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Alexandra Natapoff & Secret Justice…

I was told a couple of prisoners took a swan dive off the 80’ bluff in the quarry, so that’s why they had us all chained together.  We worked from “cain’t-see-to-cain’t see.”  Not very efficient use of labor, but that was the point.

NY University Press

     We hammered and chipped and chiseled slate rock blasted out of the quarry side into “builders,” blocks about 8” deep by 3’ square.  I’d guess maybe 2-to-300 pounds each.  They were used by the TVA and other projects to build bases for bridges and dams.

     One of the first lessons I was taught in the South is if you’re from up North, you’re a “yankee.”  If you’re from up North and come down South, you’re a “damn yankee.”  And if you’re from up North, come down South, and try to tell them folks how to run their affairs, then you’re a “God-damned Yankee!”  You might guess my status…  It was 1964.  The name of my enemy was Jim Crow.     For many years later when I spoke of that Time, inevitably someone would comment, “Oh, like ‘Cool Hand Luke!’”  I’d have to chuckle.

“No,” I would reply, “in order to be on a road-gang like that depicted in the movie, one would practically have to be a trustee where I was at.  Gang Number 9–the quarry gang–was a straight-up kill zone.  Not much future there for movie work.”

One of the central features of life in prison back then, in addition to racial segregation of course, was that snitches were practically unheard of—at least in general population.

The only snitches I knew of were punked-out.  They became gal-boys to survive.  Routinely, a candy bar or two would get you a hand-job.  A pack of tight-rolls or a couple of bags of Bull Durhams would get you a full blow-monte.

Ain’t like that no more.  My first surprise in returning to prison 25 years later (and my first felony conviction) was that snitches practically run the show now.

Police, prosecutors and judges could hardly function any more without them.  Watching TV one evening, the cop show depicted a prosecutor telling a detective, “Don’t worry about the evidence.  Once we indict a bunch of them, one half will testify against the other half!”  He got that right.

Loyola Law School

Thankfully, the sorry state of the criminal justice system is not going totally unnoticed.  The current issue of the Prison Legal News (June 2010) features an article by Loyola Law School professor, Alexandra Natapoff entitled, “Secret Justice: Criminal Informants and America’s Underground Legal System.”

Professor Natapoff speaks to the social scourge aspects of snitching, specifically its unreliability as well as its multi-faceted negative consequences on society.  Dr. Natapoff includes a number of suggested reforms.  Primary is the not-so-simple task of collecting data on the subject.

All information on informants is either secretly held by authorities or non-existent in the first place.  We in the system are pretty well familiar with the fictitious “reliable informant” that even judges largely wink at, not to speak of plain old down-and-out criminal-conspiracies between the police and their snitches.

(Ironically, police themselves don’t tolerate rats and snitches in their own ranks…so much for the ideals of “acceptance of responsibility” and “cooperation.”)

A couple of other suggestions by Dr. Natapoff, includes, one, rewarding informants who testify for the defense.   Now there’s a pregnant idea!  (Of course, one would have to assume that “justice” is the actual goal.)  And two, having some means to hold reliable hearings for the corroboration of jailhouse snitches.

Myself, I have never heard of any “jailhouse confession” that held the least credibility.  Reminds me of the “spectral evidence” they used in the Salem Witch Trials.

If any of this tweaks your sense of justice, check out Dr. Natapoff’s latest book by New York University Press, Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice (2010).

Dr. Publico (Nick Medvecky, PsyD) July 2010…

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4 Responses
  1. […] use) the worst criminal predators in order to keep the mass population compliant and in line.  Snitches and predators are usually one and […]

  2. […] use) the criminal predators in order to keep the mass population compliant and in line.  Snitches and predators are usually one and […]

  3. Thomas Anderson says:

    You are a hero. This issue of confidential informants is perhaps the worst consequence of the failed war of drugs. I am a victim of a confidential informant. I take responsibility for my offense and did break the law, but I honestly believe it would not of occurred had I not been approached by a confidential informant. Bascially, I was set up for selling 40 dollars worth of suboxone medication by someone I thought was a life long friend of 30 years. She contacted me when I was back in my hometown for a wedding or some other event and indicated she wanted help getting off herion. I was previoulsy addicted to oxycotin for approximately 2 years, and then went and got medical help from a doctor. The doctor placed me on suboxone and I have remained clean for the last 5 years because of it. I’m not proud of becoming addicted, but I am proud I went and sought assistance. My friend the informant had apparently been arrested 2 months before contacting me for possession of methamphetamine with children in the vehicle. According to the informants mother and brother, who only became aware of their family member being an informant after my arrest 1 and half years later, stated that the police drug task force told her that if she gave them three names. her charges for endangerment and possession would be swept under the rug. This is unethical on so many levels. Why did they ignore her crime only to set the condititions for another. This person has had 5 kids by 4 different men, and doesn’t work or contribute anything to society. At the time I had a great state job and have a home mortage and don’t take any government assistance for anything. I’m college educated. The tragic part of all of it is the informant has since be arrested and pled guilty to a new offense of meth possession and placed on suspended imposition of sentence probation in Missouri. Same court as I was placed on 5 year SIS probation on. To make matters worse a week into supervision she got a DWI with her children in the car. I will be purchasing your book, and can send you a complete detail of downfall. I should of just said no I can’t help you Nicole (informants name) but she came at me asking for medical help to get off of drugs. Suboxone is what people take to get off of drugs. My lawyer indicated that he had never seen a person being set up for that, and that its a waste of tax payer money and only created more victims, and ultimately only resulted in pain for everyone. Please email me back.

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