July 14, 2011: from Behind the Walls 2

Apparently the last posting, a 3-page letter by an inmate at a Massachusetts facility, to Michael Rezendes of The Boston Globe, had been scanned originally—certainly the document has proven impossible to copy and paste.

But because the letter IS worth reading, I’ll post a few excerpts here:

[From page 1] I have watched for two decades as rehabilitative, educational and job-training programs have been systematically eliminated from the prison system; I have watched the percentage of inmates in higher security triple and [the] number of correctional officers double as the rules, regulations and the enforcement grew increasingly draconian; and equally predictable, I have watched the recidivism rate triple and DOC [Department of Correction] budget quadruple — all of this ushered in by Governor Weld’s “joys of busting rock” philosophy in the wake of the Willie Horton scandal.

Want more? Stay tuned.

May 6, 2011: “Stay[ing] in the room

This past weekend, I went to Muse and the Marketplace, an intensive, two-day seminar/publishing advice/opportunity to network extravaganza run by Grub Street. And am still processing it!

A couple of take-aways: Ron Carlson, the keynote speaker, urged writers to “stay in the room,” to stay with the mystery and the doubt that are so much a part of the writing process.

And as a direct result of what I heard in a couple of workshops, am now tweeting (@PatriciaWild1). Unlike, say, my husband, I did NOT read the manual first; I simply opened an account without knowing much about what I’m doing—except, of course, what we ALL now know re the power of this social networking tool vis a vis the Arab Spring.

But, today, Day 3 of Twitter-ish, am beginning to intuit stuff (I really need to read the manual, like soon!)

Like: Thanks to Twitter, now know that the ACLU is trying to get the Corrections Dept. of —oops, not sure which southern state; doesn’t matter—to allow inmates to receive books OTHER THAN the Bible. Why doesn’t knowing which state matter? Because the process by which inmates receive books here in hip, progressive, Nyah, Nyah, we’ve got a health plan Massachusetts ain’t much better. But I betcha 90% of MA writers have no clue that their books and the books written by their colleagues can’t be mailed to MA prisoners unless coming directly from the publisher! Sounds like an organizing opportunity.

I really, really need to read that manual!

March 25, 2010: “Well-meaning but clueless”

Today’s posting, the hardest to write, coincides with an obituary for “Courtroom Tony” in today’s Boston Globe. For 25 years, the never-married Tony Torosian daily showed up in Boston courtrooms to watch and listen; “almost religiously devoted to observing the operations of this court,” Judge Mark L. Wolf noted in Tony’s obit. Courtroom drama is exactly that. So I completely understand Mr. Torosian’s devotion.

The six or seven Nesto supporters from Friends Meeting at Cambridge  who religiously showed up at his trial were not there for the free show, however. Yes, of course we were there to show our support. But we were also—at least I was—white faces in that courtroom for the jury to see.

FYI: I have been a white face in a courtroom once before, four years ago, in a case of racial profiling and the Medford (MA)  police. Embracing my “White Supremacy Culture” values [see p. 29 of Way Opens], i.e. “worshipping the written word,” I sat in the front row busily taking notes. By the third day, a defense attorney told me: “You being here makes a difference.”

Part of me celebrates that people from my faith community—and others—sat in that courtroom every day. (It’s important to note that many of those same people had also helped to raise the $50,000 bail money so that Nesto could get out of jail two years ago. Halleluiah!)

But. But: Why should our white faces make a difference? In the midst of all the joy that Nesto’s been acquitted lies profound sadness for me. How incredibly sad that who’s sitting in a courtroom should be a factor, a player, in our criminal justice system, a system that overwhelmingly convicts men and women of color.

It’s tricky. Yes, absolutely, white people should be showing up, should be witnessing, should be a presence in every courtroom in this country when the defendant’s race is, in some significant way, an issue.* But as exhilarating as it is to think, “My presence could possibly make a difference,” any of us who decide to engage in this kind of witnessing need to be doing from a very deep, profound, humble, SAD place. Moment by moment we need to remind ourselves that we live in a country when, so painfully often, it is only when white people become engaged that things change.

That sucks.


*I hope it’s obvious that I’m NOT talking about letting someone off because they’re black. But given the absolutely appalling behavior last weekend by the Tea Party crazies, thought I’d be really, really explicit.

March 22, 2010: “What else can I do?”

Saturday, March 19, 2010, Codman Square’s Great Hall:

Opening Night for “And Still We Rise” and the echoing hall—a former library— slowly filled. Now in its fifth season, “And Still We Rise” offers interwoven, autobiographical vignettes movingly performed by formerly incarcerated men and women. Genevor Monell, Nesto’s mother, was there.

Since I hadn’t seen her since the trial—and hadn’t been able to attend the last day—I was delighted to see her: “I heard you were dancing,” I said, hugging her.

“Yes, I was,” she beamed. “What else can I do?”

Here’s what Genevor did—and continues to do:

She raised a wonderful son. (After the trial, one of the jurors praised Nesto’s mother for doing such a good job.)

She’s working on behalf of other mothers, other sons caught up in this racist criminal justice system and the pain of loss.

She tirelessly told her son’s story. (Friends Meeting at Cambridge’s Lynn Lazar, who’d been volunteering at the same organizations where Genevor worked, after hearing Genevor’s story, had invited Genevor to speak at FMC)

When, after a group of Friends Meeting at Cambridge volunteered to help, Genevor accepted that help—even though she knew that alliances with well-meaning but often clueless white people are never, ever easy.

She prayed.

She was a powerful, loving presence every day at her son’s trial.

When her son was found not guilty, she danced!

But, as the stories the “ASWR” troupe performed that night so poignantly illustrate, racism and poverty and messed-up family dynamics and addiction and mental illness form “The Jail Trail.”* How many families of color are caught up in that web? Even the strongest and most together mothers find themselves asking, “What else can I do?”

But, I think, Genevor’s question on Opening Night was not about that ongoing sense of futility but, rather: In the face of the unbelievable, when justice was served, and a good thing happened to a good person, what choice do I have but to dance?!

* A phrase coined by Dr. Virgil Wood, Lynchburg, VA’s foremost civil rights leader. (He would add “inferior schools,” too.)

March 17, 2010: A Riff/Rant re “Government”

Joseph Krowski, Nesto’s attorney, is very, very good at what he does. And a huge part of what he does, i.e. defend people, is to be constantly  aware of one, simple, fundamental question: How does this [whatever it is] play to the jury?

So when, as happened consistently, he’d gently rest one suited arm on Nesto’s suited arm as they conferred—heck, the way he did consistently seek Nesto’s opinion during the trial, sent a very powerful message. (When I’d complimented him on this collegial/respectful body-language communication, he’d said, seemingly surprised I’d be mentioning it, “It’s genuine.” I have NO doubt that’s true.)

And when, in his opening remarks, he’d used the word “government” as shorthand for: The prosecutor/assistant DA/Bristol County/Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Joseph Krowski knew exactly what he was doing.

The Riff:

“Government”: Lots of fear attached to that word. Distrust, too. Powerlessness? Big time. And, I’m thinking, a sense that “government” is lying through its collective shiny-white teeth (paid for by OUR tax dollars?) about, well, no one’s quite sure because “government” ain’t sayin’.

So to associate all those negative feelings with the prosecution/the case against Nesto was masterful.

The Rant:

As noted in a previous blog, Nesto’s trial felt right-smack-dab Present, suspended in the middle of a fading Past and a fast-approaching Future, as represented by the decrepit courtroom and listening to a new courthouse being built just feet away.

A new courthouse, perhaps more energy-efficient, certainly with an electrical system that won’t overheat the court reporter’s computer (this happened on the third day) is one thing. One version of the Future.

But, when most people think about what’s coming down the Pike, their heart-rate spikes. I firmly believe that our collective sense that government  “is lying through its collective shiny-white teeth (paid for by OUR tax dollars?) about, well, no one’s quite sure because “government” ain’t sayin’ ” is about our dread of the future. (And why, in large part, Scott Brown was elected, in my humble [?]  opinion).

I firmly believe that all of us intuitively know that profound changes are happening. We intuitively know that those in power aren’t telling us the Whole Story (like about the FACT that the world’s running out of oil, for example.)

To the extent that the jury was sensing these profound changes and conflating the powers-that-be-who-ain’t-tellin’ with the-powers-that-be bringing a case against Nesto Monell: Hey! It worked!

Now, what?

March 15, 2010: A word or two about the police

It wasn’t until Day 3 of Nesto’s trial that one huge aspect of this trial became clear: Finding those 5 kilos of coke in Nesto’s house was a big, big deal to the Taunton police. A “once in a career seizure,” as Dennis Ledo, from New Bedford’s crime unit put it.

Oh. (Silly me; I thought such an amount to be, you know, routine.)

So. Besides the usual possibility  that the police might have misinterpreted “the pieces of the puzzle,” as Taunton police officer Troy Medeiros put it, and the usual possibility of  racial profiling, Nesto’s case was also about a BIG Deal Seizure. That must have been pretty exciting!


And, unfortunately, this must be said: How could I sit in that shabby courtroom and NOT wonder if, given Bedford County’s rampant drug economy, that police corruption might not be part of The Big (and VERY exciting) Picture, too?

Oh, yeah: This, too: Those drugs were discovered 5 years ago. So when the very first witness, Taunton police officer Deborah Lavoie, admitted she was a bit hazy on what had happened on March 31, 2005, that made perfect sense.

Oh, dear.

To learn more about The War on Drugs and a much-needed perspective from former police officers, I urge you to check out Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s website: http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php (LEAP can also be found in Links)

March 12, 2010: Who IS Nesto Monell?

[Cut and pasted from www.weallbe.blogspot.com/2008/05/american-hero-needs-your-helpsupport.html, posted May 14, 2008]
“They say the time when an inmate awaits trial is a greater period of fear and uncertainty than the actual prison sentence. It is hard for the mind to settle down because it doesn’t know what it is settling down to. In my case, the future can hold the possibility of merely a few months in jail or several years. How can I make plans? How do I dare to hope?”
—Lennie Spitale

I’ve been in this concentration camp for 3 years, 1 month. I know who I was, I also know who I am going to be, it’s very hard to figure out who I am right now. So when I was asked to write about myself, I found myself frozen with pen in hand.I have come to a determination: who I was, was too long ago, who I will be is still undetermined, and who I am now is a mental volleyball in a championship tournament.It’s very hard to describe who I am without addressing some facts of the case without sort of analyzing the case. Let’s face it though, I’ve been in front of at least 6 judges, 5 lawyers, I’ve represented myself, had 5 bail hearings officially and unofficially, I’ve personally addressed a judge 3 times in open court, personally wrote to two judges, wrote to the prosecutor twice, have had 3 different prosecutors (DA’s), hundreds of pages of testimony collected, hundreds of pages of testimony thrown out, and that’s just the basics.

Analysis: there are two rifles, $110,000.00 worth of drugs, three different fingerprints, a house under renovation that was also for sale, 4 years in the army, weeks after an honorable discharge, 3 years, 28 days and counting, 22 ½ hours a day locked in a cell, and a trial 90 days away (date finally set as of April 08).

Who am I? I’m Nesto Monell, 28 years old, drinks Budweiser, generally watches TV only on Super bowl, I’ve been in trouble as a teen (nothing serious), graduated Bristol Plymouth Tech, took mechanical/architectural drafting, took auto body my last year, have had four car accidents (one my fault), worked since age 15 (had to get work permit because of labor laws), worked through my four years of high school, got my license at age 16 ½.

I’ve had a few long term (over 3 years) relationships with great positive women, I’ve aspired to be an architect, then an auto body technician, and other occupations. I’ve been rude to my parents, stayed out late nights without permission, been to summer school twice in my life, got a skip (skipped a grade) once (then sent back), been to numerous private Christian schools (last one being 8th grade), I’ve been in fights, favorite sport is swimming, attended New England Tech then dropped out, joined the Army, hated jumping out of planes and secretly planned to stop (but turned out to love it after about the tenth time), started smoking cigarettes in 2001 at an Army school (yes, my mother hates it). I’ve attended church while on my own, love my sister and brothers, helped raise them, signed up for the Army with my mother, officially made an oath for active duty on my long term girlfriend’s birthday (then had to announce to her family that I was leaving in 5 weeks for four years—I’m a jerk, I know), got dumped while in Afghanistan, owned a few cars, first car was a 1981, ran a business from my mom’s garage (traveling auto body tech), rented a building for my business but the business failed after a year. I was 19.

I’ve had credit card debt (debt free in 2003), spent my vacations with my family, met some good friends, been a victim of fraud by credit scams, ripped off by my life insurance company, went to college in the Army, worked on cars (my hobby) on the weekends for beer and expenses (Army), worked at a gym (Army), learned my girlfriend was cheating, cried at times, been to Myrtle Beach, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Germany, New York, South Carolina, drove thousands of miles, bought a ’95 mustang (my dream car) at age 23, been to two weddings, 5 retirement parties, two college graduations, won $2,000.00 on a scratch ticket, and I did drink while underage… I can go on.

What I am not:

A drug dealer, the owner of a hundred grand in drugs, owner of any rifles (they do have serial #s), or the owner of the three fingerprints that were lifted from the drugs. The man I knew for only three weeks was not a close friend, I’m not pleading guilty, and I don’t need help to plead guilty to a sentence of 15 years, 10 years, or 5 years. No deals period.

March 11, 2010: “So what happened, exactly?”

Ahh, but recounting what happened  is never exact, now, is it. Everyone knows this. At this very moment, in courtrooms around the country, juries and judges are listening for The Truth in the  stories told by witnesses, family members, the police, etc.

God bless them.

My account re the night of March 31, 2005 will be just as sloppy, subjective, and just plain wrong in spots as the sworn testimony those juries and judges are listening to:

In February of 2005, having recently been honorably discharged from the army (he’d served in Afghanistan), Nesto Monell came home to discover that, after pipes had burst, his family had moved from their  Taunton, MA home. Indeed, the seriously-damaged house was for sale. A self-starter and “between jobs,” so to speak, the twenty-five year old decided to renovate the house himself.

After some false starts and not much progress, Nesto’s ” friend,” who’d been letting Nesto sleep on his couch, suggested the “help” of 2 well-connected guys (WCGs) who owned a lot of property in the Taunton area so had connections with construction workers.[Quotation marks certainly help my take on this story, don’t they!]

On the evening of March 31, Nesto had been drinking beer and playing pool when he received a phone call from one of the WCGs, asking him if he planned to come by the house. Nesto said no. Later that night, driving past his house, he sees all the lights on and cars in the driveway.

What the hell?

So he goes into his house and tries to talk to one of the WCGs but he’s on his cell. Frustrated, Nesto calls his girlfriend but, as he’s talking to her, suddenly two men (three men? I was never sure) in hoodies burst into the room with guns and handcuffs. Nesto keeps his cell phone on, his girlfriend hears everything, she calls the police. Nesto is handcuffed, forced to the floor, but decides that “if I’m going to be killed, I don’t want to be on the floor,” and, in fact, manages to escape. Still handcuffed, he runs through the neighborhood until, some time later, circles back to see his house surrounded by police cars. Handcuffed, “a black man,” as one policeman described him, Nesto walks up to a policeman, asks what’s happening, says “That’s my house,” and is promptly arrested. You see, when the police responded to the home invasion call from Nesto’s girlfriend, they’d  found 5 kilos of coke and several guns, including an AK 47.


March 10, 2010: What’s the metaphor?

February 16, 2010, Bristol Superior Court, Taunton, MA:

So here we are, in a gloomy, badly water-damaged, second-floor  courtroom: dozens of prospective jurors;  Nesto’s supporters; the African American woman judge; Christopher Tarrant, the prosecutor; Joseph Krowski, Nesto’s attorney; the court recorder; three bailiffs and Nesto Monell, himself.

As the interminable, mysterious, and mostly behind-the-scene jury selection proceeds, there’s plenty of time for those of us not directly engaged to take note of our environment. We stare at the courtroom’s gigantic gas chandelier refitted with energy-efficient bulbs, the intricate green and brown stenciled ceiling, the mosaics on the wall over the judge’s head and wall of law books behind her, the barely-functional window shades, the worn blue-green carpeting, the intricate, beautifully-turned spindles of the courtroom’s railings. We stare and stare again at those bulging, sloppily-repaired water-damaged walls.  We listen to sleet striking the courtroom’s air conditioners and the rackety sounds of a major construction project—a brand new courthouse is being built just feet away.

But we’re here. In the current Bristol Superior Courthouse, a formerly palatial 1895 Greek Revival building, located in the very heart of downtown Taunton—which, BTW, resembles the “It’s a Wonderful Life” ‘s Bedford Falls.

What’s the metaphor?

More importantly (But perhaps the same question): What does the jury make of this setting?

Most importantly: Does what the jury make of this setting work in Nesto’s favor?

The jury pool: Most are in their twenties and thirties, all are white, it seems, most are working-class, I’m guessing; lots of scarves, jeans, jeans with heels; very few suits or dressed-up outfits; only one gum chewer that I can see.

Are they bored? Sleepy? Dismayed to be in this gloomy room ? Impossible to know: their faces give nothing away.

Once selected and seated, the jury hears the judge use words like  “rule of law” and “presumption of innocence.” Staring at the mosaic of a disembodied, muscled arm wielding a hammer, the metaphor comes to me (OK, it’s not strictly a metaphor):

All of us in this creepy courtroom are exquisitely suspended in A Moment, a particularly Present Moment. Taunton’s “Silver City” past is well-represented by the craftsmanship and lofty ceilings of this courthouse—surely the jury appreciates those spindles, that mosaic arm, those stencils. The future can be seen, literally, right out the window.

What are these spindles, that mosaic, those stencils teaching us? (Hint: It’s something about Nesto’s character.)

What do those construction sounds tell us? (Hint: It’s something about possibility)

What will guide us, moment by moment, in this Present Moment? Answer: The timeless rule of law. And a wondrous, far-sighted (get it?) concept: that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

March 8, 2010: “Is it fair to say. . . ?”*

[How Prosecutor Christopher Tarrant would begin many sentences at Nesto Monell’s trial, February 16 – February 19, 2010, Taunton, MA ]

Is it fair to say that after the factories and mills of Bristol County shut down, drug-dealing became the next best way to make a living in  Brockton, New Bedford and Taunton?

Is it fair to say that Nesto Monell’s skin color is part of this story?

Is it fair to say that juries notice when white people support a defendant of color?

Is it fair to say, as (Quaker; brilliant) Susan Louks noted during the trial, that although the criminal justice system is deeply flawed, it’s the best thing humanity’s come up with; let’s celebrate its desire to do the right thing?

Is it fair to say that this account is highly subjective? And written by a writer, not a reporter? [Answer: Absolutely!]

So let’s begin, as Quakers so often begin, with another question:

Why were half-a-dozen Quakers from Friends Meeting at Cambridge sitting in a once elegant courtroom in Taunton, MA at 9 am on February 16th, 2010?

The short answer: Because of who Nesto is. (Which is, in part, about his mother.)

A longer answer: In support of  Nesto Monell, age 30, who was on trial for drug-dealing and possession of a firearm.

Who is Nesto Monell? What happened the night of March 31, 2005, the night he was arrested? Who’s his mother? What happened at the trial?

Keep reading.

November 8, 2008: “It’s a whole new world.”

What a week! What a rollercoaster ride! Tuesday night, at a bar with other aging Somerville progressives (and their kids), after Obama had won Ohio,  I danced. Such joy! Thursday, I tearfully said goodbye to a dear friend who’d been sentenced to 90 days for, essentially, Napping While Black. (His extensive CORI was part of the proceedings, too. Apparently there ain’t no such thing as redemption in the criminal justice system)

My friend’s lawyer, as cynical as they come (who wouldn’t be, given the insane world he navigates daily) was confident that NWB Guy would be out by Christmas. “It’s a whole new world,” Cynical Guy noted.