Over Easy: Blackfish, SeaWorld and Captivity Industry Exploitation

October 31, 2013

By Crane-Station

Last Thursday, CNN’s ratings increased dramatically when it aired the documentary Blackfish, a film based on footage and interviews that exposes the cruel treatment of captive Orcas at Seaworld. Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, a bull whale captured near Iceland in 1983, when he was two. Tilikum resides at Seaworld, in small pool that amounts to a human-designed prison, where people pay lots of money to the giant corporation, to watch his human-choreographed shows.

Tilikum has sired fourteen offspring, ten of which are living, and he is the largest male Orca in captivity. Tilikum resides at SeaWorld, Orlando. He has killed three people during his captivity tenure; the last was his trainer, who accidently fell into his pool on February 24, 2010. Her name was Dawn Brancheau.

Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family. They are apex predators that live in the North Pacific, Antarctica and North Atlantic, using distinct vocal communication and hunting techniques to organize and hunt cooperatively in pods. Researchers have identified three types of pods, based on their makeup and feeding habits. ‘Resident’ pods prefer a diet of fish whereas ‘transient’ pods feed on marine animals. Vocal dialect is distinct within each pod. Orca groups are matriarchal, organizing around and staying with mothers and grandmothers.

Dawn Brancheau’s death occurred during a show performance with the audience witnessing and the entire (brutal) event was caught on tape. Not surprisingly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted an investigation in the aftermath and cited SeaWorld, issuing three safety violations. OSHA demanded SeaWorld make some changes, notably separation of trainers from killer whales, during performances. Seaworld, owned by Blackstone, timely appealed the violations, and was summarily schooled by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Ken Welch, who upheld OSHA’s finding and, not appreciating SeaWorld’s attempt to shirk responsibility, said:

At the hearing, SeaWorld attempted to distance itself from the other SeaWorld parks and from Loro Parque, noting that it is a separate corporate entity. In this way SeaWorld hoped to minimize evidence that working closely with killer whales is a recognized hazard, since many of the aggressive interactions between killer whales and trainers occurred at other parks, and the most recent trainer death occurred at Loro Parque. The record establishes, however, that the operations of all of the parks are intertwined.

When SeaWorld lost in the the ALJ court, it appealed its case again, to the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Eugene Scalia, son of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, will represent SeaWorld. Ironically, Mr. Scalia served previously as the Solicitor (chief legal officer) of the Department of Labor, having been appointed by U.S. president George W. Bush. The Department of Labor oversees OSHA. The case will come before a three-judge panel of the on Nov. 12.

I see a couple of issues here: 1) we do not have dominion over the Orcas such that we can capture them and subject them to torture and 2) Seaworld is aggressively attempting to dodge the safety issue to workers, to protect their practice of exploitation. I reject any arguments that the Orca captivity industry is for the greater good of whales, or that the practice reflects a good faith interest in conservation, and I think it’s extra disgusting that trainers at these shows flat-out lie to the paying audience about how wonderful the Orcas’ lives are, and how much longer they live than their counterparts in the wild.

SeaWorld’s delay-delay-delay aggressive pursual of this case indicates that they want to get rid of any regulations or accountability whatsoever or anything else that might get in their way of making a living by ripping people off and causing suffering in the Orcas.

If we cared so much about the health, well-being and survival of these gorgeous and graceful whales, we’d clean up the damn oceans and give them a clean house to live in. Read the rest of this entry »


New information revealed in Kendrick Johnson case

October 29, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good morning:

I have new information to report in the Kendrick Johnson case.

CBS Atlanta hosted a show yesterday called Powertalk with Mrs. Lorraine Jacques-White reporting. Attorney Benjamin Crump called in to the show to report new developments in the investigation of Kendrick’s death.

He said Kendrick had been dating a white girl at the school in 2011. He got into a fight with a white boy at the school and apparently won the fight. Although the article does not say what the fight was about, I get the impression that it may have had something to do with Kendrick dating the white girl.

The white boy was unwilling to let the matter drop and challenged him to another fight to take place at the white boy’s house. Kendrick declined.

The white boy’s father or mother may be a police official.

Kendrick’s death occurred not long after that.

This report is similar to information provided by a commenter here several weeks ago when I first wrote about this case. The person said Kendrick was dating a white girl who had been dating the son of the Sheriff of Lowndes County.

I do not yet consider this information to be established fact. I am going to need more verification.

I certainly do not believe he crawled down the tube opening in the mat to retrieve his athletic shoe, got stuck and asphyxiated by accident. That story is ridiculous.

However, if this new information is true, it could explain who killed Kendrick, why he killed him, and why the murder was covered up. I doubt the kid with the grudge and score to settle acted alone.

Hopefully, Benjamin Crump will solve this mystery soon.

I am not buying the school district’s argument that the videos from the CCTV cameras do not show anything because none of the cameras were aimed at the mat in which Kendrick’s body was found, but they cannot release the videos to confirm that claim because other students appear in them and they have not consented for the videos to be released.

There are ways to ghost out faces, so identities can be protected.

Lowndes County is looking incredibly corrupt and not doing well in the court of public opinion.

Time to stop playing hide-the-ball and let the chips fall where they may.


I was a public defender. They are my people and I will always belong to their tribe

October 29, 2013

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Good morning:

I write just after midnight to say something that has been on my mind all day and night.

I want to put in a good word for Denise Regan, the public defender representing Philip Chism. As I wrote yesterday morning, she released a statement on behalf of Philip’s mother stating,

On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever. Ms. Chism’s heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer.

Ms. Chism would like you to know that her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully asks for some time to process this.

She asks that you know that she cares for the world’s hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy.

I do not doubt that Ms. Chism made this statement, but I have a feeling that Denise Regan helped her to find the right words with which to express her thoughts and emotions.

I say that because I used to do this in my death penalty work. I not only met with my client’s family to show that I genuinely cared about them and wanted to be of service in any way they believed might help them deal with the bad news, including issuing a public statement that I assisted them to write, I approached the victim’s family and offered to answer any questions they had about my role in the case. With a victim’s family, I just wanted to let them know that, although I represented the defendant, I also was a human being who knew they were in pain and would try to answer any questions they had about the death penalty and the procedures that would be followed in the case. My goal was to demonstrate that I was a caring human being, rather than a demon from hell, and open a channel of communication should they wish to contact me.

I regarded these efforts to be a very important part of my job and I sense that Philip’s lawyer shares my belief.

Malisha inspired me to write this post when she made the following comment about the statement:

The attorney seems to me to be top-drawer! What an eloquent and appropriate statement the mom issued! This is how people caught in horrible circumstances can sometimes act — it shows courage under stress and a kind of elegant humility. My sympathy goes out to this woman. OMG, just imagine a family member is arrested for this kind of crime, there you are, what do you say? Unthinkable.

I wrote the following response to Malisha and decided to turn it into a new post instead. This is what I wrote;

Malisha,

I agree with your comment. She’s a public defender, which just goes to show that there are good ones. She stood there next to Philip during the initial appearance with her hand resting on his back. A simple gesture like that is not only a way of reassuring the client that you care about him, it’s a way of demonstrating to the court and the national audience watching the hearing that he is a human being and not a monster. Little gestures like that communicate in a manner that mere words can never match.

The relationship between Denise Regan and Philip Chism is quite different from Mark O’Mara’s relationship with George Zimmerman. O’Mara’s body language demonstrated that Zimmerman was nothing more than a vehicle to fame and fortune for him. He placed Don West between him and Zimmerman and he had the woman lawyer from his office sitting on the far side of Zimmerman throughout the trial carrying out her role as Zimmerman’s designated baby sitter. She never appeared to be very happy about her role as babysitter. She probably spent most of her time wondering why she had sacrificed three years of her life and incurred considerable debt to get a law degree and pass the bar exam just to be a baby sitter and look pretty at counsel table

O’Mara was too full of himself to be bothered with interacting with his client except when absolutely necessary and that speaks volumes about the kind of person that he is.

I noticed that the woman lawyer who represented Jodi Arias in the penalty phase began her closing argument standing behind Ms. Arias with her hands on Ms. Arias shoulders. I thought she did a splendid job of letting the jury know that she cared about her as a human being, despite what she had done, and I think that her demonstration of genuine concern probably played a significant role in persuading several jurors to reject the death penalty.

I think women are much better at feeling and expressing empathy than men.

I have heard jurors say,

We wanted to sentence your client to death but in the end we could not do it because of what that would have done to you.

Please remember that a lot of public defenders are outstanding lawyers who chose to be public defenders because they genuinely care about their clients. Like teachers and nurses, they are not in it for the money. Ironically, Colleen Ritzer appears to have been driven by her desire to teach.

I was one of them.

They are my tribe.


Philip Chism’s attorney issues statement on behalf of his mother

October 28, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Good morning:

Philip Chism’s attorney issued the following statement:

On October 22, 2013, two families were unexpectedly and inconceivably changed forever. Ms. Chism’s heart is broken for the Ritzer family and the loss of their daughter and sister Colleen Ritzer.

Ms. Chism would like you to know that her son was born in love and is dear to her, very dear. She is struggling to understand this and respectfully asks for some time to process this.

She asks that you know that she cares for the world’s hurt over this and greatly hopes for your prayers for the Ritzer family, the Danvers community, for her son, and all those affected by this tragedy.

Collen Ritzer will be buried today.


Egregious Public Defender Misconduct [part 2]

October 27, 2013

by Crane-Station

This post is lengthy and has to do with events that unfolded in my legal case.

Part one, with the case background, is here.

Public defender Chris McNeill complaint, continued:

McNeill waived my presence at a pretrial chambers conference where several motions in limine were decided without my knowledge or consent. During the conference, he agreed not to present my defense and never told me that he had done so.
Note: SCR 3.130-1.4(b) provides that “[a] lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.”

1. On the first morning of my trial of January 22, 2008, McNeill and Harris met secretly with the Court in chambers to discuss several motions in limine that would affect the outcome of my trial.

2. That is, the tape starts rolling AFTER they all listen to and tamper with, AND modify and alter, the recorded 911 dispatch evidence wav files – all 11 of them.

3. Since they recorded the secret meeting but intentionally did not record the evidence examination and evidence tampering, I believe the meeting was staged to benefit McNeill: he appears genuine, baffled and just doing his best to deal with harmful and confusing court behavior. This is not 11.42 worthy, when he was just doing his job. Otherwise, why bother to record the secret conference at all? Nobody knew about it. The reason the meeting is recorded is simple. When, on 11.42 I claim ineffective assistance because my lawyer failed to present a defense, McNeill could claim, “What on earth was I supposed to do, given that I was barred by ruling, from doing so? Look, see, I was barred from functioning!”

4. McNeill waived my appearance at this meeting without my consent. He failed to tell me that such a meeting was scheduled, let alone that I had a right to be there. He failed to explain what he had done in the meeting. Also, as his handwritten note in his case file shows, he falsely told my Frankfort attorney that the meeting tape was inaudible. The meeting tape is audible. He lied to my appeal attorney.

5. Please note: What I also did not know until just a couple of weeks ago when I examined the CDs in McNeill’s case file closely is, that there was some kind of a meeting-before-the-meeting, where McNeill apparently altered audiotape evidence of the recorded conversation between 911 dispatch and the deputies. In fact, all of the wav files of 911 dispatch that were recorded on the night of my arrest on June 26, 2008 were “created, modified and accessed” on the morning of my trial, January 22, 2008, at and around 8:35, 8:36, 8:37 and 8:38 AM. This information is readily available on the “properties” tab for each wav file. During the trial, McNeill entered a typewritten, Harris-authored and fake undated, sheet of paper called an ‘unofficial transcript’ of the 911 dispatch recording, the same recording that he had apparently listened to and examined that morning . At no time did McNeill ever submit any actual recorded evidence, with time stamps, to the court record as evidence or to the court record on appeal. This led to an important and misleading finding from the Court of Appeals, which had only the typed ‘unofficial transcript’ to work with: in reality, two different officers were looking to pull me over on the night of my arrest, based upon a 911 call, and in reality, the two officers were talking to each other, in addition to replying to dispatch.

6. The Court of Appeals, working off the fake document, was misled, and combined two different statements from two people into one. They did not have access to the time stamps, nor did they have a list of codes that dispatch and officers use, to communicate. The “unofficial transcript” was typed by Harris, who deliberately left off the time stamps and CAD call code meanings, because they conflicted with the perjury he was planning to suborn at trial as well as the post-trial agreed order based on the upcoming trial ‘testimony’ he was crafting, where the officer falsely testified that I got his attention on the road because I had my turn signal on “for and unusual period of time for no apparent reason.” That testimony was refuted by the CAD call sheet and by the dispatch statements, that were time-stamped. That testimony came up, not surprisingly, for the very first time, at trial.

7. McNeill likely never would have admitted that the pretrial meeting ever happened but for my husband’s pointed question upon noticing that a gathering had occurred. McNeill misinformed him, dismissing it as a minor housekeeping session. In reality, the meeting proceeded as follows:

8. The meeting began with a couple of Harris false statements about what is on the DUI arrest cruiser dash-cam videotape recording. Harris says the stop lasted only a few minutes, when in fact, it was a stop and search by three officers from two agencies that lasted 1.25 hours. Harris states that I was stumbling, when, in fact the tape refutes this, and also, the officer testified previously under oath at the preliminary and suppression hearings, that I was “steady on (my) feet.” McNeill does not correct the false statements even though he had copies of both transcripts.

9. The two lawyers shared some vague arguments about Schrimsher v. Commonwealth, 190 S.W.3d 318 (2006) that originated in the same court some years prior, having to do with the admissibility at trial of an exculpatory statement by a defendant during a taped custodial interrogation at the police station. The Kentucky Supreme Court held that, subject to the rule of completeness that did not apply in that case, the statement was inadmissible hearsay, unless offered by the prosecution as an admission by a party opponent.

10. Schrimsher did not apply, in part, because it did not involve a DUI arrest, or a DUI dash-cam videotape of a DUI arrest, which is governed by a Kentucky statute that is specific to DUI cases. KRS 189A.100 states, in pertinent part:

(2) Law enforcement agencies may record on film or videotape or by other visual and audible means the pursuit of a violator or suspected violator, the traffic stop, or field sobriety tests administered at the scene of an arrest for violation of KRS 189A.010 or such tests at a police station, jail, or other suitable facility subject to the following conditions:

b) The entire recording of the field sobriety tests and the entire recording of such portions of the pursuit and traffic stop as were recorded is shown in court unless the defendant waives the showing of any portions not offered by the prosecution; and

(c) The entire recording is available to be shown by the defense at trial if the defendant so desires regardless of whether it was introduced by the Commonwealth;

(emphasis added)

11. The DUI arrest videotape contained my recorded statements that night about an incident where, during the course of the DUI arrest, I directed the officer to do something and he did it. Specifically, at the hospital for the blood draw portion of the sobriety testing, I asked the officer to move the back seat of his cruiser, and retrieve my watch, which had fallen during the ride, through the crack at the back of the seat, to the floorboard underneath. I could not reach to the floorboard underneath the seat because I was handcuffed. The officer moved the seat as I requested and got my watch, but then suddenly claimed that I had put “heroin” with the watch. On the cruiser videotape, I ask, “Why would I ask you to get my watch if I had just put some kind of drug with it? Explain that. That makes no sense.” Also on the dash-cam tape, the officer insists that he has found heroin. Twice, I pointedly ask him to both “field test and lab test” his discovery, because it could be “some kind of bread crumb.” My clear speech and specific statements exhibit presence of mind and mental clarity. They show no sign of mental impairment and would have been admissible to contradict the deputy’s testimony at trial that I exhibited confusion, could not follow simple directions and was obviously impaired. In addition, the statements were not hearsay because they would have been offered to prove that he found the suspected controlled substance under his back seat in response to my request that he look under the seat for my watch. This is what he testified to under oath at the preliminary hearing, so it was also admissible as a prior inconsistent statement under oath. For these reasons my statements were not hearsay. McNeill, who is a licensed attorney, is presumed to know the law. At the very least, he should be presumed to know how to find, read and understand Schrimsher and the hearsay rule. Instead of objecting and preserving the objection for appellate review, he said nothing. His failure was deliberate, because my husband and I both showed McNeill the statute and the relevant portion of the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing. My husband also explained to McNeill why my statement was not hearsay and why Schrimsher did not apply.

12. I believe McNeill may have also tampered with the dashcam DUI arrest recording so that it is cut short, eliminating this critical audio portion, and the last hour of the tape, for the record on appeal. The Court of Appeals states “Unfortunately, there is no audio.” This is false. There is audio, in the original, unmodified recorded evidence. His actions constituted a violation of the statute that prohibits tampering with evidence, a felony under Kentucky law.

13. Ironically, I was the only person charged with tampering and the only person in the case who did not tamper with evidence.

14. There would now be a planned and deliberate move of the drug exhibit evidence from ‘not in plain view’ before trial, to ‘plain view’ during trial, as if the events from the night of arrest as well as the under-oath testimony from the preliminary hearing, never existed.

15. McNeill pretended to be baffled when the court asked him about my specific request that the officer move the seat and get the watch. He says he did not know if I said that, even though the deputy testified about it at the preliminary hearing, and even though and I had given McNeill an official transcript of the testimony.

16. McNeill pretended to be baffled even though, just days prior, without my knowledge and without informing me, he spent the day with Harris, and with the arresting deputy, and, according to the chain of evidence log, the actual drug exhibit, taking dozens of photos of the cruiser backseat, with the drug exhibit, apparently, placed in various places in relation to the seat. In many photos, the seat is completely removed from the car. The photos were taken on January 16, on the same day that the ‘drug exhibit’ was checked out of the evidence locker. (Notably, the ‘evidence’ was not weighed, nor was it checked back into the locker, until after the trial ended on January 23. The evidence log corruption will be under separate heading.) McNeill never told the court that he, Harris, and the officer (and likely KSP Lab analyst Ryan Johnson) spent the better part of the day with drugs and a camera, six days prior, taking photos and planning trial testimony.

17. In the same pre-trial conference meeting that I never knew about, Harris promised not to mention a cup of beer found in the console during the vehicle stop, if McNeill would promise not to mention that the Commonwealth suborned blatant perjury at the Grand Jury to get the indictments in the first place, as McNeill well knew because he had the grand jury testimony in his briefcase. This was a motion in limine, from Harris, who knew about the grand jury perjury, but did not want the trial jury to hear about it.

18. Harris knew that the officer lied to the grand jury about: lab test results for alcohol, the smell of alcohol on my person, and me being essentially stumbling drunk. My alcohol blood test result was 0.00, and the Commonwealth knew it, because the exculpatory result was faxed to the Commonwealth four days prior to the grand jury meeting. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth and the officer took turns lying to the grand jury about 1) having blood test results back, claiming they weren’t available when they were 2) me stumbling, when the officer testified at preliminary that I was “steady on (my) feet” and 3) me smelling of alcohol, when my blood alcohol level was 0.00, the officer had previously testified that “alcohol wasn’t a factor” and the tape shows me passing 4 roadside PBT (portable breath test) tests, that the officer also testified to previously.

19. Harris moved in limine that McNeill be prevented from asking questions about the deputy’s perjured testimony, in front of the grand jury, that led to my indictment in the first place.

20. McNeill agreed not to mention any perjured statements made to the grand jury during the trial.

21. Ultimately at trial, Harris violated the agreed motion in limine, and he talked about a cup of beer in the console, but McNeill did not respond by 1) moving for a mistrial 2) exploring the suborned Grand Jury perjured testimony or 3) at the very least and as a Hail Mary pass, preserving the record with objection. The cup of beer would be addressed in the affirming published opinion, (even though I had zero alcohol in my blood) but the suborned perjured testimony would not be addressed in the published opinion affirming, as a direct result of McNeill’s actions.

22. Harris moved in limine for an order that would characterize my consenting to chemical blood testing at two Kentucky State labs as well as consenting to two out of four roadside sobriety tests during a 1.25-hour vehicle stop as a “refusal” to consent to sobriety testing. McNeill did object, even though the KRS statute is clear on refusals (ie, they concern blood, breath or urine). In other words, with the court’s consent and no objection by McNeill, Harris changed my consent into a refusal.

23. In the meeting, Harris wishes to use 404(b) evidence.

24. The court ruled that 404 (b) evidence was inadmissible. Harris violated this ruling with the first sentence of his opening statement. I asked McNeill to object and move for a mistrial, but he refused.

25. McNeill never did inform me of any of these developments, nor did he inform me that he would not be presenting defense, nor did he inform me that jury instructions were amended on a ‘refusal’ issue. I never knew until a couple of weeks ago, what he had done with recorded evidence, prior to the start of the videotape for the meeting.

26. Being in the dark until the trial was nearly concluded, I thought McNeill was still going to mention the main issue in my defense: that it would not make sense for anyone to ask for an officer to move the seat and retrieve a watch, if the person was attempting to conceal something with the watch. The officer himself had testified on this point previously. Late on the second and last day of trial I asked McNeill when he would be presenting my defense, and when he would be confronting the officer on his prior inconsistent statements about the watch. McNeill wrote it off with the statement: “The jury might be offended if they learned the cop was telling different stories.”

27. McNeill’s criminal behavior by tampering with evidence and his inexcusable failure to defend me deprived me of my Sixth Amendment right to present a defense in a criminal trial, where a person’s liberty and future is at stake.


Lou Reed died today

October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Good afternoon:

Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone reports today,

Lou Reed, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music, died today on Long Island. The cause of his death has not yet been released, but Reed underwent a liver transplant in May.

He was 71-years-old.

RIP, Lou.

Your music will live forever.


Let’s play the who-said-this game

October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Good morning:

Time to play the who-said-this game.

A game the whole family can play

Just read the quote and guess who said it.

First clue: The man is white and in jail.

The jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these (expletive) idiots, when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.

Second clue: The man denies being a racist.

I’m really not prejudiced against race, but I have no use for certain cultures. This gangster-rap, ghetto talking thug ‘culture’ that certain segments of society flock to is intolerable. They espouse violence and disrespect towards women. The black community here in [deleted] is in an uproar against me — the three other thugs that were in the car are telling stories to cover up their true ‘colors.’

Third clue: This man is really amazed and irked to discover that the media does not call him a hero.

I am amazed at what is going on with the way the media has been covering this case. Their have been several other shootings here in [deleted], yet they are all either black-on-black or black-on-white, and none of them have garnered any attention from the media. I guess it’s news when someone dares to not to be a victim, but they are twisting it around sand saying I was the ‘bad guy.’

Fourth clue: This man wants a change of venue because the media has not called him a hero.

You are correct, if you chose Michael Dunn. He is charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Jordan Davis to death in the parking lot of a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida. Dunn emptied the clip of his 9 millimeter semiautomatic handgun while squeezing off shots at point blank range into an SUV parked next to him because Jordan Davis disrespected his authority as an older white guy by refusing to turn down the music and calling him names. Davis and his three friends were unarmed.

Michael Dunn is stupid because he shot and killed a kid for playing loud music that he did not like and disobeying his order to turn it down. He is also stupid because he does not realize he is a racist and he mailed these statements from jail to relatives and friends not realizing that jailers read mail. Predictably, the statements were published. Now, he wants a change of venue to a place with like-minded people who will give him the keys to the city and throw him a ticker tape parade down main street instead of throwing him in jail.

Someplace like Sanford, Florida in Seminole County.

The best thing Dunn’s lawyer could do right now is to threaten to kill him with his bare hands if he doesn’t shut up.

Quotes obtained from Atlanta Black Star

This is our 735th post


The Bridge of Sighs

October 26, 2013

by Crane-Station

I wrote this essay while I was in prison. I entered it in the 2009 Metroversity Creative Writing Contest. Since I was enrolled in college courses, I qualified to enter the contest. However, I was technically not allowed computer use to do this, because computer use was strictly limited to classroom assignment word processing. After several discussions with me pointing out that the school itself had posted the contest notice, making it school-related, I was allowed to enter.

The Bridge of Sighs won the 2009 Metroversity contest for creative nonfiction essay, but the essay was then lost in my notes. I found it recently and so here is the original version, with a couple of minor changes.

For anyone who does not know me, I do have a drug and alcohol history. I shared this history with the judge in my case, and presented bed dates and proposals for short and long-term treatment, as well as a five-year monitoring plan to follow. He denied it. He also denied drug court.

When I was locked up I wrote. I wrote to keep my sanity.

Bridges are, I think, wonderful metaphors for a lot of things.

The Bridge Of Sighs

In the stockyards of 1920s Chicago, even the business of killing was engineered for maximum efficiency. From Upton Sinclair, we know that animals, mostly pigs, were herded by the millions up wooden ramps, never to return. At the top of the ramp, they were hoisted and killed in a manner such that their own weight would carry them through the butchering process, a process that claimed the lives and souls of animals and immigrant workers alike.

The ramp was called the Bridge of Sighs.

Its namesake is in Europe and is, in fact a bridge that once connected a castle to a prison. For condemned prisoners crossing the bridge, the view was breathtaking and final. So, unlike most real and symbolic bridges that begin journeys and lead to new places, the Bridge of Sighs was both a real and figurative bridge of sorrow.

I walked on such a bridge for a while before I even realized I was on it. As if in a grandiose daydream about fulfilling the immense potential I just knew I had, I awakened one day to realize that I was old. And stuck on this one-way bridge.

My husband was with me, walking beside me, our respective addictions different, mutually maddening, and conveniently symbiotic. He would spend eighteen hours in his; I would spend eighteen hours in mine. Or, alternatively, I would spend eighteen hours looking for what he was looking for. On the internet.

I deemed my addiction to be more mysterious, exciting, and therefore glamorous. Heroin has a rich history, I reasoned, and since its users often included artists and writers, the arrogance of its associated culture is justified. My husband’s internet pornography addiction, on the other hand, is relatively new to the addiction scene, and therefore undeserving of its newfound stature. Plus, I had a solid justification: what woman wouldn’t drink or use when her husband is constantly looking at other women on the internet.

Upon settling into our respective comfort zones on the bridge of doom together, my husband and I began to experience, gradually and almost imperceptibly, what they call in physics an increase in entropy. Our lives were disordered and falling apart in increments that carried significant additive impact.

For example, we never seemed to have a clean pair of matching socks that had been neatly placed in the sock drawer, fresh from the dryer. At some point it was apparent that we would never have clean, matching, folded socks. We settled for this. We bought new socks.

In similar senseless fashion, we tried to compensate for our increasing and irreversible disorganization. We would pay our heat bill but the water would be turned off. We would pay our water and the lights would be turned off. There was never any gas in the car. We were always looking for loose change. Our phone was turned off more than it was on. The trash and dirty clothes piled up. Weeds grew. One entire winter, we had no hot water. We could never completely fix the car. For some reason, everything seemed to cost a thousand dollars that we did not have. Fines. Late fees. Twenty-nine percent interest payday loans. Each time we were on the verge of eviction we would throw a hail Mary pass and hawk something. Together, we moved more and more to society’s outer margins, to survival mode. Both of us were exhausted all the time. Making love took too much energy anymore.

Just when we thought life could not get any worse, it always did.

We continued to dream about all of the massively important things we would do someday. It was lost on us that we were on a bridge. Going nowhere. Without socks.

My parents walked patiently and lovingly beside me on the bridge, because that is what parents do when they love their children.

Brothers and sisters at times assumed an active role in pushing, pulling, shoving or kicking me off the bridge, knowing what was best for me. The solution for them was simple, jump off and swim away, but the more they pushed, the more I pushed back. Inevitibly, a part of me wanted to stay.

I tried a myriad of delay tactics on the bridge. I would use drugs so I would not drink. I would drink so I would not use drugs. I would work more jobs. Exercise more. Cut my hair. Plan a move. I quit using drugs and began drinking heavily. Liquor store hours determined my schedule. I never felt well. I never slept. I felt sick, worthless and ashamed all of the time. I was afraid to answer the phone, the door, the mail.

My debt to everyone was too great ever to make things right with anyone. My mantra was this: Tomorrow will be different. It never was.

My son walked beside me on the bridge. He cried, tugged, and begged me to leave. All he ever wanted was to see his mother happy, so he loved me and walked with me.

That I was on the bridge at one time only became apparent or important when I was no longer on it. In retrospect, the bridge was a journey of dying while living, of beating the odds, and existing. But it was not the fear, or pain, or screaming or struggling that gently lifted me to safety.

Perhaps it was the silence. The silence at the end of the Bridge of Sighs.


Water runs downhill

October 26, 2013

by Crane-Station for Frog Gravy

Frog Gravy is a nonfiction incarceration account in Kentucky.

Inmate names are changed.

Frog Gravy contains graphic language. Do not read this post at work.

Fancy thinking the beast was something you could hunt and kill…You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go. Why things are what they are.

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

Water runs downill

KCIW, PeWee Valley Women’s Penitentiary, Winter, 2008-2009

We are in the noisy day room of Ridgeview Dormitory, playing Spades. As usual, my friend in the wheelchair, Sandy, is my partner. She loves to talk, and I love to listen. She explains the characteristics and tendencies of humans to me, as would a college professor, in a lovely eastern Kentucky hillbilly drawl.

Sandy explains, “…You put a pussy on a man, he gonna take it. This don’t take no damn rocket scientist to figure out; people start fuckin’ at thirteen.”

The TV is blaring. Everyone is talking. The faucet in the kitchen area sink is cut on to full stream, because everyone has given up the battle of turning faucets off, after the OCD inmate’s hundreds-of-times-a-day hand washing routine. The washer and the dryer and the microwave are all running. Several groups of four other than our group, are seated at tables, playing Spades. Since the OCD inmate’s canteen Nike tennis shoes are in the dryer, there is a loud, regularly irregular ka-ka-kunk, ka-ka-kunk sound coming from the dryer.

LaDonna, the bipolar inmate who is chronically manic and laugh-out-loud funny, stops at our table and says to Sandy, referring to me, “Well, I see you got you a crazy-ass Spades partner again.”

LaDonna and I are friends, and she has stopped by to confirm that I will be buying her psych drugs this evening. Everyone at the table gets it, but no one says anything. LaDonna robbed a bank at gunpoint and stole a car, then evaded police, and got less time than me, seven years, a fact that she is proud of, and rubs in. She says, “I’ma sing you guys a song, do a little dance.”

She raises her hands and, snapping and clapping and stepping, sings, “…In-house, out-house…” (clap. clap-clap clap) “…Crack-house, whore-house…” (clap. Snap-clap) Then, something distracts her and she leaves.

I ask Sandy how old God is. She replies, “Older than dirt. Balls hang lower than his knees.”

We are called to line up outside, if we are enrolled in night class. Tory comes to the table, books in hand and says, “Time to go.”

I tell Sandy, “Gotta run. Hey, what’s a hundred yards long and has three teeth?”

“What?”

“KCIW Med line!”

She laughs, and as we are leaving, she says, “Bird Lady. Them Bluegrass people. They ain’t no joke.”

“I know,” I say.

Later, I take LaDonna’s evening meds. Within some period of time, and I have no idea how long it is, I am trying to find my room. But I am plastered up against the cement wall, and drool runs down it in a trail. I am literally higher than God. My feet are not even touching the floor; rather, they keep searching for ground, in the cloud. I have never been this fucked up, ever in my entire life and I am convinced that I have to find my bunk before I cough up a heart valve onto the wall, where it will stick and ten thut-thut-thut-tut, in a fan, to the floor. A doorknob! I open a door, and I am saying, “What are you guys doing in my room?” Blank stares. Next, the 5:45 AM wakeup call is issued, and I get up as always, from my own bunk.

LaDonna will be shipped to CCA-owned Otter Creek. There will be a medication error. LaDonna will fight for her life on a ventilator, but we do not know this yet.

On the way to school, Christie hands me a letter and two photographs and says, “Here. Put this in your book.”

The letter is from a male inmate to someone who arranges prison pen pals. He is young and nice looking. In one photo, he poses in a tank top in front of a weight set. He wears a gold watch and a gold chain. Sunglasses hang from the front of his tank top. He has a chest tattoo from a parlor on the outside.

“Nice,” I say.

“His balls just dropped,” says Christie.” He is looking for someone to write sex letters to. I know him. He really is very nice.”

The penmanship is neat, meticulous cursive. Every line is filled out on the lined paper. Photocopied, hand-drawn roses and vines outline the letter. It says (names changed):

Mrs. Barker,

My name is Anthony Acree and my inmate number is #XXXXXX and I’m looking for a pen-pal to write if you could please hook-a-nigga up one time- “then good lookin.'” She can write to me at Northpoint Training Center PO Box 479 Burgin, KY 40310)

Once she writes, her and I will take it from there. I’ve enclosed two photos of myself. “Look” real talk in a good nigga to write, and I am going to keep her mind in the mist. But at the same time I want to get her drunk and in the back seat of my truck about 2:17 AM in an alley, sucken da dog shit outa dat pussy, I will lick her wet and suck her dry, ya dig. And as she holds on for dear life I will slide dis cock in dat A22 and fuck dat perm out her muthafucken head.

Fuck wit a nigga, Brick

“Dang,” I tell Christie. “He writes better than most of the legal profession around here. What’s with the 2:17 AM”

“I know.I wondered about the 2:17 myself.”

Tory says, “Bird Lady, you’re brave, writing about this stuff.”

“I have nothing to lose,” I say.

In night Biology class, Mr. Burke tells us that his choice to teach this class, here in this prison, is one of the most enlightening and delightful things he has ever done and that, other teachers refuse to do what he does because “they do not know what they are missing.”

He inspires me to want to return to the prison and teach someday. If they would ever let me back in, that is. Every student in the class loves Mr. Burke. No one is ever late or absent, unless she has been involved in an altercation unrelated to school.

During break I tell Tory, “Check this out. Here is a way to memorize that list of elements he wants us to know.”

We discuss the mnemonic device See Mag Men Mob Cousin Hopkins’ Nice Clean Cafe: C Mag Men Mob CuZn Hopkins NiCe Clean CaFe.

Tory asks, “What else do you think we should know?”

“That is a really good question,” I say. “And a tough one.” I think for a moment, What one thing, if I know it, will help me to figure out everything else?

“Water runs downhill,” I say.


Colorado judge orders release of 2003 grand jury indictment recommending prosecution of JonBenet Ramsey’s parents for child abuse resulting in murder

October 26, 2013

Saturday, October, 26, 2013

Good morning:

I have a short post this morning on the JonBenet Ramsey case.

Even though her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, were cleared by DNA testing in 2008, a judge yesterday ordered the release of grand jury documents in 2003 establishing that the grand jury that investigated the case before they were cleared wanted to charge them with child abuse resulting in JonBenet’s death and hindering the police investigation.

The documents do not mention the evidence that led the grand jury to make that recommendation. As most of you know, grand jury indictments are based on probable cause, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecuting attorney declined to charge the Ramseys citing lack of evidence to convict them of a crime.

The police have the DNA profile of the male who raped and murdered Jon Benet. Hopefully, that person’s DNA profile eventually will be added to the nationwide database of people arrested for felonies resulting in a match that will finally solve the unsolved crime. Unless that happens, there is little likelihood the crime will be solved.

Leanne Gregg, of NECN/NBC News reports this morning:

John Ramsey earlier this week asked the court to release the entire grand jury record, if the unprosecuted charges would be made public. But the judge ruled to release only the indictment, despite arguments it would further defame Ramsey and his late wife.

Patsy Ramsey died of cancer in 2006.

In fairness to the judge, I believe he declined to grant Mr. Ramsey’s request because the case remains unsolved. No statute of limitations exists in murder cases. Therefore, the investigation will remain “open” until solved. For that reason, the investigation must remain confidential and not subject to public disclosure under the State of Colorado’s public disclosure law.


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