Factory Prisons and the Creation of a Sociopath Society, Part II
By Karla Fetrow
How the Citizen’s Informer sets up Deals
Jennifer, oh Jennifer, how could you be so cruel? This is not to say all Jennifers are invested with slithering personalities… I know several who are decent, honest, gregarious and kind, but this particular Jennifer; one whose last name I never did learn, throws a stone-packed ice-ball at the good name of Jennifers everywhere. She used to be my friend; or so I thought. Apparently friendships are not nearly so valuable to her as saving her skin when it came time to take a dose of federal induced medicine.
In all fairness, I had been forewarned. A couple months earlier, I had been stopped by two federal agents while on my way to work, told they had a warrant to search my house, and the right to search my backpack. There was nothing in my backpack except my wallet, camera and a few of the things women were inclined to incur as necessary items for leaving the house, and nothing in my home except an ounce of marijuana, so I wasn’t greatly concerned. It’s legal in Alaska to keep a few ounces of weed rattling about in your house for personal use, and I readily admitted to the presence of an ounce when they asked me.
They then proceeded to ask me about the guns, expensive electronic equipment and large sums of cash they insisted I had somewhere in hiding in my home. This was surprising to me. All that wealth, and I was living in a ramshackle trailer, with a faulty furnace not generating enough heat to bring the temperature up over fifty degrees in the winter, had to carry water because I had no plumbing, and was walking to work every day in thirty below weather because I had no car. I asked them why I would be doing this if I had lots of money.
They weren’t impressed. One of the agents told me he had worked in law enforcement for twenty years and he could tell I’ve been selling pounds of weed. Pounds of weed! Whoa! He must have been mistaking me for the neighbor down the road, or one of at least half a dozen other people within a close vicinity. I didn’t tell him this, but I did tell him I was lucky to receive two ounces at a time, and that on a front. “You don’t sell weed?” He asked.
“No, I answered.
“We have information you just sold an ounce.”
That’s when it occurred to me; there was only one person who had gotten an ounce from me and that was Jennifer. Figuring she had just gotten popped for the pain killers she liked to peddle to anyone interested and they had found her little stash as well, causing her to squeal like a little stuck pig, I told them, “sometimes, if my friends are looking, I help them out, and if I am looking, they do me the same favor. But it isn’t really selling. It’s just favors between friends.”
They then began asking me questions about my boss, which began to piss me off a little. “Look,” I told them. “My boss has cameras all over the store to keep things legal and aboveboard. Nobody conducts illegal transactions from his store. He wouldn’t stand for it.”
They finally let me go, and I arrived at work with one minute to spare before I was officially late. I punched in, then decided to tell both my co-workers and my boss what had just happened. They decided Jennifer was not allowed back in the store. She was trouble.
She certainly was. According to the police report, CS11-17; Jennifer; was given three hundred dollars to purchase an ounce of marijuana from me. The report read that “due to scheduling conflict within the unit, the controlled purchase needed to be moved to a later date.” There was a scheduling conflict alright, but not with the agents. Jennifer had been calling me night and day, wheedling and begging for an ounce and I had been ignoring her. The report went on to say that she was finally escorted to my work place to arrange the purchase, telling the police deals were often set up from there. It was because she showed up at my work place that I finally caved. I was very protective of my boss’s small, independent business, and had made it a point to keep business and indulgences separate. In order to get her off my back, I had told her to come by when I got off work and we’d set something up.
The little snitch was wired the entire time. She had recorded my agreement to meet her at the house and when she arrived, had recorded our conversation in which I had told her I’d call a friend. Officially, the arrangements had been made for the feds trafficking case. And officially, I had just committed a felon when I scored the ounce and turned it over to her for the same price I had paid for it. We were friends. I wasn’t interested in capitalizing off her, but apparently, she was very interested in capitalizing off me.
My first meeting with my attorney, I was distrustful. After all, he was a public defender and public defenders weren’t that interested in winning cases. I told him frankly I wanted a Civil Liberties attorney because the whole thing had been a set-up.
“What do you mean?” He asked. So I told him the whole story, adding I knew it was Jennifer because I don’t deal and she was the only one who had come by to ask for ounce.
“She begged me,” I said. “She had gone to the states for several years, so when she came back, I figured she’d lost touch with her regular dealer. I used to buy from her at least as much as she bought from me, so I thought I would do her a favor.”
“Then it was entrapment.” Since it was rather pointless to try and continue hiding her identity, he then told me Jennifer was a citizen informant; a fancy word fora narc, a squealer. She had agreed to turn in everyone she could so the charges against her would be dropped. “She chose you because you are not dangerous.”
There is a rather outdated viewpoint of the citizen’s informer as a somewhat sympathetic person; someone caught between the forces of lawful and illicit dealings by unfortunate circumstances; the unwilling or unwitting fool trapped by the mafia, the drug addict who would like to get off drugs but finds himself hopelessly entrenched, racketeers who develop a conscience, smugglers who wish to drop out of the game… but there is very little truth to this stereotype. An informer informs for one reason only; he or she got caught and wants the least amount of sentencing possible.
The modern day informant might do it for money or do it for some kind of weird sense of glory, but a snitch chooses the least likely avenues for retaliation. When Tim Allen, the oil lobbyist turned informer, welched out a number of Alaskan legislators, he did not mention even one of his oil cronies, who certainly carried their own guilt. He did set up and ruin the life of one rather guileless representative named Vic Kohring. I’ve known the Kohring family since my early teenage years. They were honest and hardworking. The boys didn’t even get into the usual trouble teenagers are so apt to get into, like staying up all night drinking, then terrorizing the neighborhood with loud noise and fast cars, or sneaking off during school hours to smoke cigarettes and make out with girls. They were part of the clean cut crowd.
Vic was a junior representative. He hadn’t even been in politics long enough to cut that many shady deals. Most likely, when he saw how some of the legislators lined their pockets, he was ripe and eager to get a taste of the action himself. He was set up, and Tim Allen was the wired informer.
When Ted Stevens beat the corruption charges filed against him, stating that the prosecution had with-held evidence favorable to his case, the feds said the elderly Senator’s case was the exception, not the rule. Senator Lisa Murkowski disagrees. She recently began pushing a bill that would require prosecutors to immediately turn over evidence to the defense that could be favorable to the accused. The American Civil Liberties Union, among other human rights committees, also support the bill, saying this type of problem happens too often.
Special Prosecutor, Henry Schuelke, who produced the court -ordered report on misconduct in the Ted Stevens case states there have been cases with Justice Department errors comparable to the Stevens prosecution. The same judge who presided over Stevens’ case, for example, in 2009 found that prosecutors improperly with-held important psychiatric records of a government witness who was used in a significant number of Guantanamo cases.
According to Schulke, prosecutors with-hold evidence simply because they want to win. “The motive to win the case is the principal, operative motive. I do not believe any of the prosecutors harbored a personal animus toward Senator Stevens. I don’t believe they sought fame and glory. They did, however, want to win the case.”
Winning is all it’s really about. Jennifer did not turn in any of the real dealers, the ones who were moving pounds of marijuana or had growing operations in their back yards, and she certainly didn’t turn in her pharmaceutical contacts. She turned in someone safe, someone who would not jeopardize her own illicit dealings. “In fact,” said my attorney, “what the courts really want are the major players. If you turned in your contacts, they would just set you free… but, I don’t see you as that kind of person.”
“I’m not,” I answered. “And even if I was, the town is really a very small community. By now, everyone has heard what has happened. If I walked out of here and starting knocking on people’s doors, they would shut down tighter than a drum.”
My attorney was willing to take the case to trial, but he cautioned me that the wire tapping was damaging. “It doesn’t really matter,” he explained. “That you got her the ounce as a favor. It doesn’t matter that you made no money from it. The point they will make is that moving a controlled substance without a medical prescription is a felony.” He then went on to illustrate just how easy it is to commit a felony. “If you have a friend with a back-ache and you give her pain pills to relieve it, you’ve just committed a felony. If your friend has an ear infection, and you give her some left-over antibiotics you happen to have on hand, you’ve just committed a felony. “
There are a number of other ways one can quite effortlessly and randomly commit a felony. Under the three strikes system, practiced in twenty-six states, you can receive a felony conviction for your third driving under the influence of alcohol offense. Or how about for a one dollar cup of soda? A Florida man faces felony charges after refusing to pay $1 for a cup of soda in an East Naples McDonald’s restaurant. The initial charge was for petty theft. But due to Abaire’s record of prior petty theft convictions, the charge was increased from a misdemeanor to a felony under Florida’s ‘three strikes’ statute.
After throwing a tantrum in school, Selecia Johnson was handcuffed, charged with battery, and kept in police custody for an hour before her parents found out what was going on. Though all charges have been dropped, Salecia — a 6-year-old — now has an arrest record.
Should I try to beat the feds? I had to think about this. People who are sitting in jail do not normally beat a trial by jury. People who are sitting in jail with a young public defender; even a very sincere and idealistic one; do not normally beat a trial by jury. “I want a reduced bail hearing,” I said.
Two weeks later, there still was no word that I would be granted a reduced bail hearing. Five thousand dollars cash or credit bail; called corporate bail; is really an astronomical amount for trafficking a small quantity of weed in a state where marijuana is the primary drug of choice. In terms of bonded bail, where the bail bondsman covers the main cost, it would amount to $50,000 bail; the type of bail usually placed on more serious crime, like burglary or armed robbery. It’s to be supposed that somehow, as a corporate, the courts still believed I should be able to cough up five thousand dollars.
So I sat, and read, and took walks in their melting exercise yard. I also observed. It wasn’t long before I noticed a particular pattern in the revolving door of detainees. As soon as a few beds were unoccupied for any length of time, there was a sudden rash of new criminals, and we were filled to maximum capacity again.
I also discovered four other women from my community within the first two weeks I was incarcerated; women I knew on a first time basis; a couple who were long term friends. Doing the math, I estimated that at this rate, every woman in my home town would have a taste of Highland Vacation Land within the next five years.
I noticed another disturbing trend, the number of girls who had been arrested because of the men who had placed them there. One young woman, no more than five feet tall and a hundred ten pounds, was arrested after getting into a shouting match with her (male) neighbor and attacking him with her fists. When she requested a reduced bail hearing, she was denied, because, the neighbor told the court, he feared for his life. Another was thrown in the day after she broke up with her boyfriend for using his credit card; a card he had given her permission to use until the day of their quarrel. One woman was thrown in for going to her ex-boyfriend’s house and destroying all the gifts she had given him previously. The most pitiful case was a woman charged with harboring a fugitive; a man who had not bothered to tell her he was running from the law when he asked permission to stay at her house.
Women represent the fasted growing population in prison. Between 1980 and 1993, the growth rate for the female prison population increased approximately 313%, compared to 182% for men in the same period. At the end of 1993 women accounted for 5.8% of the total prison population and 9.3% of the jail population nationwide.
Incarcerated women are overwhelmingly poor. The majority of women prisoners (53%) and women in jail (74%) were unemployed prior to incarceration.
When women go to prison, it takes a devastating toll on the family. Sixty seven per cent of women incarcerated in state prisons are mothers of children under 18. Seventy percent of these women compared to 50% of men had custody of their dependent children prior to incarceration.
Six per cent of women are pregnant when they enter prison. In almost all cases, the woman is abruptly separated from her child after giving birth.
In the Continental United States, a disproportionate number – 60% – of inmates are black or Hispanic, but in Alaska discrimination favors a separate minority. While thirty-seven percent of the population is Alaskan Native, approximately 54% of these girls gone wild belong to the Native category. Most are incarcerated for minor infractions; drinking while driving, disorderly conduct, petty theft, resisting arrest, but generally receive the maximum penalty for their misdemeanors.
Finally, I received another visit from my attorney. “The judge has offered you a plea bargain. If you plea guilty to one count of misconduct with a controlled substance, they will give you thirty months of probation. If you complete your probation without another infraction, the charge will be stricken from the record. It’s a good deal,” he added hesitantly. “If you agree, we can go to court Friday and you can walk out of jail.”
Friday was five days away. Five days away and there had been no bail reduction hearings, no indication that some champion of human rights would come to my rescue, very little contact with the outside world at all. I had bills to pay, a house in disorder, responsibilities to assume. All I had to do was report to a probation officer once a month and stay out of trouble. While a part of me still wanted to fight the good fight, the entire rest of me wanted to be free. I accepted the deal.
To be Continued
Karla Fetrow: Becoming a felon is as easy as giving one of your prescription pain killers to a friend with a back-ache or throwing a tantrum in school.