05 July 2015

The Caliphettes

by Leigh Lundin

What were they thinking?

We ask this question of criminals, dumb and otherwise. Eve raised this query just days ago when she delved into guards who have sex with prisoners. She was ahead of the curve: a day later, ABC News featured their own article on the subject.


Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez
It’s too simplistic to lump all prison workers who fall for inmates into a single category, but one type is so common, the condition has its own name, hybristophilia, popularly called Bonnie and Clyde syndrome. Think of it as women who love the most extreme bad boys. If you believe it's strictly the inmates seeking sex, then reconsider.

Hybristophilia is defined as “a paraphilia of the predatory type in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery.” The lexical roots of hybristophilia are the Greek words ὕβρις or ‘hubris’ and φιλία or philo, meaning ‘love of’.

Take No Prisoners

I once knew a prison sociologist, psychologist and teacher, an alumna of my university. ‘Dawn’ (not her real name) observed that some women are drawn to prisons as hunting grounds for a fantasy husband or at least a relationship. On the surface, these warders or support personnel tell themselves that such companionship is safe and confined if sometimes chaste, like a tiger on a leash only they can tame. Unsurprisingly, their real motives run much deeper and darker.

Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer
I’d like to trust my acquaintance never engaged in unlawful sex behind bars, but Dawn twice married prisoners, one on death row. In one marriage, she was allowed conjugal visits; in the other, she wasn’t.

This woman– bright, attractive, vibrant– earned her doctorate and a couple of masters degrees that assisted her career but not her personal life. She came to realize she wanted a normal relationship with a normal man– one not behind bars. But this lady’s view of herself was anything but the norm. Dawn felt her purpose was to be used– her word, not mine. Her need went beyond serving, beyond servile, beyond slavish; she felt she had no worth unless she was being deployed and destroyed like an object, an artifact of someone else’s existence.

Yet she was well-regarded in the prison system, her secret well hidden.

In describing her, I fear tainting the image of other women, of other prison professionals who toil in an unending, thankless, Sisyphean job. I fear giving the impression of an overly educated dilettante who became a victim of over-thinking or over-feeling. It’s difficult to gauge how much the job affected her. At core, Dawn was simply human, possibly someone who’d lost her way. Although the less educated appear to be more vulnerable, ultimately intelligence is no sure defense. To my knowledge and to her credit, prisoners were never at risk, only she. In trying to save and serve others, she sacrificed herself until little was left but an empty husk.

The Caliphettes

In regard to jihadi brides, psychologist Phyllis Chesler calls this ‘unfreedom’, the choosing of bondage over a surfeit of freedoms and decisions in their home countries. In other words, once a girl makes that final choice, she need make no more– all further decisions are made for her. Some see that as a sort of freedom in itself.

At present, the baddest of the bad are truly evil– the Caliphate of Daish or ISIS, combatants capable of any atrocity, terrorists who know no bounds. These men exert an attraction for vulnerable girls that goes beyond mere hybristophilia. Yet at root is the same empty vessel, the vulnerable unfilled desire into which a dangerous, dastardly man can pour sweet words and powerful images, making his target feel special, that she’s found happiness in a man the rest of the world misunderstands.

Jihadi Runaway Brides
Sometimes called ‘caliphettes’, these young women typically range from early teens into their twenties. If they’re already Muslim, they’re told family and friends aren’t truly Islamic. If not Muslim, they’re urged to convert, which can take surprisingly little persuasion.

Their on-line ‘lovers’ become their handlers who direct them to not stand out. They’re instructed to appear normal in every way until they’re ready to run, often to an innocent European destination, then a way station like Turkey, a jumping-off point for Syria and more treacherous places in the Middle East. Jihadis who successfully seduce girls to make the journey receive admiration from their peers.

One of the most shocking cases involves somewhat older women, three sisters in their thirties. They deceived and abandoned their husbands and parents in the UK, took their young children (nine in total), and slipped into Syria to join ISIS.

The Reality

The family that slays together…
We might imagine how these hijrah work out– naïve girls emigrating to a sharia country, in this case the newly risen Daish caliphate. You might remember a young Australian boy holding up the severed head of a slaughtered ‘enemy of ISIS’. With the male parent presumed dead, the child’s mother is now begging a cautious Australia to let her and the children return. While girls who make the journey are probably allotted to a jihadist husband as one of his wives, that's not guaranteed. Indeed, some believe girls may be shunted into rôles as battlefield sex slaves, assigned to service dozens of militants.

A valiant French journalist ‘Anna Erelle’ (again, not her real name) had been studying why European teenagers were attracted to Islamic extremism. She’d created an on-line, 19-year-old persona dubbed ‘Mélodie’ and investigated jihadist web sites. In her explorations, she attracted the attention of an ISIS fighter who said he’d take care of her and quickly invited her to Syria to become one of his wives, or as he put it, ‘a queen’ (among four, of course). Following Erelle’s exposé, she now lives with police protection, a lonely existence since her presence might endanger family and friends. She’s a brave woman; read her story.

All is not lost. Britain is successfully practicing the Aarhus model of de-radicalization, a Danish program of salvaging young male recruits before they make that fateful journey. With luck, they might be able to extend a similar program to jihadi brides as well. In the meantime, ISIS poses a formidable lure that we might underestimate at our peril.

04 July 2015

Epics of Miniature Proportions

by John M. Floyd

Like many of you, I've done different kinds of writing: fiction and nonfiction and subsets of each. A few years ago I even wrote several screenplays, one of which resulted in a movie that came very close to--within two weeks of--being filmed before suffering a sudden and painful death. I've not ventured into the writing side of the cinematic world since then, but that one experience (which was a lot of fun before it fizzled) taught me quite a bit about previously unfamiliar terms like pitches, treatments, scripts, loglines, and taglines.

To me, the most intriguing of these was taglines. Movie taglines are short phrases designed to sum up the premise or "mood" of the film and, very simply, to make you want to see it. It's advertising, like a blurb on a book cover, except that taglines are usually placed on the movie's poster or DVD box. Most are dramatic ("They call me Mister Tibbs"), some are appropriate ("A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), some are mysterious ("An offer you can't refuse"), some are witty ("When he pours, he reigns," from Cocktail), and a few are downright funny ("Escape or die frying," from Chicken Run).

What impresses me most about taglines is that they're a great example to those of us who try to "write tight." Space is at a premium here, maybe more than in any other kind of writing. There can be no rambling, no wasted words. Unlike the writing in this paragraph.

Okay. Puzzle time. I've loosely categorized the following 100 taglines into mystery/crime, adventure (including Westerns), comedy (including kids' movies), drama (including romances), and sci-fi/fantasy/horror--and I've listed 20 in each category, followed by their movies. Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it, is to guess the name of the film after reading its tagline. I hope this setup strikes a compromise between mildly interesting and head-buttingly frustrating: the answers aren't sitting right there beside the clues, but you also won't have to wait until my next column to find them. And, as in every quiz like this one, some are easy and some aren't.

Here's the list. Go ahead . . . make my day.


1. They're young, they're in love . . . and they kill people.
2. The mob is tough, but it's nothing like show business.
3. You don't assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.
4. Check in. Relax. Take a shower.
5. On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.
6. The true story of a real fake.
7. Handcuffed to the girl who double-crossed him.
8. A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere.
9. Never let her out of your sight. Never let your guard down. Never fall in love.
10. What we've got here is failure to communicate.
11. It's 4 a.m.--do you know where your car is?
12. If these two can learn to stand each other . . . the bad guys don't stand a chance.
13. A blind woman plays a deadly game of survival.
14. Shoot first. Sightsee later.
15. When he said I do, he never said what he did.
16. All it takes is a little confidence.
17. Miracles do happen.
18. Meet the only guy to change his identity more often than he changes his underwear.
19. Three decades of life in the mafia.
20. To enter the mind of a killer, she must challenge the mind of a madman.

1. Bonnie and Clyde
2. Get Shorty
3. Dirty Harry
4. Psycho
5. Taxi Driver
6. Catch Me If You Can
7. The 39 Steps
8. Fargo
9. The Bodyguard
10. Cool Hand Luke
11. Repo Man
12. Lethal Weapon
13. Wait Until Dark
14. In Bruges
15. True Lies
16. The Sting
17. The Green Mile
18. Fletch
19. Goodfellas
20. The Silence of the Lambs


1. An epic of miniature proportions.
2. For Harry and Lloyd, every day is a no-brainer.
3. Never give a saga an even break.
4. The longer you wait, the harder it gets.
5. Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.
6. Relive the best seven years of your college education.
7. He's having the worst day of his life. Over and over.
8. Movie? What movie?
9. They'll never get caught. They're on a mission from God.
10. The snobs against the slobs.
11. For anyone who has ever wished upon a star.
12. There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean. They're looking for one.
13. Nice planet. We'll take it!
14. A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.
15. Work sucks.
16. It's scrumdiddlyumptious.
17. One man's struggle to take it easy.
18. Nice guys finish last. Meet the winners.
19. Trust me.
20. Love is in the hair.

1. A Bug's Life
2. Dumb and Dumber
3. Blazing Saddles
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
5. The Big Lebowski
6. Animal House
7. Groundhog Day
8. Top Secret!
9. The Blues Brothers
10. Caddyshack
11. Pinocchio
12. Finding Nemo
13. Mars Attacks!
14. A Fish Called Wanda
15. Office Space
16. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
17. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
18. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
19. Liar, Liar
20. There's Something About Mary


1. This is the weekend they didn't play golf.
2. Collide with destiny.
3. Houston, we have a problem.
4. Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond.
5. The coast is toast.
6. Get ready for rush hour.
7. You'll believe a man can fly.
8. Hell, upside down.
9. Earth--it was fun while it lasted.
10. She gets kidnapped. He gets killed. But it all ends up okay.
11. Invisible. Silent. Stolen.
12. The first casualty of war is innocence.
13. An adventure 65 million years in the making.
14. He rules the roads.
15. The world will be watching.
16. The story of a man who was too proud to run.
17. For three men, the Civil War wasn't hell. It was practice.
18. Eight legs, two fangs, and at attitude.
19. The man with the hat is back. And this time he's bringing his dad.
20. Don't let go.

1. Deliverance
2. Titanic
3. Apollo 13
4. You Only Live Twice
5. Volcano
6. Speed
7. Superman
8. The Poseidon Adventure
9. Armageddon
10. The Princess Bride
11. The Hunt for Red October
12. Platoon
13. Jurassic Park
14. Mad Max
15. The Hunger Games
16. High Noon
17. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
18. Arachnophobia
19. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
20. Gravity


1. This is Benjamin. He's a little worried about his future.
2. She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees.
3. A man went looking for America, and couldn't find it anywhere.
4. You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.
5. A love caught in the fire of revolution.
6. The happiest sound in all the world.
7. A story about love at second sight.
8. You had me at hello.
9. Stop dreaming. Start living.
10. A major league love story in a minor league town.
11. The story of two people who got married, met, and then fell in love.
12. It will lift you up where you belong.
13. Catch it.
14. Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.
15. Five reasons to stay single.
16. What a glorious feeling.
17. Can two friends sleep together and still love each other in the morning?
18. Where were you in '62?
19. If he's crazy, what does that make you?
20. His whole life was a million-to-one shot.

1. The Graduate
2. Erin Brokovich
3. Easy Rider
4. The Social Network
5. Doctor Zhivago
6. The Sound of Music
7. While You Were Sleeping
8. Jerry Maguire
9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
10. Bull Durham
11. Green Card
12. An Officer and a Gentleman
13. Saturday Night Fever
14. Forrest Gump
15. Four Weddings and a Funeral
16. Singin' in the Rain
17. When Harry Met Sally
18. American Graffiti
19. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
20. Rocky


1. Terror has no shape
2. He is afraid. He is alone. He is three million light-years from home.
3. Vampires. No interviews.
4. Whoever wins, we lose.
5. I see dead people.
6. Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.
7. Pay to get in, pray to get out.
8. Today the pond. Tomorrow the world.
9. Man has met his match. Now it's his problem.
10. Before Sam was murdered, he told Molly he'd love and protect her forever.
11. He's the only kid ever to get in trouble before he was born.
12. They're here.
13. Same make. Same model. New mission.
14. The last man on Earth is not alone.
15. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
16. Man is the warmest place to hide.
17. Size does matter.
18. Don't get him wet, keep him out of bright light, and never feed him after midnight.
19. The night HE came home.
20. Who ya gonna call?

1. The Blob
2. E.T.--The Extraterrestrial
3. From Dusk Till Dawn
4. Alien vs. Predator
5. The Sixth Sense
6. Army of Darkness
7. The Funhouse
8. Frogs
9. Blade Runner
10. Ghost
11. Back to the Future
12. Poltergeist
13. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
14. I Am Legend
15. The Shining
16. The Thing
17. Godzilla
18. Gremlins
19. Halloween
20. Ghostbusters

You might've noticed that I didn't list many movies more than fifty years old or so. There's a reason for that. Unfortunately, most taglines for older films either didn't seem to tell you much, or were just plain silly.
- The greatest screen entertainment of all time. -- Gone With the Wind
- A mighty motion picture of action and adventure. -- Lawrence of Arabia
- Everybody's talking about it! It's terrific! -- Citizen Kane
- The greatest adventure a man ever lived . . . with a woman. -- The African Queen
- Teenage terror torn from today's headlines. -- Rebel Without a Cause
- Brawling their way to greatness on the screen. -- From Here to Eternity
- A story as EXPLOSIVE as his BLAZING automatic! -- The Maltese Falcon

Fortunately, that kind of nonsense improved a little, around the mid-sixties. My all-time favorite taglines are:
- Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free. -- The Shawshank Redemption
- Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water . . . -- Jaws 2
- In space, no one can hear you scream. -- Alien
That's good writing, even it it is in miniature.

For those of you who share my cinemania, I hope all this brought back some fond memories. If it didn't, though, I won't apologize.

A love of movies means never having to say you're sorry . . .

03 July 2015

Not Reading Can Be A Pain

By Dixon Hill

Toward the end of May, I seem to recall receiving a letter with the return address of the National Safety Council on it, complete with the circular seal you see here.

As I recall things: I thought it was another one of those "Watch your kids around water!" notices that get sent out, like confetti at a ticker-tape parade, around Phoenix during the summer.

I seem to further recall tearing the envelope in two, unopened, and tossing it in the garbage can. After all, I taught all three of my kids not only how to swim, but also "safe swim defense" techniques.  And, I figure I did a good job, having earned Swimming and Life Saving Merit Badges back in my youth, along with the BSA Mile Swim Award, and having served as a scout-swimmer in Special Forces during my army days.  I was also a Swimming Merit Badge councilor for the Boy Scouts for several years after I left the army.

So, hey, who needs to read a silly letter from the National Safety Council?  Right?

About two weeks ago, however, I got a tremendous surprise while driving to work.

A police car was pacing me in the left lane, its hood just a little ahead of mine.  (This isn't what surprise me; I've driven alongside police cars before.)  And, when the left lane gave out, I slowed so he could pull into the right lane ahead of me.  He slowed further, so I did too -- just before thinking about what my friend on the Scottsdale PD had told me about not waving to police officers, or acting too friendly, because this is the sort of behavior bad guys think will put cops off their scent.  Hence, in an officer's view, my behavior might be considered suspicious.

Consequently, when the squad car went through the next intersection on a yellow light, but I stopped (I was behind him by that time), I wasn't surprised to watch it turn into a parking lot up ahead, then nose back out toward the street as if waiting for me.  Sure enough, when I passed, he pulled out and followed me.

No problem.  I'm one of the good guys.  Nothing to worry about; I wasn't even speeding.

At the next light he hit his overhead lights and pulled me over.  I was a little surprised, but not terribly so: I know there are enough traffic regulations on the books that an officer can pull over just about anyone, at anytime, and with perfectly legitimate legal cause -- This is actually a useful law enforcement tool, and I don't resent it in the least.  I pulled over, turned down the radio, got my license, registration and proof of insurance out, and waited for him to walk up to my window.

After examining my documentation, the officer asked, "Mr. Hill, do you know why I pulled you over?"

I shook my head.  "No.  Actually I don't.  I don't think I was speeding.  Do I have a taillight out, or something?"

"Actually, sir, I pulled you over because, when I ran your plates, it came back that you have a suspended license."

I was shocked!  ME?  A suspended license?

"Really?  Why is my license suspended?  Are you sure you got the right guy?" I asked.  I didn't have to ask if he was kidding; his demeanor made it clear that he wasn't.

He nodded.  "Wait here, please."  He walked back to his car with my papers.

I sat there, puzzled, until he came back and asked me to step out of the car.  Why does he want me out of the car? I wondered.  Is he going to arrest me for some reason?  This was really getting bizarre.

Once on the sidewalk with the officer, I saw him clip my license to the front of his shirt.  I knew then, I was in trouble.  For the first time, I began to suspect this wasn't just a case of someone having made a mistake that we could iron out in the next ten or twenty minutes.  I asked, "Can you tell me why my license is suspended?  I mean, I had no idea."

He shook his head, and now it was his turn to look a bit surprised.  "No.  I can't.  It just says your license is suspended.  For some reason, it doesn't say why."

I surmised that he was talking about his on-board computer.  I realized he wasn't sure why it didn't tell him the reason for my license suspension, and that this bothered him.  I also began to notice how young he was, and that he didn't have any stripes on his uniform.

"Do you have any idea?" he asked.  "Did you get any traffic tickets lately?"

"No."  I shook my head.  "I got a ticket about six months ago.  First one in about ten years."  I laughed.  "I paid the fine and all, so I don't see how that could be the problem."

He looked troubled.  "Well, if you have anything in the car that you need, please get it out.  We're going to have to do an inventory, and I don't want have to go through all your things.  It might embarrass you.  You seem like a nice guy."

"You're going to inventory my car?"

He nodded, looking a bit sheepish.  "I'm afraid we have to.  I have to impound your vehicle for thirty days, because you're driving on a suspended license.  You seem like a nice guy, and you're really being good about this, but I don't have a choice."

My eyebrows rose through my hairline.  "You're impounding my car?  For thirty days?  Really?"

I couldn't help laughing.  I'd once been on an A-team in the field, when we got into a tight position, and then two of the guys started punching each other out due to frayed nerves.  I started laughing then, too -- so hard that the warring parties quit fighting and came over to demand what I was laughing at.  But, our captain, the Team Leader, beat them to the punch, asking what was so funny.  I told him, "Nothing's funny, Skipper.  It'll take miracle to get us out of this thing, and you either have to laugh about it, or you gotta cry.  And I sure as hell ain't gonna cry about it!"

I was laughing for the same reason this time, too.

"I'm really sorry to do this to you," the young officer reiterated.  "You seem like a really nice guy."

"It's okay, officer.  I've got a friend on the Scottsdale PD, and another who used to be on the Phoenix department.  I know you're just doing your job.  No hard feelings, believe me.  I'm just embarrassed, that's all."

He was kind enough to get a trash bag from his car, so I could put all the items from my car into it.  I appreciated this, as I had recently-cleaned work shirts lying on the back seat at the time.

The young officer suggested I go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to find out why my license had been suspended.  When my son dropped me off there, I found out that I had to take a Defensive Driving class because of  my earlier ticket.  "But, I paid the fine," I said.  "I thought I had to either pay the fine, or take the class."

The woman behind the counter said, "New program.  Now ya' gotta do both."


"Yep.  We mailed you a letter at the end of May.  It told you that you had to take the class, or we'd suspend your license."

"I never got any letter."

"Still gotta take the class, if you want your license reinstated."

"Okay."  So, I paid three bucks for her to print out the letter they'd sent me in May.

When I went to the Defensive Driving course three days later, I learned that there really is a new program in Arizona, requiring almost anyone who gets a ticket to go to a defensive driving class -- even if they pay the fine.  This program is still pretty new; it was evidently enacted after I got my ticket, but I somehow fall into the category of person who has to take such a class.

And, there is a bit of reasoning behind the program.  Seems that, of the five most dangerous cities for driving (i.e. greatest number of traffic fatalities per annum) in the United States, Phoenix ranks No. 1, Mesa ranks No. 3, and Tucson ranks No. 5.  This program was enacted to help stem the tide of death on city streets in Arizona.  Now, the state alerts the MVD about offenders who pay the fine, but don't take a course.  The MVD then sends out a letter, saying that the offender must take a course as well, or risk suspension of his/her license.

And the kicker is:  The DMV sends these letters out, not in envelopes with official seals from the state, but (You guessed it!) in envelopes with the return address and circled green cross of the National Safety Council, because this is considered a safety measure.

Reporting from the rather humorous front lines of the legal system: this is Dixon Hill.

See you in two weeks!

02 July 2015

What We Do for Love...

by Eve Fisher

Here are a few tips regarding those who wish to remain among the unincarcerated:

(1) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and give them a ride anywhere but directly to the pen.
(2) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and take them over to your house for a cup of coffee, much less a six-pack of beer.
(3) Don't pick up work-release prisoners and take them over to your house for sex.
(4) Don't have sex with inmates, even if it's in your car, and you're sure there are no cameras around.
(5) Don't take anything from an inmate, even if it's just a little picture that they want to give you because you're so nice.
(6) Don't give anything to an inmate, even if it's just a picture of you so that they'll always have a memento.
(7) Don't agree to bring anything in to an inmate, even if it will make them so happy and you're their only friend.
(8) Don't agree to give/buy/sell anything to/from an inmate's relative, friend, significant other, etc., even if their grandmother is dying.
(9) Don't have sex with an inmate's relative, friend, significant other, etc., even if they really, really, really find you attractive and always have.
(10) Don't have sex with an inmate, even if the supply closet/classroom/staff bathroom is open and unoccupied and no one's in the pod watching and/or another inmate will keep an eye out for anyone coming.
(11) Don't have sex with an inmate.

Sadly, it happens all the time.  Every year at volunteer/guard training, we hear the stories:  this guard picked up a prisoner on their way home from work-release, took them for a ride, took them home, took them here, took them there...  Had a little coffee/soda/beer/drugs/sex with them.  That guard brought in cell phones/chew/drugs for a prisoner, who paid them with sex and/or cold hard cash. Another person had an affair with a prisoner, and when another prisoner found out about it, the person got blackmailed into having sex with that prisoner, too.  And when yet another inmate found out about that, suddenly the person had to start smuggling contraband...  And then there was the case of a person who got caught having sex with a prisoner, and the prisoner turned around and sued the person for sexual harassment and rape under PREA.  And won.

In each case, beginning the long march to losing job, family, and freedom.

Prison inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat are seen in enhanced pictures released by the New York State police

I'm sure you've all been following the story of convicted murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional facility in upstate New York with the help of two prison employees, Officer Gene Palmer (a prison guard) and Joyce Mitchell (who supervised inmates working in the prison's tailor shop).  I know I have.  (Just as I was finishing this up, Mr. Matt was killed, and Mr. Sweat was wounded and  back in custody.)  Now, I wasn't surprised at all that the prisoners tried to escape, and not that surprised that they succeeded - it happens.  After all, they have all the time in their sentence to sit and think up more or less inventive ways of getting out.  And every once in a while, they come up with a doozy.  One that actually works.  I'm just glad that this time no one was killed in the escape.

But what did surprise me, what always surprises me, is that some employees helped them.  To put it in the simplest English, "WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING?"
Danged if I know.

Gene Palmer: 5 Things to Know About Second Prison Worker Arrested in Escape Plot
Gene Palmer, in custody, looking shell-shocked

I do know that many inmates are really good at manipulating people.  If it wasn't their way of making a living out on outside, it sure is now.  Here's a great article which outlines a basic prison con:

First, they groom a person. This usually takes the form of either flattery or comfort.  Inmates pay very close attention to staff and volunteers, what they say, how they look, how they act.  (And, no, they literally don't have anything better to do.)  And so they might pay that staff member a compliment, or talk about what a difference the volunteer has made, or how good they are at something.  Given enough time (and believe me, the prisoners  have plenty of time), warm fuzzies abound...

Secondly, they talk, talk, talk, and get the staff/volunteer to talk, talk, talk.  Friendship blossoms. Confidences are made.  Perhaps about something that is slightly... illicit.  That's called instant blackmail.  And suddenly the staff member agrees to look the other way when the rules are bent a little.  And then that little indiscretion is used to hook the person into overlooking rules being really bent, broken, and thrown out in the trash.  And then the prisoners own the staff/volunteer, and anything is possible.  As we've seen.

Personally, I almost feel sorry for Joyce Mitchell (51), who was obviously led to believe that David Sweat (35) was in love with her.  I'll have to hand it to him, he took his time in landing her.  And, even though she still denies having sex with the man (while other inmates are heavily ratting them out and saying yes, they did, over and over again), I kind of hope she got something out of it besides the sickening knowledge that she was used, used, used, because she's going to prison herself, and it would be awful to trade away your entire life for absolutely nothing.

Joyce Mitchell is accused of helping two killers escape an upstate New York prison David Sweat remains at large

But I do not understand, at all, Officer Palmer trading his career and his freedom away for paintings. (At least the cell phone smugglers got money.)  I heard that he's claimed he was getting intelligence on illegal behavior in prison - but everything he did was (1) illegal according to the rules and (2) completely backfired because he ended up giving them at least some of the tools they needed to escape.  He appears to be one of those workers who came to sympathize more with the prisoners than with the institution.  Not that uncommon.  Prison is not a pleasant place to be in, no matter which side of the bars you're on.  But at some point, you've got to be aware of what you're trading when you become the duck.  You're trading your career, perhaps your family and friends, and all of your freedom in order to be a sucker.  A big fat waddling duck.

Prison Gangs
It's really simple:  don't violate the rules and don't trust the prisoners.  Be courteous, professional, even friendly (as in business friendly).  Do your job.  Be present.  Listen.  Care.  But don't trust them with your stuff, your mind, your body, your family, your freedom.  The con games never stop, and you are the obvious target, because you can get them something they want, something they need, and who knows?  You might even get them out of prison.  And put yourself IN.

01 July 2015

Struck by Poe

                                      by Robert Lopresti

No doubt you have heard the phrase struck by an idea.

But have you ever experienced it?

I have.  Twice.  What I mean by this is the act of experiencing a new thought with such force that it feels like a physical  blow.  It is quite a sensation.

The most recent time was a couple of years ago.  It was a Saturday night and I was listening to an NPR quiz show called Says You.  The subject of the program is usually words but on this evening the quiz was apparently about detectives and their arch-enemies (I say apparently because I missed the beginning).  And after Sherlock Holmes (Professor Moriarty!) and Nero Wolfe (Arnold Zeck!) they came to C. Auguste Dupin. 

That flabbergasted me.  Edgar Allan Poe's detective appeared only in three short stories.  Who was his arch-enemy?  Could they possibly mean the orang-outang, the killer in the first-ever detective story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue?"

They did (although the panelist guessed gorilla).

I thought this was bizarre.  The orang-outang - who never physically appears in the story, by the way - is just a dumb animal, and to treat it as if it were an evil genius--

Boom.  I stumbled, almost falling down.  I had just been struck by an idea.

Could I rewrite the story from the ape's viewpoint?

Let's pause for a moment.  One of my favorite mystery writers is James Powell.  Jim is a Canadian man with enough imagination for a whole team of fantasy writers.  Who else could have come up with stories that feature:

* An armchair detective who happens to be an armchair.

* A city made up of clowns, one of whom is poisoned by being hit in the face with a poisoned pie.

* Ebenezer Scrooge trying to solve Jacob Marley's murder, because "when a man's partner gets killed he's supposed to do something about it."

I have always wished I could come up with a plot as brilliantly twisted as one of Powell's,but never thought I came close.  Was this my chance?

Days later I was still pondering methods to make my version of Poe's story work.  I came up with three approaches:

1.  Naturalistic.  The scent of blood caused the great ape to panic.  It backed toward the window, shrieking...  No.  That would just be retelling Poe's original story.  Not what I wanted.

2.  Comic.  This is the approach I imagined Jim Powell would take: As I was gliding from oil palm to mangrove tree one sunny afternoon my arboreal journey was interrupted by an unexpected sight.  A traveler was wandering through the tangled depths below.  Not one of the local humans who seem to plod around  on the ground without much difficulty, although, if I  may so, they are pathetic at climbing up to the branchy frontier.  I offered a friendly hoot, and  slid down a vine with the alacrity of one born to the Borneo bush, as indeed I was, and addressed the fellow...

Okay, Powell would do that much better than me.  So, that left Door Number...

3.  Steampunk.  If you aren't familiar with the term, here is a definition from Wikipedia: a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.  Think of the movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The  Sea, or the TV show The Wild Wild West.  Lots of leather, polished steel, steam-powered machinery, and mad scientists.

I assume Poe's story is set in the 1830s,  a bit early for steampunk, but I was okay with that.  My idea was that the inevitable mad scientist had experimented on Poe's orang-outang, leaving him able to think and, if not speak, use sign language.  The big challenge would be that nothing in my story could contradict Poe's - although , of course, it might turn out that one of his characters was lying.

I wrote the story, which turned out to be a sort of existentialist parable. (It begins: What am I?)  While I was seeking a happy home for my unhappy ape I read that an anthology of stories inspired by Poe had come up a few thousand words short and was looking for a few more tales.  Sure enough, "Street of the Dead House" was accepted.

This month sees the publication of  nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre and I am very proud of the company I get to keep.  Among my many stablemates are Margaret Atwood, Richard Christian Matheson, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.  Special treat: the book also contains the  last story by horror and fantasy master Tanith Lee, who died this spring. 

Distinguished company; I hope my beastie behaves himself.

30 June 2015

Family Tradition

by Susan Rogers Cooper

This is my first time writing an article for SleuthSayers and I thought I'd start with something a little personal.

I once wrote a short story with the title "Family Tradition," but it wasn't a particularly nice family tradition.  Today I want to talk about a good one -- like three generations of writers.  I started writing when I was about eleven years old, but didn't try to get published until I was in my mid-thirties.  Since that time I've been managed to pump out twenty-something books, several short stories, and been nominated for an Edgar award.  But although we writers like to think we write totally in a vacuum, in my case that's not necessarily true.  When I started my E.J. Pugh series, my late husband Don had already come up with the characters and the first horrific scene (which began a new sub-genre, I was told -- the grizzly cozy), and when I got to a point where I actually needed a plot, Don, my daughter Evin and I sat on our king-sized bed and my teenager gave me the McGuffin.  And also one of the best lines in the book.

Evin started writing as a teenager -- mostly romances  -- but now, in her mid-thirties, she's an accomplished blogger (FOOD GOOD, LAUNDRY BAD) and has been called an "influencial" blogger (she's now driving a Cadillac Escalade as a result of that -- just for a week, but still....)  She's got lots of followers and is heading this year's Austin Blogathon, which is a very big deal.

Today, however, I went to the bookstore and bought my ten year old grandson two chapter books.  He's a voracious reader and I'll do whatever I can to feed that.  When he got to my house to pick them up, he said, "Grandma, I have an idea."  Then went on to tell me of a story he thought of about a boy and his parents on an airplane, the airplane crashes, and the boy is the only survivor.  Or is he?  "I'll write the survival stuff,," he said, "and you put the mystery stuff in, okay?"  And I answered, "You betja."  Now's the time to encourage this, to sew that seed, to get the ball rolling.  Yes, I mixed my metaphors, but what's a grandma to do?

Maybe we'll write this book together, or maybe just start it before something shiny catches our collective short attention span, but the spark is there and I will be the bellows.

On Being Someone Else

by Jim Winter

Today is my final Sleuthsayers post. It's been a blast, but I've decided to hang up my crime writing shoes and go do something else. It's been 15 years, long enough to see if the lab experiment will succeed.

About 15 years ago, I started writing crime fiction under the name Jim Winter. That is not the name that graces my driver's license. So why did I do it?

Privacy was a big concern. Mind you, most of us are privacy conscious. And in an age where employers will look at your social media and Internet footprint to see what you're up to, it's a huge concern. But back in 2000, we didn't have Facebook and MySpace. We had AOL and Yahoo. Essentially the same thing, 'cept different.

But I also had an ego. I was going to be the next Dennis Lehane. And of course, making friends with some heavy hitters only stoked that delusion. If I were to create the next Mystic River, I opined, did I want to get hassled at Kroger?

I don't think I've ever been hassled at Kroger, except for maybe an annoying cashier once.

But by the time I realized this wasn't really an issue, even if I somehow became hugely successful, I was already established as Jim Winter. If I were to change, I'd have to start over again.

And when I did decide to start over again, I switched genres. I do science fiction now, and under my legal name, TS Hottle. But are there good reasons to do pen names besides privacy?

Branding is a good one. Joe Smith may write cop novels, but Joseph E. Smith may write dystopian YA fiction. Might get a bit confusing. And then maybe JE Smith may decide to cash in on his success and do writing books.

In some cases, privacy is an issue. Write erotica, and your employer may have issues with that. There may be nothing illegal about you doing that, but it can go horribly south if it makes someone in marketing or HR squick to find out you write that sort of thing. "Smut queen Lisa Jones works in our IT Department? What if our clients find out?" A pen name covers both you and them.

And then there are the hard-to-pronounce names. For instance, I know two writers whose names are hard to pronounce if you haven't heard them before. One writes under her maiden name, another writes under a rather science fictiony name that is easy to pronounce and remember.

Ultimately, I do wish I had not called myself "Jim Winter" in the beginning. It just became more and more unwieldy to explain it or cover it up as time went on.

Now it's no longer a problem.

29 June 2015

Dear Dad

by Melissa Yi

Dear Dad,

As you may know, last time I wrote about how Mom reads my books now. It only seems fair to talk to you this week, even though we haven’t spoken since 2008. So, how’s it going?
I’ve been concentrating on mysteries lately. I find them satisfying because you can describe the ugliness in the world and bring a bad guy to justice. Since I work in an emergency room, I see a lot of illness, and not a lot of justice. Nice people get cancer. Sometimes nice people die. Meanwhile, a patient punched one of our nurses in the face and another patient attacked a different nurse with a high-heeled shoe. I’m having trouble finding the links, though, because there was an even more dramatic story about a patient hit a third nurse with a metal bar while uttering death threats.
Don’t worry, though. I feel pretty safe. We do have security guards, and I see at least one concrete change: we now have posters on the wall saying that we have a zero tolerance attitude toward violence. I hope the criminals can read.
It’s funny. I know you and mom always approved of me going into medicine because it’s considered a safe career. Much safer than writing, which is considered pretty much equivalent to committing hara-kiri. But now that I think about it, medicine is far more dangerous. You spend years abusing your brain and body, inhaling as much information and working as many hours as possible, exposing yourself to flesh-eating disease and felons, whereas a writer…sits in a room and makes stuff up.
True, writers earn less money on average, and poor people tend to get sick. This article even mentions that almost half of poor children have witnessed a killing.
Still, I remember reading articles saying that most doctors discouraged their children from becoming physicians. The articles slid right off of me as a medical student. I was young. I was excited. I was going to be a doctor!
But now, when my four-year-old daughter says, “I want to be a doctor,” I’m thinking of the deregulated medical school tuition and fees alone that cost up to $24,000 per year. I’m thinking of how much she loves babies (already, she walked around Sears, choosing which carriage and crib her baby should have), and how hard it is to balance children and medicine. And I understand why this survey showed that nine out of ten physicians discourage anyone from entering medicine.
I guess that’s why my other moniker is The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World.
Anyway, I’m not sure what you think of my writing. The most reaction I got out of you was when I brought you and mom to the joint book launch for Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic and Open Space: New Canadian Fantastic Fiction, and you were astonished by the free food and drinks. “Who’s paying for this?” you asked afterward.
I wasn’t sure myself. That’s a mystery, too.
But not as much of a mystery as what you’re up to now, after fighting a high-grade glioma for 18 months before succumbing in May 2008. I’m agnostic, but part of me wants to believe that somehow, you know you now have four adorable grandchildren and that I still love you.