Another Helping of Stress

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My parole board is right around the corner. How did it get here so fast? Have I really been in here that long?

I’m still trying to secure three key documents that a parole packet needs. But even if I do manage to get them, it’s hard to be optimistic about parole. I think the parole rate for the USDB is less than five percent. Additionally, I’m in my appeals process which to the parole board means I’m unwilling to accept responsibility for my crime.  But if I abandon the appeals process, then any chance I have at getting my verdict overturned is gone.

On top of all my legal issues, I have two final exams to complete to get my MBA. Coming from this bizarre institution, the degree may not mean much to anyone else, but for me, the correspondence courses have helped the last year pass quickly. After I’m done with these two exams, I won’t have any schoolwork to keep me busy – I’ll have to find something else.

Hello, Again

Remember the guy I wrote about last year who had his case overturned and went back to working in the Air Force? Well, he’s back at the USDB. I went and hired the attorney who got his case overturned after he got out last year. What a kick in the balls to see this guy come back.

The Air Force apparently spent ten months appealing the ruling to set aside his conviction and they finally won. Now he’s back in prison after ten months of relative freedom and he has to serve the remainder of his original sentence. He said he’s appealing this most recent decision by the court, but his outlook isn’t rosy.

I learn something new every day – today I learned that even if you win your appeal, you’re still at great risk of getting thrown back in prison.

48 hours in the USDB

Went to visit Russ this past weekend and he told me I simply had to check out the latest episode of “48 Hours.” I’ve never watched the show, but Russ said he’d heard it was about someone in the USDB and it was causing quite the furor since it aired (the inmates apparently all watched it). Turns out, the episode was about SGT Brent Burke who is serving time for the murders of his (soon-t0-be-Ex) wife and mother-in-law.

Here’s the full-length vid from CBS’s website: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50141188n

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Court drawing of SGT Burke in Court Martial
Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-18559_162-10015782-7.html

After watching, I was left wanting. I wasn’t completely convinced Burke had been wronged. The civilian courts declared four mistrials, they didn’t declare him innocent. That sounds like something procedural kept going wrong and I’m not going to hang my hat on a rule not followed to the letter.

I recently read Errol Morris’ A Wilderness of Error about the trials of Jeffrey MacDonald (an absolutely stunning book – I highly recommend). Upon finishing, I was dumbfounded and convinced of his MacDonald’s innocence. I cringed most of the way through the book as Morris detailed time and time again how lawyers, judges, and the court system failed MacDonald. There were times when I felt like I was reading a broken record – the same terrible mistakes kept happening over and over.

I didn’t have the same feeling after watching the 48 Hours segment – indeed, I was reminded that a similar 60 minutes segment that aired in 1983 about Jeffrey MacDonald got his case all wrong. So I checked out 48 Hours’ Facebook page to see what people were saying about the segment.

Well, according to a few commenters on the Facebook page (some of which linked to actual court documents, which I liked), CBS didn’t tell the whole story. In fact, it seems they may have left out some pretty key details. (Did Burke really get sent home from Afg. early because he threatened to kill his LT??) I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s hard to tell a story that spans nearly six years in 42 minutes, so obviously some heavy editing needed to be done.

Still, it’s an interesting story and I urge people to watch if only to get a feel for the nature of military courts.

Clemency

It’s been over a month since I submitted my request for clemency to the commanding General.

This clemency request is the final phase of my trial – a trial that started eleven months ago. I cannot start my appeals process until I hear back from the Generals’ office.

I got word yesterday that I had an attorney call scheduled for today. I figured I’d get word about my clemency and I did. It was hard to not get excited anticipating that phone call…at the prospect of clemency. I knew the odds of clemency were low…but I suppose I did get my hopes up a bit because I’m pretty bummed out.

The phone call only took about two minutes. I guess bad news doesn’t take that long. The General upheld my full sentence. I’ll be here for the next year at a minimum at which point I’ll be eligible for parole. The odds of getting parole are slightly better…but still not great.

This also means that my appeals process can start. Appeals can take years and to begin I essentially have to admit guilt. Can you wrap your mind around that? Here, let’s see if I can make it clear: I pleaded innocent and got a six year sentence when the judge found me guilty. If I would have pleaded guilty, I likely would have been kicked out of the Army and served a minimal amount of time behind bars – perhaps a few months. But I wanted to maintain my innocence – I am, after all, innocent (something you NEVER hear from a convict, right?). Now, if I want to get out of prison before my son graduates high school I’m going to have to admit guilt during my appeal process. I really wish someone would have explained all this to me before I saddled up my high horse. Lesson learned: when dealing with the law, one must thing strategically, not emotionally.

It’s hard to imagine being locked in a cell until you are. Consequently, its hard to fight it with the appropriate amount of vigor. It was also hard to imagine that the justice system would find me guilty, though if I would have looked at the statistics back then, I would have found I had a far greater chance of being convicted than acquitted. Even so, my prideful, naive self may have though the system would work in my case and I would be found innocent.

As they say…Pride goeth. Perhaps if I would have been able to let go of my pride before my trial, I wouldn’t be pissing in a modified water fountain these days.

I’ve been here over six months

That’s 25% of the way towards parole eligibility and over 11% of the way to mandatory supervised release.

But who’s counting?

An inmate I know recently went to his first parole board. They denied his parole because they said the sentence he received at trial was “too lenient.” Yep…the people on the parole board, none of whom were at his trial, judged his sentence to be inappropriate.

A Sad Realization

I should have pled guilty.

My choice to maintain my innocence netted me a six year sentence. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t commit a crime – or that the detective, a 25 year veteran of the police force who was called to the scene, said as much under oath. I should have just pled guilty.

Inmates here at the USDB who brokered pre-trial agreements (PTAs) are serving drastically shorter sentences simply because they admitted to their crimes (some of which are far more egregious than what I was accused of) before their trials.

I didn’t even entertain the notion of a PTA. If I would have gone the PTA route, I would have had to convince a judge of my guilt rather than my innocence. Thus, if you are innocent and enter a PTA, then you’re lying to the judge – contempt, which is a crime. I’ve laid awake at nights wondering…if I’d just lied and accepted a PTA, how much shorter of a sentence and lesser of a charge could I have bartered for?

I wish someone would have told me how slim my chances of acquittal were before I chose this path.

The cherry on top? I’ll have to undergo “treatment” for the crime I was convicted of. A mandatory part of “treatment” is to accept responsibility for my crime. If I don’t willingly undergo this treatment, my chances of parole will shrink into a little black hole. So since I didn’t lie early on and barter for a PTA, I’ll be forced to lie now. I suppose I could stick to my guns, but what good would that do me? It’ll just keep me in here longer. It’s not like I’ll get out with a clean slate just because I maintain my innocence. And I really want to get out of here.

Seems like the guilty man wins all around. He gets a shorter sentence via his PTA, then he gets a favorable look from the parole board for accepting responsibility for his crime.

Hmmm…seems fair.

FEDEX (not the mail service)

Here, the term, “FEDEX” doesn’t refer to a mail carrier service, it means Federal Transfer. I’ve been hearing rumors about a FEDEX for the past few weeks. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me. The guards tell me that the USDB is at maximum capacity. The military continues to convict at a faster rate than inmates are getting released.

Last night the order came through. About 15 inmates disappeared. I’ve heard they were taken to the Special Housing Unit (SHU) without even an opportunity to grab anything out of their cells. They’ll stay in the SHU until they complete out-processing and move to a Federal Prison.

Moving from the USDB into the federal prison system has its pros and cons. The USDB is safer than most prisons, particularly for sex offenders. The odds of being raped at the USDB are practically non-existant; at a federal prison, I’ve been told the odds of a sex offender being raped or tortured are pretty high. The food and recreational opportunities are superior at the USDB, though there’s no internet access. The benefits of a federal prison, to me, seem dim in comparison. From what I can tell, the only pros are that they try to place you at a federal pen close to your home of record, you may have internet access, and you may have a slightly better chance at parole or early release.

The USDB has a high percentage of sex offenders – perhaps as a result of the military’s crack down on such offenses in response to the media spotlight on sexual harassment and assault in war zones – so most people here are pretty averse to being transferred.

I didn’t get caught up in this round of federal transfers. It actually turned out to be sort of a good deal for me. I was upgraded to a room on the first floor (I can  make out what’s on TV from my bed) and I’ve been invited to fill a vacancy in the second row to watch TV. There are four rows from which you can watch TV and the closer to the front and middle you are, the more “rank” you have, i.e. the “heavy” for my section sits front and center. (For more on the prison hierarchy and “sections” see: A Learning Experience.)

I started off as a newbie sitting in the fourth row near the end. I’ve made it to the second row in record time. I’m actually sort of proud. It basically means that I’m fitting in well with the front row guys, I keep my cell clean, practice good hygiene, and don’t stir up trouble. There are guys who’ve been here 10 years and are still in the fourth row because they can’t seem to fit in. I just hope my rapid advancement in the section doesn’t hurt me later because of jealousy.