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)