Early personal impressions of prison & the legal system

Moore, Stan



Submission from Stan Moore Early Personal Impressions at Prison & the Legal System I am now 62 years old and have been down for almost four years. I was originally accused of threatening a business client's life and charged with criminal threats. I knew that I was innocent of that charge and I wanted go to trial if necessary and get an acquittal. Early on I began to see the flaws of the criminal justice system. I lived in Marin County, CA and I was represented by a public defender. On his first visit, he informed me that he was leaving for a vacation in Hawaii and so my right to a speedy trial would be waived. Meanwhile he arranged for a psychologist to examine me. The psychologist found me to be non-violent, but moody. He claimed that I was a narcissist, which diagnosis was later found to be incorrect by a second psychologist. The bottom line was that work of that first psychologist was [illegible] against me by a heavy-handed, hyper-aggressive D.A. to argue for the maximum penalty allowed by law. Thanks, public defender! I could say a lot more in detail about the force of a trial that convicted me of attempted murder, an added charge. I was innocent of threats, but my trial attorney, hired by friend, neglected to prove my innocence but allowed me to be convicted without a fight so long as I did not receive a light sentence. He actually thought I won because I was "only" sentenced to 13 years and not life. Thanks paid "defense" attorney. The rabid nature of the assistant D.A. shocked me. She tried to charge me with perjury. She claimed that I was a major threat to public safety, even though I had not harmed anyone or attempted to. Even my accuser never claimed that I had attempted to murder him. The "attempted murder" occurred occurred only in the D.A.'s mind. But I was convicted and my appeal was denied. The criminal justice system is broken. Prosecutors have no interest in justice -- only convictions. They will lie by omission and say anything to get convictions. By contrast, my defense attorney decided on his own, against my express wishes, to pursue strategy of "risk mitigation" to save my from a life sentence -- even at the cost of 15 years of my life. And, by the way, the Probation Dept recommended a sentence of 8 years after conviction. The D.A. and Judge punished me for taking the case to trial. But if I had not been guilty, I would have plead guilty and accepted the punishment according to the judge's discretion -- even if it resulted in a life sentence, because I believe in accountability. So I was sent to San Quentin for reception, where I spent 3 hard months. The cells of San Quentin are old, filthy, and tiny. There was racial animus between whites and "Northerner" Hispanics. A fight erupted in the yard and I was affected by tear gas. We were locked down for a solid month. It was unpleasant in many ways. But the prison guards were professional and even pleasant to everyone I saw. They could have made life worse, but they were the least of my problems at San Quentin. Yet, I was happy to get [illegible] to CMC West of San Luis Obispo and even enjoyed the bus ride from San Quentin to CMC West. When I arrived at CMC West, a level II prison, I was told that I had been sent to the most desirable place to serve time in the state of California prison system. Three years later, I believe it is true, even though I have not served time at other prisons. I have met many prisoners who have served at facilities all over California and in other states as well most of them agree that CMC West is special. We live in dormitories here that are never locked. If I wanted to, I could step outside at midnight, though I would be accosted by some guard and possibly charged with attempted escape. But that freedom is available. At this facility, there are actually shade trees on the yard. We can sit in the shade at tables or on benches on hot summer days, like today. We have a lot of recreational opportunities, including tennis, ping pong, volleyball, basketball, bocce, frisbee, tossing baseballs or footballs, a small soccer field, a workout area with bars but no free weight. We have a music room where prisoners can learn to play or practice guitar, drum, etc. We have access to a decent library. There are cats on the yard waiting to be petted, and we have a program where prisoners train dogs to be service dogs for military veterans with PTSD. There are songbirds all over the yard. The scenery outside the perimeter fence is gorgeous, Lily, ground savannah There are local hawks flying overhead and sometimes falcons and both Bald and Golden Eagles can be occasionally seen. The staff persons, officers, nurses, teachers, etc. are generally respectful, nice and even congenial. There are a few exceptions, but they are minor exceptions to the general rule. With all this beauty and opportunity for recreation, education, worship available for us, still many inmates find things to gripe about. The lifers seem to be more prone to bitch and moan than others, though surely they have served time at far worse places. The meals here are okay, not great; but the complaints over meals would have one think we were being deprived. Not so! Many prisoners complain incessantly about minor peccadilloes of state and think the officers are stupid, lazy, etc. Image that! The complainers are generally the very ones who enjoy breaking minor rules. If the guards were more energetic, and enforced all the rules more vigorously, the level of complaint would seem so, one has to take most prisoner complaints with a grain of salt. One thing I have observed here is that most prisoners have broken laws and deserve to be here. Often they have no remorse. They talk about their crimes almost with a matter-of-factness that shows no shame. One realizes that these people will likely return to prison after release or parole because they have no regard for laws or even prison rules. So what about the issue of mass incarceration? My observations tell me that most prison inmates deserve to be locked up and will probably return because they have no desire or intention to reform in or out of prison. When in jail awaiting trial, I attended various group counseling meetings to get out of my cell and meet prisoners I observed that most addicts only attend such meetings to either get out of their cells while down or to get out of jail. They go right back to their addictions the first chance they get, either in prison or jail or outside. When I was in Marin County Jail awaiting trial, I was given a new cellmate one Friday night -- a 21 year old named Max. Max said to me -- 'Do you see my dilated pupils? I am high on meth. I will probably sleep for most of the next few days, except to eat.' Shortly later Max told me about himself. He loved doing meth and having multi-day parties with his 51 year old girlfriend at their homeless camp. They would binge on meth for days on end without sleep. Max stole bikes with great brazenness to sell for drugs. Some of the bikes were worth thousands of dollars. He said that once he saw a Mercedes key ring at the Safeway parking lot and drove the fine car to a chop shop he knew about and swapped it for meth (or used the cash from the sale to buy meth). Interestingly, Max recognized me from meeting me at a McDonalds where I was talking to some of his friends when Max walked in and joined the conversation. Max told me that he went outside and scoped my truck for stuff to steal. During my time in jail, Max was released and then returned several times. He knew all the officers and many inmates. He was a smart kid with marketable skills, but did not want to work. He only wanted to do meth, steal bikes, and party with his girlfriend. I told him that the judge was going to get tired of seeing him and would eventually throw the book at him. Sure enough I saw him at San Quentin one day in the medical area, though I did not speak to him at that time. I dont know the answer to mass incarceration. If all caucasian criminals were charged, tried, and convicted at the rate that minorities are -- they would have to probably triple the prison system. One problem is that addicts seem to be uninterested in getting clean till they hit rock bottom -- if ever. Meanwhile they commit many property crimes and sometimes violent ones. Is decriminalization of drugs a real answer? I don't know, but I would not relish seeing junkies hanging out in public, subsidized by taxpayers. And another problem is that most Americans hate paying taxes, yet love government services. In Europe, by contrast, citizens pay high taxes but receive good services, including a robust social safety net. Americans call that "socialism" and many consider it evil. It is true that prison keeps millions of men apart from their families. But I suspect it is also true that many of those men are absentee fathers and husbands in their normal, daily lives. What I have seen every single day for the past four years is most married prisoners seeming to enjoy themselves while in prison while their families languish. I am not at all certain that these men we deem to belong in prison and enjoy the daily experiences returning them to a "Leave It to Beaver" lifestyle. The best answers I can think of for prison is increased spirituality of the American population. I think Buddhism is optimal because it teaches virtuous living free of cravings, attachments, and [aversions?] that cause human suffering. If everyone could be content to live within their means, love and want honesty, care for family and society as they were able, I think the mass incarceration problem could be resolved.

Author: Moore, Stan

Author Location: California

Date: July 16, 2018

Genre: Essay

Extent: 8 pages

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