Who Is In The Jail?

by Ian Freeman
Free Keene
Nov. 10, 2011

[Ian Freeman of FreeTalkLive discusses the so-called "criminals" who are really populating our nation's jails]

As I’d said in my last blog from jail, I wanted to wait until I was released to tell the stories of some of the people I met in jail, both prisoners and guards. As you might expect, the jail is full of people who are peaceful and have not harmed other human beings. Many of the guards realize that they are caging good people, the superintendent is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the jail kitchen staff is also open minded.

Names will not be used here to protect the innocent. Besides, the jail is full of people like the ones you’ll hear about, at any given time of the year.

“Honey, I’m home!”, yells one prisoner as the jail guards walk him into the dayroom. Welcome to R block in the Cheshire “House of Corrections”, or as some like to call it, the “Keene Spiritual Retreat”. Many of these guys have been here before and they recognize the gentleman who has just entered the block. This happens all the time. It’s not because they are career criminals, it’s usually because of “Violation of Probation”.

Probation is basically a revolving door for prisoners that nearly guarantees they keep coming back, again and again. Violations of probation are incredibly easy to get hit with. Miss an appointment with the “probation officer”? Back in a cage you go. Fail a drug test? Back in the cage. Cops search your house (part of the “deal” of being on probation is that they can anytime) and find a beer that belongs to your father? Back in a cage you go. Leave the state? Back in a cage. And on, and on. Probation is an insane system that does nothing to rehabilitate people and only makes their life worse, while effectively propping up prison populations with people who were trying to get their life together and slip up on one of the many arbitrary rules foisted upon them by the probation system.

Plenty of guys in jail were there for Violation of Probation, or “VOP”. One of them got out around when I did and he was planning to return on another VOP. He was expecting it. Why? Because his family lives in Massachusetts and they are the only option for him upon release from the jail. He can’t go to MA without violating probation. His only hope is to beg MA for a transfer, but he’s not certain it will happen.

Even if the people in for VOP were actually in for violence, and the ones I met were not, how dumb is it to tell them, “you have to stay in NH!”? Why wouldn’t you want them to be able to leave and go somewhere else, like California?

One thing that could make this inhumane system better is to abolish probation completely. Once someone gets out of jail, that should be the end of their punishment. (OF course, I don’t like jail as a punishment and instead support restitution, but just looking at the system as-is…) Abolishing the probation system would result in cutting the size of NH government, as the various probation officers would have to get real jobs. It would keep peaceful people from continuing to fill prison cells, and could cut the budget to the prison system.

One guy in my block lived in MA and had a driver’s license there for years, but his driving "privileges" in NH were suspended for some violations 14 years ago. A $50 “fee” (bribe) would have made it go away, but when he got pulled over earlier this year, he went to jail for ONE YEAR as a "habitual offender”. He was driving to work. Another guy (both are in their fifties) is in for 90 days for "driving while suspended." He was also caught driving to work. These men have families, and now one has lost his job due to this. These laws are about control and money, not safety. Habitual offender status should be eliminated and driving/license/registration issues should not include jail time! In the supposedly less-free state of MA, even they do not jail driving violators.

What’s even more amazing than the fact that people are in jail cells for driving to work without government papers, is that the ones in for their 2nd DUI were there for 3 and 20 days. The latter sentence was because he ran from the cop. I don’t share this to advocate for longer sentences for the DUIs, but just to give proof that it’s all about obedience. The safe drivers without government papers were sentenced as much as a year while the dangerous drivers with government papers were given 3-20 days.

By the way, the guy in for 3 days for his 2nd DUI had an interesting story. He had a few beers over a few hours out at a local watering hole and then drove home to his apartment. After arriving he cracked open another beer to settle in for the night. Several minutes later, his cell phone rings, he answers, and it is Keene police. They say they are downstairs and want to talk to him. He makes the common mistake of actually going to talk to the police. He comes downstairs and is told by KPD that a court bailiff called KPD claiming that the he’d seen the man swerving as he was driving back to his apartment. They administer a breathalyzer and arrest him for DUI.

Yep, you read that right. A man arrested for DUI when not behind the wheel of a car, but sitting home drinking. The lesson here is that talking to the police is usually a really bad idea. This is not legal advice, but in my experience, you have no obligation to answer the door when they knock, speak to them if they call you, or answer their questions when on foot. You don’t even have an obligation to answer their questions when they pull you over, as I proved recently when a statie gave me a speeding ticket. Just give license and registration – anything else you give them, they can use against you.

One guy in R block was in for theft, and upon hearing that, one might jump to a conclusion and think that means he stole something from someone, but one would be wrong. He was given permission by a property owner to pull some old scrap metal out from a river bank – some of it was even underwater. Apparently it had been abandoned by some rail company a long time ago. Well, turns out the property owner’s land skewed away from being a straight rectangle down by the river and they ended up salvaging some of the metal from a part of the river that the people calling themselves the state claim to own. The cops caught them in the act. Bewildered, they offered to put the heavy metal back in the river. They were told it was too late and charged with grand theft. This gentleman, who is also a family man, was imprisoned for over a year.

What discussion of the peaceful people in jail would be complete without acknowledging the drug dealers and users? More than one inmate was a heroin user. Now, in some cases this means that they did actually commit crimes against other humans, but only because they needed money to feed their habit. If drugs were not illegal, their price could be much lower, meaning people would not need to steal and rob to afford their habits. Aside from the drug users in jail, there are of course, dealers. Here are some of their stories.

Naturally, every dealer in jail was snitched out by some informant. Usually this is someone who is arrested for possessing drugs and offered a sweet plea deal if they roll over on their dealer.

Perhaps you may recall the news from a couple of months ago about how KPD had arrested some college students the first week of school for marijuana possession? Well, at least one of them rolled over on his fellow student dealer. The dealer was, like most street-level dealers, simply selling pot so he could pay for his own. KPD and the “NH Drug Task Force” busted in the young man’s apartment in the middle of the winter, found him sleeping in bed, and held him at shotgun-point as they searched his home. The search uncovered an ounce of weed and a scale. He was charged with felony drug distribution and plead out to a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to several months in jail and then years of probation. Oh yeah, and the cops wouldn’t allow him the human dignity to get dressed before taking him outside into the snow, wearing only his boxers. There was a second pot dealer who got four months for an ounce he had in his backpack.

Another peaceful pot dealer was caught with several pounds of pot in his car, despite them being vacuum sealed, thanks to an informant. He was also charged with a felony, pled to a misdemeanor, and sentenced to a similar sentence as the previous gentleman. The DEA was involved in his case as well.

A fourth pot dealer was busted with a half pound when set up by a client who had been arrested for possession. He spent over a year in a cell and while in a New York jail, was completely ignored as his mouth ballooned up in size due to an infection. Thankfully, upon transfer to Cheshire jail he was taken to a doctor and given antibiotics.

This points out another issue with jails around the country – the people caged there are frequently treated like garbage and as though they don’t deserve humane conditions. Fortunately, Cheshire jail is a more humane facility than most, but that doesn’t stop people on the outside from living under the impression that the people in jail are scum-of-the-earth and don’t deserve to be treated like human beings. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many bad laws today that criminalize behaviour that is completely peaceful, that even the superintendent of the jail admits there are many people that should not be there!

Many of the guards, while obediently doing their jobs, realize that part of what they are doing, in that they are caging peaceful people, is wrong. I had conversations with a couple of guards who were advocating complete drug legalization. Another guard was well-informed about inflation. A few guards commented that they liked a lot of what liberty activists stood for, but did not like the methods (a common refrain from people inside the system), like toplessness and open container events. A couple of guards had comments and critique to share regarding the Free Keene blog and how irritating the trolls are (I told them that it’s part of running a blog that allows anonymous comments.) as well as compliments toward Free Keene TV. Another guard was full of questions about liberty activism, civil disobedience, and why Keene was chosen. Overall, as I have previously expressed, I think the guards at the jail are mostly still in touch with their humanity, despite doing work that is frequently inhumane. I did not notice any overtly sadistic guards, or hear any such stories. Some are more stickler when it comes to procedure than others, but that was the biggest variable. Most are friendly and willing to converse. As with the inmates, I always waited until they initiated the conversation.

I am not there to proselytize for liberty, and the best way to communicate these ideas is to people who are inquiring and interested. It got to the point where people would come to me asking about the Free State Project, Free Keene, activism, or my opinion about a legal situation. In fact, some very interesting conversations happened between me and the kitchen contracted chefs. One in particular shared some stories about being aggressed against by Greenfield, MA bureaucrats. In one case, a license plate had been stolen off the back of his car, so he went to the DMV with the intention of remedying the situation. Once there the nasty bureaucrat behind the counter informed him that it would take several weeks to get him a new set of plates and that it would cost $X. Being as he did not have $X on him, he said he’d have to go to the bank to get the money. No can do, she tells him, and calls for the state police to come watch him so he didn’t try leaving in his car. See, without the government plate, he’s traveling illegally, so they forced him to walk to the bank and walk back. This jail chef had seen a video of the Trespassive Twelve arrests and expressed confusion about it. His critique pointed out the difficulty in posting things here quickly and without much context. The video he’d seen was the raw video of the arrests, and he did not know the back story or what happened with the trials. When I explained all the story, he understood the situation and could empathize. Hopefully having programs like Free Keene TV will help better tell the full stories of each activism situation, because that can’t always be done when one needs to quickly post stuff as-it-happens.

No one I met in that jail was a fan of big government, including many guards. Yet, they are all there, and we are all being forced to pay for it. When will this insanity end?

For any inside the system activists, state reps, etc, reading this, here are a few things that could be done to lower costs and keep peaceful people out of cages:

End the probation system. End the war on drugs. Stop jailing people for driving safely without government papers. Give jail superintendents total control over how much of a sentence someone has in their facility. (Now they can only release people at 2/3 of their sentence. A superintendent should be able to turn someone out at any time for any reason. As of now they are beholden to the robed men, and if they had more autonomy it would be some level of check against power-mad judges.)

In the meantime, liberty-lovers should keep using mailtojail.com to send mail to imprisoned liberty activists like Beau Davis, send contributions to the Civil Disobedience Evolution Fund, and move to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project and help us attain liberty in our lifetime. We can do it with your help!

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