The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Anyone can end up in jail. Anyone.

I'll probably post a number of comments on my jail experience, but in this installment I just wanted to open the topic with some philosophical considerations.

Every Tuesday, Sgt. Severson of the Pennington County Sheriff's Dept., commander (as far as I can tell) of the Work Release Unit, conducts an orientation for those about to enter custody of the State under conditions allowing them to be employed outside jail.

I underwent orientation on August 18, 2009, the morning of the day I surrendered to custody at the Work Release Facility on North St., just across the street from the Civic Center in Rapid City, So. Dak. (Most of you will know it's Rapid City, but I often find myself frustrated when I'm trying to place an event I read about, but can't. And that Alaskan who tunes in here periodically might need to know.) I spent 44 nights in a room with six bunk-beds, twelve mattresses; my average number of roommates was eight. The room was full when I left, Thursday, October 1, at 8 am. I was being punished for possession of 3.67 oz. of cannabis sativa.

I remember three things from the orientation. It took two-and-a-half hours. We were not allowed to bring books into jail (apparently Tom Clancy is often soaked in LSD and smuggled into jails). And this; Sgt. Severson said, "Anyone can end up in jail. Anyone."

Severson is a woman. That has to have been a challenge in the Pennington County Sheriff's Dept. I have no adverse observations about her competence to perform the responsibilities of her position. I mention the fact that she's a woman because you would have noticed it, too, if you'd been there.

"Anyone," she said, "can end up in jail." Those of us who've been there understand that. I also think many who haven't been there understand it, too, but are afraid to take a position on it. That is to say, I think there's a widespread uneasiness about the consequences of incarcerating people on a wholesale scale for trivial bullshit "offenses."

Jail is a soul-crushing instrument. When it is used to stifle dissent, it is especially so. "Anyone can end up in jail," she said. Well, what about the ones who could, and don't? Is the difference just a toss of the dice? In large measure, I believe it is. I think a lot of people who have never seen a courtroom (anywhere but on TV, anyway) also believe that.

In 2002, an SDSMT student arranged a debate-type forum on the issue of a proposed constitutional amendment I had helped put on the ballot. Had the amendment passed, it would have allowed accused people to argue the merits of the law under they were being prosecuted, and to argue the appropriateness of the criminal penalty, the sentence, that could be applied if they were found guilty. I faced Penn. Co. State's Attorney Glenn Brenner in the debate.

During the course of the give and take, Brenner said he'd have to read the statutes on witchcraft before he'd say that he would have voted to acquit the Salem witchcraft defendants, and he said that he would have voted to convict those accused of alcohol trafficking during Prohibition. He did, however, say that he would have flouted the law in order to avoid returning a runaway slave, which was required under federal law under the Dred Scott decision. Nice to know he'd draw the line somewhere.

In my wrap-up, I mentioned that most of us feel like we're criminals just waiting to be apprehended, because there are far too many laws for us to even be aware of which ones we're breaking. Brenner took issue with that and asked for a show of hands in the audience of about 150, "How many of you feel like you're criminals just waiting to be arrested?" About 125 of the about 150 raised their hands. The student who arranged the debate was a campus organizer for the Republican Party of South Dakota. I knew almost no one who was there.

Anyone can end up in jail. Anyone.


Bob Ellis said...

No, people who respect the law and abide by it do not end up in jail.

Stop trying to scare good people into sympathizing with a drug dealer who brought his jail experience on himself.

Les said...

B Ellis, you are 99.9% right. I hope the mechanic that works on the aircraft that carries you seven miles high is a little closer to 100%.

Taunia Adams said...

Ellis, the one who whines about government programs, but wouldn't give up his Social Security, FDIC backed bank account, the government loan on his house, etc, talks like it could never happen to him.

Naivety is beautiful until it slaps you in the face.

Ellis' ignorance and crassness is astounding yet we'll defend his stupid comments just to let him talk.

I hope Newland visits Ellis in jail.

Bill Fleming said...

Ellis may manage to keep himself out of prison, alright. But I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he's bouncing off the padded cell walls of that other fine Yankton institution someday.

Bill Fleming said...

p.s. great post, Bob. The jails and prisons are full of people who should really be somewhere else instead.

Bob Newland said...

In Tulia, Texas, within the past ten years, 46 people were framed by a man Ellis would have admired for his religious testimony and his law enforcement credentials. Most spent several years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Those people mostly respected the law, at least before their experience with it.

Bill Fleming said...

Interesting conversation last night here in Deadwood with Dave Volk and Mark Meierhenry who seem to agree with me that people who want to teach kids what Ellis wants to teach them are bordering on the criminally insane and are ruining the GOP.

Michael Sanborn said...

The GOP is very close to thanking them for their interest and showing them the door.

Anonymous said...

Bob Ellis is wrong. Totally wrong. Martin Luther King ended up in the Birmingham jail only ask the local ministers what they were doing out there. Mandela and Ghandi similarly were imprisoned - wrongly.

The Innocence Project has found at least 242 cases with DNA evidence where folks were wrongly incarcerated.

It must be nice for Bob to live in his world devoid of facts and reality.

Les said...

We see unlawful actions by those who have the power to incarcerate, but trash the idea of the Black Helicopters by those in power. Interesting! Nice to know that you just have to get above the state and local levels to become lilly white.

Bob Newland said...

Nice fantasy, Mike, but there is scanty evidence so far.

Bob Ellis said...

Michael, I'm familiar with the courage and accomplishemnts of MLKJr and Ghandi. Bob Newland is no Ghandi or Martin Luther King.

They fought to see all human beings treated equally and fairly.

Newland fights for the right to get stoned, and to sell dope to other people so they can get stoned.

If you're eager to embrace and defend the lowest common denominator, you should try the Democrat Party. That lines up well with their philosophy but really doesn't fit in with the GOP.

More importantly, do us all a favor and stop demeaning the courage of people like Martin Luther King by comparing Newland's lawlessness and thirst for intoxication to their struggle.

I suppose people who have nothing greater to contribute to society than getting high feel they need to manufacture some nobility for their lives (it's easier than working for real noble goals), but the two aren't even close.