12 July 2016
Installment VI: Waiting for Charges and Bargaining
PCDC (Pitt County Detention Center) is a regional facility located in Greenville, NC, that holds approximately 900 inmates for both state and federal courts. It also serves the surrounding counties so that they do not have to enlarge their facilities. I arrived there on the weekend of the 23rd of October, 2010 and would remain there for 16 months, until finally sentenced and moved into the Federal prison system.
PCDC is about the same as all the jails I went through. In-take of new prisoners followed a pattern of intimidation and degradation so consistently it had to be part of correction officer (hereafter CO) training and general prison management. Staff seeks to break any inmate resistance through various shock treatments, forewarning what could happen if you arouse CO wrath. There is a period called 'shock days;' a blur of dehumanizing treatments, psychological torture and physical abuse intended to soften one up, strip away all self-esteem while warning just how bad things could get in this new home. At PCDC, it started with a cold shower for 'disinfection' after which you are left naked in rooms chilled to 60F for a half hour or more, this is called getting the 'cooler' and it works well as a day to day punishment too, and at PCDC it was just one of their many games played by the COs.
For example, throughout the prison there were cages and closets just large enough for one person to stand in. They were designed to be used to hold one prisoner while another prisoner that the first prisoner is not allowed to have any contact with passes through the same room or hallway. They were, though, also used at any COs’ discretion to “tune up” an inmate. Men were put in the cage in full restraint which prevented any slouching or leaning. They were then left in a cage to consider their sins and they were often "forgotten" for hours. When the new arrival, having been tuned up, finally arrives at a bare cell he is happy to be there, or such is the theory.
I spent 24 hours in maximum security while they 'classified' me, determining what security level I would be housed in. I was then placed int the 'Low' security section that was comprised of eight pods of 24 bunks each, single large rooms with no radios or TV's, but with a dirty window through which one could view the forest beyond.
PCDC had no library and the only reading material allowed in the jail had to come through the US mail - if an inmate was lucky enough to have someone to send them anything. Typically all bunks were filled and another 20 men slept on the floor of each pod. For the 44 residents there were three toilets, one shower, and two sinks.
The low-security pods were in an older section of the jail that was perhaps 20 years old and it showed its age. Pods extended off a central corridor with Plexiglass walls facing the hallway so COs could monitor the pods without actually entering them. In reality, the Plexiglass was there so that prisoners could practice their sign language to their co-defendants and friends from one pod to the next while the staff ignored us. Whenever violence erupted among the prisoners, a group of prisoners would run to block the glass as there were no cameras in the pods. Every night there would be bare knuckle boxing tournaments. Then there were the predatory attacks which occurred in the early morning hours while sleeping men were easy prey. Sometimes inmates would take a break from the violence and have a pop culture trivia quiz. It was a surreal and sometimes sublimely unreal environment.
When staff wanted to go violent on an inmate, they would move into the pods to be off camera and also so as to make an example in front of the other inmates, or they would remove the inmate to a closet off the corridor where there were no cameras or witnesses.
My pod consisted entirely of men facing violent charges (murder/rape/attempted murder were the most common). Most of these inmates had already served multiple sentences and got their earliest jailhouse training in North Carolina's “gladiator schools” at the Hightower and the Polk, state facilities for violent youth. Almost all were either Crip or Blood affiliated, and of the 40-odd men, there were three of us who were federal inmates. I was the only 'white boy.' The Feds are not supposed to house state and Federal inmates together, but they are given a waiver to do so by the courts when it is 'unavoidable,' which means everywhere and all the time in actuality. But I learned this sort of lore later, when I continued my education in Federal prison. There, I found after surveying the other inmates in the system, that co-housing state and federal inmates is a prevalent practice.
We spent our time watching the violence, listening to the screaming (the dumber the man, the louder he talks) which was incessant - and that wasn't even from the visibly mentally ill prisoners - and watching prisoners decompose as the torpor of hopelessness got to them. According to the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, New Yorker pg. 5, 20 Jun 16; "...56% of state inmates and 45% of inmates in federal prisons have mental health issues." Treatment of any condition, but particularly of mental conditions, at every jail I went to was minimal. If treatment existed at all it never involved a doctor, and usually was limited to a constant dosing of Seroquel or similar antipsychotics to induce sleep and reduce psychotic episodes. Men would save their doses to sell to others as it helped you sleep through the constant screaming. Others saved theirs to overdose: the final way out of jail. Some worked hard to get hooked so they might be able to get a disability check from Social Service when they got out by claiming prison induced dependency and who is to say they weren’t telling the truth (Most drug dependency results from self-medication using whatever comes to hand).
For three months, over Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday 2010, I stayed in in that pod. During this period there were a few visits from Attorney A ('AA') in a room adjacent to the pod. I had been indicted, but the government's practice, as I previously described, is to maximize the number of indictment counts to compound the cost of defense, so we were now in a period of superseding indictments, where the prosecutor would go back in front of different grand juries and tell them what they 'believed' occurred so as to get more and more counts added to my charges. Though some were deemed ridiculous, and easily beatable in court, the sheer number charges eventually defeated any prospect of a defense in court. Over the holidays it became increasingly obvious that I was well and truly screwed.
Federal prosecutors develop plausible if not true 'narratives' by which they "win" indictments and later convictions. The DOJ will not speak on camera about this as demonstrated on the US TV program "60 Minutes" on the 15th of May 2016. These narratives do not have to be fact based, they need only be “expressed belief” based. It is these expressed beliefs prosecutors publish to besmirch defendant reputations and poison any possible jury pool. Whether charges are dropped later, or a person is exonerated, the DOJ never apologize or in any way corrects the public record. In short, there is no accountability. CBS reported that the minimum cost of defense in the face of just ridiculous charges, such as mistaken identity, that are quickly dropped in the face of adequate legal representation, is $200,000. One can extrapolate from that the likely cost to inmate's families. The cost to careers and reputations is incalculable but equally horrible.
Though in the US legal system, it is the prosecution's responsibility to protect the rights of the defendant and the integrity of the 'justice' system (no one in the system except the prosecutors call it the "justice system;" for everyone else its just the "legal system"), the reality of their employ is that their job is to get convictions and their promotions and careers are based on how many they get, how many cases they close, and the total number of years they get assigned to a conviction. Ideally, judges would recognize the reality of prosecutor over-reach and the failure of prosecutors to imbue justice with truth, but such is the exception as a large percentage of federal judges are former prosecutors and old school ties will tell.
There is a scene in the film 'Training Day' where Denzel Washington's character, the dirty cop, tells his superiors in the restaurant that he has "over 10,000 man years in his jacket," i.e. the number of years sentenced to men he's arrested and testified against, this being reason for them to retain him & promote him. It is the job of the police to get arrests, not to get the truth. It is the job of the prosecutors to get convictions, not justice. A very lame theory holds that the process of adversarial argumentation before a judge will produce “truth.” Given equal resources that theory might work., but only the 1% have equal resources so most simply yield to the inevitable and thus DOJ criminal prosecutors have a nearly 100% (98%) win rate.
During the autumn of 2010 Julian Assange released hundreds of thousands of classified communications of the US government through Wiki-Leaks. Since making that act of suicidal defiance he has sheltered in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition to the US. Like Chelsea Manning who is doing thirty years in a Federal prison, he tried to induce an element of truth into the government narratives.
The material released by Assange included State Department communiques that showed that the US government was involved in the very project that I had described at length upon my arrest and subsequently to authorities. Namely, armed maritime security was being provided for commercial vessels without the knowledge of governments that hosted these vessels in their ports.
In one cable the US was asking Kenya to allow a former NOAA ship renamed the 'Douglas MacArthur' which had been purchased by the PMC (Private Military Company) “Blackwater” and then armed with naval weaponry to dock and be serviced without interference.. This Wiki-Leaks revelation began the process of verifying the classified information I had provided to the US government upon my detention. Its verification continues to be validated by whistleblower disclosures.. Knowledge that in July 2010 I could not possibly have had if I hadn't actually been involved in the business and been cleared to have came out before any charges were ever filed against me, and it was suppressed by the DOJ.
At this point in my prosecution, my attorney asked for a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) release from the Department of Justice (DOJ) so that I could defend myself without fear of being prosecuted for violating the NDA's that I had signed with the US government's intelligence agencies, which were explicit in their threat of Federal prosecution for any violation. The prosecutors refused and said that I would be prosecuted either for the crimes they accused me of or ,if I was cleared for those crimes by showing that I was exporting firearms under orders of the government, for violating the secrecy agreements related to those projects, a catch-22 that saw me guaranteed to be sentenced for committing a crime ("Official impunity is, always and everywhere, the arch enemy of the rule of law" David Luban 21 Apr 16 NYRB pg.22).
My supporters contacted directly, through first person connections, every single one of my legislative representatives. Only one offered any assistance. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), currently chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence offered no actual assistance but he did refer AA to a competent attorney, an offer AA did not act on, and his decision not to seek competent co-counsel may have been his most fatal breach of his duty to me.
Meanwhile, my family and friends, including my wife (who had not two weeks before given birth to our twin sons), were being braced by Federal agents and/or their local associates worldwide and being falsely threatened with civil asset forfeiture or criminal arrest for conspiracy. The intent of these threats and intimidations was to subvert my support network and get their hands on any evidence that might help me; to deny my defense. Regardless of guilt, or evidence of guilt, the Feds will make threats. The only defense is to lawyer up and let the attorney explain what they can and can not actually do.
The authorities spoke to the press. Gossip can be ignored but, in the process we're talking about, there was authoritative public exposure and humiliation. It is the manifest power of the state to crush someone and its intent is, in part, to intimidate anyone who might come to a defendant's assistance; this too could happen to you. They paraded me through the newspapers and on TV before ever letting me into a courtroom. They invented things about me and passed them off as true. They used their authority to deny who I really am, to deny any and all positive aspects of my history. Incarceration and libel are just a tiny foretaste of what they can and will do to someone. The Feds know that the firewalls between news and entertainment, journalism and profit-making, have collapsed entirely, and it's sad to see the 4th Estate straying so far from its purported function of sustaining an informed citizenry. As noted before, regurgitation of government press releases now passes for journalism.
Defense attorneys, as a rule, don’t speak to the press out of concern that they may inadvertently inform prosecutors of their defense strategy, and they expect the prosecution to deny by any means access to exculpatory evidence. In my case, I had no idea that AA was not only not seeking “disclosure” from the prosecution, he wasn’t doing evidence gathering at all. He did absolutely nothing to offset grossly inaccurate characterizations of me by the government in the press. Being held incommunicado, well away from media, I had no way of knowing what was being published except as it trickled in to PCDC in letters from friends and family.
At this point, is there anyone still speaking to me, let alone supporting me? Yes, thanks to having friends and family that cared enough to not succumb to government propaganda I had a small but loyal support cadre. In this regard our lives are cumulative; what we sow we reap. I am so grateful for the ongoing support of my loved ones I can not express my gratitude. It is to them that I constantly pointed out the deficiencies of AA and it is they who would eventually save me from him. Alas, though, being tried in the press drove many away from me. In some cases colleagues felt they had to deny any association with me because it could hurt them professionally.
Picked up, interrogated and imprisoned, life wrecked, is that the worst that can happen? No, not really. In the world I chose, people got killed for a hell of a lot less than you can imagine. Thanks to my career choices I know just how nasty and awful humans can be, thus none of the treatment I was receiving in my various jails annoyed me. Rather, what annoyed me the most was the very charges against me. The ridiculous assertion that I would dump guns into the hands of criminals in a community where I was raising a family did not irritate, it infuriated me.
Now I am a criminal and am in prison. My karmic bill is mine to pay. I do not write for your pity, or for your attention. This is to say what was and is. My goal is precision. Some people get through prison by counting down the amount of time that they've left in prison. I get through by treating it as the only life I've ever known or will have. That also is the way I have survived all my previous, some times ill-considered, avatars.
Steven N. Greenoe