Recidivism: Where And How Does It End?

It’s often been said that the jails and prisons in the U.S. operate on a revolving door system, with many of the same prisoners returning to incarceration time after time after time. Sadly, that’s a mostly true statement.

With nearly 2.5 million people crammed into U.S. prison and jail facilities, or on probation or parole—3,789,800 on probation and 870,500 on parole (2015 stats), well, that equals to approximately 1 out of every 37 people in the U.S. is currently under some sort of supervised correctional status.

Yes, America can proudly boast (note the sarcasm) that we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. That’s a pretty staggering number considering the U.S. accounts for only 5% of the world’s population. Those numbers don’t mean much, you say? Well, let’s approach from another angle … our wallets. Each year the U.S. spends between 74 and 80 billion dollars on incarceration. That’s BILLION dollars.

Sure, most citizens don’t want to be bothered with felons and other law-breakers. You know, out of sight/out of mind. But it’s not quite that simple. You see, Isaac Newton had the right idea when he mused, “What goes up must come down,” because the same applies to prisons, jails, and inmates—what goes in must come out. That’s right, the majority of people sentenced to jail or prison must be released at some point, and those former prisoners are generally released back into their former communities.

What happens to former prisoners when they do finally make it back to their old neighborhoods? That’s a question most people don’t consider because the ex-con’s troubles don’t pertain to “most people.” Unfortunately, though, an inmate’s troubles affects everyone. Remember the 80 billion dollars it costs to incarcerate and supervise those millions of prisoners? Well, U.S. taxpayers are responsible for paying that whopping bill.

Doesn’t it makes sense that we should try to address the problem instead of throwing good money on top of bad? Obviously, incarceration isn’t always the correct answer to every case, because many offenders just keep coming back after they’ve “paid” their debt to society.

Let’s address recidivism and why I think it occurs so often. First of all, I have many years of experience working in both corrections and in law enforcement, which means I’ve seen the system in action, from all sides. I’ve also owned a business where I employed a few former inmates, men who’d received prison sentences resulting from my investigations. Ironic, huh? Yes, I honestly believe in second chances.

What do former prisoners face upon their release? (these may vary depending on location)

1. They must, on a regular basis, check in with a probation or parole officer.

2. They must have an established residence.

3. Drug and sex offenders must register with the local police, advising officials where they’ll be residing and working.

4. They must maintain employment (in some areas this is a discretionary requirement imposed by the court).

5. They’re required to complete a monthly report detailing their earnings, address changes, if any, employers name (probation officer will visit the job site and home), drug offenders must submit to urine testing, all must submit vehicle information, record of purchases (many probationers may not possess credit or debit cards), and they’re encouraged to further their education.

The above sounds reasonable until you consider the vast majority of employers absolutely will not hire felons, and, in most instances, drug offenders are not eligible for student loans or other such perks we all enjoy. In fact, many felons are legally banned from working in certain professions, such as:

  • airport security screener
  • armored car crew member
  • bank teller
  • child care provider
  • delivery driver
  • health care positions with direct patient contact
  • public safety officer
  • residential installers
  • apartment or condo maintenance
  • jobs that require handling money

Even when a felon finds a job he is subject to a list of restrictions, including (this is only a partial list, and it may vary from area to area):

  • Agents /officers must be allowed to visit worksite and/or speak with a supervisor to discuss client’s performance, progress, and accountability
  • Cannot work in a position that serves alcohol
  • Cannot work with minors
  • Cannot work with vulnerable adults
  • Employment must be within or close to a supervision district so that agents may visit the worksite
  • Not allowed to use or have contact with devices that host a computer modem (i.e. any device that can access the Internet)
  • Cannot travel outside area or state (affects delivery drivers)

A few professions do hire convicted felons, but the list is short. And, this is still entirely up to the company. Some do not employ those who’ve been convicted of crimes.

Professions often available to convicted felons:

  • Warehouse work
  • Maintenance and janitorial positions
  • Food service (no alcohol)
  • Production and manufacturing
  • Assembly
  • Construction
  • Landscaping

In addition, many convicted felons are banned from living in publicly assisted housing (section 8).

So, you see, without a job, or with the limited occupations to choose from, and without housing and educational opportunities, it’s darn tough for a former prisoner to make it on the outside.

To top it all off, the convicted felons never actually “pay their debts to society.” The stigma of being a “convicted felon” hangs over their heads for life. This is especially true for those who were convicted of federal offenses. Some states allow convicted felons to vote in elections (others do not). Still, felons, even one-time first offenders convicted of minor, non-violent felonies lose their right to own firearms and other weapons, their right to vote, student loans, housing, etc. And these restrictions are for life.

Wouldn’t it make sense to give the non-violent offenders a second chance, by removing the “convicted felon” status after, say, 10 years of living a productive, crime-free life. At least then they’d have the opportunity to return to school, live in better neighborhoods (away from criminal activity), find a decent job that would help support their families and take better care of their children, who, by the way, also suffer by being forced to live in poor conditions.

Having a second chance and goals to work toward could be part of the solution to the “prison problem” in this country. Now, I’m not talking about hardcore career criminals and repeat offenders. Nor am I including violent offenders. Most of those thugs need to remain behind bars for as long as we can keep them there. And I certainly don’t believe that every inmate would take advantage of the opportunity if presented to them. But there would be many who would work hard to achieve the goal and finally be able to put the mistake behind them for good.

If this helped keep just a small portion of the recidivists out of prison, the results could be huge. Families could remain together, children would grow up with two parents in the home, employers might find top-notch employees, the former inmates could become better educated and productive members of society, and taxpayers would save approximately $30,000 per year per inmate. Not to mention that instead of costing taxpayers, the non-recidivist would become a taxPAYER.

New York City is set to begin a program that offers guaranteed employment to each of their 8,500 inmates as they leave jail. These jobs are to be short-term, low skill level employment—cooks, restaurant bussers, or construction flaggers, etc.

The $10 million program will apply to inmates no matter what crime they’ve committed, even if they’re on the sex offender registry. Everyone gets a job. Everyone, including murderers, rapists, robbers, and …

I’m not sure the New York City plan is the best idea in the world, but they’re making an effort to address the issue. While not the most well-thought-out plan, it could still give former prisoners a much-needed boost of confidence, self-worth, and desire to do better. It could also go a long ways toward reducing the intense shame many feel after their release.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the matter. What do you think? A second chance for some, or lock ’em up and forget about them? Remember, though, most of those who go in must come out at some point.

Of course, there is the issue of private prisons that have contracts with the government … contracts that promise a minimum number of inmates will be sent their way. We must also remember that the private prisons are a big, money-making industry with stockholders.

And then there’s the food industry that makes a bundle off the prisons. And the construction companies, the jobs for officers, stock brokers medical staff, administration, the vehicle contracts, the weapons contracts, dog food (canines), condiment sales (I once sat next to a woman on a plane who was on her way to a huge nationwide prison food convention. She was in charge of condiment sales to prisons and jails—packets of mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise, along with napkins, and sporks—a multi-million-dollar industry).

Let’s not forget the prison phone systems, where a collect call can go for fees as high as nearly $300 for just one hour of conversation. Think about it for a second. A call for a kid’s birthday, a mother’s sick, etc. $300 for an hour of family time is a tough expense for most families.

A portion of that whopping phone bill goes back to the prison in exchange for a contract with the provider. Again, it is the family who shoulders this burden since inmates don’t earn anywhere near enough money to cover the expense, yet, officials encourage strong and regular family contact.

Anyway, you get the idea.

By the way, Corrections Corporations of America stock was up at the time of this post, at $34.70 per share. The “people business” is certainly booming when others are failing miserably …

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Mr. X: Federal Prison – The Ins And Outs Of It

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Mr. X is a former business professional who committed a crime that landed him in federal prison. He’s out now and has agreed to share his story with the readers of The Graveyard Shift.

Part One

GYS: Thanks for taking the time to share what must have been a difficult time for you and your family. I’ll dive right in. What were the circumstances that ultimately led to your arrest?

X: It’s embarrassing to have to tell it. I’ll start by saying I was ill at the time. I had a mental problem, I guess you’d call it. My doctor gave me all sorts of drugs that were supposed to help me, but didn’t. They just screwed up my wiring—my thought processes. Anyway, to this day I still say I would have never done anything wrong had it not been for the assortment of antidepressants and pain pills. Still, I did what I did and I accept the responsibility for it. I wish I could change it, but I can’t.

GYS: And what was your crime?

X: I bought some cocaine to sell. I needed money. You see, I couldn’t hold down a job and my wife was struggling to make ends meet. The medicine and depression wouldn’t let me think properly. Either I’d get fired, or I’d quit for some crazy, unjustified reason. All I had on my mind was the feeling those little pills offered. At the time, I think I’d have married a bottle of Hydrocodone. I loved the stuff that much.

GYS: How long did your life of crime last?

X: I didn’t make a very good criminal. My entire crime spree lasted about a week. I bought the cocaine to sell, but chickened out. I couldn’t sell it. But someone who was involved in the transaction was already in trouble with the police and told them about me to help themselves out of their own jam.

GYS: Tell us about the arrest.

X: As it turns out, the person who told on me was an informant for a federal task force, so, needless to say, I was surprised when my house was raided by a team of FBI agents along with state and local police. There must have been fifteen or twenty officers involved in the raid of my home. All for a little less than $100 worth of cocaine.

GYS: Seriously, that’s all you had?

X: Yes, sir. $100 worth.

GYS: What were your charges?

X: Possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) with the intent to distribute, and obstruction of justice. The obstruction charge was later dropped. I think the feds automatically add that one to make you confess.

GYS: Why do you say that about the obstruction charge?

X: Well, they threatened to arrest everyone in my family—my wife, kids, and mother—if I didn’t confess. And if I didn’t admit to the crime then they’d let the obstruction charge stand, and that’s a minimum of a ten-year sentence. I had no choice at the time. Plus, they applied this pressure prior to my talking to an attorney, which I understand is perfectly legal. But let me again stress that I was indeed guilty.

GYS: So what happened next?

X: Gosh, it’s all a blur. Let’s see. I was handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car, driven to a remote jail about two hours away, fingerprinted, strip searched, de-loused, and placed in a jail cell. It was a real shock to me. I’d never even had a traffic ticket.

Oh, my family had no idea where I was, or what had happened. They were away when the raid took place—at work and in school.

This was also the time when I learned that I was a drug addict. Withdrawal symptoms set in while I was in the jail cell. The next couple of days were pure hell, for many reasons.

My only contact with humans was through a small slot in the middle of a steel door. I begged for help, but that door wasn’t opened again for three days. I did see a couple of hands twice a day when they shoved a food tray through the slot. But the person wasn’t allowed to talk to me.

Someone, a federal agent, finally came to get me on the third day. He took me to a federal courthouse for a bond hearing. My family was there, but I wasn’t allowed to speak to them. I don’t know how they knew to be there. I was denied bond. Why, I don’t know—this was a first offense, and a $100 dollar offense on top of that. So I was hauled back to the jail cell.

On the ride back, shackled like Charles Manson—handcuffs, waist and leg chains—I realized just how lovely trees, flowers, and the sky really are, even though I was seeing them through a steel screen. I also realized how important my family was. I’d taken a lot of things for granted in my life.

I wound up back at the jail, which I learned also doubled as a holding facility for federal prisoners. I was there for two more weeks until my wife scraped together enough money—$25,000—to retain an attorney to represent me. She had to borrow against the equity in our home. Federal court is really expensive. The attorney managed to get another bond hearing and I was released on my own PR, but I wasn’t allowed to go home with my family. I had to stay with a relative in another city because the prosecutor said I was a threat to my community. For $100 worth of drugs that I never took or sold!

Anyway, I remained there until I went to court.

~

Part Two

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Mr. X received a sentence of 37 months, to be served in federal prison, followed by a transition period in a federal halfway house, and 3 years supervised probation.

GYS: You mentioned a couple trips you took while incarcerated. I think the readers would be quite interested in those details. Tell us about the first one, please.

Mr. X: I’m sure you’re referring to my transfer from one prison to another, right?

GYS: Yes. I know you went on other excursions during your time in, but this is one that’s the most interesting, and it’s one our readers probably won’t expect.

Mr. X: Well, the first trip occurred after I’d been in about a year. My counselor called me to his office and said they’d figured my custody status wrong. Originally, they’d housed me in a minimum security prison—one with double fences, guard towers, armed perimeter patrols, and razor wire—but I was actually eligible to serve my time in a camp. He then asked if I’d like to transfer. My response was an immediate yes, if he could find one near my family. Who wouldn’t want to go to a camp? I mean, to go from hell on earth to a place with no fences, no razor wire, better food, better jobs, less guards, and better visiting opportunities. That was an easy decision. A no-brainer.

The arrangements were made in a matter of days. I was going to a camp near my home that’s run by a private security company. At the time, I was in a prison nowhere near my wife because she’d been transferred for work since I was first incarcerated.

I was, however, concerned and apprehensive about the transfer. Those trips can be awful. They chain you up and place you in the back of a hot van, or bus, and haul you to a jet that’s parked in some hidden spot. Then you fly to Oklahoma where you may sit for months before you finally take off for the new place. You may also get shuttled around from county jail to county jail. During that time, you don’t get visits, commissary, work, mail, etc., because no one knows where you are from one day to the next, for months at a time.

Well, that’s what I was expecting, but one of the guys I hung around with a bit—he fancied himself as sort of a jailhouse lawyer—said he’d read that you could apply for a furlough transfer. He went on to explain that it was possible, with the warden’s permission, to actually walk out the gate, hop on public transportation, and make the trip, unescorted.

I figured I had nothing to lose so the next night I approached the warden outside the dining hall and asked him about it. Well, without blinking an eye he said, “Fill out the application and get your plane ticket.”

I was stunned, but that’s what I did (my family made the arrangements). The day of my trip arrived and I still couldn’t believe they were going to let me walk out the gate. At 9 a.m. sharp, though, I was summoned to the main office. It was like a dream. I walked from the office to the front entrance where a guard asked me a few questions and then opened the gates. I walked outside to hugs from family members. They drove me to the airport where I enjoyed a nice meal and a flight across country. The couple seated beside me were pleasant, and I enjoyed a nice conversation with them—about nothing really, but it was wonderful to talk about things other than appeals and how to smuggle an extra dessert from the dining hall. I often wonder how they’d have reacted if they’d known I was a federal prisoner.

We landed at a large airport where I was met by my wife—she was my ride to the camp. We planned the trip so that we’d have a little time together. So we stopped by the house for some much needed “quality” time before making the three-hour trip to the prison camp. I’ll skip those details.

Later, I arrived at the camp with my bags in hand, kissed my wife goodbye, and went inside the office building (no fences, no guards outside, and no gates). A guard at the desk checked me in like I was at a motel. She then told me which building I’d be assigned to and pointed in that direction. I went through the rear door and made my way across a well-manicured lawn and stepped into a nicely air-conditioned building. No yelling, no loud TV’s, and absolutely no guards. Not one. It was like I’d been re-born. I was a new man with a glimmer of hope for my future.

GYS: Your next trip was a bit different, yes?

Mr. X: It sure was. After I’d been in a while I heard about inmates being granted furloughs—weekend trips to their homes to spend time with their family. The purpose of the furlough is supposed to help prisoners gradually become accustomed to outside life with their families. Well, I applied for one and it was approved. I went home for three days during the Christmas holidays, and it was wonderful.

My wife picked me up in the prison parking lot and we spent three glorious days together, at home, before I had to return to the camp. I was walking on air when I got back.

I’d also gone on short day trips, like to trim roses in the town parks, or to the warden’s Ruritan Club to spruce up the grounds. They were nice outings to break up your time and to see some real people, but they were nothing like my time with my family, at home. Still, seeing people and cars and trees and flowers and freedom … well, any time outside the camp grounds was like a dream.

*This article is a repeat post.

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This is Baaaaad News: Crooks Guarding Crooks?

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When society signed on with the plan to have criminals placed behind bars as a means to protect the public from dangerous criminals, and to punish those who choose to break the law, well, there was a certain expectation that the men and women tasked with guarding those prisoners would be honest, forthright, and law-abiding. I mean, come on, we can’t have murderers and thieves watching other murderers and thieves, right?

Well, as odd as it may seem, that “no crooks watching the other crooks” disqualifier might not be the case in at least one U.S. jail, the Hampton Roads Regional Jail located in Portsmouth, Va. HRRJ serves the cities of Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, Chesapeake, and Norfolk.

Originally established to ease general overcrowding in local jails, HRRJ has since evolved into managing inmates with medical and mental health issues or disciplinary problems.

Before we look at the qualifications to work as a corrections officer at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, though, let’s first take a quick look at former HRRJ prisoner Mark Goodrum.

Goodrum was (notice I mentioned him in the past tense) a 60-year-old man who was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

On January 8, 2014, officers responding to a complaint of the odor of burning marijuana coming from Goodrum’s apartment, did indeed experience the same. They smelled marijuana smoke so they knocked on Goodson’s door. He answered, as we do when someone knocks, and the officers issued him a simple summons for the misdemeanor and were quickly on their way, leaving Goodrum to go about his daily routine.

Well, as bad luck would have it, Goodrum was evicted from his apartment and then didn’t show up for court on the scheduled day he was to appear for the marijuana possession case.

Soon after, Goodrum missed yet another court date.

Goodrum then suffered a stroke and missed another court date. The judge had enough of the missed court dates and issued a bench warrant for failure to appear. Goodrum was arrested and jailed at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail.

Remember, Goodrum’s initial offense was for simple possession of marijuana. He was issued a summons (basically the same as a traffic ticket). Keep in mind, though, that he was not jailed for marijuana possession. He was locked up because he didn’t appear in court to answer for the minor marijuana offense. Still, the entire mess started over Goodrum’s desire to smoke pot within the confines of his own home.

On October 14, 2015, Goodrum was booked into the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. He died on November 11, 2015, less than one month after the steel doors closed behind him.

According to Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (the place where Patricia Cornwell’s famous fictional character Kay Scarpetta worked), Goodrum died of “end stage renal disease with history of hemodialysis, hypertension, anemia of chronic disease, peripheral vascular disease, tobacco use, diabetes mellitus, and history of stroke contributing.”

What does Goodrum have to do with bad guys being supervised by other bad guys, you ask? Okay, remember Goodrum’s initial offense, the one that started the chain of events that ended with his death in jail? That’s right, he was ticketed for possession of marijuana, an act that is still very much illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Simple possession of mairjuana in the “Virginia is For Lovers” state is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, an offense that’s punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Possessing marijuana is I.L.L.E.G.A.L in Virginia. It’s a crime that’s punishable by time behind bars, like the bars and steel doors and the razor wire at the HRRJ. And that, one would think, would be just cause for a person to not be allowed to wear a badge and supervise others who’re incarcerated for committing the same offense. Makes sense, right?

Well, if we dig a bit into the qualifications to work as a corrections officer at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail we see a couple of real head-scratchers appear.

Their list of disqualifiers for employment includes (notice the text highlighted in red):

AUTOMATIC DISQUALIFIERS

The following automatic disqualifiers will cause the processing of the application to be immediately discontinued:

Criminal Record:

  • –  Conviction of any felony.
  • –  Conviction of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of a controlled substance (within 3years).
  • –  Conviction of a misdemeanor involving morals, decency, or illegal drugs other than marijuana.
  • –  Conviction of any domestic assault (Title 18 Federal Code). Driving Record:
  • –  Current driver’s license suspension.
  • –  Driver’s license suspension for moving violation within last 6 months. Drug Usage:
  • –  Any use of heroin, cocaine, PCP, methamphetamine, hallucinogen, or other Schedule 1 or 2Controlled Substance within past 3 years.
  • –  Any use of illegal substances by injection at any time.
  • –  Any use of marijuana or hashish within the past 12 months prior to submitting your application or any time thereafter.

So it appears that corrections officers working in the HRRJ could have broken the law (smoked and/or possessed marijuana and have been convicted of doing so) and still work as an officer who supervises prisoners who’re incarcerated for smoking and/or possessing marijuana.

The list of disqualifiers is a bit contradictory, too. Because while stating that people who apply for jobs may not have on their record a conviction of a misdemeanor involving morals, decency, or illegal drugs other than marijuana, the list goes on to state a disqualifier of any use of heroin, cocaine, PCP, methamphetamine, hallucinogen, or other Schedule 1 or 2 Controlled Substance within past 3 years.

What’s the one big argument we hear from marijuana advocates? That’s right, it’s listed as a Schedule I drug alongside heroin and other dangerous drugs that have no medicinal value.

This listing of things you can and can’t do when expecting to be hired as a jail employee tells us a couple of things. One—marijuana is not dangerous. Well, it’s certainly not dangerous in the sense that heroin’s dangerous. Next, It’s okay for jail employees to have a history of pot smoking, but the same is not okay for people who don’t wear a badge? After all, 2nd and 3rd offenses may increase sentencing lengths for those convicted of marijuana crimes.

How is it possible that uniformed, badge-wearing pot smokers are standing on the outside of the bars looking in at other pot smokers who’re wearing black and white stripes while waiting for their day in court to answer charges for smoking pot? Maybe it’s time for lawmakers to seriously rethink marijuana laws? At the very least, everyone should be held to the same standard. Shouldn’t second chances (for nonviolent crimes like marijuana possession) be offered to everyone, not just the people who work in this particular jail while guarding the folks who may not have received a second chance at their dream job?

And, why is it so that a regional jail is housing mental health patients behind bars? But that’s a topic for another day.

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Yes, I know, I’m probably the last person you’d expect to hear this from, but this sort of thing gets my goat, and I don’t like it when my goat is missing …

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Old Sparky Has Left the Building…sort of

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It was over two decades ago, in this very month, April, when I stood beside my unmarked Crown Vic in the parking lot of the state police area headquarters, waiting for a ride to a state prison. The evening was warm. The sky clear. And the surrounding trees were filled with new spring leaves. Crickets chirped and mosquitos zeroed in on my face and arms.

Knowing rules prevented me from wearing my pistol inside the correctional institution, I’d placed it inside the small lockbox mounted in the trunk and double-checked to be sure the steel container was secure before closing the lid. I had a bit of time to spare so I walked behind the small red brick building to have a look at an armored vehicle parked there out of sight of the public. I’d seen the truck a zillion times before, but it was something I could use to slow the million thoughts zipping about inside my mind.

I’d have gone inside the office to shoot the breeze, but it was after hours and the administrative staff had gone home for the day, and the troopers working the roads were doing just that…patrolling the highways. It was just me and my imagination, hanging out together, waiting to watch a man die.

After a few laps around the headquarters, an unmarked white van arrived to deliver me to the prison. The driver, a corrections lieutenant, told me to hop in and off we went. I’d return a changed man just a few hours later.

Timothy Wilson Spencer began his deadly crime spree in 1984, when he raped and killed a woman named Carol Hamm in Arlington, Virginia. Spencer also killed Dr. Susan Hellams, Debby Davis, and Diane Cho, all of Richmond, Virginia. A month later, Spencer returned to Arlington to rape and murder Susan Tucker.

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Spencer walked into the death chamber on his own that night, unassisted by prison staff. He was shorter and a bit more wiry than most people picture when thinking of a brutal serial killer. His head was shaved and one pant leg of his prison blues was cut short for easy access for attaching one of the connections (the negative post, I surmised). His skin was smooth and was the color of milk chocolate. Dots of perspiration peppered his forehead and bare scalp.

After glancing around the brightly lit surroundings, Spencer took a seat in the oak chair nicknamed “Old Sparky,” as are a few of those instruments of justifiable homicide, and calmly allowed the death squad to carry out their business of fastening straps, belts, and electrodes. His arms and legs were securely fixed to the chair. He looked on, seemingly uninterested in what they were doing, as if he’d just settled in to watch TV, or a movie.

I sat directly in front of the cold-blooded killer, mere feet away, separated only by a partial wall of glass. His gaze met mine and that’s where his focus remained for the next minute or so. His face was expressionless. No sign of sadness, regret, or fear.

I wanted to ask him if he was sorry for what he’d done. I wanted to know why he’d killed those women. What drove him to take human lives so callously?

When asked if he had any final words to say, Spencer opened his mouth to say something, but didn’t. Whatever that thought had been, well, he took it with him to his grave. Officers then placed a leather mask over Spencer’s face.

The squad’s final task was to place a metal, colander-like hat on Spencer’s head. The cap was lined with a brine-soaked sponge that serves as an excellent conductor of electricity.

Seconds later, the lethal dose of electricity was introduced, causing the murderer’s body to swell and lurch forward against the restraints that held him tightly to the chair.

Suddenly, his body slumped into the chair. The burst of electricity was over. However, after a brief pause, a second burst of electricity was delivered to the killer’s body. Again, his body swelled, but this time smoke began to rise from Spencer’s head and leg. A sound similar to bacon frying could be heard over the hum of the electricity. Fluids rushed from behind the leather mask. The unmistakable pungent odor of burning flesh filled the room.

The electricity was again switched off and Spencer’s body relaxed.

He was dead and it was one of the most brutal ways to die one could ever imagine, and believe me I’ve witnessed far more than my than my fair share of death.

Fast forward to April 11, 2016, a date just shy of the twenty-second anniversary of Spencer’s execution. On Monday, Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe rejected a bill that would have mandated using the electric chair as the default method of execution in the absence of drugs used for lethal injections.

This is big news since more and more drug companies are refusing to supply states with drugs if their purpose for obtaining them is to kill people.

The Va. governor is Catholic and says he’s against the death penalty, but as governor it’s his duty to set aside personal beliefs and follow the law. So, he has now proposed a bill that would allow drug companies to remain anonymous if they supply the state/Commonwealth with the necessary drugs to carry out state executions. The information would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and from discovery in civil proceedings, without a high threshold of just cause.

I once sat in Old Sparky and the feeling was surreal, having the same view of the surroundings as did some of the most evil people who ever walked this planet. It was a bizarre experience to say the least. Some things you never, ever forget. Entering the execution chamber to sit in “the chair” was one of those things.

Here’s a brief video that was filmed in the execution chamber in Virginia. This, my friends, is the stuff that could cause Stephen King to wake up screaming. Remember, the video is real, shot in a real place, where real people have been executed. I’ve stood in the same spots as the officers in the film, and I’ve sat in that very chair. But the lights were burning brightly in the chamber and the “juice” was most definitely not connected to the chair when I sat. LIGHTS ON, CHAIR OFF. I made certain that officials understood those two very important details before I took a seat.

 

 

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Howdy Neighbor: When a High-Risk Violent Sexual Predator Moves Next Door

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Fraisure Earl Smith was released from custody this week after serving time for assault with intent to commit rape. Smith, now 51, committed five sexual assaults over a span of 15 years.

In 2007, Smith was convicted for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl (Smith claims he’s not a pedophile, but I’m betting he’d have a hard time convincing the mother of the 17-year-old girl that his claim is just). This, the latest case, was the one that finally landed him in a California state prison. And, as a 1996 law provided, Smith was eventually transferred to Coalinga State Hospital for followup care and treatment prior to his release back into society.

Smith’s timetable of repeat offenses—a violent sexual assault every five years during a period of fifteen years, and these are the one’s known to law enforcement—is a strong indicator of serial behavior. In other words, reoffending is definitely an option on his table, and violence and sexual assault are both in his arsenal. Needless to say, this man is dangerous. Although, Smith says he’s not. “I am not presently aroused by deviant sexual fantasies or urges….” Smith wrote in a recent declaration.

As Smith’s release date drew near (he’s now been legally deemed safe for release), officials from Liberty Healthcare, a company hired by the state to handle sex predator releases, agreed to find suitable housing for him. After an exhaustive search for housing in cities in four counties, courts and other officials were unable to secure a permanent residence for Smith. Locations were limited since sexual offenders are not permitted to live near schools, day care facilities, or other places where children may frequent. In all, 4,108 placement possibilities were looked at, but for one reason or another, none were approved.

The latest single family home that was approved but later rejected due to the outrage of nearby residents, was a house with a pool in a well-to-do neighborhood. By the way, since Smith is still under supervision of county and state authorities, his housing costs are covered by taxpayers. The monthly rent on the above-mentioned home was $3,000 per month. But, citizens banded together and forced the courts to reconsider. Now, however, without a home for Smith to, well, call home, he has been released from the mental health facility as a transient and will reside in a local Motel 6, still at taxpayer expense. Rules/law requires that he move every 5 days.

Smith is currently living in a motel where guests and their children stay when passing through the area. And those children, wives, and mothers will walk the hallways and parking lot, and they’ll wear their bathing suits while enjoying the hotel pool. All this while Fraisure Smith, a violent sexual predator, possibly watches and waits to be aroused by, in his own words, “deviant sexual fantasies or urges.”

I know, Smith and other violent sexual predators have to live somewhere when they’re released, but my past experiences with these guys tells me to keep a watchful eye on them. Sorry if this offends anyone, but that’s the way it is. Believe me, I’ve seen what can happen and it’s horrible.

Things you should know about sexual predators.

1. Grooming – Predators often “groom” children and other potential victims in order to gain their trust, hoping for access to alone time with them.

2. Predators also groom others, not just their intended victims. The purpose of this type of grooming is to “prove” they are not a risk. For example, see Smith’s quote above about no longer having urges or fantasies. This is a classic sign of grooming.

3. Signs of grooming

a) the adult shows an exaggerated interest in a child.

b) an adult buys gifts for a child.

c) the adult finds ways to be alone with a child.

d) an adult displays a fixation on a particular child.

e) the adult “accidentally” walks in a child when they’re bathing, using the restroom, or changing.

f) tickling

g) wrestling with children

h) playing “doctor”

i) taking photos of children, especially when they’re in various stages of undress or wearing swim suits, dance costumes, etc.

j) lots of hugging, kissing, and touching.

 

What to do when a sexual offender moves into your neighborhood?

Here’s a handy Tip Sheet from Stop It Now!

 

What are the warnings signs of possible sexual abuse in children?

Again we turn to Stop It Now! for a Tip Sheet.

 

Warning Signs That Might Suggest Someone Is Sexually Abusing a Child

To see the list of warning signs, please click here.

So, for now Fraisure Smith is a guest of a California Motel 6 hotel. Next week, well who knows. Maybe he or another just like him will be your new neighbor. Please be mindful of the activities and whereabouts of your children. You never know…

 UPDATE!

Ironically, this announcement came a few hours after I published this article. What a coincidence…or was it?

From KRON news in San Francisco.

“After obtaining further details from Motel 6, it appears that Motel 6 did not know that they had rented a room to Mr. Smith, the recently released sexually violent predator. Once they confirmed that he was staying there, they acted immediately to evict him,” Vallejo City Manager Daniel E. Keen said.

“Details provided by Motel 6 confirm that Liberty Healthcare Corporation, the contractor hired by the State to provide services to Smith, concealed Mr. Smith’s identity in order to obtain two rooms at the motel,” Vallejo police Cpt. John Whitney said in a press release.

Two Liberty employees gave their names and did not disclose the identity of Smith, police said.

Smith has been placed on the no-rent list.

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Total Chaos: 6,000 Drug Offenders Released at Once

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Chaos because 6,000 non-violent drug offenders were released at once from federal prisons? Well, that’s probably a bit extreme considering over 10,000 inmates are already being released back into society each month. That’s over 650,000 former offenders each year who return to walk and talk and work and mingle among us. The horror of it all, right?

Some of that horror is totally justified, and how so you ask? For starters, nearly two-thirds of of those 650,000 former prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release. I know, chances of finding jobs, housing, and education for those folks are slim or none. Still, according to Justice Department stats, 4,000 of the 6,000 newly released federal inmates will most likely wind up back in prison. By the way, this 6,000 is in addition to the 69 men and women granted clemency by the president.

But, 6,000 is not the final total. The Sentencing Commission estimates a second round of releases to take place in the fall of 2016 will set free nearly 9,000 additional federal prisoners.

Police officials are extremely concerned, and most likely at least some of their fears are justified. There are no real programs in place to handle the sudden release of so many prisoners. There’s a significant lack of housing opportunities, job training, and a near absence of medical treatment, including mental health care and access to needed medications. Basically, there is no real safety net in place to catch these people when they fall, and the odds are so heavily stacked against convicted felons that a tumble for most is practically inevitible.

The additional number of inmates is expected to further burden strained probation departments. Officers who supervise the inmates on probation can barely handle the caseloads that are already dumped in their laps by the handfuls (prisoners are typically released under the supervision of a probation officer unless a court order states otherwise). Likewise, police officers will bear the brunt of dealing with those who choose to return to a criminal lifestyle. Add these new crimes and criminals to those already on the streets and, well, there’s just not enough officers to go around. And that’s the concern of many chiefs and sheriffs.

Let’s revisit the opening line of this article. Will this mass release of prisoners cause chaos in our streets? It’s doubtful that the average citizen will notice the effects. Well, unless they happen to be on the receiving end of the B&E’s, robberies, car thefts, etc. committed by the newly-released as they embark on their journeys back through the current catch and release system.

But chaos? Honestly, I can’t imagine things will be any different than what we’re already seeing on the evening news and across various social media sources. If that’s chaos, then it is what it is and will be what it will be. Besides, the situation—prison overcrowding, mass releases, mandatory minimums, etc.—should certainly be of more concern to citizens than, well, #It’sJustACup. But that’s just my opinion, something I rarely offer on this site.

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Investigator G. Nome decides that current clues are not related to the true meaning of Christmas, so he moves on.

 

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