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Alfred Woodfox (Photo Mark Hartman, The New Yorker)

Albert Woodfox (Photo Mark Hartman, The New Yorker)

Imagine the typical science-fiction starting point: A man comes back to earth after forty years (he was frozen or whatever) and assesses the state in which he finds the world now.

The man is Albert Woodfox, and the science-fiction genre could hardly come up with a story like his. The man spent 43 years in solitary confinement, most of it in Angola (Louisiana) an infamous Louisiana penitentiary and the largest maximum-security prison in the country. Woodfox fell through  all of the cracks of the American justice system: racial prejudice, sloppiness and high tolerance for violence. He served most of his time in Angola with  Herman Wallace, another Black Panther, who died right after getting out of prison in 2013.

Woodfox, along with Herman Wallace, Chester Jackson and Gilbert Montague were convicted for the murder of Brent Miller, a guard at Angola, on April 17 1972. There was no incriminating evidence, but a white jury delivered an expeditious conviction. God knows how one stands sane for more than forty years in a minuscule cell. Rachel Aviv, in her January 16 story in the New Yorker, “Surviving Solitary Confinement,” mentions a psychologist that was afraid of “how well Woodford had been adapting to painfulness.” From Aviv’s story, Woodfox’ survival stems from an extraordinary combination of strength of character, stringent discipline, rigorous control of his emotions and his desires, and sense of belonging to the Panthers and its ethos. Whatever the way he managed, what comes out Woodfox’s story is that he is a man, and a dignified one.

Freed at sixty-nine years old, Woodfox is now developing the relation he never had with his daughter, Brenda. He also happens to cast a stern look at the development of racial relations all the years he was locked up: “It’s the same old America…We have to protect Black Lives Matter like we did not protect the Black Panther Party.”

I am afraid that the seventy-year old child President of the United States, who claimed “that torture absolutely works” will give a  thought to rescinding the practice of solitary confinement, let alone reforming the US justice system.

lawyersIn the first week in his presidency, Trump has swiftly moved ahead with absurd infrastructure projects: The wall, the keystone and Dakota pipelines. He also stepped without any second thought on the Geneva convention when he barred entry to refugees from seven Muslim countries. Actually, this statement is incorrect: Trump did not have second thought about the Geneva convention, he did not even know what it was.  Chancelor Merkel had to explain it to the poor fellow, and the duties countries which signed the convention  -the U.S. among them- have with the  the prisoners of wars, the refugees  seeking asylum.

While people from these Muslim countries – among them green card holders- were stranded in US airports this weekend, immigration lawyers came to the airports, to help them remain in the U.S. and protect their rights.  I have not always been lenient with lawyers. These lawyers command my respect.

Since November 8, I cannot watch the news anymore and hear about the ludicrous tweets of the man with a toupee. I now confine myself to the paper and the radio.

This morning on the Brian Lehrer show, I listened to the 30 minutes weekly interview with the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. A caller asked the mayor about hiring more people at A.C.S (Administration for Children’s Services), which is under attack after Zymere Perkins’ death. The mayor was rather evasive.

I have not followed the tragic case of  Zymere Perkins’ case closely, but the question to the mayor let me wonder about ACS and its critical role between families and the justice system. On the one hand, ACS is all that children coming from  low income families like Zymere Perkins’ have; on the other hand, A.C.S. handles cases like mine (and this of more well-off folks like Anthony Wiener) and its  conclusions about child abuse don’t matter much, because the plaintiff carry on in court. I stick to what I said about A.C.S. 8 years ago: time to take them seriously and  staff them properly.

hillaryThe results of the US presidential elections prompted writer Aaron Sorkin to write a letter to his daughters. Like Sorkin, and many other fathers, I am very troubled by the victory of a man who, among many qualities, is an overt misogynist. I have not seen my daughters for years and feel I have to reach out to them, for whatever it is worth. This post is addressed to them.

I know you two did vote in the past election, both for your first presidential election. Chloé for the first time.

I did not vote. Although I have been living in this country for 25 years, I am not a U.S. citizen. Laura did become one this year to cast her vote against Trump and what he stands for. I went with her to her citizenship ceremony. I was very moved by it and congratulated her. Yet I could not to do the same as I can not bring myself to swear “to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.” I refused to bear arms for France and do my military service there in 1984 when France still had the draft, so I became a conscientious objector instead. I will not swear to do the same for the US, even if it is very unlikely that the lunatic who is now President-elect reestablishes the draft and decides to send men of my age to countries he may fancy to take to war. I do not acknowledge the right of a State – democratic or  otherwise – to tell someone when it is just to kill.

To be honest with you, I would also have a hard time swearing to defend the constitution of the US with the second amendment in it. A constitution is however subject to change.

But back to the earthquake of election day. I accompanied Laura to vote on 152 street and Amsterdam. It felt there like Hillary had 100 percent of the vote as we exited the polling station at 8:00 am. In fact, I only started to smell a rat around 10:00 pm, as Virginia was failing to fall fast enough in Hillary’s column.

Five days after the elections I am still in a state of shock trying to figure out what the triumvirate of fat idiots (Trump, Giuliani and Christie) is going to mess up first. Climate change policy and the US pledge in the Paris agreement? Planned parenthood and the life of women seeking an abortion? The life of the undocumented migrants, who cannot afford to be depressed, have not seen their families for years, and are still here washing dishes, cutting flowers, cleaning tables for miserable wages and paying for Social Security they will never get a penny from?

The thing that strikes me the most is what was going on in the voting booth with the folks who voted for the man. Granted, the democratic party has for too long neglected the working class. Does that justify voting for somebody who has absolutely zero credential with labour, even less  with the poor, and furthermore, has never run an office and is at best a dilettante?  I dare to bet that these poor fellows from Pennsylvania are not about to see their State covered again with steel mills.

Last thing about an image that has been aired over and over again I keep thinking about. In one of Trump’s campaign meeting, a black protestor was expelled, and walked back to the door by security. A man in the crowd surreptitiously threw a punch at him from behind. He knew the protestor could not get back at him. He also knew the crowd was on his side. This was an unfettered, safe expression of hate; The act of a coward. Men like Trump, who lamented the “old times when protesters would go home on a stretcher” call for this type of acts from this type of men.

Be safe girls.

I cannot wait for this presidential campaign to end. The fool with a toupee is dragging people -immigrants, women, disabled – and any issue he dares to discuss in the mud. This is exacting.

The poor fellow is obviously proud in his own sick way of his  daughter, whom he shows off, and whom, miraculously, has not ended up in the beauty pageants he owns. He has absolutely nothing to say about love, fatherhood, education or family justice.

Even if I think the man is likely to take the beating he deserves, I have to grab signs that the world has not turned into a nauseous place he lives in. Sometimes, you find it in the NYC subway.

Photos Laura Martinez

Introductions

p1030170It has been more than 11 years since my last supervised visitation with you (September 10 2005 to be exact). Since then, our contact have been either inexistent, or imaginary -as when ex impersonated one of you in email exchanges, very recently.

During all this time, your cousins in France you met and may remember have become adults, and one you never met, Romane, is a teen. Let me introduce to you your little cousins, Louise and Théa, who live near Chambéry, in France. In December, Louise will turn 4 and Théa 1.

Justice is really not America’s stuff. Perhaps because politicians don’t care.  As decrepit, insufficiently founded and poorly functioning as the justice system is, there is little interest in reforming it. Fixing the justice system is never a priority amongst the topics of a presidential campaign. At least,not the campaigns I have attended since 1992.

Last night, out of curiosity, I googled the sentence “justice reforms in the campaign of Donald Trump” and in the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, there is nothing of interest on Trump’s side. The poor fellow does not even understand the issue. For him, “justice” is about crime and punishment. Check it out.  The entries you get are “lethal injection is too comfortable”, “tough on crime”, “taking care of the bad dudes.” In other words, non- sense that have produced the poor outcomes the country is dealing with like massive incarceration rate,  and incarceration of the wrong guys, like Kalief Browder. Kalief Browder was innocent, refused to take a plea, spent three years in Rikers Island waiting for a trial, most of the time in solitary confinement and ended up committed suicide. That’s for the criminal justice system. With the family court system, divorced fathers have to go through marathon trial that last more than six years. And they loose access to their kids in the process.

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Kalief Browder (Photo ABC News)

With Clinton, we are in the realm of glittering marketing. One entry in Hillary for America site is “Racial Justice.” There, in a page with the  heading “America’s long struggle with race is far from finished,” you get a list of what President Clinton will do if elected. All of these goals are intrinsically worth pursuing. I see however two problems tough with this program that bear with credibility:  President Bill Clinton has implemented policies, like the 1996  welfare reforms- that have screwed the poor – blacks among others- left and right. That Hillary Clinton, who has not taken issue with the policies of her husband, may now stand as a champion of “racial justice” is a breathtaking legerdemain. Second, there does not seem to be much money involved in Hillary’s program, besides that for “doubling the funding for the US Department of Justice Collaborative Reform program” whose aims is to improve and train police practices. It is obviously necessary, but well short of the task.

What I ‘d like to see in a candidate’s program to reform justice is significant resources to fix the structural flaws of the system. Let me give you an example.  Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who represented hundreds of people on death row pro bono. He has taken care of those who have been unfairly treated by the justice system for lack of means, lack of education, racial prejudice etc. He moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson also created an organization called Equal Justice Initiative, which now operates nationally and employs 17 full-time attorneys. The financial future is temporarily secured thanks to …grants from private foundations.

When the work of organizations such as Equal Justice Initiative will not rest on charitable donations but on taxpayers money, there will be some hope the justice system will be seriously reformed… and racial justice taken care of as a result.

 

Let's Get Honest! Blog: Absolutely Uncommon Analysis of Family & Conciliation Courts' Operations, Practices, & History

'A Different Kind of Attention Develops Sound Judgment' | 'Suppose I'm Right Here?...' (posted 3/23 & 3/5/2014). Over 680 posts, Public-Interest Investigative Blogging On These Matters Since 2009.