Blog Post 017- I Went to Jesus Camp. Part II: The Counselor.

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Welcome back for more Jesus Camp. This blog post is part 2 in an ongoing series. I would suggest you ask yourself two questions before starting the read:

a. Have you been to a Jesus Camp? Start reading the blog post.

b. Have you not been to a Jesus Camp? Do the following:1. Watch the documentary Jesus Camp online for free. 2. Read my previous blog post on Jesus Camp and Brookhill Ranch.

The Counselor. I will pick up where I left off from the previous blog post. After you have been to Brookhill for a few Summers you start to talk to your fellow campers about being a “red t-shirt.” (camp counselors wore red t-shirts, duh) Each cabin of boys or girls were broken up into about 12 kids per bunk. Usually in each bunk there was a Senior Counselor and a Junior Counselor. A Senior Counselor was a fully vetted Jesus Commando. They were of college age and were the head of the cabin. A Junior Counselor was junior or senior in high school. Soldiers in training. Or, as a friend of mine who I recently connected with on this topic remarked:

memories of being creepily manipulated by a bunch of adults and other recently-manipulated teenagers/counselors to prepare me for what might as well have been Islamic jihad.

To get an idea of what Brookhill is looking for in their Junior Counselors you can check out their application here:

So if you have started to smoke, drink, dabble in the drug scene, have immoral sex, have any inappropriate body piercing, or do anything that would be a damaging witness to our campers please do not bother to fill this out.

Let us do the lead up to being a Junior Counselor. While at camp you are  injected with the holy spirit. By holy spirit I mean you would get a cult high. As part of this cult cleansing youwould get RID OF ALL OF YOUR MUSIC. The matriarch, Hettie Lou Brooks, would talk about the devil’s music. Do you know how many times I heard the story about the song where if you played it backwards you could hear a satanic message? The terrible part for me is that I hadn’t even listened to good classic rock and folk music. You know that  kind that talks about real human experiences? Love, hate, sex, loss, running in fields? People did these things without Jesus. The extent of my parent’s music collection was Hall and Oates, Chicago, and Lionel Richie. So, in defiance of Satan, I destroyed my Collective Soul, Smashing Pumpkins, and Live. (Within a month I had purchased all of the music again.  Then finally, before being a counselor, I got rid of it again. Tiring right?)

Ok ok so how do I stack up in other areas? Don’t dabble in drugs? Check. Piercings? Nope. Immoral sex? No sex at all. Smoking? Nope. On paper I was a helluva candidate for a Junior Counselor. When you leave Jesus Camp as a camper and “graduate” they tell you that only the very lucky few that get to be a Red T-Shirt. Dammit I wanted to be a Red T-Shirt. Camp couldn’t end for me! I was in the group man. I was getting attention. More more more. Being in a group meant I didn’t have to be who I really was. For a normal human, not healthy. For someone who is narcissistic, natural, but still not healthy. Being a fundamentalist gives you a huge rush in being part of the club. But that club will wack you over the head with shame, judgment, and fear.

Personal side note- narcissism. I have found that I have some very strong narcissistic tendencies. (two years of therapy and a bunch of lies later) But, I didn’t have this awareness of myself at the time. I did act on it though.  My narcissism and emptiness couldn’t do without the high of being in the Brookhill group. I’m pretty sure that is why I became a counselor. I told myself for so many years that I went because I liked to see the kids feel good and feel accepted. I don’t believe that crap anymore. I think I, and most of the others, just enjoyed the ability to have that kind of power. The truth is that the place was chock full of narcissists. The whole institution of religion, especially this extremely nutty kind, is narcissistic to the core.

Back to it. Anxiety. Being in Jesus camp isn’t just cult euphoria. There is fear, judgment, and anxiety. I felt severe  anxiety. It was constant. About 70 percent of my dreams up and until a few years ago were Jesus Camp dreams. In my dream I would be there and everyone would be doing things and I would either have to leave or they would say I don’t belong. I had these dreams for 15 years. It is fucked up.

With crazy religion also comes shame and guilt. The whole thing is driven by guilt. Sure, they will say Jesus is love. But, love doesn’t motivate as well as these other things. Feeling part of a group, feeling judged, and being scared to death of hell moves people. The whole Jesus Camp mission is about nailing down the salvation. (intended) Once you are saved you then have to show that you are saved by the holy spirit and that this spirit is doing things in your life. That is some stressful shit.

What was the holy spirit doing for me? You had to tell them! At this point I had applied to be a Junior Counselor (J.C.). A year had passed. I hadn’t saved anyone to Jesus that entire year since graduating as a camper. My salvation stats were abysmal. But, I was accepted! So excited to get back plugged in. Also, very very anxious. Was I Jesus-y enough? Was I  really saved? I never felt like there was a day I was saved. I went up to the cross at the crucifixion reenactment at Brookhill. I was also confirmed in the Methodist Church. You were supposed to feel different and be different after salvation. I never felt a damn bit different. Ever.

Once you are accepted as a J.C. you have to come in for a training day. Train on horses? or go carts? or sport? Oh no no no. You are training for saving kids from burning hell man. That is it. Of course I didn’t realize then. I honestly didn’t put it all of this craziness together in my mind until this past year. When you arrive at camp for training you go straight to the staff quarters. In the room were counselors to be, full-time Summer staff, and Hettie Lou Brooks. A visit by Hettie Lou Brooks was a must and so was a visit by the Camp Director. “We want to hear what Jesus has put on your heart and what Jesus is doing in your life?” WHAAA? Oh god, I hadn’t prepared. What do I say? What did Jesus do for me? There was some stiff competition. Some examples of the J.C. responses:

I have been praying this entire year. God has laid it on my heart to share my story and to win children to Christ. I have been in the mission field all year and I’ve led dozens of children to Jesus. I want to raise godly men and women that will stand up to Satan and the drugs and sex and rock music.

My mom used drugs. She was never around. I told myself I wouldn’t be like that. I came to Brookhill. I had never heard about Jesus. I was saved here and my life has never been the same. I can feel his love and I’ve been sharing it whenever I can. I tell my friends at school, my teachers, and my family. God has been so good to me.

I used to listen to rock music. I can’t believe I let it influence me. I thought I was cool. I had all of the friends. I was empty. I knew I was empty but I didn’t know why. Right before I came to Brookhill I was saved at a church revival. I have been on fire for the Lord since then. I love Brookhill and I love being around so many other believers. I can’t wait to see what God does through me this week.

I can’t even describe the sweat gathering in my palms. I couldn’t decide at that point if I was a Jesus Faker or not. I was pretty sure I was. But, I didn’t drink or smoke and at the time I didn’t possess any rock music.  I stepped up to speak. I created a line that seemed almost good enough. It is a line that, for the most part, I used at all of these such question and answer sessions:

I am here because I want the children to feel good about who they are. I look forward to God using me to help the kids to feel OK. I’m going to pray to make the lives of these kids better.

Whew, I scanned the room. Now, there were varying levels of responses while J.C. were giving their testimonials. If you were really good and really Jesus-y you would get a few “Praise Jesus!” Hettie Lou would interject, “isn’t that so good? Isn’t it good? God is so good.”  I didn’t get much of a response to my words. I felt I had failed. The let down from the feeling of failure was soon replaced with the relief of it just being over.

This whole exchange would happen in the staff quarters. A little more on that. Now upstairs in the staff quarters they didn’t allow campers. It was strictly for counselors, counselors in training, and full-time staff. It would get weird as hell up there. It was so damned stressful going up there. I hated it. I know other counselors would say they couldn’t wait to go up there in the afternoon of camp and get recharged singing songs. By the time the afternoon rolled in I was wore the hell out and I didn’t like the pressure of having to feel super Jesus-y in mid afternoon in July. There would be songs and then at times an uncontrollable laughter from some of the counselors, Hettie, and others. Then I heard my first tongue-speaking. Hettie believed that we each had our own tongue language to speak in. I had never seen anything like it. It freaked me the F__K out. I was never a biblical scholar. I faked my bible knowledge. Most atheist or agnostics know more about the bible than I do. I did remember the whole speaking in tongues to spread the word to different people verse somewhere in there. But our own personal language of tongues? It sounded like gibberish. No I mean literally. It would be like “habahaba haba bludy bludy doo rararara.” Where did this come from? I knew it couldn’t be real. Or did I know? Was I weak of faith? Great, more guilt and more shame. I had no tongue speaking. You could never feel as Jesus-y as a tongue speaker. They had you beaten in spades.

As part of your training you learned never to leave a camper alone. Ever. You always talk to them. You find out what they are interested in. Why are they here and are they having fun. The grooming of each camper for Jesus was hard work. It paid off though. You are taught to learn the campers names and to call them by name. Kids love to hear their name. If you went up to a kid without his name tag on and called him by his name? Bingo, that kid would be a very likely candidate for being saved at the end of the week. It made the kid feel like a million bucks.

Narcissistic aside. I think that that my narcissistic need for attention was really met by counselor/camper dynamic. I craved it. Either from the camper or counselor side I wanted it badly. I take responsibility for my own personality fuckedupedness in how I wanted to do this Jesus Camp thing. Jesus didn’t motivate me. But, the whole Jesus Camp institution is full of narcissists, grandiosity, and judgment. It thrives on creating and manipulating insecurities, then meeting them.

Finally, so you can see it with your own eyes, I have been scanning the Twitter for camper responses from this past Summer. (see Instagram post at the end) For someone who has read these two blog posts you would think that Jesus Camp sounds frightening and scarring. Traumatic faces right?  The kids don’t realize it while it is happening. The shame recognition sets in later.When you finally do realize the anxiety/fear/shame you stifle that shit down. You do not talk about it.

I have not been to church in 2 and a half years. The problem is that even two years ago I would have agreed to send them to Jesus Camp. My narcissistic desire to belong  and to get attention resulted in my sacrificing of the mental health of my boys. The damage may be too great to overcome now. I don’t know. Don’t do this to your kids. If you are hardcore Jesus then I probably can’t reach you. If you aren’t a hardcore Jesus parent please do the research. This shit is so bad for your kids. Do not breed fear in them. Teach them to be human.

Blog Post 016- Taco Bell Breakfast Review.

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Our eyes are drawn to things that are unexpected.

For example, I saw this motorized shoplifting stopper at Target today. (I’m notifying Radley Balko via Twitter)

Militarizing of Police Strikes Again

Militarizing of Police Force Continues

I have noticed that Taco Bell is now offering breakfast. Why? I don’t know. It has been nagging at me for weeks now. “Do it, try it, you know you want to.” Crime Dogg McGruff helped keep me off the smack in school. However, nothing could stop this. So, this morning I pulled into the local Taco Bell. (Broadway in Little Rock) I found the drive-thru attendant to be very polite and her voice was professional. I ordered the following:

Sausage Flatbread Melt ($1.00)

A.M. Grilled Taco (Bacon) ($1.00)

A Coffee (I think about $1.49)

They also offer such other things as Waffle Tacos, (WTF?) and a standard-looking breakfast burrito. I first took a sip of the coffee. I noticed that the roast was plesantly mild. A  pleasant cup of coffee for standard fast food breakfast fair. I’d rate it higher than McDonald’s joe. One drawback, it did have a bit of a “sitting around too long” tang.  (common for fastfood or gas stations) As I sat sipping  my coffee (waiting for court), I noticed that the cup had a good bit of caffeine and the buzz was healthy. Good staying power.

The Sausage Flatbread sucked. It was dry and had no flavor. Crunchy? I will give them that it was crunchy. I like crunchy if it is properly balanced with rich or non-crunchy things. No dice here.  Crunchy and dry is bad bad bad. Some melted cheddar cheese adorned the crunchy dryness. It wasn’t enough..The  the sausage was mildly salvageable as it had a bit of  tasty spiciness.

Finally, the A.M. Grilled Taco. The taco included, eggs, melted cheddar, and bits of bacon. The eggs were decently moist and fine. The grilled nature of the taco was fine, but repetitive of the flatbread. I found the tiny bits of bacon a real disappointment. You know how if you get a cheap-ass $.99 Totino’s pizza and the pepperoni are miniature squares?

Bits and Bits on the (Totino’s) It was that kind of let down.

So, I wouldn’t eat this. I devour the hell out of dinnertime and lunchtime Taco Bell. But, leave your breakfast to someone else.

Blog Post 015- Social Experiment. Donation to Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation. Fame. *Updated*

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It has been a little while since my last blog post. (this is what you say when you have not written for a while)

Today, I did some cleaning. I put away some winter clothes. Then I pulled out some stuff I don’t want anymore. I have two gigantic prints from my old house. They just do not fit  in my new apartment. I think someone could get some good use of them. I was thinking of being industrious and putting them on Ebay. But, selling it and then the idea of packaging it up sounded horrible. Then I thought I could put them on Craigslist. That idea bored me.

Following my industrious morning, I had a very high level of boredom in the afternoon. I don’t know how the rest of you are. I think of strange and weird things when I’m bored. For example, a large bit of my mind was consumed with the fact that Heidi Moore starred one of my tweets. I felt like one of those people in the funny Twitter RT’s. You know, “why did she star me and not RT me?” I settled myself. I realized that I needed to be happy with the starred tweet. She probably thought I was interesting? Maybe she was saving it for later to look at it again and again in wonder. A real journalist. Wow.

Ok, ok, ok. Back to the point of the blog post. I was bored. So this is how this is going to work. A friend of mine has a friend who deals with Osteogensis Imperfecta. A really challenging disease. Simply put:

Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) is a genetic bone disorder characterized by fragile bones that break easily. It is also known as “brittle bone disease.” The term literally means “bone that is imperfectly made from the beginning of life.” A person is born with this disorder and is affected throughout his or her life time.

Link.

The OI Foundation does a lot of fantastic work. They have raised millions of dollars and educated thousands and thousands of people on this disease. (including me).

I’ve created a link to the Craigslist ad here. The listing includes these really nice prints I am giving away. All the person has to do is to drive to my apartment and take the prints. What they give is up to them. I am am only asking  them to pay what they can afford. If you would like to donate just as a result of reading this post, you can do that too: Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.

I was bored, feeling slightly altruistic, and for the most part just wanted to see what would happen with this experiment. I’ll let you know.

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UPDATE 5/2/2014

I am checking in with the update!

Ok, we all know this was a pretty grand experiment. We have the power of the internet through blogging. We also have the power of commerce through Craigslist. Finally, we have a great charity in OIF. (go donate now)

Get to it man what happened? Well, lean in:

My neighbor saw the prints outside the the apartment the morning after the blog post. He took them, left some change, and left a note saying he is going to give $50-$100 dollars!

Low-tech wins.

Blog Post 014- Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act. Write to D.C now.

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Thursday, the US Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act (“RRPSA”). See Leahy’s press release here. The Act aims to reduce a prison system that, as of 2011, was 39% over it’s rated capacity.

Statistics tell us that not all recidivism rates are created equal. Different types of offenders, with different types of criminal histories, have different rates of recidivism. Wow, shocking? Hopefully not too shocking. Unfortunately, due to mandatory sentencing, and reactionary laws passed in the 80s, we can’t even get to the individual nature of an offender. Racism and ignorance is still getting in our way.

A little history, then the point. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished parole in the federal criminal justice system. Why does this act sound familiar? This act is the act that brought us Mandatory Sentencing Guidelines. So for all offenders sentenced 1987 forward, no parole. Steadily the federal prison system has been growing. Senator Whitehead, a Democrat from Rhode Island on the Judiciary Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Providence Journal on Monday:

From 1940 through 1980, the federal prison population was remarkably stable at around 24,000 inmates. By last year, it had grown to more than 215,000. At an average cost of approximately $29,000 per inmate, the federal Bureau of Prisons now spends over $6.7 billion annually, a twentyfold increase since 1980. Add the cost of inmates in the custody of the U.S. Marshals, and the total we spend housing federal prisoners will be more than $8 billion this year.

Put it together. Prison population rises starts in the 80s. Sentencing Reform Act passes in the 80s. Prison populations now out of control.  You get it now?  We have sacrificed much of our community to the prison system.  (About two million people) Further our criminal laws are made and applied in a racially unequal manner.

The country was fine with all of their white brothers, mothers, and cousins being addicted to opiates and cocaine for over a hundred years. But, crack cocaine!!? Damn the world is coming to an end and drugs and that basketball player who I bet on to win my games for me? Oh this has to stop now. What about all of the white kids doing powder in their dorm room? Severe sweeping punishment for them. We will pull them into the dean’s office and tell them that their tuition money won’t be good there any longer if it happens a couple more times. If some kid has a rock of crack? 5 years in prison. Whew, problems are over now. *clicks back to tv*

Let us proceed. Recidivism. Recidivism rates are not reduced by imposing longer prison sentences. Criminologist know that there are certain things that do reduce recidivism. We know that, for example, education and vocational advancement reduce recidivism. The RRPSA allows inmates to reduce their sentences by participating in drug treatment and vocational programs. Why would we want this? If you have a skill then you are marketable. If you are marketable, you can gain employment. If you achieve gainful employment, you are much less likely to return to crime.

Young minorities are easier to discard as criminals. It is just the truth. They are under-represented in our government and our socio-economic power structure. Laws change when young white females are abducted.  And, rehab is a better tool when white kids are addicted. It has taken a fiscal crisis, and the reach of drug addiction to the affluent community, to force us to look at how unequally young people in America are treated. It is a shame. But, it is the truth. Still, we must take advantage of the current bills working through Washington.

Humanity wins if people exiting prison can have a real shot at being involved and productive citizens. Bills like this one, and the Justice Safety Valve Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act, are necessary if we are to make our justice system slightly more just. It isn’t enough. It really isn’t. But it is a start.

I am asking each of you to contact the people that represent you in Washington and tell them to vote for RRPSA.

Thanks.

 

Blog Post 013- Spotify. The Man Doesn’t Want Civil Rights. Debo Adegbile.

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Everyone read a public defender’s post on the failed nomination of Debo Adegbile.

Read about John Adams in that biography by David McCullough that everyone likes. He defended a British soldier right on the eve of war.

Read the letter from the American Bar Association President in support of Adegbile.

Here is a playlist that I made to commemorate this steaming pile of a failure of the United States.

The Man Doesn’t Want Civil Rights

 

 

Blog Post 012- I like customer service via Twitter. God I Hope this Gets Retweeted

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I think most people would find that calling a 1 800 number to get customer service is an atrocious experience. Some customer service experiences are better than others.But, on the whole the experiences are cuss and kick worthy.

This post isn’t really about a particular customer service experience. It is about an actual vehicle for customer service: Twitter.

I’ve had positive customer service experiences through Twitter. Whether the help be for flight changes, book orders, or travel websites, it has been good. Now, not all of these instances of assistance were fruitful. Some of the help was more along the lines of “sorry we would like to fix this for you, but we can’t.” It felt like the old college try though.

So why? Why was the Twitter mode of customer service transport more pleasing than others.

Here are some ideas.

Immediate. Most of the Twitter customer service interactions are quick. I would tweet and within minutes I would get some sort of response.  I would be asked to DM details and I would get a further conversation on my particular problem. It is rare that you get this kind of turnaround and personalized customer service experience.

It Plays on your preset Desire for Socializing. Who doesn’t like to get Tweeted at? I got a response? Sweet! Don’t lie. You sit with your Tweetdeck checking to see if someone will RT, favorite, or respond to your tweet. If a company responds, you get that same feeling. We humans crave a dialogue. I know I know there are Twitter Trolls that will kick you in the pants and take your Key Lime Pie. But, it is a rush either way.

Public Apologies are Rare. Last, the public apology. I’ve had customer service outlets for companies say they were sorry publicly on Twitter. In the land of coverups and excuses a public apology goes a long way. Twitter is a unique forum for that. I think further use of Twitter as a fall-on-your-sword public square would do well on a lot of businesses.

So that is it. Just what you needed for your Monday unwinding from work. A post on Twitter customer service experiences.

I’ll leave you with a Gary Clark Jr. video to cleanse your palate.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog Post 011- Joyland by Stephen King. A Review.

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Devin Jones was was a prematurely sentimental English major. It was 1973. He gets his heart broken, works as a carney, saves some lives, makes some kids happy, loses his virginity, and helps solve a murder. You know, your typical college summer.

First, an aside. Upon first reading, Devin reminded me of Kurt Braunholer. I heard the story of Kurt on NPR last year some time. The nuts and bolts were as follows. Kurt and his girlfriend had dated for years. By age 30 they wondered if they would get married. She said they should probably sleep with other people. He agreed. So they slept with other people. She had a blast and carried on. He tried, slept with people, and kept too soon-ingly and repeatedly falling in love. They didn’t stay together. When I first started reading this story that is who Devin made me think of. But, that was just the beginning. I don’t know what happened to Kurt eventually, but Devin out did him.

Devin came from a common sense mom and dad. Devin’s mother had passed away. His father doted on his son. But, for the most part dad would let Devin make his own choices. While getting ready for a hum drum Summer, Devin found a magazine with an advertisement for an amusement park summer job in North Carolina. His girlfriend Wendy had decided she was going to go work for Filine’s in Boston with her friends. You get the feeling early on that he is super in love. You also get the feeling that Wendy has a lot of living left to do, and Devin isn’t her last stop.

Post-Wendy King takes Devin’s broken heart and makes Devin into a protagonist that you just love the shit out of. All of the premature maturity that got him side-swiped by Wendy really keeps you rooting throughout the entire novel. I think what really compelled me about Devin is his sense of decency and self-awareness. When his girlfriend Wendy gets a job out of town he knows that he can’t dote around. He wants an experience so he goes on to be a carney. Sure, Devin is brooding as all hell. But, he is decent to others while he broods through his growing up that Summer. If you could somehow know how your son or daughter handled coming-of-age, you would want them to be like Devin. Never perfect, never sure, but generally goodwill’d.

I have never read Stephen King. I figured the whole story circled around mystery or murder. In fact, that is how it is billed. (Published by Hard Case Crime nonetheless) The mystery discovered at Joyland is at best just a nice accessory to the coming of age of Devin. (But it sure adds for some tense moments at the end) My only complaint of the story would be that at some points it really feels like the murder/mystery was inserted because it had to be inserted. I mean duh what the crap was Hard Case Crime paying for anyway? It works fine enough though. I would put this complaint in the category of “my french fries are too short.”

Devin probably stayed with Wendy for too long. However, he made the right choice staying at Joyland past the Summer. His two best friends leave and are in love with each other. (jealous he is) But, he runs into Annie and Mike Ross. She is a single mom and her son Mike has a crippling disease. Mike helps save Dev, and Dev helps to save Mike. You will have to read the book to see what I mean. You will enjoy the ride that the protective mother Annie goes on in this story. The Dev/Annie/Mike story arc is the most enjoyable of the book.

If you could have been vulnerable, brooding, and moral, you would have been Dev. With Joyland, you get sold a murder mystery. What you end up getting is a lot more than that. I’ll be reading more King.

 

Blog Post 010- Sentencing Reforms: “who’s your daddy?”

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Who’s Your Daddy has been woven into the American experience. It is a phrase that is used by a person to imply that that person has power and dominion over you.

From The Zombies,  to athletic teasings, and on to Angelina Jolie baiting Brad Bitt, Who’s Your Daddy is part of our pop culture. True, this phrase has a misogynist tone and vibe to it. I don’t like that part of it. For a smart article on the problems with using this phrase check out a this WaPo article.

By using this phrase am I giving credence to misogynist nomenclature? Why does the daddy get to say? I’ve decided to go with nomenclature because I believe it is this type of old school paternalism that the government wishes to exert upon the citizenry.

I think I feel like using that phrase because most defense attorneys feel like they are getting Who’s Your Daddied by Assistant United States Attorneys (“AUSA”from here out).

Why is that? The AUSA wants to be my daddy. They want to be the ones in control of the courtroom. Who does not love being in control?

In federal practice, there are two ways to successfully negotiate a plea in a drug cases. First, your client must prostrate themselves and confess all to their daddy. A defendant will confess all of their wrongs, and possibly the wrongs of everyone else they know. Then you and your client cross your fingers and hope that the AUSA gives you something in return.  The second way. . .well. . .really there isn’t a second. The second is the same as the first.

I would make the argument that Assistant United States Attorneys have more power to wield over individuals than just about any other person in the United States government. I welcome someone to argue with me otherwise. They have the power, by deciding what charges to bring against you, to decide what types of sentences a human being will be looking at.  Not a judge, not a social worker, and not even a victim of a crime. No, the prosecutor decides. What gives a particular AUSA such power?

The power comes to them through the mandatory minimum sentencing laws that are pervasive throughout the federal criminal justice code. For the uninitiated, mandatory minimum sentences are minimum sentences that are required by law  by virtue of a particular type of charge. For example, in federal court, depending on the amount of drugs you possess, you can face a minimum of 5, 10, or more years based on the drug quantity you possess. If someone is charged with these certain drug amounts a judge has almost no discretion in sentencing the accused.

How did this madness start? Well, how it all started isn’t the point of this post. But, for a little background, I’ll say a few words on the start of it all.

It could (and has been) argued that the frenzy started with the death of basketball star Len Bias. Crack scared people. What do people do when they are afraid? They make bad decisions. As a result of the death of Bias, the overall tenor of the DRUG WAR, and flawed thinking, we passed laws that punished the poor and non-white amongst us. The Anti-Drug Abuse of 1986 punished crack more harshly than cocaine. This law unfairly targeted minority communities and did little more than load our prisons with young men.  The law added many new mandatory minimum sentences to the federal code. Judges will still run the courtroom and sentencing still right? Nope. Enter the prosecutor daddy.

Outside of begging your daddy there is only a very narrow exception that allows for defendants charged with a mandatory minimum crime to get a sentence below the mandatory sentence. A defendant must be eligible under the Safety Valve Act to get a sentence below the minimum.  This act is very limited. You must essentially have a nonexistent criminal history.

Also? Also, and you know this is coming, even if you have no criminal history you STILL have to spill your guts to a government agent and the AUSA. You know what is nifty about that set up? The AUSA gets to decide if you are truthful enough and complete enough in your truthfulness. Not a probation officer, not someone who works for the court, but the AUSA. Still your daddy.

It has taken over 25 years for lawmakers and policy influencers to see the error of their ways on this. Some civil rights leaning groups have been decrying this cause for a long time. The more conservative folks have come aboard recently. Lots of people don’t like prison overcrowding ($$$). Other folks just don’t like the big-brother type feel of a prosecutor being the daddy of a courtroom.

You may ask: what types of people agree that mandatory prison sentencing is a bad idea? Well, how about Patrick Leahy, Grover Norquist, Rand Paul, George Will, American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Eric Holder, ACLU, and the Cato Institute.

It is fair to say that the above group of people is not an homogenous one.

This brings us up to the present day. There are two bills floating around right now hoping to reduce the applicability of mandatory minimum prison sentences. Rand Paul and Patrick Leahy had the Justice Safety Valve Act. This bill is more comprehensive. This is the bill that the federal criminal justice system needs. Unfortunately, it probably won’t be the one that takes. The Smarter Sentencing Act just passed through committee. Although it would be tremendous progress, the SSA is not as strong of a potential reform as the the Justice Safety Valve Act would be. Sadly, as with happens with many bills on the hill, the SSA was watered down in the version that passed.

Here is the point. You don’t want an AUSA to be your daddy. I don’t like an AUSA being my daddy or my client’s daddy. I am not here to thrash prosecutors as a den of rabid thieves. I have a good working relationship with the AUSAs I work with. I most certainly hope the majority of AUSA do not throw in with Bill Otis. Mr. Otis has proclaimed that there is a revolt amongst the daddys. (For some fantastic reporting on Otis and the Revolts check with Scott Greenfield and Professor Berman) The daddys know better than all of us! Really! Mandatory minimums keep us safe! In fact, a passage from a blog post by Otis shows just how deep the paternalistic urges goes:

As career DOJ prosecutors know, strong mandatory minimum statutes are essential to rein in the sometimes ideological, sometimes naive, and sometimes careless decisions of sentencing courts.  I explained why here, here and here, keying off a recent discussion by the Second Circuit.

Conservatives, moderates, and liberals are coming together. Thinking citizens do not want laws that pack our prisons in a racially biased way. We want judges to be able to judge each crime and each defendant individually.

Who isn’t on board? Just daddy.

 

Blog Post 008- Another Friday: Ever Good Enough?

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When I go to work on Fridays I find myself feeling and thinking various things.

I am more encouraged to work on a Friday than any other day. Do not misunderstand me: I do not always actually do this work.  Friday does not have the expectation of a Monday. On Monday you have the whole world ahead of you. What if you don’t get it all done? How do you divvy up each project or task over the week so that everything is taken care of? On Friday, well, you’ve probably blown most of the week. Any work you get done at this point is Bonus Round.

I look back on Monday through Thursday. I wonder what happened to those days. I wonder how many Fridays I have done this exact same exercise. You get to Friday. You didn’t do what you set out to do. It does not feel good. But, on the other hand, you are about to the weekend. You are to your own time.You imagine that this time away from the weekly grind will rejuvenate you. I hardly find that the time buckling kids into seat belts or doing laundry is refreshing. By Saturday afternoon I am begging for that first cup of coffee at the office at 8:15 a.m. Monday morning.

There are times if I wonder if this blue state  is a result of the age I so eagerly took part in. This week I did not experience any flashing lights, 1,000,000 points top score, or deep stacks of praise and woo-hoo! Maybe it is a personality defect, spoiled brat syndrome, or general lack of sunlight. Being human? I am not sure.

But, I had this thought, this thought that has been circling around and around over the past few months. I am so prone to the horizon. I have been accused of wishing and dreaming out to the Fridays or Saturdays at hyperbolic break neck speeds. Then when I get there:  please send me to Monday.

When I do not  live my life each day like it is good enough then I will not honor myself or others around me as good enough either. 

Find one day that you really wish were the next. Sit on your soul like you are the big bully sitting on your chest on the playground. “You are staying here until I say get up.”  Don’t think of a million throw away adjectives for every time and moment.

That is what I am going try and do. You were given a day. Be grateful. Get an idea. Do it differently. Find a way to live. Go.