Tales from an American Gulag

Posted: October 16th, 2006 by Militant Libertarian

by Anthony Hargis

You meet the strangest kind of people in jail. For instance, people who
occasionally give in to a useless or self-destructive habit, or people who,
wittingly or unwittingly, associate with questionable characters. It’s not
that these people are unusual. Probably every one of your neighbors would
fit into one of these categories. What makes these people strange is that
they sit in jail. I recently had an opportunity to sit in jail myself, for
five and a half months, and learn their stories.

Every time I would collect an inmate’s story, I would tell him my “policy”:
that I would collect details of his story as told by himself and then have
someone on the outside verify details from court filings and police reports.
Only one inmate flinched (and ran) when I explained this policy, so I have
not included his story. All others had no reaction when I explained it,
which indicated to me they had no fear of being contradicted.

Two other factors testify to the truthfulness of these men’s stories: the
intensity that accompanied their recitation and their self-criticism. When
men tell of events that they feel very strongly to be true, intensity
resonates in their voice and fire burns in their eyes. I heard the
intensity and I saw the fire.

When men explain events of their lives that could be construed as shameful
behavior, it is generally safe to take their testimony as truth. For, when
a man relates shameful behavior, he expects to lose a friend, an
opportunity, or an advantage. The only thing to gain from such an
explanation is truth – and its consequences. On the other hand, when men
relate stories to embellish their appearances, their words are to be
discounted. That type of information must come from third parties.

These men knew they had not led perfectly clean lives, and they did not
hesitate to tell me about their mistakes, their remorse, and the penalties
they knew they had to pay to reform–or rather, the penalties they thought
they had to pay. Their presence in jail represented penalties they never
expected, and as a result, made them very angry men.

Although I told inmates that I would verify their stories from outside
sources, I have not done so. The simple explanation is that my situation
leaves me with no time and without any resources to do so. Instead,
verification will have to be done by others. For those so inclined, a
helpful piece of information is that all these men, save Nguyen, were housed
in the same module as I (3A of the Santa Ana Jail) during my incarceration
from March 15th to August 31st of the year 2003. Nguyen was in the same
building, but I don’t remember the exact module.

Although these men unhesitatingly related their stories to me, many of them
would later come to me and ask me not to publish their stories because they
feared retaliation from the authorities. From these men’s stories, a common
purpose of the government became clear. Every time a victim attempted to
assert a right, the government would multiply the penalty. For example, my
cellmate Saul would ask two times to speak to a lawyer. As a result, his
penalty would go from no time and deportation to 30 months and deportation.
Several of these men related that, when they asked for a jury trial, the
government threatened them with 15 years, while a confession of guilt would
bring only three years jail time with three to six years of probation.

These men are short of vision and therefore easily intimidated. They plead
guilty and accept the government’s offer. What they fail to see, however,
is how easily a probation officer can fabricate a probation violation, and
turn the final three months of probation into a new package of one or two
years of jail time followed by six more years of probation.

But, I am ahead of myself. Let me tell their stories. Then I’ll briefly
explain why I had to be put in jail:

Stan (not his real name) had previously served time for drug use or
possession. He was now in jail for a probation violation, due to one of his
drug tests being “dirty.” When someone violates probation, he is taken
before a judge to determine new penalties. At this hearing, Stan’s
probation officer (P.O.) asked for the maximum, which was on the order of 12
to 18 months of jail time, along with an additional three years of

Stan was a high performance character. He owned a mortgage company, with
two or three offices in Southern California . At the meal table, he was
irrepressible, as he regaled everyone with locker-room stories. He probably
thought he was funny, but in truth, and I admit this reluctantly, he was
closer to hilarious.

Unfortunately for Stan, his P.O. was on a power trip. After Stan’s “dirty”
test, she had an arrest warrant issued and held on to it for three or four
weeks. In the meantime, Stan visited her office two or three times. She
could have executed the arrest warrant at any of these visits. Instead, she
sent a sheriff’s deputy to Stan’s office to arrest him there, so his ten to
15 employees and one or two customers could witness the spectacle.

Apart from his useless habit, Stan is a sensible man. If his P.O. had
requested him to come to her office to be arrested, he would have gone. He
knew the alternative, and had nowhere to run.

Michael delivered firewood in the Big-Bear area for a living. He likes to
use one and a half grams of speed every two weeks. One day an acquaintance,
Vinnie, calls and wants Mike to obtain some speed and a gun for a “friend”
who needs the speed to reduce pain from an illness. Vinnie says the friend
owns a machine shop and has so much pain from cancer that he has to use
speed to get out of bed and go to work. He also wants a pistol for target
practice, something that he enjoys in his spare time.

Vinnie assures Mike that the friend has no criminal intent. Mike feels
sorry for the “friend” and agrees to make arrangements as a favor. The deal
includes 112 grams of speed and a registered pistol, both supplied by Spike.
They all meet in a parking lot. Mike never sees or touches the cash,
speed or gun. The meeting is filmed and audio taped by law enforcement
agents. Mike and Spike are arrested. Mike is now looking at 200 to 280
months cut out of his life.

This was not Mike’s first drug-induced disaster. Several years earlier, he
was stopped on the road with his wife and her girlfriend. The cop found a
bag of marijuana under Mike’s car seat. The cop asked who owned the bag.
No one answered. The cop explained that if no one claimed it, he would
arrest all three for possession of it. Mike then volunteered that the bag
belonged to him, and he was immediately arrested. I don’t remember his jail
time on this charge, it may have been one half or a full year. I do
remember that, as he reported, his wife left him the day he went to jail.

All of this has left Mike a bitter man, and I don’t know if he has yet
identified the source of his troubles.

(Vinnie was used in similar routines to set up four others and send them to
jail. He got into this “profession” as a result of being arrested for
selling/possessing drugs and explosives. The government offered to drop
charges if he would help them entrap gullible drug users.)

Danny worked eight years as general manager of a car dealership. He quit
and was hired as general manager of a start-up restaurant in an effort to
become self-employed. He was a good friend of the owner, or so he thought.
Unfortunately he didn’t know all he should have known about the owner, who
was under surveillance for drug dealing. Danny was arrested, on the basis
of a taped phone conversation, along with eight others on drug charges —
seven on conspiracy charges.

One of Danny’s responsibilities was to find suppliers for menu items. In
this connection, Danny called the owner to tell about a potential supplier
for the menu item, chili poppers. The phone conversation was taped and the
so-called authorities construed chili poppers as a reference for some kind
of drug. It was all that was needed to throw Danny into the conspiracy net.

Danny appealed to a friend to help arrange bail. The friend agreed to put
up his house as security. But there was a problem — the friend had a prior
conviction for drug use. The prosecutors informed his friend that he would
be questioned about it at the bail hearing and arrested as a co-conspirator.
Of course, the friend backed out, and the bail hearing was cancelled.

A trial was scheduled for October. It was eventually postponed to February
to give the government more time to dig up (or manufacture) evidence to
support its charges, as the evidence on hand was flimsy at best. Or
perhaps prosecutors were using the extra time to look for a judicial
assassin who would conveniently overlook such deficiencies in their case.
Regardless, they were ultimately successful in sending Danny to prison.

Saul is about 32 years old. He was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S.
with his mother in 1978 with a visa. He had become a successful independent
handyman. He had three or four serious charges as a teenager. He attempted
to run down a cop with a car when he was drunk, he was arrested for driving
on a suspended driver’s license, and he assaulted a non-paying employer who
did not approve of his daughter dating Saul. He also dealt drugs while he
was a student in high school, but told me that he discontinued this
“business” after leaving school.

In an earlier case, a public defender extorted a false confession that Saul
illegally entered the U.S. in 1978. He was deported soon thereafter, but
later returned. Once Saul was back in the U.S. , he managed to build a
successful home repair business. He did numerous construction favors for
relatives (including a brother who is a sheriff’s deputy). These favors,
however, did not prevent some of his relatives from becoming jealous. They
simply could not understand how Saul could become so successful. He had
bought a home on about two acres of land in San Bernardino County . He had
a swimming pool, a boat, and a motor home, among other things. He obtained
some of these items as trades for work he had done for customers. But
baffled by lack of understanding and blinded by jealousy, one of Saul’s
relatives reported to the FBI that Saul was dealing drugs. The FBI placed
surveillance on him for two months. They couldn’t find any evidence of drug
activity. He was arrested anyway and charged with illegal entry.

I shared a cell with Saul for five and a half months. During that entire
time, he would constantly volunteer for work details at all hours of the day
and would routinely clean our cell. He seemed to be his happiest when
working, or when studying his high school GED lessons. Like all
self-motivated people, he did not have much respect for silly rules. He
would frequently get “written-up” for violations of such – having too many
t-shirts, or keeping condiments (one ounce packages of catsup, mustard, or
grape jelly) in our cell. These write-ups included disqualification from
work details. However, he worked so well that most of the time the guards
would overlook these write-ups and send him out on the work details anyway.

Within hours after his current arrest, he was brought before an INS review
officer. He was offered deportation with no jail time. When he requested
to talk to a lawyer, he was returned to jail. Within a week he was brought
before a review officer a second time, and offered six months and
deportation. He still wanted to talk to a lawyer. He was returned to jail
again. Within another week he was brought before a review officer a third
time, and offered 30 months and deportation. He was told that at the next
interview, he would be offered 37 to 72 months and deportation. He accepted
the 30 months, and was promptly returned to jail.

What was Saul’s crime? Neither he nor his mother, from the time of their
entry into the United States in 1978, took welfare. That was the
government’s claim, of course, but it was both false and hypocritical. From
our earliest history books we learn that one of the devices used by
governments to suppress the rebellious or independent mind is to quarter
strangers (sometimes soldiers, sometimes aliens) among those who display too
much independence, too much integrity, or ask too many of the wrong
questions. Accordingly, the federal government has opened our borders and
invited every freeloader in the world to come and eat out the substance of
the American worker.

So why was Saul put in jail? Allegedly, it was payback time for both the
American taxpayer and for Saul. For taxpayers, they received “payback” for
the burden of welfare payments Saul and his mother never occasioned. For
Saul, he had to “pay” for all the welfare that neither he nor his mother
took. Now, the government will extort some $30,000 to $50,000 a year from
American workers to keep Saul in jail, depriving him of his liberty and
destroying his business in the process.

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