Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Teachings & Typhoons

She looked to be about 15 - the Filipino girl who sat in the rubble of super typhoon Haiyan and grieved for her family.

Her mother had been a doctor; her father an accountant. Both were dead, along with the rest of her family. All that remained of them was she and her little brother. Between sobs, she said to the American news correspondent covering the disaster, "I only want to be like my mother." He said, "Be a doctor?" She shook her head: "Be a great mother."

We don't get it. We think it is about us (adults) and our fancy careers - about fun and fame and fortune; we think it is about sex, and money. It is not. It is about the children. (They do not know this.) It is up to us to know - and more importantly, act like we know. We do that by raising them well; by joining in their lives.

Again:  It is about the children. Teach them discipline and respect, and - whether rich or poor - your family will prosper. And the future of this nation will be in good hands.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Running Scared, Into the Night

Bill Russell, basketball legend and icon of the Civil Rights era, was arrested the other day for carrying a loaded gun at an airport. How disappointing.  (What is he afraid of?)

When a man is afraid to leave his home without a gun, he sends a chilling message to his family. His son must think:  If my father is afraid to leave the house without a gun, then I should be afraid - my mother should be afraid; my sister should be afraid - to leave the house without a gun.

So, what do we do now? Give everyone a gun and say, "Have a nice day?"

Fear shrinks our society by the minute. Soon, all that will be left of us is our trembling. What is left of our courage will be jammed between the pages of a history book.

Monday, November 4, 2013

One Child, One Book...

With his recent initiative to disarm the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons, and by his outreach to the new president of Iran, could Obama be on the verge of earning that Nobel Peace Prize he won four years ago? Then, many of his detractors said he had "not earned" it, but had only been awarded the prize out of promise. They may be right.

Once Obama began to flex his presidential muscles, drone strikes, war, and surveillance has been his legacy. That does not mean Obama did not want peace. it may mean that he simply inherited the mantle of leader of a warrior nation, and felt compelled to prove his bonafides.

In America, our position is this: "We do not seek peace with you; you seek peace with us." The terms of peace with America is surrender. Even now, in his overtures, Obama is more warrior than peacemaker. To both Syria's Assad and Iran's Rouhani, the terms are: "Surrender your weapons (WMD)." Americans call that "peace."

As far as Nobel Peace Prizes go, I look to the Pakistani child whom the Taliban shot in the head because sh dared go to school. After surviving the wicked wound, she stood on the floor of the United Nations and declared, "One child, One book…"

That young lady knows more about peace than all of the American presidents. She gets my vote.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Granddaddy, Come Home"

There is a dichotomy in American that pits our much-ballyhooed “love of freedom” against our disdain for it. In the past, it was people of color – African-American slaves, Native Americans forced onto reservations, Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps – who suffered the indignities of this split personality. Today, it is the families of America’s prisoners.

For 250 years, this American nation imprisoned an entire race of people called them “slaves”, and declared that they had no rights. Then, they proceeded to build a southern economy – the plantation system – upon the backs for these hapless men, women, and children. These southerners spoke of God and of “honor” while inflicting endless abuse upon their captives. They fortified this system of slavery with laws and institutions so that it would last.

When President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it had a visceral effect on the South. One southerner called Lincoln’s plan “despicable.” It would take the deaths of 600,000 men in America’s Civil War to convince the South to let its captives go.

Today, Americans talk of being a “forgiving people” – a people who believe in “second chances”. These Americans are no more sincere than the men of the antebellum South who spoke of “honor” even as they castrated black men, raped black women, and sold black children.

Slavery was one big prison cell that stretched from Maryland to Texas. After it was dismantled, America revisited its zeal for the imprisoned people with the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Entire families and communities had their lives ripped away for no other reason than America had the power to do so. There was no guilt in those imprisoned Japanese-Americans. They were loyal, honorable American citizens. The guilt was founded in the DNA of people who feel empowered when they imprison. 

One hundred and fifty years after slavery, America still boasts the most elaborate system of prisons on Earth. And for many Americans – even today – to speak of freeing someone from one of America’s gulags is hateful.

In 2012, Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, came under fire for pardoning prisoners his last days in office. Incredulous Americans asked, “What’s wrong with him?” Real Americans should be incredulous at those Americans’ incredulity, and ask, “What’s wrong with them?” 

Proponents of victims’ rights were the first to speak out against Barbour. (Their thirst for vengeance is becoming legend.) When they want to accent their fear of released prisoners, they speak of a “chilling effect” – a scare tactic, similar to how slaveholders would stoke this nation’s fear of emancipation by offering up images of freed black men “roaming the countryside.” 

These Americans think nothing of a prisoner who is eligible to go home, spending another five years, another ten years in bondage. If you were to ask: “What about the child who longs for her imprisoned granddad to take her fishing?” many of these “prison zealots” are likely to respond, “What about me?” They know nothing of prison, or of what it does to the families of prisoners.

Be assured: Prison is a kicking. Prisoners are kicked, and kicked, and kicked. It is a figurative kicking, unlike slavery which was a literal kicking. But, it is a “kicking” all the same. And, you’re not just kicking prisoners, America. You’re kicking children and elderly parents. You’re kicking the life out of them.

The parallels between prison and slavery are just. Slavery was about denying a people their rights to a pursuit of happiness. Prison in America has become a matter of denying the families of prisoners those same rights.

Of course, punishment is necessary when people commit crimes. But when that punishment becomes gratuitous; when it drags on and on – when a nation wreaks endless suffering upon one segment of its own people, the soul of that nation despairs. 

The institution of slavery was a sick enterprise. There, the slave master despised his slave so that he heaped endless indignities upon him. Yet, he seemed to love his slave so that he was willing to see the entire house burn down rather than let his slave go. 

Prison is not slavery. But as long as indignities are heaped upon prisoners as though they are hated, yet they are kept endlessly as though they are loved, we must begin to wonder if the State knows the difference.

Five months ago, I stopped wondering. On the 18th of May, I embarked on a hunger strike to protest the treatment of prisoners and their families in America. In the ensuing 88 days, I refused all of the 264 meals offered to me. I suffered plenty. Such was my resolve to challenge a system that holds me and my family, and thousands of others, far beyond our release dates. 

During my hunger strike – what I call “My days in the wilderness” – I received letters from people around the country, many imploring me to eat, lest I die. Many more assured me, saying “You will be going home one day.” They assume I, and many other prisoners, will be going home without understanding the nature of America’s prison system. Maybe I will be going home one day, but “one day” is not good enough.

America’s slaves would talk about “One day.” They would say to one another, “One day we will be free.” They kept saying that for 250 years. “One day” is not justice. “One day” is what you say when there is no justice.

I ended my hunger strike on the 15th of August, but my fight goes on. There is justice to be had in America. There are babies out there who want to go fishing. I have great limitations. But if it is the last thing I ever do, I will be trying to help those babies get their granddaddies home.   

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Living Means "Moving On"

At the heart of Michigan’s prolonged incarceration of it prisoners population it this fallacy:  Prisoners are not quite American – (not quite human) – and so can be denied rights which, according to the Bill of Rights, are unalienable, among which is the hope of happiness. 

A recent national survey shows that the State of Michigan keeps prisoners confined longer than nay other state in the Union. So it is no wonder that Michigan Parole Board interviewer, Jayne Price, told me at my April 22nd parole hearing:  “You have not served enough time to be granted a parole,” (when, according to the law, I had).
Later, in July, I received a letter from the parole board telling me my parole had been denied because I still pose a danger to society, despite my having no incidence of criminal behavior before or after my only offense.
Now, in a case summary, that same parole board writes that I “…lack understanding of the serious nature of my offense.” Who are these people, and why?

Any mature person who is honest with himself has looked into the mirror and hoped one day to be a better human being. I have looked into that mirror these past years in prison, and I have hoped (and I have prayed) that I would become better, especially in my treatment of, and my sensitivity toward, all other human beings.
Today, I am that better person – I feel it. And I get anxious wondering if I’ll ever get the opportunity to be that “better person” – to model that positive behavior toward the people who matter most to me – my family, my friends, and my community. 

The Michigan Parole Board appears to be unconscious of this type of real growth – it would take too much effort for them to contemplate it. So, they replay the same tired phrases echoed over hundreds of years by previous parole boards: “You are not rehabilitated”; “You remain a danger to society”; “You have shown no remorse.” Those lines save them from further work, from thought, even from listening to a prisoner. All they need to do is repeat any one of those lines at the end of the day, and then join their peers for “Happy Hour.” Job done. 

I do not wish to sound cynical. But how can any have faith in a system that withholds freedom based upon insupportable allegations? It is easy to tell someone they are “remorseless,” or that they are “a danger to society” when you don’t have to sustain such vacuous statements with proof. 

The parole board makes these statements against me to support their own false narrative: that I am not fit to be released. They make up reasons to keep me imprisoned because they have no real reasons to keep me here. I have everything asked of me these past 17 years, and more. I have given the State no reason to hold me, and every reason to let me go.

Now, they tell me that I “appear to lack understanding of the serious nature of my offense.” That flies in the face of years of me agonizing over what I had done, while implying that I have not agonized enough.
For the State to demand that a prisoner maintain a constant state of contrition is an impossible standard for the penitent. It must lead him inevitably to depression, and self-defeat. 

All human beings (except prisoners) are encouraged to “move on” – to acknowledge their transgressions, but not to be made to wallow in them. “I’m moving on” has become a catch-phrase for people determined to overcome their mistakes. Why can’t a prisoner, after a considerable period of contrition, “move on” as well? It is the only healthy alternative. 

Besides, to speak of my “lack of understanding,” shows a lack of appreciation on the parole board’s part for the frailties of the human condition. I understand that Lillie is dead – a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend…gone forever. Do they think I do not understand death, or my hand in it? Do they think I do not understand my shame, my regret, and my fear of what I have done? Then, tell me: Does any prisoner understand the serious nature of his crime? According to this parole board, the answer must be “no.”

Still, that is no reason to keep that man imprisoned. In fact, it is an impossible threshold that theoretically could keep freedom out of the true nature of his guilt, or his innocence.

Perhaps I do not fully understand what I have done. That does not mean that “I don’t care.” I do care. I care about Lillie and her family – I pray for them every night. But living means moving on.

I have a family to protect, a life to live. I am an American, too. And to all of you other Americans who fear that I, a State prisoner, would dare hope for happiness – it is my right. And yes, I will.

But do not be disheartened. I will never be the same – never will I be free of my guilt and shame. But I am still a human – 100% - instinctively driven to survive my sin; to rid myself and my family of these prison walls. I want to succeed; even to be happy one day. That desire is unalienable; it is not a sin – it is a requirement of all life on this Earth.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Obama Staggers Amid His Own "Fog of War"

This is a curious debate we’re having here in America – whether, or not, to bomb Syria. Anti-war liberals are saying “Bomb”, while bomb-happy conservatives are saying “No.”  Many of the Republicans say “No” only because “Yes” is what they think Obama wants (and needs) to hear. Democrats say “Fight” for the same reason – to back their president. Both sides appear to be under the impression that Obama wants to bomb Syria. He does not.

Obama is a leaf caught in the currents of American history. He is bullied – not only by a conservative agenda that seeks to project military might at the drop of a hat, but by a nation whose very nature it is to bully (and bomb) lesser nations.

Obama did not help his cause when he spoke of a “red line” and said, “Assad has to go.” (Sounded very American.) But he said it at a time when the Assad regime was teetering – mass defections of top officials and military personnel, and amid rapid gains by rebel factions. Most pundits were predicting that Assad would fall within that year. Obama simply went with the flow; it seemed like the fashionable thing to do… that is, until Assad came storming back.

It reminds me of when I went to Vegas to witness the Holmes-Cooney heavyweight championship fight in 1982. Midway through the 2nd round, Holmes dropped Cooney with a big right hand. I leaped from my seat and yelled, “Kill the m-f!” Cooney got up off the canvas and, for the next ten rounds, waged a valiant battle, during which time I remained uncomfortably silent, wondering what would happen next. 

Obama should have stayed in his seat and kept his mouth shut. At least, that is what he is thinking now. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It Begins with a "Buzzing" Sound

If a terrorist is someone who terrorizes defenseless civilians, then President Obama is a terrorist operating in multiple arenas around the world. His drones must be one of the most frightening prospects Third World families can imagine.

Please, you mothers and fathers of America: Imagine sending your children out to play. Then, imagine hearing a "buzzing" sound, and shortly, an explosion. Now, imagine your children blown to bits. This happened to a group of nine young boys gathering wood in a village in Afghanistan. They were killed by a single drone strike. U.S. officials said, "We thought they were insurgents."

This is happening in villages in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia (and Lord know where else.) In Yemen, the locals say "It begins with a buzzing sound." That means a drone is overhead. Over the span of three days (August 6-8), there were five strikes in Yemen, alone. Obama officials justify these strikes by saying, "We are forcing the terrorists to keep their eyes on the skies." (You are also forcing hapless mothers and fathers to fear constantly for the lives of their families. That's terrorism.)

The Obama administration always tells how many "militants" they have killed with each strike - 34 in the past two weeks. They rarely admit to the innocents killed.

This how a father in Yemen, a survivor of a recent drone strike, described what Obama will not talk about: He was walking with his six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter when he heard a "buzzing" sound, and then the building he had just passed, exploded. He ran into the basement of the adjacent building, and it, too, was hit with a missile. As the dust cleared, he saw that his son's leg was bleeding badly, and his daughter had suffered a wound to the back of her head. He took his daughter in his arms and described how her "face turned yellow, her body began to shrink, and then she died."

I have an eight-year-old grandson and six-year-old granddaughter. Listening to the distraught Yemeni father, I could not help but wish that Obama might be hit with one of his own drones.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"Ma Parole" (upon) my word)

Back in the old country, the prisoner would go before the magistrate and give his "parole" - his word of honor - that he would not commit another crime. The magistrate would release the prisoner early, or continue to detain him, based upon his assessment of that prisoner's parole.

On April 22, 2013, Michigan Parole Board member, Jayne Price, said to me - before I had a chance to speak - "I can tell you right now there is little chance of you getting a parole because you have not served enough time." In fact, according to the circuit court judge (Schma), and according to the law, I had served enough time to be released from prison. Later on in my interview, Ms. Price conceded, "It's true, you are eligible to go home, but we like to see you do more time."

"Ma Parole" is French for "(upon) my word." When Ms. Price aborted my hearing at the start by saying, "...you're not getting a parole," she had literally said to me, "You're not getting a chance to speak." (Please pull the transcripts and see for yourself.) That is not how the citizens of Michigan imagine that their parole proceedings are being conducted. In a free society, they deserve to know when the institutions entrusted with the lives of fellow Americans lose their way.

During my 88-day hunger strike protesting the deterioration of prisoners' rights in the State of Michigan (May 18 to August 15, 2013), I wrote to understand what "parole" means, add this: The prisoner's life is not the only life at stake at a parole hearing. There are children - babies - wanting their dads and granddads home. These children have a stake. They must be considered in the parole discourse.

Add: The parole board should be held accountable. When the judge sentences a man, he gives a reason. When the parole board re-sentences that man, (which is what a 5 year continuance is), they are not compelled to give a reason. They can simply say, "We feel like it..."  That must change. If you are going to make a man do another five years in prison, you owe him a reason why.

Add: The parole board needs an attitude adjustment. When a prisoner has served his sentence well, and he goes before the parole board, that parole board member should be eagerly rubbing her hands together as she looks over that prisoner's record, saying, "Yes, we can get you out of here." Instead, they sharpen their knives, looking to further dismember prisoners from their families.

When the U.S. Supreme Court told California's Governor Brown that he must release 10,000 prisoners by year's end (due to over-crowding), Brown protested, declaring that would create a national crisis.

This country already has a national crisis: Too many Americans being satisfied with too many Americans being locked away for too long. It is a dark stain on the national conscience.

All human beings have a liberty interest - a God-given instinct to be free. Prison is not a viable life option - no more for the prisoner than for any other human being on Earth. Liberty is the only viable life option. It is the option this nation was founded upon. This nation's prisoner are Americans, too.

Today, this nation, too quickly, errs on the side of incarceration. More people languish in America's prisons than any other prison system on Earth. In the "Land of the Free," that arc must bend toward liberty. Once punishment has been meted out, Liberty must become the guiding light in this nation's pursuit of justice for all.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Victims Behaving Badly

Victim’s Rights is “popularity politics.” Designed to make our society appear more cultured and caring, it has achieved the opposite effect. We come across as coddled – and utterly cruel and vindictive:
“I want you to rot in hell!” is common invective thrown by victims at convicted men on their way to the gallows. “I hope they rape you in prison, and beat you…and that you die a miserable death.” I’ve heard those cries, as well.

The courtroom is as hallowed a place as there is in a democratic society. It is reserved for laws, reason, and facts.  Victims bring pure emotionalism, which clouds everything else. Yet, the politicians have erected a stage for “victims only”, where they parade their emotions. (That is what memorials are for, not courtrooms.) The only place victims deserve in the judicial process is on the witness stand, just like everyone else. And there, it must be “just the facts.”

We are all victims of life. How many times have you had someone tell you, “Life owes you nothing”? Yet, we have erected this victim’s stage at the expense of prisoners as though we owe victims a special place in the adjudicating of punishment – even the power to tip the scales of justice. We do not. The judge owes not the victim; he owes society. His job is not to please the victim. His job is justice. 

Most defendants on trial were driven there by their raging emotions – anger, greed, lust, etc. We must not try him, sentence him, and decide his parole based upon more unbridled passions. The judicial process must be governed, as much as humanly possible, by the purest reason. Emotions are the antithesis of that. Basing any part of the judicial continuum upon a victim’s vengeance is like trying to clean a greasy skillet with greasy rag. 

Besides, putting a state for victim’s right beneath the auspices of the most powerful person in the courtroom is a mandate for mean-spiritedness. It is like the judge, himself, saying: “You want to kick him? Here, I’ll hold him for you.” Stop it.

We are a Christian society. Should we, as a nation, empower people to lash out against shackled men and women? If God were listening as one more victim stepped forward and said, “Let me kick him!”, I imagine God would say, “Cool your heels. Your courts have punished him. I, too, will hold him to account. That is enough.”

What message do we send when we allow people to stand up in our most honorable setting – the courtroom – and hurl invectives at defenseless men? It sends this message: Under certain circumstances, it is okay to say mean things.

No. It is not okay to say “mean things” under any circumstances, especially when it is State-sponsored. It is bad for the soul of the victim; bad for the soul of the nation. It will always be undignified, and wrong.
The platform that has been erected by Victim’s Rights must be dismantled and stricken from the courtroom and subsequent parole proceedings. It may have been well-intentioned at the start. But, as we have all heard, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

We can do better. We can pave a more just and dignified road for prisoners, and for the victims of their crimes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

If I Don't Make it Out of this Hunger Strike (They'll just have to bury me skinny)

It’s 17 days and counting
Days left, there many not be many
If I don’t make it out of this hunger strike
They’ll just have to bury me skinny
They’ll just have to bury me skinny

It’s been 20 days since the pleasure
Of smoking my last honey bun
My pancreas is eyeing my liver
My kidneys are after my lungs
Soon, it’ll be all-out warfare
They’re looking for food to survive
Since I put the kibosh on all eating
They’d just as soon eat me alive
They’d just as soon eat me alive

It’s 25 days and counting
Days left, there may not be many
If I don’t make out of this hunger strike
They’ll just have to bury me skinny
They’ll just have to bury me skinny

It’s like a countdown to doomsday
With very little left on my bones
I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m finished
Before I’ve written all the words to this song

It’s 30 days and counting
Days left, there may not be many
If I don’t make it out of this hunger strike
They’ll just have to bury me skinny
They’ll just have to bury me skinny

My boys, I hear them, they’re at it again
“We want fat! We want fat!
If I lay down and sleep, they might end me for keeps
But then, what would they do after that?
Tell me, what would they do after that?

It’s 35 days and counting
Days left, there may not be many
If I don’t make it out of this hunger strike
They’ll just have to bury me skinny
They’ll just have to bury me skinny

You poor, brave souls at the end of your rope
Thinking bread will save you from dying
If only you knew, It’s not lack of food
We die with people stop trying

And it’s 40 days and counting
Days left, there many not be many
If I don’t make it out of this hunger strike
They’ll just have to bury me skinny
They’ll just have to bury me skinny...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Open Letter: To Those Precious Few Who Follow My Website, "Bangin' it Out"

On May 18th, I began a hunger strike to protest the treatment of prisoners in the State of Michigan. Today, August 5, is the 80th day of my hunger strike. During this span of time, I have been offered 240 meals (three meals a day).  I have refused every one of them. I have lost a lot of weight; I am physically weakened. Spiritually, I feel stronger than ever.

Hunger strikes have been recognized as a legitimate form of peaceful protest throughout history, and worldwide. My hunger strike is as legitimate as Gandhi’s. He, too, put his life on the line in hopes of effecting positive change for a disenfranchised people. He, too, was warned of the destructive effect his hunger strike could have on his body. He stuck to it anyway. 

PRISONERS ARE AMERICANS, TOO. We have rights. Americans respect, and fight for, African-American rights, women’s rights, gay rights. They even fight for animal rights. All the while – for the past 25 years – prisoners’ rights have been sliding down the toilet. My aim is not only to improve the lost of prisoners in Michigan, I want to improve the lot of prisoners’ families – to give their babies hope – and by that, improve the lot of all Americans. 

Some people think I launched my hunger strike because my parole was denied. That denial (on April 24, 2013), was only the tip of the iceberg – the catalyst – a perfect example of how arrogant and unresponsive the Michigan Department of Corrections has become. This hunger strike is about thousands of men and women in Michigan who have served their time and are now being kept behind bars simply because the MDOC “feels like” keeping them there. 

There is a man who was recently released from prison here in Jackson. His sentence was the same as mine – second degree life.  After serving his court-ordered 17 years, (as I have done), the MDOC made him serve another 15 years – that’s three more 5-year flops! – before letting him go home. That is the measure of their callous indifference to the concept of mercy. 

People say to me: “You will be going home one day.” They assume that without understanding the nature of this prison system. Maybe I will be going home one day. But “one day” is not good enough. (America’s slaves used to talk about “One day…” They would say, “One day we will be free.” They kept saying that for 250 years.)  “One day” is not justice. “One day” is what you say when there is no justice.

Men and women in prison want justice now, not “one day.” I’m trying to help prisoners get that justice. I’m trying to help babies get their granddaddies home.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Prisoners Are Americans Too!

I, Larry R. Carter, began my hunger strike on May 18, 2013. My cause is prisoners rights. The slogan is "Prisoners Are Americans Too". Prisoners rights have eroded severely over the past 25 years. With this hunger strike I seek to help end that slide.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I Lost My Appetite

            I once said that if I had been a slave back in the days of the antebellum South, I would have ended my bondage the moment I realized what it was. Now, held in prison beyond my out-date, I am faced with servitude that borders on slavery. (It is a fair analogy, if for no other reason than each institution practices a systemic degrading and dehumanizing of its captives, and does it with such disdain for them as to treat them thus for as long as they wish.)
            This effect is achieved by the State of Michigan under Governor Snyder, with the support of this United States government under President Obama. Here, in their state prisons, they hold people—and by extension, their immediate families—in continuous servitude, often for no other reason than they have the power to do so. Such arrogance amounts to an abuse of power, which is always a poor excuse. Once a man has done all that is asked of him, and he continues to be held in bondage, then that man becomes the victim, and the State becomes the perpetrator.
            In August, 1996, I was charged with open murder. Subsequently convicted of second-degree murder, I was sentenced to (paroleable) life in prison. At the time of my offense, I was 44 years of age, had no criminal record as a juvenile or an adult, and was working three jobs—as a laborer in a Kalamazoo plastics factory, a substitute teacher in the Kalamazoo Public Schools, and a graduate assistant at Western Michigan University where I was pursuing a Master’s degree in Fine Arts.
            Let’s take a step back: On February 2, 1996, I was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society. Later that spring, I purchased a home on a land contract in Woodland Park, a resort community in Newaygo County. There, and in Kalamazoo, I was active working with children and the elderly in my communities. I was also busy raising my own children and grandchildren.
            Upon my conviction, I was refused re-enrollment into WMU’s graduate program. After much persistence, and with the help of Arnie Johnston, then chairman of WMU’s English Department, I was accepted back into the graduate program in 1999. A year later, I achieved a master’s degree from Western Michigan University.
            In 2001, I wrote a book of poetry, “Episodes.” I followed up with three full-length plays and four one-acts. In 2003, I was accepted as a certified braillist by the Library of Congress. In 2005, I published my first novel, “The Pooka and the Paranormal.” Three years later, I published a second novel, “The King of Pearl.” In 2010, I wrote a song for my home town, “Marching As One,” which participants sang at the dedication ceremony honoring Woodland Park as a Michigan historical site.
            In 2013, I wrote my first screenplay, “The King of Pearl,” adapted from my novel of the same name. Add to that: I still own my home in Newaygo County and have kept the taxes paid on that property (house and five lots) these past 17 years. Every spring, since my incarceration, my mother, who lives two blocks from my home, has planted petunia in the flowerbed beneath my front window.
            (We are born innocent. From birth, we chip away at that innocence—with our lies and profanities, drinking, sex, etc. In our assaults upon it, innocence will hide from us, but it will never abandon us. It is in the last breath we breathe.
            We are all at the centers of our own worlds, and each of us is spinning. On August 6, 1996, I spun out of control. When I committed my crime—I killed Lillie Blue—I descended to the lowest place a man can go. There was no innocence in sight, only shame. And lo these past 17 years, I have slowly walked back my days. I searched for my innocence, found it, uncovered it, and nurtured it with prayers and good deeds. I reached out to people in my family, my community, and around the world. I wrote songs to uplift them, articles to enlighten them, and novels to entertain and inspire them. In my prison community, where there are many hungry men, I tutored, and listened, and encouraged.  And with money I earned, I cooked meals and fed over a thousand prisoners. In my prayers, I have vowed that I would rather die than ever harm another human being.)
            The sentencing judge advised me that I would be eligible for parole in 2013. Mine is a sentence that is supposed to end. Yet, It goes on and on, sustained by custodial parties who are uncompelled to act out of reason, preferring rather to submit themselves to a punishment regime that is out of touch with modern societies—even out of touch with more progressive American states.
            I have served my minimum sentence as prescribed by the courts; I have paid my debt to society. I am 61 years of age. I completed all R&GC recommendations. I followed all of the rules.
            I am not a danger to society. I am a father, a brother, a son. I have the skills set necessary to be a successful parolee—family, home, job prospects, good health, and a strong community spirit. Yet, parole board representative, Jayne Price, opened my April 22, 2013 hearing—before I had uttered a word—by flatly stating, “There is not much chance of you getting a parole because you have not served enough time.” It was the equivalent of a judge telling a defendant before his trial begins, “You’re guilty, and headed for the gallows.” This is what the Michigan Parole Board offered up as a “fair hearing.” It was something out of the Dark Ages.
            (Even if Ms. Price had no intention of being fair, in a “democratic society,” where a man’s life and the life of his family is at stake, she might have offered up the pretense of fairness.)
            The State of Michigan invests the power of life and death in people who fail to understand a simple concept about second-degree life: It is not meant to be a life sentence unless the defendant/prisoner makes it so. A first-degree life means mandatory life. A second-degree life does not. The tail of a second-degree lifer’s sentence is life—similar to how 30 is the far end of a 15-30. On a 15-30, if a prisoner acts a fool, he might have to do 20. If he acts a complete fool, he might have to do 30. I did not act a fool at all. Unless they have something else against me, the law clearly states—despite Ms. Price’s pronouncement –that 17 years is enough to grant me a parole.
            Judge Schma, who sentenced me to life, said I have a chance to serve 15 years, plus two for the gun. It is implied in his sentence that if the State wants to keep me longer, it can, but it does not have to. What is not implied is whether the State has to have a good reason to keep me longer. “More time” is not a reason. “More time” should be the consequences once you’ve found a good reason. Jayne Price and her cohorts could not find a good reason to keep me imprisoned, so they simply hit me with the consequence.
            Throughout my hearing, Ms. Price continued to tell me how well I was doing—with my programs, my block reports, my work, my behavior, etc. She even acknowledged that the law  provides for my release after 15 years. “But,” she adds in so many words, “you have not served enough time for me.” That sounds like a personal matter. It has nothing to do with justice, or the law. It is apparent that the Michigan Parole Board has embraced this fallacy: They can turn paroleable life into mandatory life simply by ignoring the difference.
            On April 24, 2013, two days after that strange interview with Ms. Price, the Michigan Parole Board denied my parole. They informed me that my next interview is scheduled for August 18, 2018. Nothing more can be expected by 2018, except that I will be five years older and five years less able to support myself and my family.
            (I had hoped that Ms. Price and the Michigan Parole Board would free my children. But they appear as unconscious of my babies and their needs as they are or the notion that “mercy seasons justice.”)
            Perhaps the parole board—the prison system, itself—looks at me, a convicted felon, and only sees someone with ready-made grips. No matter what I accomplish—no matter if I win a Pulitzer Prize—they will point to my grips and smile at how easily they can continue to hold onto me, though I have given them no reason to hold me, and every reason to let me go.
            Those grips be damned. They are not meant to be there, anyway. They are plastered on by a system that has become accustomed to taking harsh liberties with its prisoner population—liberties against its own citizens that, if committed in other countries, would be called “human rights abuses.”
            America, you call yourself “The Land of the Free,” yet you imprison more people—and for longer periods of time—than any other nation on Earth. You big phony. You should be ashamed. It is time you opened your gulags and let deserving man and women go home to their families. Your prison system has become an embarrassment to democracies worldwide, and a source of comfort to despots.
            Today, I cease my participation in this State’s praetorian incarceration of me. I end my bondage to the State of Michigan on behalf of myself, my family, and all of the other state prisoners and their families—men and women who have dutifully served their time as prescribed by the courts, and are now being held beyond their out-dates by what has become a bloated enterprise, operated out of cruelty and greed, dismissive of Americans’ much-touted belief in second chances. I would rather die and feed this Earth than willingly give another drop of blood to such a despotic regime.
            (The slave of the antebellum South was not just a slave to this master’s voice, he was a slave to life no matter how depraved that life had become. That is why slavery lasted in this country for over 250 years.
            I am not a slave. Life means nothing without freedom. I had a debt to pay. I paid it. Now, do the right thing and free me, or you can let me die.)
            I want to live as much as the next man. But I cannot, with a clear conscience, continue to live in bondage once I have dutifully earned my freedom. I have earned my freedom. I will not let the remainder of me become fodder to sustain this corrupt prison industry. Today, death does not scare me nearly so much as does the prospect of being complicity in a State’s terror against its own poor, and its poorly-represented.
            From this day forward, I shall not eat another morsel of food lest that food, itself, exist in a state of liberation. Patrick Henry said to this nation during its bondage to the British Empire, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” I concur.

- Larry Carter (May 18, 2013) 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Do the Babies Want?

Justice Kennedy, while speaking on the "same-sex marriage" case before the Supreme Court (see Is Gay Sex Simply True Love Gone Awry?), asserted an "immediate legal injury" to 40,000 children in California by not permitting their parents to be married. He went on to say that these children "want their parents to have full recognition and full status."  How does he know that?

And since when did we care about what children want? No one asks a child if he want his baby brother or baby sister aborted. The Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, left that decision to the mother. Besides, how do we know whether those 40,000 children are not saying, "I want a real dad; I want a real mom."? I doubt that Justice Kennedy has asked any of them what they want?

When Supreme Court justices fecklessly speak of the people who will be most impacted by same-sex marriage - children, (and children who will never exist) - we wonder about those in whose hands we have left the interpretation of the pivotal questions of our lives.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

The "Worm" Does Some World-Shaking

Dennis Rodman, a basketball Hall-of-Famer, paid a visit to Kim Jong Un, leader of the North Korean people, and became the first American to meet and talk with this fledgling leader of a nuclear-armed nation. And while our leaders are busy maligning Un, and thinking of ways to punish his regime, Dennis was breaking bread with the man, and attending a basketball game. He and the 28 year-old Un seemed to genuinely get along.

This has shaken the sensibilities of many Americans, and they have responded with ridicule - calling Dennis "naive"; remarking that the picture of the two men sitting side-by-side is "bizarre." Fared Zakaria, host of CNN's GPS - Global Public Square, however, calls Rodman's meeting with Un "important."

Dennis Rodman has looked into the eyes of one of the most isolated (and feared) leaders on Earth, and smiled. He is seen talking with Un, laughing with Un, and hugging him. If Dennis, by that gesture, opened the smallest window into which we can see Un, then perhaps Un, at that same time, was using that opening to see out.

America derides Un's nuclear ambitions, as though those ambitions make him a bad person. If nukes make Un bad, then a thousand time more nukes must make us awful. Then, they point to Un's prison camps, where 200,000 Koreans languish, and mockingly add:  "I wonder how the families of those prisoners feel about Dennis calling Un 'a good man?'"

Isn't it amazing how we can commiserate with families of Korean prisoners, while ignoring the suffering of the families of our own? Americans languish in prison camps at a rate ten times that of the Koreans. We are the most imprisoned people on Earth. Many American families despair at the ravages brought on by the State's prison industry - with its interminable sentences that wreak havoc on children, grandchildren, and aging parents, alike. Instead of ridiculing Dennis for trying to foster a peace between distant peoples, we should be trying to reconcile our haste to imprison with our zeal for calling ourselves "The Land of the Free."

Last week, Dave Zivin, Sports Editor of The Nation magazine, appeared on ESPN's Outside the Lines. He spoke about Rodman's appearance on the Sunday talk show, This Week with George Stepanopoulos, stating: "I'm glad George asked Dennis about the Korean prison camps. He has set a standard for himself. Now, whenever a member of the president's administration comes on his show, he can ask them about the two million Americans held in America's prisons."

Dennis did not only open a window on Kim Jong Un, he lifted the shades on our "Christian" nation, and revealed a rampant hypocrisy. Perhaps Dennis was childlike in his naivete. But does not the Bible say, "And a child shall lead them."? Or don't we read the Bible anymore.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Civil War II

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." - Lincoln

During the Civil War, a mother watched all four of her sons march off to battle to defend the Union. None them returned home alive. When President Lincoln learned of that mother, he sat and wrote a personal letter to her - about her loss, and about her sacrifice to her country. There was nothing particularly fascinating about the letter, except that the president of a nation - during the gravest time in that nation's history - took the time to write it. Years later, that letter has surfaced as an icon of presidential leadership, and presidential compassion.

Today, Ms. Chapman of Chicago's southside, buried the last of her four children, all of whom were gunned down before their thirtieth birthdays. President Obama, who may feign to be a modern-day Lincoln, could not see into a window that had opened upon a parallel moment at a tryst in time. He wrote not a note extolling the full measure this woman's family has paid to America's modern-day civil war.

This is not a shot at Obama - he is as distraught as any of us. No, it is a cry at a moment missed - unlike the unmisseded moment that defined Lincoln; more like the missed ones that have left most American presidencies "bound in shallows."

And we worry anew that President Obama, too, is bound for those same "shallows." We worry that he is not the man to satisfy our congenital need to be saved - that there are no more Lincolns to be had; Lincoln died forever. We only get one whose intellect and wit, who courage and resolve steered this nation from self-degradation to a "rebirth of freedom." He showed us; we did not learn.

Today, the self-degradation has returned. A great nation is in the throes of arming itself against itself. And our president is unable to reconcile his humanity with the power vested in his office long to do anything about it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Diva Takes a Dive

Beyonce, say it ain't so - say you did not lip-sync our national anthem at President Obama's 2nd inauguration. Then again, don't bother. We wouldn't believe you anyway.

While watching Beyonce sing at the inauguration, I imagined someone taking her picture and sending it in a time capsule beyond the moon. That way, any aliens passing by could look in and know what a woman looks like.

That is the beauty of Beyonce. No wonder people in entertainment are coming to her defense. Why wouldn't they? Besides being the face of their industry, she mirrored moments when they, too, have lip-synced; or will do so in the future. But not one of them has ever done it at a presidential inauguration - wouldn't dare! Isn't it interesting that it took a black woman - at the only black president's inauguration - to do such a thing. Had it been a white person faking it thus, imagine the outcry at such lack of respect.

One insider said Beyonce "did not have time to rehearse with the Marine Corps band, so she decided to use a recording." Didn't have time? Whose fault is that? I tell my children, when someone tells you they don't have time, what they are saying is, "that is not important enough to me." When something matters, we make time.

Then, it could be a matter of courage. It takes courage to sing a song, especially when that song will mark a preeminent moment in a nation's history. Singing a song is not like reciting a poem, or delivering a speech. Songs have a breadth and depth to them that commands time and space. A song can get away from a singer, or refuse to come at all. Beyonce was anxious. I imagine Kelly Clarkson, who also performed at the inauguration, was anxious, too. But courage is not the absence of fear; courage is acting despite that fear. It is as though Beyonce decided, "Since I cannot be sure of a flawless performance, I will fake a flawless performance." That's not courage, Beyonce; that is vanity.

Beyonce did not just cheat the president at his inaugural, and all of the people in attendance, besides; she cheated herself. It is the difficult moments in our lives - and how we face them - that define who we are. When people rise to the occasion, special things happen. Beyonce may have flubbed the anthem had she tried to sing it - many have in the past. Or, she may have belted out the greatest performance of her life - it could have been one for the ages. Instead, her moment on stage has become a vacuum wherein historic disappointments shall be stored.

This is not simply a matter of lip-syncing; it is a matter of trust. Baseball is riddled with distrust - who used steroids, who did not; cycling is prostrate. Now, Beyonce has wakened the ghost of Milli Vinilli. We question anew Whitney Houston's performance of the national anthem at the '91 Super Bowl. We wonder about Marvin Gaye at that NBA All-star game. And that angelic-voiced child at the college basketball game - did she, or didn't she? Next, we will even question Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful." Then we will have hit a new low. We are becoming afraid to trust.

People do not go to the ballpark to see film of their favorite player hitting home runs. They go so see if he can do it in real time. Beyonce was presented with one of the history's great moments, and she responded with a recording of herself. Some are beginning to wonder if her performance of "At Last" at Obama's 1st inaugural (ball) was not lip-synced. She shall forever be suspect now - for past, and for future performances; so, too, will here fellow entertainers.

Beyonce has no excuse _ Kelly Clarkson removed all excuses when she stood in the breach and belted out "My Country Tis of Thee." I may not put Kelly's picture in that time capsule alongside Beyonce's. But, when the heat is on, I want Kelly beside me in the trenches; she has more heart.

Monday, January 28, 2013

We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran (whether we want to or not)

America seems determined to make Iran its enemy. We present Iran as the enemy based largely upon their refusal to disavow their nascent nuclear ambitions. Our own nuclear ambitions, by contrast, are as lofty as they come. One facet of those ambitions is our desire to pose as the adult in the room and oversee which nations can, and which nations cannot, entertain those same ambitions.  
For Iran to want the same weapons America has is not grounds for enemy-hood. Pursuing those weapons despite our protests does not make Iran the enemy. It simply means they are not our child.  
With new Secretaries of State and Defense soon to be in place, brace for this familiar refrain: "We cannot live with a nuclear Iran." America's politicians are fond of that lie. They imagine it makes them sound resolute. Mostly, they come off sounding rigid, and unfit for the realities of a rapidly-changing world. 
Once we thought we could not live with a nuclear Russia. Then, the Russians got "the bomb" in 1949, and we have lived with a nuclear Russia ever since. We thought we could not live with a nuclear Red China. We have lived with the nuclear-armed Chinese since 1964 - a move that the Mao-led Chinese made to deprive superpowers (Russia and the U.S.) of their "blackmail potential." We have even learned to live with a nuclear-armed Hindu nation (India) and a nuclear-armed Muslin nation (Pakistan) since 1998. Rhetoric aside, the proof of what we can live with is found "in the eating of the pudding." We can live with a nuclear Iran just as surely as we have lived with those insufferable others. 
When we say "We cannot live with…", what we are saying is "We can't bear the thought of…" It is like when you a buy a new car, and a week later, your neighbor buys one, too. As long as you had the only new car in sight, that neighbor was fine. Now, with a new buggy of his own, he has become a bore. 
Whether we can or cannot live with something is an existential matter; what we can bear is not. Iran exists in Central Asia, the toughest neighborhood on Earth. They are surrounded by nuclear powers, and by nations occupied by nuclear powers. They have immense national treasures, and a responsibility to protect those treasures. Having your own nuclear weapon in Central Asia is like having a sign in your window that says, "BEWARE OF DOG." 
Iran talk of a "nuclear-armed Iran" is an existential matter. When America talks of a "nuclear-armed Iran", we are accessing a room wherein is kept - not our existential fears, but our pride and our vanity. Open that door, and the question becomes, "Can we bear the prospect of a nuclear Iran?" The answer, of course, is: "Yes, we can."

Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Cliff, The Cliff…"

"…the bounded waters shall lift up its bosom higher than the shores and make a sop of all this solid earth…" (from Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, "Ulysses Speech on Degree"

The "cliff" is a metaphor for when we have gone too far. There is much talk of "cliffs" these days, and whether we can be saved from imminent disaster. What we are not hearing is that we have already gone over the cliff - the fiscal cliff, the climate cliff, the sex cliff ' and there is no saving us from that. Our girth and momentum is such that we are like a heavenly body that appears to move in slow motion. We entertain the illusion of being able to stop when we have no chance.

When I hear President Obama and Speaker Boehner talk of the "fiscal cliff," my eyes glaze over. We have cleared that cliff, fellas. What do you think a 14 trillion dollar debt is but a boulder in free fall? We began over that cliff with the first debt ceiling raising. Countless "raisings" later, we do it with the ease with which we raise our morning shades. Importantly, there will be no sincere effort to cut spending; spending less is hard work. Our "leaders" gave that up long ago, (if they ever began at all).

And then, there is global warming, or the "climate cliff." The liberal left talk of "greenhouse emissions," while the far right blindly talk of no "warming" at all. Of course, there is warming. And talk of "emissions" as though we could stop is ludicrous. If we stopped driving completely, and shut down all of our smoke-belching factories, the CO2 that has precipitated this discussion would remain.

CO2 goes up and stays in the atmosphere. The CO2 the earth struggles with today went up generations ago. What we are emitting today will effect Earth for the next 100 years. That is how far we have gone over that cliff. (Seven billion hot humans living on this planet does not help.) Add to that:  We assault Earth's delicate balance by cutting its rain forests, strip-mining, and draining its vital wetlands. We must know our dilemma is well-earned.

Global warming, no matter how it came about, is a runaway train. It will not stop until such time as a natural cooling ensues, perhaps brought about by an asteroid hit, or by a volcanic eruption of epic proportion - something that throws such debris into the air that it blocks out the sun for years, allowing the ice caps to return with a vengeance. Only then will the sun's rays be continually reflected back into space long for the Earth to cool by degrees.

Finally, sex cliff: Viagra! Viagra! Everything is penis extensions, and breast and butt enlargements - anything to increase the sexuality and sexual pleasures of adults. You cannot watch a program in prime time these days without being subjected to a Cialis commercial, or to the inanities of Ted and Sue who are having the best sex of their lives now that they both have joined the Hair Club.

We have become obsessed with sex - not just with satisfaction, but with satiation. We want it coming out of our pores. we seem bent on a trajectory where sex shall utterly define us, similar to how it defines prostitutes, pimps, and gigolos.

Now comes Tefina, a nasal spray for the 11 to 41% of women who have trouble achieving orgasms. A woman need only squirt Tefina up her nose two hours before sex, and it will enhance her sexual enjoyment for the next four hours!

The active ingredient in Tefina is testosterone - up the nose, straight to the brain. Is this how women in today's American want it - over the cliff in not so sweet surrender?

"Oh, when degree is shaked, which is the ladder of all high design, the enterprise is sick." Those are  the words of Shakespeare, famously echoed by Ulysses on the battlefields of Troy. Written over 500 years ago, that speech is a treatise on Greece's inability to function with that model that holds each part in "authentic place." Shakespeare could have been talking about America, whose appetite threatens to devour the very structures that hold our worlds intact, driving us singly, and as a nation, over the cliff.

We follow the antics of "Basketball Wives" and "Jersey Shore" when we should be studying the characters of "Troilus and Cressida." Shakespeare's words are more prophetic than the Mayans, and far more instructive than the cooings of "Honey Boo Boo."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ockham's Razor, and the Search for Answers in the Connecticut Shootings

Isn't it amazing how quickly we call outsiders "terrorists"? Then, when one of our own commits the same unspeakable acts, we look around and ask "Why?" Why? Because "our own" are terrorists, too.

There is a principle called "Ockham's Razor", attributed to the 14th-century philosopher, William of Ockham. It basically states that the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.

As I listened to the coverage of the Connecticut shootings this past weekend, I was puzzled by how delicately this nation danced around so serious a topic as terrorism. President Obama, in his memorial speech to the victims on Sunday, refused to utter the word "terrorism", as though that word would conflate this massacre with something that only ungodly foreigners do, and thereby taint the American nature of the moment.

The first thing Americans must do about these senseless attacks is look them in the face, and call them what they are:  terrorist acts. Until we can call a duck a duck, how can we honestly address this endless catastrophe? When we rush to call the killers of four "innocent" Americans in Benghazi "terrorists," and then go dumb when 20 six-year-olds are slaughtered in Connecticut, we forfeit our claim of seeking real answers. We are just pretending.

After 9-11, America declared a war on terrorism - said it would be a "different kind of war." they did not let on, however, that their declaration was phony - designed as it was to create a super boogey-man at our door. )it is an ages-old tactic used to manipulate nationalistic fervor.) It is time to either apply the "terrorist" label to all senseless acts of random violence, at home and abroad, or stop using it altogether.

America's war on terrorism is here, not in Yemen and Afghanistan; it has been here for years. We experience terrorist acts by home-grown terrorists year after year, from coast to coast. America has thousands of these people; perhaps millions. Not all of them will blossom into their completely hateful selves, but we must be ever conscious of that prospect. We must be prepared to duck, and fight back.

Then, there is the matter of motive. Police have searched high and low this weekend for a motive in the Connecticut shootings. (As of this writing three days later, they claim "a motive still has not emerged.")

I think we know what the motive  was:  It was revenge. You say, "…but the children did nothing to Adam Lanza." Lanza did not kill the children for the children's sake. He did it for the sake of the community that he felt had mistreated him. The 9-11 attackers did not knock down the Twin Towers for the Tower's sake. Those towers did no more to the 9-11 attackers than the children of newtown did to Lanza. They knocked down the Towers because those towers represented the heart of America's pride and vanity. Lanza killed the children because they represented the heart of the Newtown community. The 9-11 attackers sought to cripple a nation. Adam Lanza sought to drive a stake through the heart of a community. Lanza wanted revenge against the community that had hurt his feelings.

This weekend, the psychoanalysts waxed eloquent about what causes young men to do evil things. Nowhere did nay of these "experts" speak of the American psyche that nourishes this pathology of vengeance. We, as a nation, seek revenge regularly, and we will satisfy that thirst with abandon. George Bush admitted he wanted Saddam Hussein because "Saddam tried to kill my daddy."

This country is proud of its revenge motives. "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Pearl Harbor!" are iconic cries of American patriotism. We killed over 100,00 Iraqis and Afghans to avenge the 2,974 Americans killed on 9-11. when our answer to madness is more madness, then madness is what we shall beget.

Here's how we stop the shootings, American:  Stop hurting one another. Start treating one another better. And for those whose pride is hurt, nonetheless: Stop seeking revenge.