Life in non-punitive therapeutic civil commitment is not what you think

Duck Soup

Jimmy Pesci, author and publisher of the outlawed blog Duck Soup and its successor FCCC Instigator,

FCCC Instigator2

is one of 6,000 men in this country who, after completing their sentences, are being held indefinitely behind locked doors and razor-wire fences while the Supreme Court assures them that they’re not in prison.  So they’re not called “inmates” but “patients” or “residents.” They’re not incarcerated but “housed” in a non-punitive therapeutic facility. They’re not being punished, they’re being treated.

They’re not overseen by a warden but by an “Executive Director.”  They don’t commit infractions, they “engage in clinically inappropriate behavior.” They’re not subjected to disciplinary proceedings but to “behavioral management hearings.”  Being locked up alone isn’t solitary confinement but “controlled management.”

Indeed, the websites of the mega for-profit corporations that run the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) make life there sound so attractive you might be tempted to move there yourself. First it was the Geo Group, now it’s the chillingly-named Correct Care Solutions. (You’d think a business devoted to keeping large numbers of people behind barbed wire would avoid the word “solution”).

Duck Soup pricks the therapeutic bubble, deploying critique, anecdotes and cartoons to expose the punitive reality behind the treatment façade:  the head-crackings, the arbitrary rules, the incompetent management that makes life hell for inmates and the rare staff members who try to do a good job.  Like a good investigative reporter, Pesci interviews his sources, distinguishes between mere rumor and matters seen and heard, and tells it like it is, living under a regime that has “allowed security to dominate most aspects of the everyday operations of this facility.”

His attempts to file grievances about the conditions of FCCC are met with the retort, “There appears to be a lot of cognitive distortions in your thinking that needs to be addressed in treatment.” Well, why should anyone listen to a man who’s been classified by a court as “a sexually violent predator likely to engage in future acts of violence if not confined indefinitely”?

Duck Soup doesn’t remotely advise riot or violence. In fact,  Pesci often criticizes his blustering fellow inmates for fighting with each other instead of speaking up:

One of the things that perturbs me the most is that every time another deprecating memorandum is posted on our bulletin boards from the administration with new rules and ultimatums, or those inspection teams walking through the dorms barking orders and threatening disciplinary action, the entire dorm becomes quiet as a church mouse. Where are all the soldiers? Where are all these gangsters that like to run their mouths and are quick to fight other inmates? If the shoe fits, wear it, because you are truly what defines a coward!

It’s said that the sunlight of investigative reporting is the best disinfectant against corruption and incompetence. But to the bureaucratic mind, it’s the ultimate threat. The warden – sorry, the Executive Director – prohibited the inmates from printing Duck Soup unless they supplied their own paper, explaining that his purpose was “to limit access.” A few months later, he declared the blog to be contraband and issued disciplinary – sorry, behavioral management – sanctions against Pesci for having it on his flash drive.

When a new warden took over, Pesci started the FCCC Investigator, a newsletter instead of a blog – inmates now being forbidden all access to the Internet or the sharing of any files. The Instigator sports a more sophisticated format than the Soup, similar to Prison Legal News.  The warden applied his predecessor’s tactic of limiting the number of pages an inmate could print, but claimed it was all about conserving paper and ink. 

Pesci filed a suit in federal court,  protesting the banning of Duck Soup and the attempt to limit access to FCCC Instigator.

As every law student knows, courts apply one of four standards of review when deciding whether the Constitution has been monkeyed with: strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, low-level scrutiny and blind-eye. The latter being the standard for prisoners asserting a deprivation of  First Amendment rights.

The 11th Circuit, or whatever fresh-faced intern wrote the decision, swallowed hook, line and sinker FCCC’s “saving paper” excuse, along with its claim that Pesci’s writings were “incendiary” and “could create a safety issue” (italics in original). After dutifully intoning that “deference to facility administrators and concerns relating to safety and security cannot be used as a pretext to silence undesirable speech,” the decision upholds exactly that. It concludes that since the warden was “genuinely” concerned that Duck Soup might cause “tensions and hostility,” that settled it. No need to ask whether he was reasonably concerned. Or whether whatever tensions and hostility existed in Therapeutic Paradise were caused by Duck Soup and not by the conditions it was reporting.

Duck Soup was originally uploaded to the now defunct http://www.uncomfortabletruth.org. But you can read some of it here and decide for yourself whether it’s Pesci or the bureaucrats who suffer from cognitive distortions.

Duck Soup cartoon

Cartoon by Jimmy Pesci

Jul 2009 Duck Soup

Aug 2009 Duck Soup

Sept 2009 Duck SoupNov 2009 Duck Soup

Dec 2009 Duck Soup

Feb March Duck Soup

April 2010 Duck Soup

June July 2010 Duck Soup

The Instigator Sept 2011

Sept 2014 The Instigator

Posted in Civil Liberties, First Amendment, Law & Parody, Prisoners' rights | Tagged | Leave a comment

Buster the civil commitment dog

Last week the Schoolmarm again haled us into her office to answer “new complaints” that we “needed” either to take down “the offending blog posts that were the subject of the [termination] warnings” or stop sending around any links to our blog.

Naturally we demanded to see the complaints, since it’s been two and a half years since we posted the “offending blog post.” And since after the resulting brouhaha, we’d scrupulously refrained from sending around anything that could possibly traumatize the office snowflakes.

Getting the complaints was harder than getting the Nixon tapes, but we finally got them and here’s what they said:

I would like to complain about this [person] using email to promote [their] blog. Thanks.

and:

why is [they] allowed to share [their] blog? does that mean I can share my blog too?

When we pointed out the difference between what the complaints said and what BossLady said they said, she explained with no apparent irony, “That’s why I didn’t want to show you the complaints.”

Ok-aaaay.

On further cross-examination, she admitted that she was the complainant because our two-and-a-half-year-old blog post “makes me crazy.” She had to allow that our recent post about how court officers mistreat the public was clearly work-related, “although I don’t see why it was necessary to be funny.”

Her solution? Prohibit us from sending around any link to the Squawk. Instead, we must paste a pdf of the text into the emails. This will protect the attorneys from stumbling upon the “offending” post, she explained.

As we were brooding over this applesauce, our friend the Dobbswire sent us a recent federal case upholding the banning of another satirical blog, “Duck Soup.” The offending blogger is Jimmy Pesci, an inmate – sorry, a patient – in the Florida Civil Commitment Center [FCCC], one of 600 Florida men who, after serving their prison sentences, are being indefinitely confined to a “secure facility” based on highly scientific evidence that they might commit a sex offense if released.

More about Mr. Pesci’s security-threatening, treatment-interfering “Duck Soup” in future Squawks, but here’s a sample for now:

“Last month, on my way to pick up a package from the property room, I noticed that one of the holding rooms that are reserved for incoming new gains* to be held while they wait to be processed into the facility, actually was the designated living quarters for Buster.

*Pesci’s footnote: This is a term used in the Florida Department of Corrections for newly arrived inmates. That term was carried over to the Florida Civil Commitment Center, of course.

“There was a large sign on the door with red letters that read ‘Caution K-9.’ There were also a few pages of standard-sized paper tacked on the outside of the door that I came to discover were the special instructions concerning Buster’s handling and care.

“It was a policy and procedure memorandum on how many times Buster is required to be taken for a walk, provided fresh air breaks, fed and administered water to drink. It included a designated area where Buster could defecate.

“It also had a written order that under no circumstances was Buster ‘to be allowed to walk on the compound.’ As if he was a high-profile inmate under secure management status with modified behavioral management precautions.

“When I approached Buster’s cell for the first time and peeked into the long narrow oblong window of his steel door, I was saddened when I observed him laying flat on his side in the center of his cell, on the concrete ground. Even though there was a canine type bed provided for him, he chose to lie on that concrete floor, undoubtedly because, despite the fact that this 62-million-dollar ‘state-of-the-art facility’ is air-conditioned, he evidently felt cooler there instead.

“When he looked up at me stoically, with those sad lonely eyes, then just let his head drop back down, uninterested, I knew something was not right and that Buster was not the healthy tail-wagging pup that we’ve all come to know him to be in previous months.

“Like most of us here, Buster’s happier days were at the old facility where he was walked around the compound by his primary handler, had a large outdoor kennel to run back and forth in or have his collar released so that he could jet unrestricted around a much larger grassier area. Like any Labrador breed of his kind, Buster needed lots of space to run around and as equally as much love and attention bestowed upon him.

“I was always dumbfounded that his handlers allowed us convicted criminals (the primary targets of his drug detection training) to pet and feed him. (Something that they should have known was the biggest no-no in training a drug detection dog like Buster).

“When I walked away from that cell, I could not help but feel that Buster had it worse off than we did. Furthermore, there was no question in my mind that he was not only being neglected, but that Buster was under complete lock-down.

“The official version of Buster’s death claims that he died of natural causes. Others have called him a “defective dog,” meaning that Geo [the private for-profit corporation that runs FCCC] purchased Buster with a bad recessive gene.

“Apparently someone other than me made this observation and Buster was finally taken to a local veterinarian, where he was placed on a stress machine and dropped dead during the exam.

“Some of you may feel that Buster was just a dog, so why even bother to write about it. It would be sad to think that anyone harbors that caliber of insensitive disregard. More importantly, since Buster was an official drug interdiction dog, that would qualify him to be a law enforcement agent, just like any other canine working for a law enforcement agency, where is the accountability here? [. . . ]

“All Buster ever seemed to truly want is Love and a hand-controlled rag reeking of cannabis** to get everyone excited when he would falsely alert on objects or people that were clean.

**Pesci’s footnote: This is the method used to train drug-sniffing canines like Buster.

He certainly wasn’t getting any of that attention being locked down in that cell most of the day.

“Besides the fact that it is evident that it’s Geo who needs to graduate obedience school, my other question to the administration would be: if you could not take care of Buster, what in God’s name makes you clowns feel that you can take care of us?

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law & Parody, sex offenders | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Is it a crime to sleep it off in your car?

It was a great party, but when you get into your car, you realize you drank more than you thought. No worries. You switch on the heat or the AC, crank up your favorite radio station, close your eyes and settle back to sleep it off.

Next thing you know, a cop is banging on your window yelling at you to step out.

As the cop will recite in the litany of cop-ese, you have “bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and emit the odor of alcoholic beverages.” You’re arrested, handcuffed and hauled into the precinct where you’re made to blow up balloons, stand on one foot and walk that wavy-looking yellow line painted on the floor. You’re charged with “operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.”

Wait a minute! The whole point of sitting in your car was not to drive! Ok, so your blood contains more alcohol than hemoglobin, but you weren’t driving.

Tell that to the judge. Who’ll snap at you that for purposes of drunk driving, “operating a motor vehicle” means sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine running. Or sitting there with the key in the ignition. Or just sitting there with bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and emitting the odor of alcoholic beverages. Or even – we’re not making this up – sleeping while blotto in the back seat of a car parked on the street with no keys anywhere. Because, you see, you might be thinking of driving.

This reasoning dates from an antique decision from the days when the only possible reason for cranking up the Model T was to drive it. Long before air conditioning and subwoofers came along to make cars an alternative habitat.

But even this hoary old case says that turning on the engine has to be for the purpose of putting the car in motion. A detail that escapes many courts, not to mention the cop on the beat. The result is to criminalize indiscriminately both guilty and innocent conduct. Which the Constitution frowns on.

So what to do when you’re too wasted to drive but too old to ask your parents to pick you up? And the cabdriver won’t take you, lest you throw up on his fine upholstery? Sleep on the sidewalk? Whatever. Just don’t go near your car.

 

Posted in Criminal law, Satirical cartoons | Tagged | 8 Comments

What really happens in court: the unvarnished truth

Our friend Alex Bunin, Houston public defender extraordinaire, recently posted a hilarious dissection of  the latest courtroom t.v. series “all rise”  (the lowercase title signifying resistance to capitalization privilege). The show features a slinky hot-cha judge who cares deeply about criminal defendants, and a number of what Alex calls “that-does-not-really-happen” moments.

Why is it that no courtroom drama from “Merchant of Venice” to Judge Judy shows what really happens? Here now is an unexpurgated picture of the really-happening moments in a typical New York courtroom.

9:30 Judge Suburbia’s courtroom. It’s empty except for her robe draped over the judge’s chair and a burly court officer in a bulletproof vest sitting at the prosecutor’s table reading the NY Post. Headline: Judge Frees Tot Slayer Perv.

9:40 Court officer turns the page.

9:45 Enter BEWILDERED MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC clutching a crumpled piece of paper.

Bewildered Member of the Public: Um, excuse me? (no answer) Excuse me? Sir? (Court officer finishes the Post, puts it on the judge’s bench) Am I in the right place?

Court Officer: You gotta ask downstairs. (Bewildered Member of the Public shuffles out)

10:00 Enter MORE COURT OFFICERS IN BULLETPROOF VESTS.

Court Officers: (to one another) Hiya huwa howa hubba hoba hubba! (etc.)

10:30 Enter SAVVY MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC WHO’VE BEEN COMING TO THIS SAME COURTROOM ON THEIR CASES FOR THE LAST YEAR AND A HALF.

Savvy Members of the Public: (filling up the benches) Murmur, murmur, murmur.

Court Officer: NO TALKING!

Savvy Members of the Public: Murmur, murmur, murmur.

Court Officer: NO TALKING NO CELL PHONES NO NEWSPAPERS!

11:00 Enter BEWILDERED MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC

Bewildered Member of the Public: They said this is where I’m supposed to go.

Court Officer: TAKE A SEAT AND NO TALKING!

11:15 Enter HARRIED DEFENSE LAWYER

Harried Defense Lawyer: (to Savvy Members of the Public) Mr. Rodriguez? Is Mr. Rodriguez here? (no answer. Harried Defense Lawyer leaves).

11:30 Enter GIRL PROSECUTORS IN IDENTICAL BLACK SUITS TOTING LARGE CARDBOARD BOXES OF FILES.

Girl Prosecutors: (to one another) Cheep cheep chirpy chirpy cheep (etc.)

11:35 Enter COURT REPORTER and CLERK

11:40  Enter JUDGE SUBURBIA in a tight red dress, holding a bunch of car keys in one hand and a large cup of takeout coffee in the other.

Clerk: All rise! (everybody stands).

Judge Suburbia: Be seated. (to CLERK) What have we got today, Joe?

Clerk: (handing her a file) It’s a 240.70 and an attempted 98.6. (Judge sits at the bench drinking coffee and reading the file)

12:30 Judge Suburbia: Are the parties present?

(Court officers in black leather gloves bring DEFENDANT out from the back to the defense table where HARRIED DEFENSE LAWYER is standing).

Judge Suburbia: Is there a disposition?

Girl Prosecutor: Your Honor, may we approach? (Girl Prosecutor and Harried Defense Lawyer go up to the bench and confer inaudibly).

Very Young Member of the Public: GGGGhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Court Officer: Take that baby outside!

12:50 Judge Suburbia: Okay, the People say they need more time to get the victim’s flu vaccination records. We’ll put this over to July 15th.

Prosecutor: I’m on trial that day.

Judge Suburbia: Very well, make it October 15th. My goodness, it’s nearly 1:00, we have to break for lunch. I won’t be here this afternoon. I’m the keynote speaker in the judicial conference on efficiency in the courts.

Clerk: All rise! (exit Judge Suburbia)

Bewildered Member of the Public: But —

Court Officer: Step outside, the courtroom is closed.

Bewildered Member

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Law & Parody | 5 Comments

Putting the brakes on “victims’ rights”

“The Young Savages,” a 1961 movie about teenage gangs (Italo-Americans vs. Puerto Ricans), filmed on the streets of pre-gentrified New York, opens with three Italo teens killing a Puerto Rican youth who’s not only unarmed but blind. “New York is cold, cold,” says the grieving mother to the Assistant District Attorney (Burt Lancaster). “In Puerto Rico, everybody say hello. In New York, there’s no love.”

Just when your heart is going out to her, she adds, “So I want those boys to fry, Mr. District Attorney! There will be no justice until you send them to the electric chair!”

It’s complicated.

A man pleads not guilty to sex trafficking and is found hanged in his cell. His accusers, not satisfied that he’s paid with his life, bitterly complain that they’ve been cheated of their day in court. The federal judge obligingly holds a special proceeding for them to vent their fury in the courtroom. “I believe it is the court’s responsibility and manifestly within its purview to ensure that the victims in this case are treated fairly and with dignity,” he announces. (“Manifestly” being a judicial term of art for “having no legal support whatever”).

Does anybody besides Simple Justice see anything haywire when a judge presiding over a case decides that the accusers are victims? Without the silly formality of a trial, much less a verdict?  Turning his courtroom into a soapbox because of a  “manifest” belief that a court has a responsibility to soothe their outrage? To hell with proof beyond a reasonable doubt when you can substitute “believe the victim.”

So it was pretty amazing when, during that same week, another New York court came out with the radical holding that although victims have rights, “those rights are limited and do not allow victims to control the criminal process.”

The occasion was a lawsuit filed by the widow of Police Officer Joseph Piagentini, who was ambushed and shot to death during the 1970’s enthusiasm for killing cops in the name of the Black Revolutionary Army.  Herman Bell, a college student at the time, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. Now that he’s 70 years old and a changed man after serving 40 years in prison, he was finally released to parole.

“Irrationality bordering on impropriety,” fumed Mrs. Piagentini in her petition against the Parole Board. For her and the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, nothing short of life imprisonment for Bell will ever be enough.  After all, they argue, John Lennon’s assassin got 20 to life and is still being denied parole.

A slew of public defender organizations filed an amicus brief saying that crime victims shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with Parole Board decisions, at least not on the rare occasions when the Board gets it right.  The court agreed. A victim isn’t a party to the action and has no standing to appeal a decision.

They have plenty of influence as it is.

A.D.A. Burt Lancaster consults the wishes of the victims.

 

 

 

Posted in Civil Liberties, Criminal law | 3 Comments

Maestro James Levine (somewhat) rehabilitated

No matter what people say, you don’t have to be a toffee-nose in a mink stole to enjoy opera.  Especially when you can spend the last week of summer watching it on HD on a giant screen outdoors in front of the Met as dusk fades into night and the Moon emerges. While sitting with friends, sipping wine from cans and munching peanut butter sandwiches (which pair nicely with red, white or rosé).

As for Mark Twain’s crack about Wagner’s music not being as bad as it sounds –obviously he’d never seen the Ring Cycle conducted by James Levine.

Although if the #MeToo cranks had their way, the rest of the world would never see it either. Because some middle-aged guys suddenly decided that this was a good time to accuse Maestro Levine — now in his mid-70’s, struggling with Parkinson’s and conducting from a wheelchair —  of having committed sexual improprieties against them 40 years ago when they were teenagers. The Met obligingly fired him, canceled all his scheduled performances and conspicuously omitted his HD recordings from last year’s outdoor opera week.

Levine sued for defamation.  Earlier this year, the court held that although it wasn’t defamatory for the Met to announce that this was “a sad moment,” it was defamatory to post on its website that it possessed “credible” “corroborated” “evidence” that he had committed sexual misconduct against “vulnerable artists in the early stages of their careers.”  The court rejected the Met’s argument that it was merely expressing an opinion, finding that “the average reader” would infer that the Met had supporting facts  “detrimental to the person” that it wasn’t telling. Needless to say, none of these “facts” had been determined by anyone except the Met.

Whether because of this decision or an uprising by the mink-stole crowd, the Met allowed “Das Rheingold,” conducted by Levine in 2010, to be shown at this year’s outdoor HD festival. Marvelous! The version that Mark Twain slept through most likely portrayed Wotan as a dreary old stick, his wife Fricka as a nagging scold and Alberich the Dwarf as nothing but a grotesque villain. But Levine’s version was full of feeling and infinitely more riveting than “Star Wars.”

Eric Owens as Alberich inspects the magic helmet whose transformative powers will lead to his turning himself into a toad, with unfavorable consequences.

But the Met had to extract its pound of flesh. Except for a quick glimpse of Levine’s head at the beginning, it cut out all the footage of him conducting. The way the Soviet Union used to airbrush out disfavored persons from official photos.

But nothing could destroy the music.

We hear Levine’s case was recently settled. We hope one of the conditions is that the Met bring back all the uncut HD’s of him conducting. Or else they’ll have to reckon with the canned wine and peanut butter sandwich crowd.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Compulsory Program Mystique

It’s a well-know fact that compulsory programs (CP) originated in ancient times when God felt offended at seeing His people worshiping other gods. “Hand me a couple of thunderbolts, will you?” He said to His Angel of Communications and Human Resources. “Oh, God!” said the Angel. “That’s so Old Testament! The goal is to improve their performance and engage them in transformational pathways to catalyze growth.”

“You mean make them go to church?” asked God.

“Kee-rect!” said the Angel. “Sitting through meetings inspires team cohesion and promotes productivity. At the very least,  they’ll learn how to sleep with their eyes open.”

CP flourished for centuries until the Spanish Inquisition, when thousands of heretics decided they’d rather be burned at the stake than endure another of Torquemada’s PowerPoint presentations.

CP was revived in China, which created the modern-day model:

Study Well and Grasp the Theory of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

Create Marxist Theoretical Troops

Smash Reactionary Thinking!

Since no one in a free society would dream of tolerating such blatant propagandizing and indoctrination, CP had to be re-labeled for export as “treatment” or “therapy.” And since CP was so good for addicts, the mentally ill and criminals, it was but a short step to require it for everyone.  CP slithered into the workplace as “mandatory training.”

Last week all employees were ordered to log onto our outfit’s creepily named  “Learning Management System.”  Starting  with the disclaimer, “this is not legal advice,” the video promised to instruct us about what behavior constitutes Sexual Harassment, how to report it and the legal consequences of not reporting it. Good thing our learning is managed or we might have thought that was legal advice.

After a perky song and dance about the variety of genders to choose from, the video gives the classic story of the vulnerable working woman threatened by the boss unless she yields to his sexual advances. We were duly stirred to indignation, ready to grab a pitchfork and stamp out sexual harassment wherever it rears its ugly head.

But the rest of the stories were like – a guy whose supervisor put her hand on his knee while sitting next to him in a bar, making him “uncomfortable.” The poor fellow couldn’t think of any way out, such as standing up to order another drink or going to the gents. “I was afraid she’d write a bad report,” he explains. “And I really needed a raise.”

And that’s supposed to be the same thing?

You might imagine that a film like this would overlook wrongful accusations. Perish the thought. We hear about a woman who reports a fellow employee for saying, “Your new haircut looks nice.” THAT’S NOT SEXUAL HARASSMENT concedes the voiceover. But the boss was very wrong to move the complainer away from the offending complimenter.  So long as a person believes she was sexually harassed, it’s RETALIATION to do anything that might chill her from filing complaints.

Also very wrong is for men to avoid being alone with women for fear of harassment accusations. That’s discrimination, explains the Voice. If you don’t want to be accused of sexual harassment, DON’T HARASS. This reminded us of similar advice from former NYPD Commissioner Bratton: if you don’t want to get choked to death by the police, DON’T RESIST.

Bottom line: your boss is forbidden to tell you how to wear your hair or how to dress. She can only tell you what to think.

Our Brigade Leader

Posted in Civil Liberties, Law & Parody | Tagged , | 4 Comments