Shameless spin is nothing new when it comes to sentencing, or re-sentencing, as is the case for Lord Conrad Black. Having served 29 months of his sentence for honest services fraud, only to learn that there is no such crime, and then learning that he’s still screwed and facing resentence for the offenses that remain, the time has arrived to crank up the sentencing spin machine.
The government couldn’t claim that Black was a bad prisoner in the sense that he beat others, maintained a secret cache of contraband caviar or refused to get his GED. What to do?
Prosecutors are pointing to allegations that onetime media mogul Conrad Black treated inmates like servants and had a supercilious attitude in an effort to send him back to prison.
A unit manager said Black had an entourage of inmates who performed services for him, such as ironing his clothes, the Tribune says. Some inmates saluted Black every time that he taught GED classes. While he was teaching, an education specialist said, Black “projected the attitude that he was better than others in the class, both faculty and students.”
How many points are added for a supercilious attitude, you ask? I checked the attitude table and came up empty.
Every institution develops its own brand of society, and prisons are no exception. The government’s effort to use hyperbole and characterize prison society in terms of life on the outside is sheer, unadulterated nonsense, a test of whether anyone, most notably the judge, is so ignorant of prison life as to buy their spin.
Having never spent more time in a prison than necessary, I’m no expert on prison life. But Bad Lawyer knows a thing or two about life on the inside, and he explains.
Seriously, having a few months of personal experience with Club Fed, I can assure you that Conrad Black was not treated specially. They don’t do that. Everyone is treated like crap.
And when you live with hundreds of inmates, many of them without any access or resources to enable commissary or phone expenditure you encounter every imagineable hustle–including, inmates who do laundry, provide ironing or orderly services for one another in exchange for commissary purchases, i.e. candy bars, vending debit cards, stamps, and as I blawged before “cans.”
It’s offensive that federal prosecutors would attempt to massage this sort of thing into a claim that a defendant (who to some extent was wrongfully imprisoned) was living the high life and now really deserves punishment. What a crock!
In prison, one does what one has to do to survive as best one can. For some, that means kissing up to those who might be in a position to help you out. To others, that means using whatever resources are available to maintain one’s physical and psychological integrity. So Lord Conrad Black didn’t become a weightlifter to kill the time, or perhaps get a few prison tats to be one of the gang (pun intended), comes as no surprise.
There’s no infraction associated with surviving prison. There’s no adjustment for not having an attitude that pleases the boys and girls of the U.S. Attorney’s office, though truth be told they would never have suggested something so ridiculous as a supercilious attitude if they had anything real to latch on to. They just couldn’t go back into court for resentence conceding that Black was a model prisoner and had to manufacture something to complain about.
It seems that the government has forgotten that Conrad Black wrote a scathing editorial for Canada’s National Post when he was allowed out on bail following the Supreme Court’s Skilling decision about his prison education. But I haven’t forgotten.
The Mafiosi, the Colombian drug dealers, (including a senator with whom I had a special greeting as a fellow member of a parliamentary upper house), the American drug dealers, high and low, black, white, and Hispanic; the alleged swindlers, hackers, pornographers, credit card fraudsters, bank robbers, and even an accomplished airplane thief; the rehabilitated and unregenerate, the innocent and the guilty, and in almost all cases the grossly over-sentenced, streamed in steadily for hours, to make their farewells.
It had been an interesting experience, from which I developed a much greater practical knowledge than I had ever had before of those who had drawn a short straw from the system; of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society. I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.) A trillion dollars have been spent, a million easily replaceable small fry are in prison, and the targeted substances are more available and of better quality than ever, while producing countries such as Colombia and Mexico are in a state of civil war.
I had seen at close range the injustice of sentences one hundred times more severe for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine, a straight act of discrimination against African-Americans, that even the first black president and attorney general have only ameliorated with tepid support for a measure, still being debated, to reduce the disparity of sentence from 100 to one to 18 to one.
For a guy with a supercilious attitude, he seems to have gone awfully far out of his way to stand up for them, to challenge the power, to call out the failure of the system. If this was a man who played Lord among prisoners, you can’t tell it from the risk he took in angering the government by asserting that the system stinks. Why would the Lord risk pissing off power if he cared nothing for the little people who ironed his clothes and saluted him?
As Bad Lawyer says, it’s a crock. There are lots of crocks in the process, from the day of arrest to the denial of bond. From the allegations during trial, where a completely neutral telephone conversation asking how the weather is miraculously converted into an order for kilos of heroin, as interpreted by some “expert” agent who knows far more about what drug dealers mean than any actual drug dealer I’ve ever met. And at sentence, an unpleasant glance is turned into a threat of a prosecutor’s life, as if defendants should throw loving looks toward the people who have destroyed their lives with lies.
Every once in a while, rarely more than three or four times a day, the government comes up with a position that’s so facially absurd as to test whether judges, and the public, are so gullible that they will believe any spin proffered. These claims about Conrad Black are such a position, reflecting not some “bad attitude” on Black’s part worthy of consideration by a court in re-sentencing him to a more severe term of imprisonment, but our willingness to blindly accept the government’s nonsense, no matter how ridiculous.
In prison, everyone is treated like crap. Anyone who doesn’t make the best of it is either a fool or dead. There is only one rule that matters in the high society of prison: Do what you have to do to survive. No one should be punished for surviving.