Showing posts with label criminals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label criminals. Show all posts

12 March 2015

Riders of the Purple Wage


by Eve Fisher
Lately, a number of very famous people have been getting their knickers in a twist over Artificial Intelligence, or AI:
black and white photo of Hawking in a chair, in an office."The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race."  Stephen Hawking
“With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out."  Elon Musk
Now I can sort of understand why.  The general premise for decades has been that some day the computers/robots will take over, and run us, with only two possible scenarios:
  • Great - Robots and computers will do everything for us, and we will live a life of luxury (according to the late great Frederick Pohl, too much so), comfort and security thanks to Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics that protect mankind from the revolt of the machines.  
  • Bad - Everything by Philip K. Dick, and, of course, "The Matrix".  
Which it will be depends upon the mood of the times.  Currently, we're not a particularly optimistic species, so the common response is, "We're doomed! We're doomed!"  (Unless you're Sheldon Cooper, and then it cannot happen soon enough.)
Maybe.  Maybe not.  But what concerns me about the takeover of the machines isn't that they use my stasis body as a heat source while providing my mind innumerable alternative reality jaunts to keep me a content and unquestioning host organism.  Or even AIs killing us all (for one thing, logically, they'd do it quickly - only humans are sadists.  And cats.).  What concerns me is the simple matter of a paycheck.  Eating.  Rent.  Utilities.

Look, the main reason we have computers and robots is to do our work for us.  Anything boring, repetitive, heavy, dangerous, etc. - eventually, we'll make a machine to do it.  Calculators mean I don't have to add up the columns of figures for which they used to hire Nicholas Nickleby.  Payloaders mean we don't need an army of physical laborers hoisting earth. Tractors, etc., mean that today's Pa Ingalls doesn't need to muscle his way through the sod with horse and plow.  Computers mean I don't have to write everything out long-hand, or type it over and over again until it's perfect.  It's great.

hamburger robotOn the other hand, modern technology has eliminated and is eliminating a whole ton of jobs. Typesetters; typists; clerks; gas station attendants; innumerable factory workers; graphic designers; paralegals; low-level tax preparers; most farm hands; most farmers; bank tellers; airline check-in agents; retail clerks; accountants; actuaries; travel agents; most reporters, etc.  Soon there will be far fewer surgeons, teachers, and other high-level jobs as robots take over.  And in the fast food industry, the robots are coming to flip those burgers and make those fries.

The point is that, as we use technology to do 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90% of the work, we will also unemploy a significant number of people.  There will still be jobs, at all levels - just infinitely less of them.  Perhaps only a handful, here and there.  Which leaves the elephant in the room:  what do you do about the people?

Yes, everyone talks about retraining.  See a typical chirpy article on "The Future of Work" .  BUT, I've always had two basic questions:

(1) There is a significant number of people who can't be retrained.  Some will be too old, some will be too set, and some - frankly - whose mental ability to learn complex problem-solving skills is extremely limited.  I run into some of them at the pen.  (In case you don't know it, prisons are the modern housing facility for many of the mentally disabled, as well as the mentally ill.)  These are the people who are never considered in future planning talks, the ones that are ignored by all economists and pundits, but shouldn't be.  As I once said about a former student who was caught stealing, "Well, how else is he going to make a living?"

(2) If you have 250 people in a town, and there are only 100 actual jobs, it doesn't matter how much retraining you do.  There are still 150 people without work because there are no jobs.  Urbanize that.  Nationalize that.  Globalize that.

In Philip Jose Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage", he posited a society in which they coped with the problem of almost complete unemployment by giving everyone a salary just for being born.  It's enough to keep them housed and fed and hooked up to the Fido, a combination cable TV/videophone, along with a little wet-ware called a fornixator (you translate it).  To get anything else, you have to prove your exceptionality, but most people are happily occupied without it.  For those who aren't, well, there are wildlife reserves where they can go off and be weird - but they have to give up the purple wage.

Soylent green.jpgIt's a successful society, in its own way - and perhaps the only logical one. Because the truth is, sooner or later, in a society where technology is doing 90% of the work, there will have to be a "purple wage".
That, or
(1) society comes up with innumerable "make work" jobs, like picking oakum in the workhouse.  (Personally, I foresee a lot of crime.)
      That, or
(2) the unemployed masses (a la "Soylent Green" or "Zardoz", etc.) will be pounding at the armored enclaves of the fabulously wealthy.  (As I said, I foresee a lot of crime.)
      That, or
(3) a whole lot of people are going to have to die, leaving just enough to run the machines, and do the few jobs that still cannot be done by machines, and the fabulously wealthy (there is always a group of fabulously wealthy) to enjoy unending leisure.  Wall-E, call home!
      That, or
(4) The Matrix.

Anyway, here's the question:  As we pursue technological advancements, can we let go of the Protestant Work Ethic?  Let go of the idea that we are what we do?  Must people work or starve, even if there's plenty of everything except jobs?  Can we tolerate, support, even design a society where the norm for everyone (instead of just the wealthy) is "the leisured class"?

Now, you may think the last question is nonsense.  For one thing, we've been promised endless leisure for a century now, and most people are still working their butts off.  On the other hand, we do have more leisure than almost any other society in history.  This began with the industrial revolution, and one of the most interesting things about reading "Consuming Passions" by Judith Flanders is watching the development of ways for the working classes to spend their new-found leisure.  (Hey - they had all of Saturday afternoon and Sundays off!)  Thanks to advertising, sports, vacations, theater, and literature were turned into major industries.  (Drinking had always been a favorite activity.)  And, instantly, the pundits, poets, philosophers, and religious thinkers started decrying the horrible waste of human time and energy on trivia.  And talking about the nobility of hard work, piety, thrift, self-denial and sobriety:  for the lower classes only, of course.

File:Victorian cricket team 1859.jpg
Victorian cricket team

We have pretty much the same discussion going on today:  in certain circles, if you don't have a paying job, you're worthless.  (Unless you're wealthy enough not to.)  And the idea that someone who's unemployed has a television, a cell phone, and computer games for the kids - well, they're obviously spending too much money on all the wrong stuff.  Not to mention, if they have such things, they can't be "really" poor.

NOTE 1:  In Florida they give cell phones to the homeless, for a variety of reasons.  (Contact from parole officers, call-backs on jobs, etc.)
NOTE 2:  I'm always amazed at the people who check out other people's grocery carts and then post, outraged, if someone who's on food stamps buys candy or other luxury items.  (See this article for the alternative view:  People on Food Stamps Make Better Grocery Choices.)  God forbid the poor eat something other than gruel...

Basically, I'm leisured, you're lazy, and they're useless.

Anyway, today we've got smart phones, social media, computer games, Netflix, and innumerable other ways to waste what time we have (on the job or off) in the modern equivalent of Fidos and fornixators.  And it seems like the list is going to expand at algorithmic rate. Meanwhile, the list of available jobs is decreasing, at least geometrically, every time we turn around.  IF we get to where technology performs most of the work, and IF we get to where we have a regular unemployment of 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 percent, can we change our thinking from "unemployed" to "leisured"?  Can we develop a new idea of what people "should" do?  Of what people are "supposed" to do?

Without work, what are people for?
"Tompkins Square Park Central Knoll" by David Shankbone -
David Shankbone, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

29 January 2015

Is Time Money, or is Money Time?


by Eve Fisher

James Wallman
You may or may not know that this last week has been wild, because on January 23rd, a gentleman named James Wallman had an article on the BBC Magazine based on his book, Stuffocation, and mentioned me. (I'm also cited in the book.) The citation was for one of my history lessons, "The $3,500 Shirt", which I gave regularly in my Western Civ and World History classes when it came time for the Industrial Revolution talk. I also shared it with several people, including Mr. Wallman, and here on SleuthSayers on June 6, 2013.

After the citation in BBC Magazine, the article got a few hits. (!!!) It also got a few comments. Some people simply could not (perhaps would not?) believe that clothing could be that expensive. Most of time their quarrel was with my multiplying the time spent making the shirt by current minimum wage, saying that didn't show how little people were paid back then, and so the shirt would be much cheaper. Which, in terms of cash paid out, is absolutely true. BUT not when it comes to the amount of time: time-wise, it was infinitely more expensive. Because for most of history, labor (time) was what counted, more than money:
Father took out a round, big silver half-dollar. He asked, "Almanzo, do you know what this is?" "Half a dollar," Almanzo answered. "Yes. But do you know what half a dollar is? It's work, son… You know how to raise potatoes, Almanzo?… Say you have a seed potato in the spring, what do you do with it?" "You cut it up. … Then you harrow - first you manure the field, and plow it. Then you harrow, and mark the ground. And plant the potatoes and plow them, and hoe them. You plow and hoe them twice… Then you dig them and put them down cellar." "Yes, and then you pick them over all winter, you throw out the little ones and the rotten ones. Come spring, you load them up and haul them here to Malone, and you sell them. And if you get a good price son, how much do you get to show for all that work? How much do you get for a bushel of potatoes?" "Half a dollar," Almanzo said. "Yes," said Father. "That's what's in this half-dollar, Almanzo. The work that raised half a bushel of potatoes is in it." Almanzo looked at the round piece of money that Father held up. It looked small, compared to all that work.
— Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy, pp. 182-184.
Work is important. Work is time. How much a penny or a dollar is worth changes over time; but the number of hours in a day don't. And you don't get the whole 24 hours to do anything you want: you have to sleep, eat., etc. So if you subtract 8-10 hours a day for all those other things (sleep, eating, bathroom, washing, travel to and from work, etc.), what you have left is 14-16 hours a day to work, play, live. Thanks to the Industrial Revolution, most of us (at least in the Western world) don't have to spend 12+ hours a day at hard physical labor, so we have a tendency to think in terms of money (how much did it cost?) rather than time (how long did it take?), but, as I say, that wasn't the way people used to think about things.

Here are a couple of ways to look at things:

First, the Shirt, and then I want to move on to such fun things as criminals and celebrities. First off, some weavers and spinners gave me some more exact figures (I under-figured for spinning; over-figured for weaving), so here goes:
Note how long the shirt is.

To make a shirt entirely by hand - and we're going to go with 25 gauge for a decent, but coarse shirt - we start with the spinning. 25 ÷ threads per inch × 36 inches wide × 8 yards (shirts were longer then) = 7200 warp yards, plus about the same for weft = 14,400 yards of thread; divided by 30 yards per hour = 480 hours. The weaving (which I admit I over-estimated in the original) requires about 20 hours including 10 hours minimum for set up – stretching the warp, setting up and threading the loom – and then another 8-10 for weaving. And the sewing, which I still say would take 7 hours, including finishing all the seams. So the new figures are:
Spinning - 480 hours
Weaving - 20 hours
Sewing - 8 hours
Total: 508 hours of labor to make a shirt.
This still doesn't include things like buttons, or the needle and thread to sew the shirt, nor the labor that went into raising/processing the linen, cotton, or wool.

Imagine spending 480 hours to make enough thread to weave a shirt. No wonder Ellen Rollins said "The moaning of the big [spinning] wheel was the saddest sound of my childhood. It was like a low wail from out of the lengthened monotony of the spinner's life." (Jack Larkin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, p. 26) And that would be 480 hours "fitted in", because almost no woman (luckily!) could spend an entire working week (72 hours in pre-Industrial times) doing nothing but weaving. She had chores to do, like cooking, cleaning, dairying, weeding, minding children, etc. No matter what price she got for that yarn, she would undoubtedly have felt like Almanzo - a pretty small sum for that much work.

480 hours: that's 7 weeks' work in pre-Industrial times; 12 weeks' work in today's Western working world. What do you have around your house that costs that much? That costs three months' worth of your time, of your year? A shirt? How many shirts, at that rate, could you actually afford, considering you also have to pay for rent and food? And could get no credit?

Now you have some idea of what most people were up against before the Industrial Revolution. (And why the first thing the industrial revolution produced was cloth, and why the first inventions were spinning machines.)
St-aethelthryth.jpg NOTE: one thing about medieval objects, they were, for the most part extremely well-made. Things lasted. I have read of a hand woven linen sheet lasting 100 years. (Of course, well-cared for linen only gets better – more supple and soft – with successive washings and bleachings.) And they didn't waste anything. Everything was darned, mended, cut down, reused, repurposed, recycled, you name it. (Most of the Victorian poor bought or received their clothing second hand.) But there was cheap stuff, too: the ribbons and gee-gaws that were sold at the annual St. Audrey's Fair in medieval England got cheaper and cheaper until, by the 17th century, "tawdry" had become a synonym for "cheap, gaudy and showy".
Back to hours and time. Today we calculate almost everything in terms of money, how to get it, how to increase it, how to spend it, save it, bank on it… But money is only a symbolic representation of labor, of time. (There isn't any currency, at least in the Western world, that has any intrinsic value.) Perhaps our obsession with money is that it buys us time - or does it?

Not always. Exhibit 1: Criminals.

Quite simply, most criminals don't understand why people work. Why exchange all those hours of hard labor when you can get money so much easier by stealing, conning, forging, robbing, or even killing for it? Much less time, much less effort. Of course criminals ignore the endless mental planning and rehearsing - the obsession - that is their life. They ignore the fact that the $20,000,000 heist is literally one in 20,000,000, and is probably not going to be theirs. They ignore the immense effort and hardship that a life of crime requires. And they most definitely ignore the fact that, if caught (as so, so, so many are), they will give ALL their time for the crime, spending years, if not their entire life, on 24/7 watch with no privacy at all.

Of course no one reading this would give up all their time for something as stupid as crime. So I give you Exhibit 2: Celebrities.

Celebrities - including royalty, athletes, movie stars, rock stars, CEOs, and some politicians - live a lifestyle of fabulous wealth and almost unlimited access to anything the celebrity wants. But, they pay for that with ALL their time. A celebrity is never off-stage. Paparazzi are omnipresent. Phones are tapped. (Ask Rupert Murdoch.) National Enquirer has their hairdressers and stylists on speed-dial. So the exchange is everything for everything. What's left of the person underneath the celebrity? If everything is public, is there any private person there? People have been wondering for centuries if there was anyone under the mask of Louis XIV. What was under Norma Desmond's mask but the hunger for more?

The hunger for more: for more time, more money, more fame, more stuff, more, more, more… Well, we've got the machines, and we've got the stuff, but now everyone complains how they don't have enough time. So what are you willing to spend your time on? What can you afford to spend your time on? What is worth your time?

30 September 2014

Fast Eddie


by Jim Winter

Once upon a time, a man named "Fast Eddie" Watkins could get in and out of banks quickly, relieving them of cash, and usually not harming anyone. He became one of Cleveland's most notorious criminals, and that says a lot in my hometown. Cleveland had the Torso Killer. Its suburbs produced Jeffrey Dahmer while the Tremont neighborhood spawned notorious kidnapper Ariel Castro. A branch of the Genovese crime family ran the underworld for years, and Irish mobster Danny Green met a fiery end when his car exploded leaving a union hall in the late 1970's. So, yeah. The Northcoast has hosted its share of thugs and monsters.

But we always had a soft spot for Fast Eddie. Sure, he robbed banks. But he was a gentleman thief. In and out, and he loved the publicity. The Plain Dealer, The Press (infamous for its shoddy reporting of the Sam Sheppard murder case), and the local TV stations faithfully recounted his exploits. In a city more famous for its burning river and its serial killers, Watkins developed a Robin Hood reputation.

The one time Fast Eddie's robbery didn't go so well, he took 9 hostages. After 21 hours, though, he let everyone go and surrendered. The feds sent him to prison in Atlanta. He escaped, and therein is where Fast Eddie crossed a very young Jim Winter's path.

South of the exurb where I grew up, there is, to this day, a stretch of potato fields called The Muck, a handful of rock quarries, and cornfields all sandwiched between the CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads. We used to ride our bikes out through there, headed for the tiny little freeway burg of Burbank. Only one day, the local police stopped us.

"Why can't we ride out to Burbank?" I asked the Lodi cop at the roadblock.

"We got a bank robber cornered out past the rock quarry."

I went home. At 6:00, WEWS led their news broadcast with the standoff between Fast Eddie Watkins and the Medina County Sheriff. By 7, Fast Eddie was in custody and headed back to prison.

Watkins never hid the fact that he was a bank robber. He said he enjoyed it. "I wanted to be a big shot," he confessed. His illegal withdrawals helped finance his lavish lifestyle. So where did he keep his money?

"I trust banks with my money. They're insured. It's the best place in the world to put your money."

But was it the money? Watkins wife once said no. Mrs. Watkins said that Fast Eddie ogled banks the way most men ogled girls.

But even in prison with his criminal career over, Watkins remained a character. The Cleveland papers occasionally reported that Fast Eddie had taken up painting while behind bars, favoring landscapes.

Fast Eddie died in 2002 at the age of 82 after a long battle with heart and lung disease. Unlike the bank robbers of an earlier era, going out in a blaze of glory wasn't for him.

22 August 2014

Bang, You're Busted


by R.T. Lawton

At some time or other, in the back of every criminal's mind lurks those dreaded words, "You're under arrest." He hopes to never hear any form of speech which includes himself and the word arrest in the same sentence, but every time he breaks the law he realizes that the possibility exists. And, he never knows when the phrase may be spoken. These fateful words could sear his ears in the middle of his criminal action or even years later, assuming the statute of limitations has not yet run.

Our criminal might be a mastermind who has carefully plotted out his crime and kept a very low profile in order to reduce his exposure and therefore the risks he runs, but sooner or later, he has to deal with other people. Therein lies one of his greatest dangers. You see, a counterfeiter needs someone to lay off his fake paper. A career thief needs a fence to receive the stolen goods. The fence in turn needs customers to purchase those same stolen goods. An embezzler has to deal with and fool auditors and supervisors. An inside trader has to get his valuable information from someone inside the business. And yes, even a murderer has to deal with someone, if not the person from whom he acquired his contract or murder weapon, then at least the victim of his crime.

In the case of conspiracies and RICO laws, it takes time for investigators and prosecutors to assemble and correlate all the needed witnesses and other evidence before presenting everything to a grand jury for indictment and subsequent arrest warrants. These type of indictments cast broad nets which may be able to roll up entire criminal organizations. Just when the criminal thinks his exposure to a particular crime in the past is safely put to bed and he can forget about it, he finds himself and his buddies swept up by the law. What's a smart guy to do and who can he trust?

The truth is, if you are a criminal, you can't trust anyone. You can't trust a spouse or other relative, your life-long best friend, the members of whatever organization you all swore allegiance to, not even the anonymous but intriguing person you met on the internet, much less the stranger your trusted associate just introduced you to. Naturally, your associate vouches for the guy. None of these people can be trusted, as many a convicted felon has found out to his chagrin. It seems an unhappy, pressured and/or betrayed spouse will give you up in a heartbeat. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. You may have long forgotten a particular incident, but your relatives may still be harboring a long-time grudge for the bad you once did them. As for your life-long best friend, if it comes down to you or him, he may decide it's going to be you. And, let's face it, the mafia has changed. Omerta is out the window. The big bosses didn't want to do big time, so they rolled on everybody. Bike gangs preach brotherhood, but the top dogs only look out for their own welfare. That anonymous guy on the other end of the computer keyboard could be anybody, even a vice cop. And that hard-looking stranger you just asked to kill your spouse, boss or worst enemy, how many videos of those meetings with incriminating statements end up on television news programs for the general viewing public? Don't those criminals ever watch television or somehow keep up with current events in their field of endeavor these days?

Some of the most embarrassed criminals are the ones caught in undercover operations. They have bought so far into the U/C guy's story that when it comes time for their arrest, their disbelief is interesting to watch. Some reactions have ranged from, "Are they arresting you, too?" to "Does this mean we're not going to Mexico" to the outright "I don't believe you." These defendants are the ones who usually plead out rather than have their stupidity revealed in open court.

And yet, the next generation of criminals is coming of age. Even though they have the opportunity to hear about recent and past arrests on television, see similar articles on the internet involving all types of crime, potential defendants don't steer away from making the same mistakes their predecessors did.

That leaves me wondering.

Are these people optimists in their thinking and planning for their crimes?

Are they wading in the shallow end of the gene pool?

Or do we just catch the stupid ones?

23 May 2014

Shoot the Woman First


by R.T. Lawton

There's an ATF Agent I occasionally swap short stories with online. I met him at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Denver a few years back when we were both presenters at that conference. We soon found the two of us had a lot in common. Afterwards, we recommended new authors to each other and/or new books to read. A couple of months ago, he brought up the name of Wallace Stroby and suggested I try that author's later novels. I'd never heard of the guy, but decided to check out one of his books to see if he was worth reading.

First stop was Amazon for Kindle books, where I found Stroby had three novels in a new series: Cold Shot to the Heart, 2011, Kings of Midnight, 2012 and Shoot the Woman First, 2013. I was intrigued by the last title, wondering why the woman had to go first, especially since the series protagonist is female. I calculated that since this one was his latest work, then it would probably be his best and I would therefore soon know whether or not I was wasting my time. Turned out, I enjoyed the 2013 book so much that I felt compelled to go back and purchase the first two in the series. Since each book is a great stand alone read, yet builds on the one before, had I known they would be that good, I would have bought and read them in chronological order.

If you like action/suspense books written fairly true to the world of criminals, then you will enjoy Stroby's three novels with Crissa Stone as the main character in this series.

As Shoot the Woman First opens, Crissa is meeting with three men in a car on the streets of Detroit at night. Two of the men she has worked with on previous jobs. She trusts them as much as she trusts any criminal she gets involved with, which is to say that trust needs to get re-earned on every new job. The third man in the car is cousin to one of the first two men, and him she has real concerns about because he is a college kid, unproven in the criminal world. However, he is also the man with the needed inside information, so he's part of the crew or there is no job.

The four of them are having a discussion in a rented car on a street in the bad part of town while watching a drop car allegedly containing about a half million dollars of drug buy money in the trunk. Between them and the drop car is a vehicle with three armed gangsters whose duty it is to make sure the right people are the only ones to drive away in the car with all that cash.

You, as reader, are right on scene as Crissa devises a plan to distract and temporarily disable the three armed gangsters while the rest of the crew takes the buy money out of the drop car. The job goes as planned with only a couple of minor problems. It's an hour later that everything goes to hell. A corrupt, retired police detective is subsequently hired by the gang leader to find whoever stole his money. Conflicted with loyalty to certain partners and paranoia of who to trust, Crissa runs the tight wire of protecting herself and members of her family from the ensuing retribution.

Bottom line, all three books are good reads. And, if you want to find out why you shoot the woman first, you need to buy the book, or (according to the corrupt detective) you can ask a member of a counter terrorist team.

See ya again on Fortnight Friday.

24 June 2012

Absurdity Trumps Common Sense


by Louis Willis

In my March post, “The 13th Juror,” I discussed how a judge addicted to pain pills was removed from the bench because of his criminal activities in obtaining the pills. A special judge was appointed to decide if defendants in a 2007 carjacking-torture-murder case should get new trials. After the three male defendants were convicted, two of them were given life sentences. The ring leader received a death sentence. At the time the original judge was removed from the case, the female defendant had been found guilty of facilitation but had not been sentenced. The original judge I called P. The special Judge, whom I called G, without holding hearings, granted all four defendants new trials.

I’ve been following the latest developments in the case through the Knoxville News Sentinel because my daughter could still be on the witness list.

In his decision, Judge G concluded that Judge P’s addiction and criminal activities deprived the defendants of “constitutionally sound trials”. He also decided that he could not act as the 13th juror because of credibility issues with Judge P and the witnesses. The prosecutor appealed the decision to grant new trials to the three male defendants, but did not appeal the decision on the female because of Judge P’s erratic behavior during her trial.

The Tennessee Supreme Court concluded that Judge G was wrong in granting new trials and directed him to address the issue of whether the credibility of the witnesses was crucial in the state’s case. The Court stated that if Judge G concluded the witnesses’ credibility was key and could not evaluate their candor from the transcript alone, he must grant new trials. The Court further ruled that the defense must show proof of error before new trials may be granted. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, Judge G again ordered new trials for the three male defendants without holding hearings.

The prosecutor filed a motion with Judge G requesting that he recuse himself. Judge G refused to recuse (On my, I’m channeling Johnny Cochran!). He even threaten the DA with contempt of court, and told the DA’s special counsel he should report himself to the state board that polices lawyers.

Failure to follow the Supreme Court’s directive is bad enough but what is most disturbing is Judge G’s off the record actions in an attempt to prevent public scrutiny. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, he removed documents from the court records and ordered prosecutors not to refer to them in public. He corresponded with prosecutors through emails instead of issuing orders that would become part of the court record. He held meetings with lawyers in chambers instead of holding hearings. In his motion asking Judge G to recuse himself, the prosecutor cited emails in which the judge said little birdies were putting thoughts in his head.

Anyone should know, but especially a judge, that trying to keep judicial proceedings secret from the press in a high profile case is like trying to hide meat from a hungry pack of dogs. The press will smell something wrong in a New York minute (by the way, what is a New York minute?). Judge G allowed absurdity to trump common sense.

On Thursday, June 21, 2012, Judge G scheduled a hearing on the prosecution’s recusal motion for October 8, which will allow the DA to put his objections into the official record. Maybe, just maybe, common sense will begin to trump absurdity in this case.

The Blue Bird of Common Sense

24 May 2012

Notes from the Penitentiary


 by Eve Fisher

     I’ve been offline for the last 8 days, because I was down at the state penitentiary. 
Believe it or not, a postcard from the Sioux Falls State Pen - circa 1910

     Three of those I was helping to facilitate a workshop as part of the Alternatives to Violence Project – for more information about that VERY worthy organization and concept, please see here http://www.avpusa.org/.  We had a good workshop.  Exhausting.  You can’t just stand up there and lecture at inmates, because that isn’t going to work.  Instead, you try to get 18 to 25 inmates fully interested, invested, participating for 8-12 hours a day for 3 days – and that keeps you hopping.
     The other five days I spent doing training for a higher security clearance at the pen and other state correctional facilities.  (The hope is some day to take AVP to the women’s prison in Pierre.)  Anyway, I learned all kinds of stuff at the training.  Not just the routine and the ritual and what’s expected of correctional officers. who were the main cohort of the training.  Believe me, volunteers are not the center of training, and why should they be?
     Actually, the answer to that is, at least up here in South Dakota, is because the prisoners cannot have any AA, NA, AVP, Al-Anon, etc. meetings, church functions (of any religion, from Native pow-wows to Buddhist meditation), or other non-state provided functions without a fully vetted volunteer present.  And, since South Dakota is currently as broke and in debt as any other state, and has cut everything to the bone, about all the prisoners get is GED classes, and a 12 week chemical dependency treatment.  Basically, without volunteers, the prisoners don’t get much of anything. But enough of that rant.
     Anyway, the training was mainly directed at newly hired correctional officers, and after five days of that…  well, I believe that institutionalization can happen on both sides of the cell door, and we’ll leave it at that.  They went over things like the daily routine, various security/safety priorities and procedures, talked about suicide awareness (and hopefully) prevention, about rape prevention (from what I hear, good luck with that one), the endless counts (standing, emergency, and other), what the various inmate shirt colors indicate, and all about con games, including the 14 steps of a set up which begin with observation and end with the sting.  Most of the 14 steps appeared to me to be fairly obvious, but… 
     Among the other tid-bits, and if all of you know all of this already, forgive me:
  1. Never give your full name to an inmate. NOTE:  As a volunteer, my full name is printed out on my ID card along with my photo for all the world to see, so I had a good laugh about that.
  2. Some of the gangs in our prisons are the Mexican Mafia, Sorreno, MS-13, the Bloods and the Crips – although up here these are Native American, not black. 
  3. The question to ask a newly released inmate is are they “flat” (i.e., done their time) or “on paper” (i.e., on parole).
  4. Prison burritos have nothing to do with tortillas.  They’re a mixture of Ramen soup, mayonnaise, chips, refried beans, jalapeno peppers, chili, and other ingredients, mixed up, packed up in wet towels, cooked over whatever heat source the inmates can manage to find.  It’s then cooked up in slices with an ID card or other sharp utensil and sold for $5.00 a slice.
  5. Ramen soups are one of the main inmate currencies, and are worth $5.00 each.  (They get them at commissary at an obviously inflated price and inflate more.)  Why Ramen?  I have no idea.  I always thought the only reason students lived on them was they cost about 10 cents each.
  6. Among the main things every inmate wants are chew (in a tobacco free environment, chew is VERY pricey) and a cell phone.  The prison has dogs that can sniff out both.
  7. Another thing inmates want is drugs.  Now the inmates are given prescribed medications, but they have to take all their meds crushed, in suspension (water, whatever), in front of a nurse.  This doesn’t stop the entrepreneurial inmate from putting a wad of toilet paper in his cheek and sucking all the liquid there, and then later taking that soggy crap out of their mouth, drying it, and selling it to someone desperate for a high.  
  8. One of the main drugs is welbutrin, because the state has a program that gives it away free to people who want to quit smoking.  The inmates can get it (for a while), and inmates get their families to get free welbutrin from the state, and smuggle it in to them.  (How?  Let me count the ways…  as one trainer put it, the first place to search is always the crotch.)  A welbutrin pill goes for serious Ramen inside, and is crushed and snorted for a quick high.  
  9. Our South Dakota prisons are very, very clean.  I mean that.  They don’t smell of dirty socks.  They have inmates cleaning constantly.  There’s a whole group of them called bleachers who go around rubbing bleach on every surface, every handle, every bar.  
  10. A “punk” is someone who’s been/being persuaded/forced to provide sex for…  protection, help, whatever.  
  11. Our South Dakota prisons are crowded, but they’re not full yet.  I already knew this.  As I told a lawyer, years ago, who was telling me about his fresh-from-California client, who wanted a plea bargain for his big lump of cocaine, “Go back and tell him this is South Dakota, and we have room for him in the prison.” Still do. 
Anyway, I passed – we had an exam – which is good.  I have my clearance, which is better.  And I got to go home, which is best of all.  




21 November 2011

Criminals and Protesters


Jan Grape by Jan Grape

What's all the big deal about the Occupy Wall Street protesters? What do they want? Do they expect the rich to give them part of their money? Take from the rich and give to the poor, really? Most of us are happy when someone makes a mint. We don't want their money. Especially the money they earned by working for it. Are they asking for a hand-out? After hearing some congressmen and other people who say they are in the 1% tell the protesters on national television to "get a job." I realize they have no clue. They have erroneously decided most of these protesters are homeless/hippie/college-age or teens who just want to protest.

Maybe so, and since I'm not out in the midst of these folks, I can't say for sure. I've read and heard that stealing food, leaving horrible unsanitary areas and sexual assaults have taken place in the tent cities, and that's just all wrong. But seeing the 84 year old woman who got pepper-sprayed in the face and the marine who got the skull fracture and the peaceful sitting protesters out in CA getting pepper sprayed in the face, by police who've been ordered to disband these peaceful demonstrations. I have a feeling there are a lot of people who feel that something is terribly wrong on Wall Street and in congress. I understand cities already in debt racking up even more debt to try and keep things peaceful. The police are given orders even though they don't always agree. Yet some policemen get totally out of hand. I saw and even personally know some college students who've been protesting, I have read about teachers, police officer, military personnel, people out of work for months, union workers, and even plain ordinary folks joining the protest. Tonight many artists and musicians are joining in with the LA protesters after the AMA awards.

Most of the protesters out there are trying to make Wall Street fund managers and politicians wake up and do what needs to be done to fix some grievous wrongs. However, I don't hold out much hope they will.

The fact that banking and financial institutions were bailed-out with taxpayer money, then the boards of those institutions gave themselves and most of their top management people huge bonuses. When called upon to explain, these corporate Greedy-Gus CEOs never explained. Not one of them has ever been sent to jail for malfeasance or mismanagement of funds or even called on the carpet. Not one of them ever paid back any bail-out monies that I know about or have heard.

Seems as if I recall a huge outcry when the bail-outs were given to the large auto companies but I've heard more than one of these companies has paid money back to the US Government. The banking and brokerage institutions who haven't paid any money back are criminals. To me that's the same as defaulting on a loan. These are same characters got our economy into this mess in the first place.

Okay, having said that, let me digress to why I write crime fiction. Throughout many years of living, I've seen, read and heard of many, many miscarriages of justice. In fact, a recent case happened here in Austin just last month. A man convicted of killing his wife twenty-five years ago was found to be totally innocent. He spent twenty-five years in prison knowing a killer was out there someplace, having gotten away with murder. The man was recently released but his life has been destroyed and his daughter's life destroyed because the man was falsely convicted of killing her mother. Imagine the sorrow his own mother and father went through. The only good part of the story is that last week they finally arrested the person who DNA shows is alledged to be the real killer. It's believed that he killed another woman two years after the first initial murder in the same manner.

In my stories and books the criminal is somehow caught and punished. He or she is put in jail or is killed The criminal get his "just desserts." Harsh justice? I think not. In real life there seldom is satisfaction when a crime is committed. Sometimes the criminal is caught and put on trial, but gets off by a technical error. or an inept prosecutor and inept jury. There is no justice. No satisfaction. Sometimes in one of my stories, I write the criminal gets a psychological punishment...having to live the rest of their life thinking of what they have done.

Real life is full of these huge miscarriages of justice. This echoes back to Dixon's blog the other day. Happy endings. People who read crime fiction want the bad guys/gals caught and punished. They want a criminal to suffer for their crimes. Writers of crime fiction usually write a happy ending. Maybe not every time but enough times to keep readers coming back. This is why I think crime fiction is so popular. If you keep track of the best sellers, the list generally has many books of mystery or crime fiction.

The Occupy Wall-Street protesters just want the criminals punished and these huge companies to STOP giving away money that was not really theirs to begin with, it came from the people. Why weren't those bonuses used to create news jobs? Why not restore a little faith in our society? Why allow criminals to get away with their crimes?

We writers of crime fiction must continue seeking truth and justice and let the bad guys be punished. If all else fails we may have to join the protesters.