Comey’s Blindside: You’re Just a Cop

Originally published in Counterpunch October 31, 2016

Comey’s Blindside: You’re Just a Cop
by STANLEY L. COHEN

Every day, it seems, we talk about Prison America; the profitable high growth industry that entombs millions of our people… stealing years, often decades, of their lives while destroying families and communities along the way… as we continue to subsidize a vicious, sagging economy built upon death… not life. Though the debate centers largely on the question of why we continue to prosecute and bury mostly young people of color and poverty for drug crimes and other non-violent offenses, the equation often misses a core component of the challenge concerning how to control willful cops… those in uniform and out… who cross the line with mostly unbridled power to dictate who goes to prison and who does not, whose reputation remains solid and whose becomes soiled, and then set about to do whatever it takes to see their view of justice be had.

In the US, result oriented justice is not new or even creative; it’s as old as the frontier sheriff with boundless power to rule with a firm hand to control who got to walk down the streets of Dodge and who did not. Of course, cops plant evidence, coerce statements and entrap folks… that’s a given. Torture, rendition and agent stings are very much now the norm. No breaking news here. Ultimately, when all else fails, it’s the modern day version of the old school way to ensure “case closed”… another “victory” for those who not only relish their power but see its arbitrary application as just fine as long as they get their man… or woman.

It seems most cops, from those directing traffic on the boulevard to the guy in the designer suit before Congress, lose sight along the way that their power is but power on loan… not owned by them to use and do with as they please when their own social, political or “security ends” justifies their means… or where they seek to lay the groundwork for future employment.

Once again, this past week, FBI Director James Comey proved that point.

Although finely polished and experienced, this lifelong Republican cop seems to feel that there’s one set of rules for all those he’s helped to send to prison and a completely different one for him… one blue book of conduct for all others in the Department of Justice but, apparently, not a volume to be found among the personal library of he who now occupies the Director’s desk of the FBI.

Time and time again, throughout the Clinton email scandal, Comey has proven himself to be not much more than an old fashioned ward healer… but with a badge… desperate for the feel of flesh or to see the flash of bulbs or, perhaps, a novice candidate for political office looking for a hook to, some day, launch his own career.

FBI Directors do not hold press conferences to discuss or explain why charges have not been pursued against a potential subject of interest or a target of an investigation. They just don’t. Inexplicably, he did.

As a matter of long settled policy, these matters are simply not offered up to the public for Monday morning debate or talking head analysis which can not only tarnish the reputation of persons cleared of criminal wrongdoing but expose investigative sources or techniques that can endanger the reliability of future investigations or the safety of agents. Indeed, legend is the cases where the door to on-going or post hoc litigation leads has been slammed shut, without hesitation, by federal judges for this very reason.

As well, the all too convenient mass publication by the FBI in this matter of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of its sensitive 302 reports (official FBI case progress memoranda) are simply unprecedented. Indeed, prisoners (and journalists) often spend years litigating access to this material which is challenged by the FBI, every step along the way, with endless technical statutory excuses for keeping it secret; even in cases, long closed, where its release might offer a ray of hope to those perhaps wrongfully convicted or overcharged.

Most stunning of all however was the cheap political ploy by Comey where but 11 days prior to the election he suggested, in a public writing to Congress, that he had uncovered newly discovered, potentially damning evidence with regard to the Clinton email scandal. The tenor and tone of the Director’s insinuation is remarkable, indeed astonishing, given the fact that apparently neither he nor any of his agents had, as of the time of the written press conference, reviewed the material itself. Can anyone say deceitful?

Even more disingenuous was the timing of this claim which not only rubbed up against firmly rooted and sound DOJ policy but, in fact, swallowed it whole as the Director slobbered away from the political dining table with a scheming smile on his face.

Although periodically ruptured, by design the mandate of federal law enforcement necessarily excludes witting participation in the political process, let alone becoming ensnarled in it, as an ostensible partisan or one consciously seeking to impact upon it one way or another. That’s the job of politicians not cops.

Indeed, the Department of Justice has, for decades, avoided taking actions that might be viewed as an attempt to influence an election. As noted in a 2012 Justice Department memo “… all employees have the responsibility to enforce the law in a neutral and impartial manner…which is ‘particularly important’ in an election year.” According to Matthew Miller, former Director of the Justice Department’s Public Affairs Office, this becomes all the more sensitive, nay, critical as Election Day draws near:

“Justice traditionally bends over backward to avoid taking any action that might be seen by the public as influencing an election, often declining to even take private steps that might become public in the 60 days leading up to an election.”

This rule finds firm footing in the position of a host of former and current Attorneys General and senior prosecutors. For example, it has been reported that former AG Janet Reno was “adamant… anything that could influence the election had to go dark,” as she suspended a politically sensitive investigation… one much further removed in time from Election Day than the most recent blindside, by the FBI Director, just 11 days before the vote to see who will lead this country for the next four years.

Remarkably, it appears Comey completely ignored the “preference” of current Attorney General Lynch… his boss… as well as her deputies that he adhere to a well established DOJ policy of remaining silent about on-going investigations and refrain from taking any steps that could influence the outcome of an election. This view has been shared by Republican prosecutors as well. As noted by George J. Terwilliger III, a deputy attorney general under President George Bush, “There’s a longstanding policy of not doing anything that could influence an election.” He added “Those guidelines exist for a reason. Sometimes, that makes for hard decisions. But bypassing them has consequences.”

Sadly, Comey’s palpable decision to charge full steam ahead and place his own view and reputation before that of the electoral process as so much the ultimate arbiter of what he believes the public should know and not… real or otherwise… on the eve of this election is not sui generis. Although different in approach, and context, he now follows a long and time tested tradition of corrupt and venal FBI directors who have not hesitated to implement personal political agendas ranging from the Palmer raids upon anarchists of the early 20th century, to the blacklisting and perjury traps of McCarthy, to the murder of black activists under COINTELPRO.

Comey is many things. He is not however stupid or brash. He had to know that what essentially constituted a vaguely worded personal press release, in the final desperate days of a very ugly campaign, would be seized upon, by an opposing candidate, media pundits and the public, as newly discovered evidence of criminality, even without verification, that might very well alter the course of US history.

To him, it mattered not that the “new” emails were as yet unparsed. Nor did he care that their timed release would almost certainly have the consequence, if not the intended effect, to mislead the American people already battered and tired by unprecedented levels of empty rhetoric and unfounded accusations by both sides.

One can only wonder whether Comey’s blindside was simply breathtaking in its carelessness or… like the beat cop who has decided who goes to jail and who goes home… a calculated decision to place his own personal stamp of approval on who he wants to see as his next uber boss.

The path from street corners or, at times, even Board Rooms to prison cells is not a complicated walk at all. It seems these days the road to the White House is pretty much the same march… just a bit longer and nastier.

We Feared Witches. We Hung Women

So the campaign is winding down and, barring what’s been described as a minor miracle in waiting, ultimately it will end up as a coronation of one degree of evil or another- be it Trump or Clinton. I hope that in its final days, Sanders’ supporters will allow the campaign to run its course without engaging in media vilification or trial by ambush. I do so not in the spirit of building a united front to challenge Trump in the general election- quite frankly, I could care less. More important, I raise the concern that to roll in the gutter can leave a stench that follows activists the rest of their political lives whether they continue the good fight or ultimately surrender to the mainstream body politic.

It’s no secret I don’t support Sanders; in point of fact, I’ve challenged him for years over what I view to be his well documented record of poor priorities and failed policies and votes. Before you turn away, this is not an attack on him but a bow to you. Since leaving prison, I’ve said time and time again that the involvement in this campaign of large numbers of experienced and newly minted activists has been inspirational indeed. I am sure that our collective future is that much the brighter because of your hard work, and drive for truth, justice and peace.

Yours is the next generation in a long and storied line of activists who have sacrificed much, often all, in speaking truth to power and confronting it in evolving creative ways in the streets and courts and now very much so in the world of cyber space. Though our community of resistance has been diverse in makeup and tactics, clearly we have been united in our determined refusal to embrace a strategy of disinformation or hate built on the back of character assassination, rumor and innuendo- each a proud trademark of the forces of greed and exploitation that we have challenged since the first days of the Republic.

Recently we’ve seen increasing almost desperate attacks on Clinton not just for her dreadful policies, but her alleged status of felon in waiting soon to be indicted for a host of crimes. In support of this public true bill, documentary “evidence” and boilerplate statutes are thrown about by lay litigators as little more than the tools of a modern day star chamber chaired not by jurists but the howl of a vindictive mob erecting the gallows long before the verdict.

“We Feared Witches.  We Hung Women”

I don’t like Clinton, nor do I trust her; not now, not twenty five years ago. If I were to vote, there is no chance that I would cast it for her. But to see her tried in public without the benefit of her entitled full day in court with an opportunity to confront and challenge her accusers is so much the core hallmark of the power brokers that have sold our collective past, and would our future, to the winds of the highest bidder. Several days ago I saw two posts by Sanders’ supporters about Clinton that are false –namely that a top Clinton “advisor” and super delegate – former NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had been sentenced to prison for twelve years for corruption related charges. Although reports of the sentence are correct-the claims about his current alleged relationship with Clinton or her campaign are patently desperate and false. In any event, even if they were true- so what? Indeed millions still adore Obama despite nagging allegations of a one-time close relationship with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich now serving fourteen years in federal prison for corruption charges himself.

And what of the allegations in the Free Beacon, that Sanders has, on multiple occasions, steered campaign and nonprofit money to friends and family. Thus, the conservative news service claimed that Sanders’ wife—Jane O’Meara Sanders—and his stepdaughter, Carina Driscoll, both received salaries from his early political campaigns. (Sanders’ House campaign reportedly paid O’Meara Sanders $90,000 for “consulting and ad placement services from 2002 to 2004.”) Driscoll, too, got paid $65,000 between 2000 and 2004. And at Burlington College, where O’Meara Sanders served as president until 2011, at least two contracts yielded six-figure payouts for companies run by Driscoll and a close friend of the Sanders family.

Given the source of the story I have great questions about its accuracy or reliability. Nevertheless it is a classic example of the manipulative cross examination in which the witness is asked “so when did you stop beating your wife.” The denial is meaningless once the allegation is published to the jury, as it takes on a life of its own whether true or not.

Several days ago another Sander’s fan announced on twitter that a top advisor to Clinton had been “taken in” by the FBI assumedly to be questioned with regard to what he may have known about what’s now simply called the server “case”. Not only did the post do a great disservice to the advisor by implying that he himself had broken the law, but it showed a complete ignorance about federal procedure. It’s well settled that the FBI cannot “take someone in” unless there is a warrant or probable cause for his or her arrest. Only in the world of movies can law enforcement take someone in to be questioned. So grab your seat and get your popcorn – “Kool-Aid” is now showing in your favorite theater.

Yesterday I was accused of “splitting hairs” by the author of one of these patently false posts who went on to justify his campaign “hyperbole” by simply saying that Clinton and Silver were “two peas in the pod . . . on the same pay league.” Joe McCarthy would have smiled in agreement. Indeed, collective and class guilt has a long and sordid history in this country. Thousands were rounded up and jailed early in the twentieth century, many deported, including our icon Emma Goldman during the Palmer Raids; their crime- speech and association.

Most shocking of all, for months now we’ve seen Clinton convicted by more than a few journalists on the left and their adoring readers because the vaunted FBI is investigating her under the lead of the Department of Justice- who, we know, always get their “man” or, in this case, their woman.

DOJ and the FBI have been at war with political opponents and dissidents, truth tellers and whistle blowers since literally the first day that their doors opened. While we know all about their collective efforts in COINTELPRO to destroy the Black Panther Party, it was but one of many federal law enforcement campaigns in which they spared no effort to vilify, or even murder, those perceived as enemies of the status quo, indeed the state.

I’ve spent decades unraveling political and criminal cases put together by DOJ and the FBI in their insatiable drive to destroy lives, and to bury the truth. Legion are the cases in which helpful witnesses or documents arguably under the reach, if not control, of the government have simply disappeared, unavailable to testify or to be used at trials. At other times critical forensic evidence was prepared with negligence or falsified to support overarching theories of guilt. So, too exculpatory scientific evidence has been suppressed by those who see convictions no matter what the evidence, or lack thereof, as desired justice, and acquittals as impediments to the security of the state, and personal failures.

In a series of recent explosive admissions the FBI conceded:
• That it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person;
• Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far;
• That nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000;
• That nearly every criminal case reviewed by it and the Justice Department has included flawed forensic testimony from the agency;
• That “errors” in evidence provided by its forensics laboratory to US courts to help secure convictions, including in death penalty cases, over more than 20 years;

Indeed in a damning highly detailed report issued by the FBI Inspector General numerous instances were cited of critical forensic errors even in some of its most high profile cases of the day including:
• Scientifically Flawed Testimony in the Psinakis, World Trade Center 1, Avianca, and Trepal cases;
• Inaccurate testimony by an EU examiner in the World Trade Center case, by a former Laboratory examiner (who is still an FBI agent) in a hearing conducted by the judicial committee of the Judicial Council of the Eleventh Circuit regarding then-Judge Alcee Hastings, and by the CTU Chief in the Trepal case;
• Testimony beyond the examiner’s expertise in the World Trade Center, Avianca, and Hastings cases;
• Improper preparation of laboratory reports by three EU examiners who altered, omitted, or improperly supplemented some internal scientific findings (dictations) as they were being compiled into an official report of the Laboratory. A former EU Chief failed to substantively review all of the reports in his unit, authorized EU examiners to modify forensic dictations when incorporating them into EU reports, and fostered a permissive attitude toward changes to such dictations;
• Insufficient documentation of test results by the examiner who had performed work on hundreds of cases, including Psinakis and the UNABOM investigation, and by the CTU Chief;
• Scientifically flawed reports in the VANPAC and Oklahoma City cases, and in numerous cases by the former MAU examiner who worked on Psinakis, and in a few instances by an EU examiner who altered science reports;
• Inadequate record management and retention system by the laboratory;
• Failures by management to resolve serious and credible allegations of incompetence lodged against the examiner who worked on the Psinakis case; to review properly the EU report in the Oklahoma City case; to resolve scientific disagreements among Laboratory examiners in three cases, including Avianca; to establish and enforce validated procedures and protocols that might have avoided problems in examiner reports in the Psinakis and VANPAC cases; and to making a commitment to pursuing accreditation by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board before 1994;
• A flawed staffing structure of the explosives unit that should be reconfigured so that examiners possess requisite scientific qualifications.

The list of intentional or negligent government missteps is literally endless by some federal prosecutors and many agents who see themselves as very much the sole repositories of truth and justice involved in a war with those who refuse to bend to their political will.

Yet the dark often evil history of these agencies is conveniently overlooked today by some Clinton opponents who in their thirst to get her, and at all costs, appear to embrace federal agencies and their tactics that have terrorized our community for time immemorial. This is particularly ironic since many who suggest law enforcement perfection here, are the same who quickly reject it when it comes to the events of 9/11.

In this country the howl of the mob has a dark and dangerous history. It has brought us the execution of hundreds of not guilty women and men, thrown a noose around the neck of thousands because of race or rumor or innuendo, and destroyed the lives of countless artists, musician and dissidents because their beliefs or association were suspect. Now it seems to target political opponents in an unbecoming effort to obtain a “victory” that it apparently could not acquire at the polls.

In the law of libel one who acquires a public persona has a diminished expectation of privacy- it comes with the turf, I get it. Nevertheless, lots of things that are lawful are still tasteless or unprincipled. Many of us know the sting of false public accusation and ridicule as so much the shrill cry of the desperate that cannot compete fairly in the open and robust market place of debate. It says less about the target than it does those who stoop so low.

Clinton represents much that is wrong and unhealthy about our society, indeed our world. However, activists should not lower themselves or our movement and its traditions to that level. Sadly, the next time you read of someone charged and convicted in the media it may just be you.  “We Feared Witches. We Hung Women”

It Ain’t The Promised Land…Part Six

It’s the most important room in the prison, bar none. With three ancient microwave ovens, some battered washing machines and dryers, a leaking ice machine and a few faded counter-tops and tables, everything happens here every day. Need a four-course dining extravaganza? Go to the kitchen! Need your blood-stained sheets washed? Go to the laundry! Need to ice down your days-old sour milk cartons? Go to the ice room! Need your prison greens ironed? Go to the dry cleaners! Need a game of dominoes? Go to the game room! All things to all prisoners is this 20×40-foot dreary room with a cracked cement floor, stained white concrete walls, and a large, cold, picture window. Are you an animal lover? Well, early each morning, you can come watch an army of large ants fighting on the floor over crumbs left the night before, mostly by design. Want to hang out and just bullshit or look out at the layered concertina wire, towering brick walls and gun turrets that surround the prison yard several hundred yards away? Go to the veranda.

Early mornings and late evenings are always the worst time in prisons as prisoners race around to get ready for forced, meaningless labor, or sit alone and reflect on lost lives and dreams, afraid of the future.

It’s 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning and Freddie has already been hard at work in his kitchen for some two hours preparing for his weekly banquet. As he dices spoiled apples and dated turkey rolls, crushes bags of Dorito’s chips, and seasons rice and beans, other prisoners begin to stumble in wiping, from their eyes, what little sleep they got and waiting on line to heat their coffee, tea, or eggs at the microwave. While Freddie preps his meal, Joe is busy but a few feet away, in his grey prison sweats, ironing a tight and crisp crease in this prison greens as he gets ready for more visits. Like the mail, he holds the record for most visits as a steady stream of family, friends, and union members pass through Canaan each weekend to give him something to look forward to in his otherwise dreary life.  Logan, as always, is all business as he walks in to confront his “nephew” who is already hanging out talking smack to some other young prisoners. Although not related, the two call each other “uncle” and “nephew” out of endearment. His favorite student, a young black man whose wife died, while he has been in prison, leaving behind three young, now parent-less, kids, broke his appointment to meet with Logan the night before to work on his resume. In walks “Leech,” with his small plastic trash can in one hand, to be topped off with ice, and a bag of dirty laundry in the other. Wallace and Jamal come in together in search of another Muslim prisoner as they ready for the second prayer of the still-young day. Justin, a pasty young white man from rural Maine, paces nervously, waiting to hear the loudspeaker call out “pill line, pill line, pill line” to take the edge off of another day before its pressure mounts.

“People gonna get high,” Freddie joins in as two other prisoners debate drug addiction and laws as they pass time waiting their turn for the washing machine. One, a young Latino graduate of Narcotics Anonymous, who later relapsed and got busted, is especially animated this morning. “The laws aren’t tough enough,” Flacco yells out, with tears in his eyes. “I fucked up and deserve the 24 months the judge gave me. Maybe more. I got no gripes.”

To Freddie, who rolls his eyes, 24 months is a joke, a walk in the park.  To him, Flacco is just looking to score some points with the cops… outside and in.

“It don’t matter what they say or do,” Freddie says as he starts to ready a pie made of week-old bananas, sour milk, and Hershey’s Kisses. “Drugs been here since day one and ain’t leaving. Jail don’t scare a fiend.  He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do and get high. Rich, poor, white, black, young, old, male, female… getting high is all you want. I know. I been there year after year, for as long as I can remember

Cash nods his head in agreement. “Drugs are an illness,” he says, “and sending users or sellers to prison don’t do nothing but destroy families and waste money.” Joe joins in, as he always does on matters of politics and social policy, “Drugs are a disease.” Not all of them, or all amounts, he reasons, “but the government criminalizes health issues to warehouse the poor and extend the prison economy nationwide.”

Logan, now firmly but softly lecturing his nephew about personal responsibility to himself and his kids, joins in. “You’re right, Joe,” he says, “most prisoners in this country are in prison for drugs and nothing else. These sentences are insane,” he continues, “… it takes all the money from poor communities and inner-city schools and infrastructure and for what,“ he asks, as he turns his back to his prized student and continues his lecture to the others.

Justin, quiet throughout, although nervous but attentive, suddenly stumbles into the discussion. “I don’t know what to say,” but breaks his thought mid-sentence as he hears a faint message over the loudspeaker and fears he’ll miss his meds for the day. “I don’t want to get high, he continues, “but I ‘m going home soon and to what… I’ve got no skills, no job… no home. Where am I going?” He adds, “All I’ve done here is time. I don’t want to get high…”

“THEN DON’T!” yells Flacco interrupting in a loud almost-shout to intimidate him. “Then don’t!” he repeats, as he switches to his own fears. “I wish I could stay clean, too. All I want is to start over, “ says the young, now angry Latino. “I lost my family the first time,” he adds, “and they won’t come back to me. Now I’m all alone,” says the NA failure.

“I got depressed and relapsed, too,” says Juan, who has since entered the room to cook his eggs. He’s been getting high in the streets of Newark since 15, beginning not long after his dad was killed by cops.

“Welcome to the club,” says Robert. “My wife and kids are long gone. Just spilt… who knows where. And now with me on my way home after 17 years.” Wallace agrees as he looks out the now-open door for Curtis, anxious to go to prayer. “I lost my family here. They just couldn’t wait any longer for the miracle that never came.”

“What do you expect?” chimes in Jeff, as much a rhetorical question. “We’re all criminals… a country of criminals. How many of us are there now? 10 million, 20 million with convictions and prison records… or on their way to one,” as his voice trails off.

“I don’t know,” Cash joins in, “there are times when all I can do is shake my head. It’s nuts. Just fucking nuts.”

“Years ago, I didn’t know anyone from my hood without a prison bid or record. It’s probably true of my city now,” says Cash. “It seems like no family stays together, just a revolving door.”

Robert adds, “I can’t remember a time when my family was all together at the same time and on the same street. Me, my dad, my brothers… one of us always away or well on their way to it.” He turns to look out the window just as Spice joins in. “In Philly, nothing but cops, courts, and jail. You get all jammed up trying to get straight or to make a little cash… next stop, 5, 10 or 20 years… no bodies, it don’t matter… you’re gone.  All you see in this state is jails, old and new, everywhere it seems there is a prison,” notes Logan. “No new hospitals or treatment centers or schools… nothing for our kids or their future but a public defender and a cell.”

Joe interrupts, “I just read an article on prisons and costs, it’s just unbelievable. The cost to jail someone, a non-violent person, is more than eight times greater than it is to keep him home with his family with supervision and community service. I’ll go get it,” says Joe as he returns the iron to the wall hook and leaves to get ready for his visit. Justin continues, “I tried to get help. I couldn’t. I tried to get a job. There was none. I tried to learn a trade. They laughed. It was a circle, a run-around. It never stopped.”

Justin agrees, “I had to go down south to get clean and when I did, and came home, they busted me for old shit. Here I was finally clean and in handcuffs.”

“What do you want,” says Flacco, “a medal?” as he returns to the room, still blaming everyone but himself for his own failures. “You get high because you’re weak… plain and simple!” he shouts out.

“Fuck off!” Juan yells back. “I wanted help. I tried to get it. There was nothing. All I got was closed doors or a long waiting line wherever I turned.”

“Yeah, right,” adds Curtis. “Just waiting. We’re always waiting, it seems, for the feds to come… to take us away.”

“You know the deal,” Spice adds in. “Spin me, turn me, give up your friend, your cousin, your mom.”

“It don’t matter,” adds Curtis, “They don’t care about the truth. They just want more and more bodies… dead or alive.

“The feds just don’t give a fuck,” adds Juan. “It’s all the same shit,” says Chris as he walks out the door with his coffee now hot and his anger not much cooler.

“It’s all about cops,” says Leech, himself now upset as he shakes his head staring out the window. “It’s about class and color and wealth. White folks don’t get busted the way we do,” adds Cash, “and when they do, it’s usually a walk. They get embarrassed, but then go on.” Upset, he leaves the room, slamming the door as he does.

Mike, who’s been sitting watching Freddie work, largely silent, is from the same mean streets as Robert. He’s been down himself for 18 years because of drugs. Now in his late 40’s with his family grown and gone, he’s seen it all as he’s worked his way down from deadly high security prisons, where he fought to survive one night at a time, to camps where the boredom eats at you day in and out. Big, tough, muscular and usually silent, there’s much more to Mike than the body he’s built up all these years. Late at night, he can be seen reading, often all night long, everything he can find from daily newspapers to magazines and books to treatises. “Most of these prisons are death traps and the rest unnecessary. No way the people in them need to be there,” he says, almost detached and academic, as he puts on his scarf and jacket and prepares to leave. “I’m just so tired of the revolving door.” he adds, “… young kids coming in, sitting, and years later leaving, old and broken, with new ones taking their place.” No one moves or jumps in as Mike speaks. He’s earned his say and respect from all… including many guards. “Lives lost, families destroyed, and for what?” he continues. “Why? Most prisoners in this country are not violent or dangerous. They should be at home. Community supervision is just so much better for all… and cheaper.” With his voice trailing off, he walks out the door into the morning cold.

Joe’s since returned, standing quietly by the ice machine, still waiting to hear his name called out for a visit, but now dressed in his pressed greens, wearing spotless white sneakers that he keeps bagged and only uses for such occasions. Agreeing with everything he’s heard the past few minutes, he weighs in on the double standard he sees at the DOJ in who it prosecutes. Himself a prominent older white man, he rails with passion about jails filled mostly with poor, young, inner-city men of color while huge corporate profiteers get a free pass. “Everywhere I look in prison, I see mostly black and brown faces. The white ones are all guards or a few small fries… guys busted for low-level frauds or insider trading.  Where are the bankers?” he shouts out, almost like a Sunday morning pastor preaching to the choir, his face turning red with anger. “They ain’t here,” he continues. “Forget it. Where are the banks?.Where’s HSBC, or CitiBank, or Chase… caught red-handed laundering billions for drug cartels and others and they get nothing… a civil settlement and fines which they write off on their corporate taxes.”

In a room filled mostly with prisoners of color, you can hear a pin drop. As the 7 or 8 other remaining men in the room nod in agreement, the announcement finally comes for Joe’s visit. He straightens his greens and leaves, shaking his head as he walks out the door.

“Money, money, money,” says Leech. “It keeps politicians in office and us in prison. They could rebuild our cities, schools, and hospitals but won’t,” adds Robert, his hands shaking. Logan, now looking for his nephew long gone to work out adds, “Don’t be naïve. Prisons win elections. Crime pays,” he continues as he grabs his tea. “Law and order sells, it makes most voters feel good and politicians feel tough. Tough is good.” Mike nods his head in agreement as he takes a taste of Freddie’s as yet unfinished pie. “Pill line, pill line, pill line,” rings out. Justin stop pacing and almost smiles. He hurries out, on his way to the clinic to make it through another day. He’s not alone… dozens are already lined up when he arrives… jailed for drugs and now using drugs… just different ones… to survive jail.

One by one, the men leave the room as others arrive to repeat the morning ritual. Though it seems like many hours have passed, for the seven or eight men this morning, it’s only been an hour or so of pouring out their hearts and hopes. Their frustrations shared, it helps… at least till tonight when darkness and lonely despair returns.

For Freddie, he cleans the plates and bowls and tables. He’s about done as he packs up today’s menu and sets off to make his morning deliveries. In prison, it’s hard work to survive.