, for too many crimes of inconsequence, in the United States.

Punitiveness has a price tag, and the 5 million people rotating in and out of probation and parole at any given time are the collateral damage.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dumb and Dumber (Part II)

Following up on my post Dumb and Dumber from 2014, word comes today of psychology's Glimmer Twins, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, and their depositions in a civil suit against them and their shady practices that led to the War on Terror's more ignominious torture practices back in 2002.

Fifteen years after he helped devise the brutal interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects in secret C.I.A. prisons, John Bruce Jessen, a former military psychologist, expressed ambivalence about the program.
He described himself and a fellow military psychologist, James Mitchell, as reluctant participants in using the techniques, some of which are widely viewed as torture, but also justified the practices as effective in getting resistant detainees to cooperate.
“I think any normal, conscionable man would have to consider carefully doing something like this,” Dr. Jessen said in a newly disclosed deposition. “I deliberated with great, soulful torment about this, and obviously I concluded that it could be done safely or I wouldn’t have done it.”
The two psychologists — whom C.I.A. officials have called architects of the interrogation program, a designation they dispute — are defendants in the only lawsuit that may hold participants accountable for causing harm.
Read the story and watch the excerpts from their depositions (I particularly like the one dope's response about the insult slap: "It's discombobulating, sure, but it doesn't hurt.").

Frankly, I think nailed these two "clinical psychologists" accurately back in 2014:
These clowns, in the face of overwhelming expert opinion showing these techniques could not and would not ever produce actionable intelligence, nonetheless were the architects of some of the most brutal actions ever taken by U.S. personnel against foreign enemies.
The trial in September is sure to be an interesting one. We'll watch and report the verdict come fall.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Men Willingly Believe What They Wish

How Outrage Built Over A Shakespearean Depiction of Trump:

All over the country, from Oklahoma to Oregon, theaters have been staging “Julius Caesar” this year as a way to chew over politics, power, democracy and authoritarianism at a moment when a populist leader with a fondness for executive power has moved into the White House.
Most of the productions take place without incident, but Mr. Eustis’s, which opened Monday night in New York, has been engulfed in controversy ever since a bootleg video of the assassination of Caesar, who is styled and performed to suggest Mr. Trump, began circulating on the internet last week and some who had seen the performance started to complain.
The production is also explicit and graphic, featuring a blond, Trump-like Caesar in a red tie, whose bloody stabbing is seen as offensive and inappropriate to some who have seen it. They, along with Breitbart News and Fox News, have driven a campaign on social media against the Public that has prompted two corporate sponsors — Delta Air Lines and Bank of America — to withdraw their support of the production, and a third, American Express, to distance itself.
Sidebar: Bank of America pulling its funding of this is almost laughable. I guess when you're still forking out $17 billion in settlement fines to the Justice Department for having defrauded your customers and investors, it's kind of difficult to pony up for the arts.

But we digress.
“It was appalling,” Laura Sheaffer said in a radio interview. “Shocking.”
Ms. Sheaffer, a sales manager for Salem Media, a conservative-leaning media group, saw a performance on June 3. Three days later she described her dismay over the production in a conversation with the conservative radio host and comedian Joe Piscopo, then voiced her concern again to the media and politics site Mediaite, declaring “I don’t love President Trump, but he’s the president. You can’t assassinate him on a stage.” Mediaite made the most of the story, posting it with the headline “Senators Stab Trump to Death in Central Park Performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.”
Talk about the proverbial snowflakes. If you know anything about Julius Caesar, you know it's Shakespeare's cautionary tale against political violence...about what happens in the aftermath of political assassinations (Caesar is whacked about mid-way through the play; the second half is about said disastrous effects).

And another sidebar: is that what happened to former SNL star Joe Piscopo from back in the 80's? He became a conservative radio host? I guess you can only make a living doing Sinatra impersonations for so long.
Still, the wheels of conservative media — as well as some other outlets — were already in motion. Breitbart and The Blaze jumped in, citing Ms. Sheaffer, along with Newsbusters, a conservative media watchdog. Television’s “Inside Edition” quoted an unidentified audience member on camera saying, “I didn’t like that they made this person who looks like Trump get assassinated.”
On Sunday, “Fox and Friends,” the Trump-friendly morning show on Fox News, gave the outrage its largest platform, running multiple segments on the story. “Notice, nobody has a problem with it on the left,” said Pete Hegseth, a “Fox and Friends” host who appeared with Mr. Trump during his presidential campaign. “Nobody seems to care. It’s only us talking about it.”
That is odd, isn't it? I wonder why they are talking about this production, but they weren't talking about a similar staging of Julius Caesar back in 2012 which featured Caesar as Obama, replete with bloody assassination and everything?
Five years ago, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis staged a production featuring the assassination of an Obama-esque Caesar by a group of right-wing conspirators. "their side" getting over on Obama as Caesar is good, the "other side" getting over on Trump as Caesar bad. Got it. 

Say what you will about the "libtards," at least they were/are consistent on this one: support for the 2012 production, support for the 2017 production.

While Julius Caesar is considered one of Shakespeare's "tragedies," this reaction to it is nothing but comedy. The entire brouhaha shows how bizarrely hyper-partisan, politically-correct, and intellectually dumb we've become as a country.

And say what you will about Bill Shakespeare, but is there another writer who, 420 years later, is still mixing it up and getting in people's grills?

Veni, Vidi, about a career!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ending Mass Incarceration Through Art

Agnes Gund Sells A Lichtenstein To Start A Criminal Justice Fund:

In January, rumors swirled that the art collector and patron Agnes Gund had sold her prized 1962 Roy Lichtenstein “Masterpiece” for a whopping $150 million, placing it among the 15 highest known prices ever paid for an artwork.
Ms. Gund is confirming that sale now, revealing that she parted with the painting (for what was actually $165 million, including fees) for a specific purpose: to create a fund that supports criminal justice reform and seeks to reduce mass incarceration in the United States.
This new Art for Justice Fund — to be announced Monday at the Museum of Modern Art, where Ms. Gund is president emerita — will start with $100 million of the proceeds from the Lichtenstein (which was sold to the collector Steven A. Cohen through Acquavella Gallery).
“This is one thing I can do before I die,” Ms. Gund, 78, said in an interview at her Upper East Side apartment, where the Lichtenstein used to hang over the mantel, along with works by Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko. “This is what I need to do.”
I had to read that a couple of times to actually believe it, especially the words on the fund's website.
The criminal justice policies that lead to these disproportionate outcomes devastate entire communities: not only the people sentenced to prison, but also the families they leave behind.
Yet there is little investment in proven prevention, education and re-entry programs that could reduce incarceration and recidivism — and transform millions of lives.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
More from the article:
The effort is noteworthy, not only for the amount of money involved — rarely do charitable undertakings start at $100 million — but because Ms. Gund is essentially challenging fellow collectors to use their artworks to champion social causes at a time when the market has made their holdings more valuable than ever.
“The larger idea is to raise awareness among a community of art collectors that they can use their influence and their collections to advance social justice,” said Darren Walker, the Ford Foundation’s president. “Art has meaning on a wall, but it also has meaning when it is monetized.”
Those who have already committed to the fund — and are being called founding donors — include Laurie M. Tisch, a chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Kenneth I. Chenault, chief executive of American Express, and his wife, Kathryn; the philanthropist Jo Carole Lauder; the financier Daniel S. Loeb; and Brooke Neidich, a Whitney trustee.
“There’s long been this criticism that people who have the means to acquire fine art are allowed to surround themselves with beautiful things while they are unwilling to look at the ugly realities that sometimes shape a community or a culture or a country,” said Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. “Using this art to actually respond to over-incarceration or racial inequality or social injustice is a powerful idea.”
The impetus for the fund was personal. Six of Ms. Gund’s 12 grandchildren are African-American, and she has worried about their future as they’ve matured, particularly in light of shootings of black teenagers like Trayvon Martin in Florida.

After seeing the film, Ms. Gund called Mr. Walker, long a close friend. “She said, ‘I really want to do something to help here,’” Mr. Walker recalled. “‘What if I sold one of my jewels and we used the proceeds to make grants to organizations working on mass incarceration?’”

Because criminal justice “has never been very popular in philanthropy,” Mr. Stevenson said, “I’m hoping the fund will help energize some long overdue reform efforts.
Incredibly, I have absolutely nothing snarky or sarcastic to say about this piece. I'm simply blown away by the recognition of this problem from what is otherwise the very rarefied world of art collecting. As Stevenson said, you just don't ever see criminal justice, particularly mass incarceration, a hot topic in the world of philanthropy and the arts.

But there it is. Thank you Ms. Gund, and all the other donors. Maybe I'll apply for a grant myself, seeing as the novel I'm working on currently deals directly with mass incarceration and criminal justice. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Degradation Ceremony

Innocent Until Your Mugshot Is On The Internet:

We can guess at why we want to see the photos of the famous facing legal trouble, or rubberneck at Mr. Medlin’s transformation — as powerful an antidrug yarn as Nancy Reagan could ever have spun.
Yeah, for the same reason people slow up at traffic accidents.
Why, though, did we see the images in the first place?
The simple answer is as routine as the booking photo itself: They’re public documents.
There’s a more complicated answer, too, since the United States professes a belief in blind justice while eagerly distributing photos of its accused. It’s not that police departments in England and Canada don’t collect photographs of people they’ve arrested; they just release them only on occasion, such as when there’s a jailbreak or a murder suspect on the loose. As Eddie Townsend, spokesman for the City of London Police, put it: “It goes back to the principle of innocent until proven guilty.”
Which publishing mugshots immediately contradicts: once your mug is out there online, in the newspaper, or collected in these sleazy publications designed specifically for mugshots, the presumption is guilt, even if you are, in fact, innocent of the charges for which you've been arrested.
Most states don’t limit their distribution, and some police departments believe putting out these images is an important part of transparency and serving their communities. Sheriff’s offices in large and tiny counties alike now post mug shots to slick, constantly updated websites. Under its former sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County, Ariz., even held a contest in which visitors voted on a mug shot of the day.
Local TV affiliates present them in slide shows, and crime-fighting social media groups use them to identify people connected to local crimes. The Smoking Gun website assembles them into all manner of categories, including “cleavage,” “fogeys” and “B-List.”
Privately run online databases like let readers tag and comment on them, while Jailbase shuffles them through a smartphone app. Some sites have been described as extortion operations, posting booking photographs online, then charging exorbitant removal fees.
Free expungement clinics help the more desperate scrub their criminal records, while companies like offer “removal” services for a fee. Lawmakers in more than a dozen states have tried reeling in the more pernicious practices of some mug shot entrepreneurs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Which is nice and all, but the legislatures could also ban the dissemination of said mugshots and be done with it. There is no 1st amendment right to access or publish a mugshot, anymore than there's a 1st amendment right to access or publish police evidence of a crime scene. 

The recent arrest of Tiger Woods in Jupiter, Florida, and the disgraceful release of both his mugshot and booking videos, is enough to turn the stomach. Ludicrously, the Jupiter PD spokes-hack said releasing them was "standard practice because they are public documents." Right, and if they'd beaten the shit out of Woods during the arrest, I'm sure that would have been released immediately as well because it's "standard practice...public documents."
Why are people so obsessed with these photos? A Rutgers sociologist, Sarah Esther Lageson, who has been studying the explosion of digital mug shots for nearly a decade, said they offer a view not just into the darker recesses of someone’s life but also into an essential government process that many of us never see or experience.
Professor Lageson interviewed 27 people at Minnesota expungement clinics over two years beginning in 2014 and found that people whose mug shots were easily available online had been fired and rejected from jobs — or afraid to even apply in the first place. One woman had been unable to find decent housing; another was kicked out of her church.
Most of the people Professor Lageson interviewed didn’t bother contacting the sites that were publishing their images. Some thought it wouldn’t do any good, given the official-sounding language some sites used. Consider, which describes itself as a “search engine for Official Law Enforcement Records” — a mission it says is protected by an assortment of federal and state laws and two constitutional amendments.
Not everyone has been chastened by this legalistic language, though. In Illinois, three men seeking class-action status filed a suit last year describing the site as an extortion racket that, among other things, routinely published out-of-date or inaccurate information for a single purpose: to drive people to a prominently advertised “sister” site — — which charged from $399 (to remove a single arrest) to $1,799 (for five).
A lawyer representing, David Ferrucci, denied this. He said that the site is as much a crime blog as anything else. He pointed to its aggregated posts about accused sexual predators and murderers, and compared it to The Chicago Tribune’s “Mugs in the news.”
Besides, Mr. Ferrucci added, shouldn’t the focus be on the draconian elements of our justice system? “Instead of shooting the messenger, the purveyor of the public records, maybe we should lessen the impact of the prison industrial complex,” he said. “That’s really the tragedy here — how easy it is to get arrested.”
Talk about shooting the messenger, Dave. "Hey, if you don't want to end up on our website, don't get arrested by the police." And it has nothing to do with the prison-industrial complex, trust me, and everything to do with the rackets and scams these clowns are purveying. 

Interesting sidebar: the owners of these mugshot publications and websites go to extreme lengths to conceal and scrub from the 'net their own identities. I wonder why?
Sites like aren’t the only ones fighting for continued, broad access to booking photos. In 2013, The Detroit Free Press sued the Justice Department after it refused to release mug shots of four police officers accused of corruption. Federal authorities have considered the release of a booking photograph an invasion of privacy, and in its ruling last year, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, overruling a 1996 decision that allowed the release.
The Free Press appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court; last month, the court declined to hear the case.
Still, dozens of news organizations and press advocacy groups backed the newspaper up in court, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. A lawyer there, Adam Marshall, described the mug shot as a memorialization of one of the most important processes of the criminal justice system — the arrest. What if the police arrested the wrong person? What if the officer assaulted that person? “The public expects information from the government about what they’re doing,” Mr. Marshall said. “The photo provides the public with that information in a way that a name doesn’t.”
Do you really think the police would release the mugshot of a suspect they got over on? Or the video of said beating? If these things (and worse, police shootings) aren't caught by private citizens on their phones, you won't see them ever.

That's the point: it's completely arbitrary what they choose to release and not release, and that very randomness is why the process should be eliminated completely.

It's more than a "memorialization" going on;  it's what Garfinkel described in his work as good old fashioned Degradation Ceremony. The release of the mugshot (only certain ones, mind you) is part of the way we degrade the suspect's identity, stigmatizing the individual so as to change permanently both their social identity ("sorry, you've been turned down the job, we checked the interwebs") and personal identity ("they say I'm a criminal, therefore I must be a criminal").

It's no different than publishing the names or pictures of crime victims: we don't, generally, because it's recognized as revictimizing them. And that's all you're doing here, revictimizing people who, more than likely, simply made a mistake.
Which gets us back to the original point: whether this person is ever found guilty of said charge is irrelevant (and oddly, never "publicly released" to the media). The morbid, under-educated obsession with these pictures is indicative of our unforgiving, brain-dead culture...a way to make you feel better about your own pathetic life by having a good laugh at the mistakes of others.

Police departments should stop releasing mugshots unless there is a viable public safety reason to do so (as the article mentions, jail breaks, suspects on the run, etc.). 

And the bottom-feeders who publish the garbage, the cretins who extort people desperate to have their pictures scrubbed, and the podunk online newspapers and sheriff's departments who use the blotter as click bait, should all be put out of business. 

Interestingly enough, the Supreme Court may be moving precisely in that direction.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Like Suicide

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden Frontman, Dies at 52:

Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died on Wednesday night in Detroit hours after the band had performed there. He was 52.
The death was a suicide by hanging, the Wayne County medical examiner’s office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.
Mr. Cornell’s representative, Brian Bumbery, said in a statement that the death was “sudden and unexpected.”
Soundgarden played at the Fox Theater in Detroit on Wednesday night, and had been scheduled to perform in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday at the Rock on the Range festival.
I admit, much as I wrote when I first learned about David Foster Wallace's suicide back in 2008, this one really hit me in the knocked me on my ass. 

As much as I've written about it, studied it, and been affected by it via close friends and family members, it never ceases to amaze me how shocking, disturbing, and life-changing the act of suicide remains.

I always viewed Cornell as one of the pillars of strength in the music industry, someone whose 4-octave howl and music the rest of us turned to in order to understand why others (like Cobain, Staley, Weiland, et al) succumbed to drugs, suicide and tragedy. 

It was in songs like "Times of Trouble," "Fell on Black Days," "All Night Thing," and others that Cornell always seemed to offer rays of hope and light, amidst the sludge and darkness of depression and sadness. True, the dark side was always there too ("Burden in My Hand," "Let Me Drown," etc.), but generally the themes he always seemed to echo, particularly in his solo work, were perseverance and not letting the bastards get you down.

Which is why, again, yesterday was such shocking news.
Whether he was fronting the ferocious hard rock of Soundgarden or backed simply by an acoustic guitar, his voice — now silenced in a suicide — was spectacular by any reckoning. It was a voice that could sail above the grunge barrage of Soundgarden, with an attack to rival the band’s churning guitars; it was also a voice that gave modest acoustic ballads an existential gravity. At the bottom of its nearly four-octave range, Mr. Cornell’s voice was a baritone with endless reserves of breath and the seething tension of contained power. He couldn’t be more convincing than when he sang one of his definitive songs, “Rusty Cage,” with Soundgarden: “I’m gonna break my rusty cage and run,” he howled.
Oy. Long time readers will remember my previous Soundgarden post and admiration for all things Cornell. There will be plenty of post-mortems written in the days and weeks ahead, but this event definitely confirms one bedrock truth I know about suicide: it is a great democratizing force. It can come to anyone, anywhere, even those you think "would never" think such a thing, and in the end makes us all equal.

I'll leave you with two other videos, one showcasing Cornell's softer side ("Seasons" from the Singles soundtrack,) and "Let Me Drown," which is still the most epic head banger Soundgarden ever did.

I'm going to the holy land...RIP.