Posts Tagged ‘crime’

—an excerpt from RELATIVELY CRIMINAL

It was apparently just a few hours after his release from his latest prison stint that he appeared at my back door.

“Hey, Sis! Just thought I’d stop by,” he said, with a smirk. I noticed the small red vehicle in the driveway, but at first I didn’t think about the car at all. I was still shocked that he wasn’t in prison, since that was where I thought he was supposed to be for at least another year. But as always, first and foremost I missed him, so I gave him a hug, grabbed him a Pepsi, and we sat on the couch together.

“Frank, what are you doing here? I mean, I’m happy to see you, but I thought you had more time on your sentence.”

“I do! Guess it was just my lucky day.”

“Wait a minute . . . did you escape?”

“Nah, didn’t have to. They let me go. I just walked out.”

“Frank, they don’t just let you go!” I insisted.

“Welp—they did!” he said, and took another swig of his Pepsi.

He was really enjoying this whole little tease of a story, but I was losing my patience.

“C’mon, Frank, quit playing stupid games with me. What happened and how did you get here?”

Frank relented then and told his story about the court mix-up.

“That’s our justice system in action,” I said. “But you still haven’t told me how you got here. Whose car is that in the driveway? A friend of yours?”

“Nope. I borrowed it.”

“From who?”

“Welp, I was standing on the street in Schaumburg and saw this car sitting right there with the keys in it.”

“You didn’t borrow it—you stole the car! And then you came here? Jesus, Frank!”

“Don’t worry, Sis, I’ll get rid of it quick. They probably don’t even know it’s gone yet.”

“Great! So here I sit with my escaped criminal brother and a stolen car in my driveway.” He was laughing. “It’s not funny, Frank.”

He continued to laugh and pulled his usual presto-chango, switch the subject-o. He threw a small foil package in my lap.

“Need any rubbers, Sis? I got a bunch more.”

“Rubbers? So, I suppose you knocked over a rubber machine, too, on your way here.” I joked.

“Well . . . ,” he began, pausing for the punch line, “as a matter of fact, I did!”

I did not find it funny, and smacked him in the arm. “You are hopeless, Frank, ya know?”

“I had to have some money, Sis. You know me.”

“Yeah, I do, Frank,” I said with a big sigh.

I was relieved when he finished his Pepsi and announced he had to go. Saved me the trouble of asking him to leave, because that stolen car in the driveway was making me very, very nervous. He assured me he was going to ditch it on a street somewhere that same day, once he made it to a friend’s house.

“Don’t worry about it. Besides, what could I do, Sis? I suddenly found myself free and out on the street. Couldn’t get Ronnie or anybody on the phone, had no money in my pockets. So I saw this car sittin’ there with the keys in it, just like somebody left me a ride.”

“You could have called me, Frank.”

“I know—didn’t want to bother you. I’ve bothered you enough, ya know?”

I just shook my head. Whenever there was a choice to be made, Frank could be counted on to make the wrong one. But then again, it might have been a bad idea anyway if I had picked him up. Would that have made me an accessory, since he was technically a prisoner and supposed to be in jail? I wasn’t sure, but I knew two things: I was happy to see him, and I was happy to see him leave again.

He was back in prison a few days later. Not for the stolen car, which he had dumped as promised. He got picked up for theft of a coin machine. I’m sure the drunken dating population in the area was happy to see the local rubber supply return to normal.

As we sat in a waiting room before Frank’s scheduled court appearance, we chatted with the other two occupants of the room. One was a woman who was out on bond, on charges of embezzlement, and the other was a man who was out on bond, charged with attempted murder. He was tall, dark, and relatively nice-looking, dressed in a gray suit, white shirt and tie, so his revelation that he was accused of a violent crime came as a real surprise. What surprised me even more was that my brother was locked up for stealing a stupid toolbox, while this man was sitting in the waiting room with us. I couldn’t understand how that was fair at all.

We waited and waited, but Frank’s public defender, Mr. Wagner, was nowhere to be found. There was another public defender’s office near the waiting room, a Mr. Romano, and finally I poked my head inside his open doorway to see if he was there and might be able to help.

“Hi! I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you knew where Mr. Wagner is. He’s supposed to be here today for my brother’s case.”

“I’m not sure, but I can check for you. I’m Tony Romano. And you are . . .”

“Donna Delaney. Nice to meet you, Mr. Romano.”

“You can call me Tony. C’mon in, Donna, and have a seat. I’ll call and check to see where he’s at.”

“Thank you. Oh—I have a friend here with me, Natalie. Can she come in, too?”

“Sure, no problem.”

I waved to Natalie to join me, and we both waited in Tony’s office as he made a phone call. I couldn’t help noticing that the artwork in his office was all clowns—one a painting of a single clown, another a painting of the seven dwarves dressed as clowns, and even a clown statue lamp.

Tony hung up the phone. “I left a message with his office. Hopefully, we’ll hear back soon.”

“Thank you. So, you’re a public defender, too?” I asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“I don’t mean to be nosy, but I see you’re a big clown fan. Your office is full of them.”

“Well, they were gifts from a client. You’ve heard of John Gacy?”

I was stunned. “You mean John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer?”

“Yes, I was part of the team that had to defend him.”

“Wow! That’s creepy. I heard that he liked clowns, so I guess those pictures make sense now. What was it like defending him?”

“Creepy,” he said, and Natalie and I laughed. “The law provides everyone with a defense, so . . . let’s just say I was doing my job.”

“So, you did it because you had to. I can see how that would be hard, especially defending someone as obviously guilty as him. I wouldn’t want to do it.”

“Not one of my favorite jobs, that’s for sure. So, tell me about your brother?”

Natalie and I filled him in on some of the background of how Frank had come to live with me, the signs of drug addiction, his moving out and finding a job, and then his eventual downward spiral back to drugs and his arrest for stealing a toolbox.

“So he needs help for his drug addiction, not another jail term,” I told him. “Frank is not violent, he’s a coke addict. This is the first time he has asked for help with it, and I’m afraid if he just goes back to jail and gets out again, it will start all over.”

“That’s too bad. But it’s good that he has the two of you when he goes before the judge. Judges like to know that a defendant has someone who cares and can give them support.”

“But is there any way we can get them to send him to drug treatment instead of jail?”

“There’s no guarantee, but I would recommend that you write a letter to the judge, telling him of your concerns, and your brother’s drug history, and make a strong appeal to him to send your brother for treatment.”

The phone rang then, and Tonyanswered it. It wasn’t good news.

“Well, that was Mark’s office,” he told us. “Apparently he got hung up in another courthouse on a different case and won’t be able to make it today.”

That came as a complete surprise to me. I had no idea that your lawyer could just not show up for court.

“Are you kidding? But . . . now what? You mean we came here today for nothing? We . . . it’s not that easy to just take off work. And we can’t even see my brother!” Frustrated, I started to cry.

Tony grabbed a tissue off his desk and handed it to me. “I’m sorry, Donna. These things do happen. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional on Mark’s part.”

“But what happens now?” I asked, wiping away the tears.

“It will be continued with a new court date. Mr. Wagner will contact you with the new date.”

“Well . . . I guess there’s nothing else we can do. Thank you, Mr. Romano. I mean Tony. You’ve been so helpful.”

“Not a problem. Listen—here. Here’s my card. If you have any more questions about your brother’s case, I’d be happy to answer them for you if I can.”

“Thank you. I really appreciate your kindness.”

Natalie and I left, grateful to Tony but feeling dejected and helpless at the same time. We both missed Frank terribly and wanted to see him, even if it was just in court. And I was angry about taking an entire day off of work, without pay, for nothing. Still, it was futile to think about it too much.

We were at the mercy of the court system.

 

This is an excerpt from my book, “Relatively Criminal:  A Memoir

We in the United States like to boast that we are the greatest country in the world.   That may be true, though I’m not sure what statistic(s) bears out that boast.

True or not, when it comes to crime and our prison system, I beg to differ:  we suck.

A few important statistics:

  1. Incarceration rate (United States):  700+ per 100,000 people
  2. Incarceration rate (Norway):  65-75 per 100,000 people
  3. Recidivism rate (United States):  estimates range from 50% to 60+%
  4. Recidivism rate (Norway):  approx. 20%

Commit a crime in Norway, and you will lose your freedom, but you will be treated humanely, with a focus on transforming you into a law-abiding citizen, through education, mental health and substance abuse programs, and a job to do. Commit a crime in the United States, and you will lose your freedom, be treated like a wild animal in a zoo, deal with persistent danger from other inmates and abuse from guards, and eventually return to society no better and likely worse than when you went in.

I wish I could say that I had no personal knowledge about this sort of thing, but I do.  Twelve years of trying to help my brother Frank, who suffered from addiction while bouncing in and out of the prison system, was a painful lesson in what we do wrong in this country.

My first experience with “justice” happened about 6 months after Frank moved out on his own, with a job and a place to live.  He hurt his back on the job and could no longer work; he then fell off the abstinence wagon with his habit of shooting cocaine; and finally, resorted to stealing a toolbox from Sears (in order to fence it for money), a toolbox that was expensive enough to qualify the crime as felony retail theft.  Did he deserve to be arrested?  Of course he did.

The crime happened in Cook County, Illinois, so he was thrown in Cook County jail, and was basically scared shitless.  Cook County jail is not a nice place.  Frank called me, begging for bail money, but I was divorced with two small children and barely made it from paycheck to paycheck, so I had to say “no”.  He did manage to get himself segregated from the more dangerous characters by requesting to be housed in the drug treatment area (he was likely going through withdrawal), so for now he was a little safer as he awaited his court date.  In the meantime, I served as his “voice” with the public defender he was assigned, and quickly found that public defenders often have too many clients to do a good job.  His first public defender called me at work one day, all worried and urging me to go to court on Frank’s behalf because of an outstanding speeding ticket.  He thought this was important, because he had never read my brother’s record – had he done so, he would know that a speeding ticket was the least of his problems.  I relayed to his public defender that Frank needed drug abuse help, and wanted to be considered for the TASC program (a non-profit group that offers drug rehabilitation).

Frank’s request for help was denied.

At Frank’s first court date, his public defender did not show up, and I met another PD who seemed to be more caring and knowledgeable, so we switched to the new guy.  I explained to him that Frank needed help for substance abuse more than anything else, but had been denied.  The PD informed me that unfortunately, there were few slots open in that program, which is probably why he didn’t get in.  He suggested I try again to get Frank in the program, and told me to write a  letter to the judge on Frank’s behalf, explaining his severe cocaine addiction, his non-violent character, and his need for a chance to get “clean”.

In the meantime, my friend Natalie and I attended another court date for Frank. This time, we were at least able to see him in the courtroom. It was not what I expected. My heart sunk as they brought Frank into the courtroom, shoeless, with his hands and feet in shackles. The harsh reality of jail was never more clear to me than in that moment. I couldn’t fathom how stealing a toolbox deserved this sort of treatment. Did he really need to be brought into the courtroom in chains, no shoes, and zero dignity?

Our final visit to court for this case was the day of Frank’s sentencing:  June 10, 1987.  Again, he was paraded past us in bare feet and shackles, and it hurt me just as much to see him this time as it had before.  Natalie and I held tightly to each other’s hand as Frank stood before the judge with his attorney. We felt certain it had to go in his favor. It just had to.

Well, nothing is certain but death and taxes. The judge didn’t grant the request for rehabilitation and, while he mentioned that Frank was lucky to have Natalie and me to support him, he still went ahead and sentenced him to two years in prison, or eight months with good behavior.

We were informed by his PD that only one of us would be allowed to see him, in a conference room in the courthouse, before they took him away and off to prison. Natalie immediately suggested that it should be me, since I was his sister.  I was instructed to stand across the table from him, in that small conference room.  No hugging, no touching, no privacy.  I suppose this was necessary, in case he was hiding a toolbox in his underwear that he was going to hit us with.

“I’m sorry, Sis,” said Frank.   He looked ashamed.

“Me, too, Frank.  I tried.  I don’t want you to go back to prison.”

“It’s okay, I’ll be fine.  It ain’t your fault.  I screwed up.  Don’t worry about me.”

My heart was breaking.  “I can’t help worrying about you.  You’re my brother.  I love you, you big dummy.”

“I love you, too, Sis.”

We said our good-byes, and then Natalie and I walked outside and waited to wave to him again, as they loaded him into the prison van.

Just like that, Frank was back to where he started. Nowhere.  In eight months, he was released with no money, no new skills, and his addiction intact.  It was a scene that played out in his life over and over again, until he died of an overdose in 1997.

I can’t help but think that in Norway, Frank would still be here.

C’mon, America – we can do better.  Don’t take my word for it.  Read more about these issues:

http://www.dropoutprevention.org/engage/incarceration-within-american-and-nordic-prisons/

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/09/why-scandinavian-prisons-are-superior/279949/

http://www.publiceye.org/defendingjustice/pdfs/factsheets/9-Fact%20Sheet%20-%20US%20vs%20World.pdf

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/07/25/277771/norway-is-safe/

http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1986002,00.html?xid=huffpo-direct

“Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. Do you believe in free speech? Then speak freely. Do you love the truth? Then tell it. Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open. Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.” ~ Adam Michnik

This is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-published memoir, “Relatively Criminal“.

I wept when the police called me.  Frank apparently didn’t want to speak to me, at least not until I had heard the bad news from someone else.

The call came nearly a year and a half from Frank’s first arrival at my apartment.  And it had been only three months since I had sent him off to a place of his own.  Fly away, little bird, I thought at the time.  Your wings are now strong enough to carry you wherever you want to go.

Or, what’s that other saying?  “If you love something, set it free…”

Too bad some birds have no sense of direction.  Frank certainly didn’t, or he wouldn’t have paraded himself for fifteen minutes in front of security cameras before walking out the door of  Sears, Roebuck and Company with a huge, expensive toolbox.

Worth, by the way, just over the limit for petty theft–which made it a felony.

As he told me a few years later:

“I went to that shopping mall, Golf Mill.  Ronnie was driving his blue Plymouth Road Runner.  I didn’t plan on “boosting” anything that day, or I wouldn’t have been wearing a bright red shirt.  Anyway, I ended up taking a toolbox from a big department store, just walking right out with it like I was a paying customer.

I was almost to Ronnie’s car when I heard footsteps behind me on the pavement.  I turn, and see this guy in a blue jogging suit, carrying a bag, running towards me.  When he gets closer, I realized he must be security or a cop.  The guy yells “Drop the toolbox and put your hands up”, so I threw the toolbox at his feet and took off running.

I must not have hurt him too much, cuz he keeps on coming at me, yelling “Stop” and I figured he could probably outrun me.  Suddenly the guy pulls a radio out of the bag, must not have had time to call it in before.  He catches up to me, and says “Stop and I won’t call the police.”  So I stopped, but then he whips out a pair of handcuffs!

So I’m like, no way, man, I’m gone, and I take off again.  I see this board on the ground and I grab it and start swinging at the guy and now I’m chasing him.  You know, I get scared, then I get all riled up and violent, too.   So he’s on the run and I take off the other way and use the board to hang underneath a van.  Just like one of them movie scenes, ya know?  I hear them come by, saying ‘he must have gone over the fence’ and they look around and then I hear them go back.  Must have given up, thought I was gone.

So I hung under there awhile, and then I get out and go back where the car was, and it’s gone!  And here I am in a fucking bright red shirt.  So I go back in the mall and switch it and called Ronnie’s sister to come and pick me up.  Guess he got scared that they’d connect us, and he just went in the mall for awhile like he’s shopping, then he left.”

Obviously, Frank didn’t make it out of the mall. And so it was back to jail.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200.  Break your sister’s heart.

me14_marty_frank_rev

Siblings

I remember seeing the movie “Boy’s Town” when I was a child, with Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, and Mickey Rooney as the “super bad boy” he was dealing with (obviously Father Flanagan hadn’t met Jeffrey Dahmer).  What sticks in my mind, to this day, is Father Flanagan’s (Spencer Tracy) belief that there is no such thing as a bad boy.  I would like to believe that, and I think it’s mostly true but, like everything else, I think some people are damaged beyond saving – what I’m not sure about is whether or not there is a moment in time, specific years perhaps, when they could be re-directed to a less turbulent and risky lifestyle.

I don’t believe my brother was damaged beyond saving, not as a child.  He certainly wasn’t evil nor even mean; although, like all older sisters, I did think he was a horrible pest and a spoiled brat who had usurped my position as the youngest in the family and, therefore, should never have been born.  But he was born, and all my thumb sucking couldn’t get rid of him.

There were three of us, my older brother Marty, myself (the middle child…sigh :-), and Frankie was the baby, born four years after me.  We loved each other and fought like many siblings.  I don’t remember any early behavior that pointed toward a future life of crime, at least not until grade school.  He did have an early career as a snitch, but in his adult years, he had no use for that sort of behavior.  He was a bedwetter until high school, though I found this to be criminal only when my mother put me in charge of washing his bedding, at the laundromat no less.  It may have been a sign, however, that something was not quite right.

My first true glimpse of Frankie’s future career choice occurred in my room.  Repeatedly.  Things began to disappear, usually things that had pictures of presidents on them.  I had a piggy bank that I would add to whenever I could, and count maybe once a week, no doubt hoping it had magically doubled.  One day, I realized that the piggy bank now held only pennies.  The more valuable change had disappeared.  I went straight to my mother.

“Frankie is stealing the change from my piggy bank!” I told her.

“Well, how do you know it was Frankie?  Maybe you just mis-counted.”  she replied.  This was typical for my mother.  It wasn’t because she thought the best of everyone, it was really that she preferred to avoid having to deal with a problem.  If Frankie took it, that would mean she would have to do something about it.

“Mom.  Who else would take it?  Marty?”

“Of course not!  Marty would never do anything like that.”  True.  He wouldn’t.  But Frankie?  Well, Frankie had been getting in trouble at school, hanging around with some poor choices for friends, and had even been suspected of involvement with a fire at the school.  He’d been sent to counseling, but because my mother didn’t like anyone to think our family was less than perfect, she didn’t pursue the counseling any further than the school required.

“I suppose it just magically disappeared?  Only the quarters, dimes and nickels are gone.”  I continued.

“Still, you don’t know he took it.”  That was it, discussion over.  She walked away.

If she wouldn’t help me catch him, then I knew I had to do it myself.  Next chance I got, I added more quarters, dimes and nickels.

Once again, they disappeared.  Once again, I told my mother.  Once again, she did nothing.

I began to sleep with my wallet under my pillow.  And Frank now had a theft under his belt that held no consequences.

Is that how it begins?  If my mother had done something about it, or about later incidents that grew in magnitude – would Frank have led a different life?

********************************

For a more educational/theoretical look at this topic, take a peek at this blog post by a psychology student

To learn more about Boy’s Town

Are you experienced?

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Justice
Tags: , , , , , , ,

From 1985 till his death in 1997, my self-appointed “mission” was to save my brother from a life of drugs and crime.

Before then, I had never seen the inside of a prison, never stepped inside a courtroom, and  my only face-to-face experiences with police consisted of talking to them through the rolled-down window of my car, when they pulled me over for speeding.

Well, okay, I take that back – I had been inside a police station once,  thanks to a boy I’ll call “Alex” that I dated for a short time in my senior year of high school.  It was 1971, and I had a job as a clerk at Dressler’s Drugstore, a Mom and Pop establishment located in the midst of the main strip mall in downtown Fox Lake, Illinois.  Alex surprised me one evening by showing up at the checkout counter and offering me a ride home from work.  His timing was perfect, since he arrived about 9:50 pm and I was done at 10:00.  What I failed to notice, in my teenage hormone haze of excitement, was that Alex was drunk.  Drunk, underage and transporting open liquor to boot.  He wasted no time making that obvious, traveling only about 100 feet out of the parking lot of the strip mall before he swerved across the center line, in full view of an alert Fox Lake squad car.

I had zero prior experience dealing with the police, so when they pulled us over, and Alex started to panic over the booze on the floor of the car, I felt sorry for him but wasn’t worried about myself.  I hadn’t committed a crime, and how was I to know about the liquor in the car?  After all, he had just picked me up.  Facts are facts, right?

Not exactly.

When the officer said we had to get into his car and go down to the station, I tried to set him straight, explaining that I just got off work.  Couldn’t he just drive me back to the strip mall and I’d call my stepfather for a ride home?

No.

Before they decided to drag me down to the police station, I might have been grateful.  Grateful that they’d saved me from a possible drunk-driving accident on the way home with my inebriated date.  Instead, I felt frustration and disappointment at their immediate assumption that I was guilty simply by virtue of being in the car.

At the Fox Lake police station, they put us in separate rooms and “grilled” us, treating me as if I were an accomplice to a bank robbery.  They used that word a lot, too – “accomplice”.   I found the whole experience ludicrous and laughable, though I wasn’t dumb enough to laugh.  I mean, c’mon–the only way I could have been my date’s accomplice was if I had popped open the beer cans and poured each one down his throat while he held his mouth open…all in a matter of seconds.  Still, I refused to let the officer intimidate me.  I knew, in my heart, that he would have to make up a charge, because he certainly didn’t have anything to charge me with, and I told him just that.

As I expected, the police let me go, but not without a warning that “next time, I wouldn’t be so lucky”.   Lucky?  I sure didn’t feel lucky as I listened to my stepfather read me the riot act on the way home.  He and the policeman who’d “grilled” me had a lot in common when it came to justice.  They both seemed to suffer from justice dyslexia, managing to twist  “innocent until proven guilty” into “guilty because we said so”.

That was my first taste of police and the sort of “gestapo power” they can wield, and I didn’t like it at all.  I suppose that for a teenager, that could be a good thing – I certainly didn’t want to repeat the experience.  In fact, from that point on, I simply wanted to avoid the police and police stations like the plague.

Little did I know that my brother Frank would introduce me to them all over again.

Are You Experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

(excerpted lyrics from the song ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? by Jimi Hendrix)