“Letter from Loretto”

Kiriakou, John



"Letter from Loretto" Hello again from the Federal Correctional Institution at Loretto, PA. First I wanted to thank everybody for the interest in my first letter. We had more than 1 million hits! Second, thank you for the more than 200 letters I've received since this letter was published. I'm answering each of them, but sending them out is a slow process because I have to use mailing labels, and we're only allowed to print five per day. Third, thank you very much for your very generous contributions to my family through www.defendjohnk.com and through the Government Accountability Project. I've told several of you that I could only make it through this nightmare because of friends and supporters like you, and I mean it. I've been following the Edward Snowden case with great interest, and I've written about what I consider to be his heroic actions in another letter. In the meantime, I've just finished two great books that I wanted to bring to your attention. "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State," by John W. Whitehead has been a shocking read for me. Whitehead shows - all in one place - the civil liberties we've lost in only a decade. "Three Felonies A Day," by Harvey Silverglate shows how if the government really wants to get you, they will - with felony charges. Health care is a major topic of debate in the national press, especially now that the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) is law. Health care is also a major topic of conversation and debate here at Loretto, although we prisoners don't have much authority to change the status quo. Loretto is considered to be a Level 2 medical facility; that is, it is supposed to be equipped with a medical unit that can handle prisoners with chronic problems like diabetes, emphysema, and other issues. In fact, the medical unit is well-equipped and has its own x-ray facilities, a dental clinic, and a lab. There is an osteopath in charge and several physician's assistants (PA) from the U.S. Public Health Service on staff. But that's not to say that all is well in Loretto's medical unit. Just before I arrived here, prisoner Cameron Douglas, the son of actor Michael Douglas, had a mishap while playing handball. He injured his leg and went to the medical unit, where he was told he had a sprained knee and was given ibuprofen. After suffering with intense pain for two weeks, complaining all the while, he finally could not get out of bed, and the warden ordered that he be taken to a local hospital. An x-ray showed that Douglas had a broken femur, a condition that, if left untreated, could lead to death. The hospital also found a large blood clot in the leg, as well as a broken finger. Douglas underwent surgery to repair the broken bones and to relieve the dangerous clot. The Douglas family has filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons which is still pending. I've had my own personal experience with the medical unit. Two weeks after my arrival, I dislocated my left pinkie finger while exercising. I popped it back in place, but having broken bones in the past, I knew the finger was also broken, so I walked over to Medical. "Sick call" appointments are only accepted between 6:00 am and 6:30 am, but I went directly to the evening pill line attendant and told him that I had an emergency. He wrapped the finger and told me to see the PA in the morning. I returned to Medical in the morning with my entire left hand swollen, my finger double in size, and told my PA that I was certain it was broken. No, the PA said, it's just jammed. He put it in a splint, despite my request for an x-ray. He told me to come back in a week and he gave me ibuprofen. Even with the ibuprofen, the swelling and pain do not improve. Again I asked for an x-ray. Finally, 10 days after the injury, the PA agreed to it. The x-ray found that a tendon had snapped off at the center knuckle, pulling a chunk of bone off with it. Broken. Just like I had said. The PA rewrapped it in another splint and said he would make arrangements to send me to the orthopedic specialist nearby. In the meantime, he said, keep it wrapped. Eight days later, and 18 days after the injury, I heard that dreaded announcement: "Kiriakou - report to the lieutenant's office." I walked to the office and was told that I was going for an outside medical consultation. First I was escorted to the medical unit, where I was strip-searched and given brown pants, a brown tee-shirt, a pair of underwear, a pair of socks and a pair of slippers. The corrections officer (CO) took my clothes and my watch and put them in a plastic bag that he locked in the unit. I was then handcuffed and shackled around my ankles. A chain was placed around my waist, which connected to my handcuffs and my leg irons. Then a black steel box about the size of a computer hard drive was locked over the handcuffs so the lock could not be picked. (Remember, I'm a dangerous criminal.) If I had been in a camp, where I was supposed to be, an inmate driver would have simply dropped me off at the doctor's office and then picked me up afterward. But a nameless, faceless bureaucrat in the Bureau of Prisons decided that I am a "threat to the public safety." Now completely shackled, the CO handed me a form and told me to sign it. It was a list of "rules" for the trip to the doctor, including that I promise not to escape and that if I do try to escape, I understand that I'll be shot. One rule in particular caught my eye. It said that for the duration of the trip I was to call everybody "sir". I said I wouldn't sign. I wouldn't try to escape, but respect is earned. I am old enough to be the CO's father, yet he calls me "Kiriakou." I said I would call him CO, but not sir. Well, he said, he simply wouldn't take me to the doctor. Fine, I said. We stared at each other for a moment, then the CO said, "OK. Forget it." So I took shackled baby steps to a waiting van with two COs in it, and they drove me to a nearby doctor's office. At the office, the doctor looked at my x-rays and examined my finger. "It's broken," he said. "It's already started to heal itself. There's no point in rebreaking it and setting it because the resulting arthritis will make it even more painful." He said to try to bend it, squeeze a small ball, and come back in two weeks. Two weeks later, after complaining that I had not been able to see my PA since my visit to the doctor, the PA called me into his office. He said to just do what the doctor had told me to do, but the prison would not pay for the follow-up ordered by the specialist. It was an unnecessary expense, the PA said. I have essentially lost the use of my finger. It is swollen, painful, misshapen, and discolored. My father-in-law, who happens to be a prominent physician, examined my finger last month during a visit. His verdict? "You're screwed. They should have treated this the day it happened. You'll never recover full use of the finger and now arthritis will set in." Thanks a lot. I'm lucky it wasn't my leg that was broken, like Cameron Douglas. Dealing with the stress of a hostile system would be impossible without a support network. I've developed several friendships, with one being particularly close. A former intelligence officer, Dave (I'll use only his first name to protect his identity) is 18 months into a nine-year sentence. (We worked together overseas years ago and were reacquainted at Loretto.) His story is a vivid example of what is wrong with the criminal justice system. After a long career that took him all over the world, Dave returned to the U.S. and went to work for a defense contractor. His job was to win new business in the intelligence community for his employer, which he did successfully, including getting his company accepted as one of the CIA's preferred and vetted bidders. No easy task. When asked by his employer to help on a contract the firm was having trouble with, he agreed. The facility security officer (FSO) told him that he had been added as a member of the contract team. He logged on to the secure "Intelink" database, managed by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to begin his background reading for the contract. (I should add, too, that Dave was never accused of misusing any information or of putting the country's secrets at risk. He was only accessing the information in furtherance of his job.) But as it turned out, the contractor dropped the ball and Dave had not been added to the contract. The Justice Department charged him with unauthorized access of a secure database in furtherance of national security, a felony. Dave was initially offered a plea that included a 15-month prison sentence. He declined, intending to clear his name at trial. After Dave refused to cooperate with authorities, they did what they always do: They turned up the pressure by turning his life upside down, looking for anything they could use against him. When they were finished heaping on charges, he was threatened with 54 years in prison. (Check out "Three Felonies a Day," by Harvey Silverglate, which I mentioned earlier, to see how easy it is for regular citizens to fall afoul of the bloated United States Code, the law of the land.) When Dave continued to resist taking a plea, the government got really nasty. They seized everything of value that Dave owned: Property, money, electronics, furniture, art, even his clothes and his wife's shoes. He was forced to claim indigency to qualify for a public defender to fight these spurious charges. The government then took it one step further and, unbelievably, charged Dave with perjury for claiming poverty, as he sat in jail with the government holding everything he owned! Forced to rely on inadequate counsel and facing 54 years, the government came calling on Dave again. The new offer was not 15 months. It was nine years, and if he did not accept it in its entirety within 48 hours, the Justice Department was prepared to subpoena and involve two innocent people he loved, his 89-year-old grandmother and his 16-year-old honor roll student daughter. Dave no longer had any choice. He signed the plea, even though he believed he would have prevailed at trial. The risks were too high. The day after Dave was sentenced, the government gave back everything it had seized. It was their cynical attempt to make everything in Dave's life difficult as he tried to defend himself. I wish I could say that these strong-arm tactics were unusual. But that is not the case. In my own case I faced a possible 45-year sentence. I, too, believed I was innocent. But I was forced to take a guilty plea with 30 months to make the whole thing go away. The government has a 98.2% conviction rate, according to ProPublica. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. (As an aside, when Saddam Hussein won 98% in his last presidential election, we all said the fix was in. When the Justice Department gets a 98% conviction rate, we say they're really great attorneys. Well, I don't say that anymore.) My other Loretto friends are good guys who've committed serious or, in some cases, stupid crimes. But they're smart and sincere and I enjoy their company. Robert, 61, owned a very successful car dealership in Buffalo, NY. After a dispute with the State of New York over a corrupt DMV official, Robert was refused new "dealer" license plates. As he was leaving, he shouted, "I'm going to burn this place to the ground!" Late that night the place burned to the ground. Robert is doing five years on an arson charge. Art, 75, is a career criminal. After a 10-year stint in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth for bank robbery, he did additional time at the federal penitentiary at Terre Haute, IN for counterfeiting - all hard time. In the early 1980s, Art and a friend pulled off what was, at the time, the greatest jewel heist in British history when they stole the 54-carat "Marlborough Diamond" from London's famed Graff's Jewelers. Art was caught at Chicago O'Hare and extradited back to the UK, where he was sentenced to another 15 years. The diamond was never found. Art is doing another eight years here at Loretto for conspiring to rob the home of the deceased boss of the Chicago "Syndicate." He hadn't realized that the FBI had wired his van for sound. I asked Art what he did with the Marlborough Diamond. He just smiled and said, "I lived a lot of good years on that rock." My sentence is relatively short. I'll likely do another 17 or 18 months or so. But 18 months feels like 18 years some days. I'm fortunate to have friends to help me get through it. For more information about my case, please visit my website at www.defendjohnk.com. Until next time, John

Author: Kiriakou, John

Author Location: Pennsylvania

Date: June 21, 2013

Genre: Essay

Extent: 9 pages

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