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Lord Black & Prison Experience…

Some prisoners are clearly more equal than others.  I’ve known quite a few over the past 20+ years.  Most of them were business types, whether in street-corner direct sales and personal services, or corporate executives.

Lord & Lady Black

     Conrad Moffat Black, a member of the British House of Lords, knows few equals.  A multi-millionaire media tycoon (at one time, number three in the world), the Baron Black of Crossharbour, is clearly one of the most elite.

I personally have no problem with that…the American gulag has a way of democratizing us–whatever its intent.  Sorry to say, I never met him…we were prisoners in different places.

The recent term of the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled (a rare event in itself) that the prosecutors used “overly vague concepts of corporate fraud.”  Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal attacks the law and the over-zealous prosecution of Jeffrey Skilling, Black, and others as “the criminalization of business.”

     The American Tribune has consistently noted the axiom that criminal laws that target specific groups will invariably come around to be applied to all.  For instance, the RICO statutes, originally targeting the Mafia and organized crime, eventually evolved into the largest use of conspiracy laws on the planet.  Lord Black is merely one of the latest examples.

     In fact, no predicate crime is any longer even necessary to be found for the prosecution of a “conspiracy” under American jurisprudence.  This is unique in the world.  One can add examples of security law, drug laws, and many others.  BUT…What goes around comes around…

That being the nature of the beast, we must nevertheless applaud justice where we find it.  For the court, it’s perceived as purely a technical matter.  Their view of justice always becomes clearer thru the prism of a fine crystal mirror.  Short of fundamental rights and morals, it’s the best the rest of us can expect.

What’s special here, is the education and response of Lord Black.  To the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), of course, he’s simply inmate #18330-424.

Palm Beach, Florida

He was stripped of all his personal possessions 28 months ago (including his sleeping pills and lip balm), humiliatingly searched, including the bend-over-‘n-spread-‘em routine, fitted into a crotch-bending orange jumpsuit, he was then dumped into a dormitory of a couple of hundred-or-so other prisoners.

Were they able to strip him completely of his very identity, they would have–something perhaps we have to look forward to in the future.  (The Low compound alone has over 1,900 men.  Coleman is a complex of five prisons, over 7,000 souls, counting the female camp.)

While the BOP touts this process as the equalization of prisoners, the reality is somewhat more prosaic:  To maximize its product (inmates), and minimize the problem of cost and control.   One-size-fits-all.  And, of course, to make things easy on themselves.  Afterall, they ain’t rocket scientists.

Personally, I’ve always found it supremely ironic that those who clearly praise the ideals of capitalism and a meritocracy, have reduced their prison systems into caricatures of dictatorial communism.  Small wonder that some 67% of those they eventually turn loose into a relatively free community end up returning to prison within three years.

“Lordy,” as he was apparently known to his co-captives, was given a job washing trays in the kitchen but soon garnered a position as a clerk in the library.  He’s credited also with teaching a GED class, but that would have been on his own time, over and above his regular prison job at .12 cents/hr.  Quite commendable, Sir Conrad (I’ve prematurely awarded him the KBE).

Having an original sentence of 6½ years for corporate fraud (is there another type of corporate activity? [Oh, please.  Save your e-mails…]), he’s been able to slip the surly bonds of imprisonment, at least for the moment.

Posting a $2 million bond pending further review of his case by the US Attorney’s Office, he currently resides in somewhat more comfortable digs–his $28 million estate–in Palm Beach, Florida (of which the IRS is still drooling for…).

Black was able to continue his prolific writing thru the prison’s TRULINKS/Corrlinks e-mail network, the First Amendment having not yet been wholly repealed (but they’re working on it…).  It was also noted in the press that he had his cellmate (cubicles in the Low, actually) serving him as “butler, gofer and cleaner.”

I recall these same comments against Leona Helmsley and Martha Stewart.  It simply demonstrates—at least to anyone who’s served time—that he was abiding by normal prison etiquette.  Most prisoners are not financially independent, nor does .12/hr. provide much in the way of survival.  Many prisoners vie for the few hustles available…or they invent one.

Much as on the outside, people will do what they have to do to survive.  Room cleaning, laundry, personal stores, sewing, boots, etc., is certainly more honorable than sex-hustling, drug and hootch dealing, gambling, tattooing, and variety of gang activities.  As outside, a hierarchy is created that, for the most part, is perfectly respectable.

Were a prisoner (who could well afford it) to refuse to hire out such work at a fair and competitive wage, he’d find himself with a lot fewer friends—or worse.  Room-cleaning, laundry, etc., only runs maybe $30 (in commissary) per month.  Peanuts to some, survival to others.  In such confinement, at least among prisoners, democracy is too close to the bone to just play at it.

In Black’s writings, he’s already given voice to many who otherwise had none.  The insanity of 20-year marijuana sentences when 42% of the public has used it.  A drug prohibition policy that includes reducing the nations of Colombia and Mexico to civil war.  A nation with 47 million of its citizens with criminal records.  Prosecutors that win 90% of their cases (virtually all thru plea bargains, coerced and otherwise).  Some 90% of men and women with psychiatric problems being criminalized.

In a very real sense, sharing the prison experience is analogous in some respects to combat veterans.  The shared trauma, acute or chronic experience, gives each of us a psychic language window to the other.  A fundamental basis for communication.   I sometimes wonder if Dr. Frankenstein is truly aware of what he’s creating…

Lord Black is an exemplar.  I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from the Baron Black of Crossharbour, and I for one will be interested in what he has to say…

               Dr. Publico

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