Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Welcom Back Frank!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Dear Friend of Justice,

Many of you know my friend, Frank Kane, the Treasurer of the National Center for Reason and Justice. Many of you once corresponded with him by email.

About a year and a half ago, Frank’s computer got fried as a result of a bad lightning strike near his house. (I’ve forgotten the details.) He finally has obtained a new system.

I helped him get on the air, but I was unable to transfer files, emails, and his address book from his old Mac. (I am totally helpless when faced with a Mac.) So I’m hoping some Mac expert will soon help him out.

Meanwhile, he has no email addresses for his friends. So if you know Frank, send him an email at frank@ncrj.org.

If you don’t know Frank, email him anyway. He’s a great guy!

Cheers,

Bob

Another Massachusetts Outrage

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

So far it’s been a lousy day.

I became involved in criminal-justice issues back in 1995, because of my concern for the falsely accused and wrongfully convicted. But over the years, my concerns have broadened. For one thing, I came to know people who weren’t 100 percent innocent who had still been wronged by the system — such as the friend who I’ve been calling “Kevin” on this blog.

I also have met some who have never denied their crimes, have taken full responsibility for them, and who have worked hard to rehabilitate themselves.

One such person, who I will call “William,” was a very close friend of Bernard Baran’s in prison. His friendship and support did much to help Bee survive all of those years when his case seemed hopeless. Bee thought “William” and I should become friends, partly because we are both recovering alcoholics.

“William” committed his crimes when he was drunk and stoned. He was 18 at the time. He doesn’t even remember committing his more serious crime. But he has always taken responsibility for his crimes. An alcoholic serious about recovery never excuses unexcusable behavior by saying, “I was drunk” or “I was in a blackout.” But those of us in  recovery also know that we would never have done the terrible things we did, had we been in our right minds.

Our “true” nature does not reveal itself when we are drunk or high. Our true nature only reveals itself after a (sometimes long) period of recovery.

I believe, and most recovering alcoholics and addicts would agree, that no one is hopeless, “no matter how far done the scale they have gone.” I believe — based on my own personal experience — in recovery, rehabilitation, redemption.

“William” is now in his 40s, having spent the last quarter of a century behind bars. He has worked very hard on himself. Five years ago, he asked a jury to look at his progress and to declare him not sexually dangerous. I attended his trial and testified for him. The jury was out about half an hour and came back in his favor.

Since then, he has hopefully gone before the parole board every year. And every year he had been denied. I got to dread those phone calls after his hearings, because I know how high his hope had been. But he knew he could not afford the luxury of self-pity.

This year he called me in jubilation. His parole had been granted! He was told he had to find housing and have a phone installed. He would be coming out under intensive parole, which meant wearing a monitoring bracelet, strict curfews, frequent check-ins with his paole officer, and many onerous restrictions. But it meant leaving prison and “William” was anxious to prove himself.

I hope you don’t think it is easy to find an apartment for someone who has been convicted of a sex offense. But we did it. (The landlord willing to give him the break is a former police officer.) His family and friends found him furniture and stocked his refrigerator. Jim and I bought him a bed. His parole officer approved the apartment. He found someone to pick him up at the prison. He was told that it would only be a couple more days.

And then, two days ago, they called him in and said, “April fool!”

The Massachusetts Department of Correction had somehow forgotten that his release needed the sign-off of the District Attorney of Dukes County. Even though he was declared non-dangerous by a jury, the DA has the right to try to get another jury to recommit him.

Given his record, it’s highly unlikely that a DA could get him recommitted. But the DA can just sit on the request and do nothing. He has until September 5th to decide one way or another.

“William’s” family is far from wealthy. They were able to scrape up one month’s rent and the security deposit. We have personally pledged to pay his May rent, but we can’t really afford to do much more than that.

But we will deal with this situation a day at a time.

It is unfortunate that the credo of American politicians is, “Millions for prison and puncishment, but not one penny for rehabilitation.” The prison-industrial complex is based on the premise that rehabilitation doesn’t work. America has five percent of the world’s population and twenty-five percent of its prisoners. The cost of maintaining these prisons is enormous. Even greater is the cost to society when these mistreated men and women and sent out into society without any resources. The prison-industrial complex needs them to fail. And far too often, that is exactly what happens.

After all of these years battling our dysfunctional criminal-justice system, I have lost most of my capacity for outrage.

But I have not lost my capacity for pain. And the pain has been intense today.

-Bob Chatelle

Koobface Got Me!

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Dear Friend of Justice,

I’m hoping that this post will be read by someone who might help me. If you know a  technie, maybe you could pass this on.

I’m a Facebook newbie and I got infected by the Koobface Trojan, which spreads via Facebook.

I think I’ve cleaned it off my system. But several programs can no longer access the internet, including Internet Explorer and Windows Update. Firefox, forunately, still works. (Opera does not. Neither do my Yahoo widgets.)

Internet Explorer says that my firewall may be blocking access. But when I shut down ZoneAlarm, the problem persists.

The disabling of Windows Update could cause serious problems in the future.

I would appreciate any help anyone can offer.

-Bob

Greetings

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

I haven’t posted to this blog for well over a month, for a number of reasons.

Primarily, Jim and I have been extremely busy all summer because we were forced to move. Packing was a major nightmare. Our lease on the new apartment began August 1st, but we retained the old place for the month of August as well. We had help from many friends during the early part of the month. And then, on August 15, we had five burly young professional movers, who took over seven hours to do the bulk of the move. We completed the move two days later and have been unpacking ever since. It appears a never-ending task.

No news in the Baran case. But Bee, unfortunately, is dealing with another very distressing situation.

Bee lives and works with a partner named David. A week ago yesterday David had to go to the emergency ward with extreme abdominal pain. He underwent a cat scan and was diagnosed with acute diverticulitis. The scan showed at least seven infected pockets.

The doctors tried to bring his white-cell count down before trying any procedures. But last Friday they did emergency surgery. He is having another procedure today. And eventually he will need even more surgery to reattach his colon. The recovery process will be long and he will need professional home health care. It is uncertain how much of the medical expenses will be covered by insurance because of the gross inefficiency of the new Massachusetts health-insurance system.

Bee hasn’t worked for over a week. (Their boss, however, has been extremely supportive.) They have no idea how they will pay medical expenses, rent, or buy food and heating oil. But I’m confident his friends and supporters will get him through this. Of course it’s always possible that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will decide to send him back to prison.

On a brighter note, while Jim and I strongly opposed the sale of our building, we did receive some money. (Not enough to buy another place, of course.)

I’m using some of the proceeds to go to Minnesota for a few days. My mother turns 88 on Thursday. And my niece recently gave birth to triplets. So there may be a family gathering to celebrate both events.

Later in the month, Jim and I will be taking a two-week vacation in Europe. (Barcelona, Marseilles, Paris, Avignon.) Long ago we had promised ourselves this as a reward should we lose our battle to save our prior home.

Should news break on the Baran case, I will post it ASAP.

-Bob Chatelle

The Triumph of Greed

Friday, May 16th, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

I am posting this for a number of reasons. First of all, I have a pressing need to get a few things off my chest. Second, we need to ask for help. And third, I think the post is relevant to the concerns of this group.

The building where Jim and I have lived for twelve years is in process of being sold. To find out about the buyer, check out these links:

http://local.yahoo.com/details?id=25783461

http://boston.citysearch.com/review/4743088

http://www.insiderpages.com/b/3715334649

Our building used to be a limited-equity housing co-op. We were able to buy a share here for perhaps 10 percent (or less) of what it would have cost to buy a comparable condominium. Our monthly carrying charges were low. But the value of our share would only increase by a few hundred dollars per year. And we could only sell that share back to the co-op. The intent was to keep out speculators and preserve affordable housing here indefinitely.

Unfortunately, the speculators were not kept out. Ultimately, they destroyed the co-op.

Geese that lay golden eggs have a very short life expectancy.

Because our housing costs were so low, Jim and I were able to work less than full time and devote a great deal of time to our criminal-justice work. Had we not moved here, for example, we could never have done our work for Bernard Baran.

The trouble began not too long after we moved in. Some of us had legitimate concerns about the condition of the building. We wanted to identify necessary repairs and do them. So we hired an excellent engineering company who did a good study. They told us what we should do immediately, what we should do in a few years, and what we should do eventually.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have sufficient reserves to pay for all of this. One way or another, carrying charges would have had to go up a bit.

At this point one of our members sold us the Brooklyn Bridge. She had “found” an architect who would do his own study and also the necessary work. The total fee would be less than our reserves. Carrying charges would not go up a penny.

So our Board bought the Brooklyn Bridge and persuaded the membership to go along. The member was hired to “manage” the project.

It was never disclosed that the architect was the member’s former business partner. Nor was any of their less-than-stellar joint resume ever shared.

The project was a debacle. Our lives were disrupted by the “repairs” for almost a year. The money finally ran out. The building was in worse shape than when the “repairs” began.

The Board hired an engineering firm to evaluate the work. Their scathing report was kept secret until it was finally leaked years later.

The Board, by the way, is a three-member body that meets in private and doesn’t publish minutes of meetings. But it later became known that the Board declined to take legal action against the member and her partner because they didn’t want to sue a member. In my opinion, it would have been more appropriate to press criminal charges.

The social fabric of this co-op was destroyed by this fiasco. But things were relatively quiet for a few years. Tense, but quiet. And then some members decided that we should go condo.

The membership as a whole wasn’t interested. But there was a consensus that we should again look into the building’s problems — which still existed — and create a plan to address them.

The person responsible for the previous repair fiasco soon allied herself with the condo people. I will just refer to this faction as the Greed Party. Their initial objective, it appeared, was to tear-down the building and build luxury condos.

The Greed Party first tried to convince the membership that the building was in horrible shape, that it was dangerous, and that our lives were in danger if we continued to live here. A consensus was reached that we should hire experts to look at the building and advise us of our options.

Since the Greed Party wanted teardown/rebuild to be one of the examined options, we hired an architectural firm, not an engineering firm. The architects found many problems, including code violations. And we discovered that if we tried to fix the code violations, we would trigger a threshold that would require us also to make the building handicapped accessible. Among other things, we would have to install an elevator. Repairing the building was proving to be an expensive option.

Once the study was done and the Board had been informed of the code violations, the Board was forced to act. And if they did not act, the Greed Party could call in building inspectors. The Greed Party could now use blackmail to get its way.

The Greed Party began pushing the idea of selling the building. “We are sitting on a gold mine,” one of them was overheard saying at a local restaurant.

Having convinced most of the membership that the building was in such sorry shape as to be worthless, it now set about convincing the same people that they were sitting on an extremely valuable piece of property. Throughout the rest of the process, the Greed Party kept making both of these contradictory arguments, depending on their immediate goal.

There were some of us who felt the building could be saved with help. My neighborhood has an excellent non-profit Community Development Corporation that was interested in preserving 46 units of affordable housing in this neighborhood. They also had access to several million dollars of “inclusionary funds” (funds escrowed by developers to subsidize affordable housing) that they wanted to invest to save the building. The CDC, not surprisingly, was anathema to the Greed Party.

The Board decided to hire a “development consultant.” Many of us wanted the CDC to be at least considered for the position. The Greed Party lobbied against the Board even sending the CDC a request for proposal (RFP). Finally, the RFP was sent and the CDC came in with by far the best proposal. But the Board hired instead a huge real-estate firm. Their $40,000 report turned out to be nothing but a set of not terribly helpful PowerPoint slides.

And so it went. The full story would take tens of thousands of words. Some of it is quite incredible. But I will spare you the gory details.

In the end, those of who cared about affordable housing and the principles of a limited-equity co-op were crushed by those who cared only about selling to the highest bidder — regardless of who that turned out to be. The welfare and future of the neighborhood did not even appear on their radar screen.

One might think, at least, that the new owner will have to fix the building’s problems — at least the code violations. I am positive that this will not occur. Nothing of the building’s problems was disclosed to prospective buyers. (This is quite legal.) Buildings are often sold “as is.” In these cases, the buyer usually stipulates a due-diligence period so that he or she can bring in experts to examine the building and adjust (or withdraw) the offer depending on their findings.

But the purchaser of this building waived due diligence. He doesn’t want to know about the building’s problems. If he knew, he would be obligated to fix them.

Does the Greed Party in fact believe that this building is dangerous? If so, it doesn’t bother them in the least that future tenants might be risking their lives by living here.

That’s not their problem.

If Jim and I were in a better financial position, we would just use the money we get from the sale to further our work. But we can’t afford to do
that.  We have no assets and we have little income. Without my social security, we couldn’t get by at all. The money we will receive is dirty money. It is worse than tainted. But if we don’t accept it we would end up living in a shelter.

When it comes to real estate and managing money, we are babes in the woods. We haven’t worried about money management because we had no money to manage. And we never thought we might be in a position where buying a place to live was an option.

That is why we need help. And we don’t even know where to begin looking for help.

Much as I hate Massachusetts, I think we have to stay here. Most of the prisoners that I am closest to are in Massachusetts. If I moved away, I could never visit or attend their court hearings. And our social network is here. We are just too old to start anew in a new place.

So if you have any advice — or know someone who might — please let us know.

The next few months will be months of upheaval. And the whole process of finding a place and moving will consume a lot of time and energy.

But my hope is that eventually the dust will settle and I can again turn my attention back to innocent people in prison who have suffered far more than I can even imagine.

In many ways, the members of the Greed Party remind me of those corrupt prosecutors who have done so much to destroy our criminal-justice system. If self-interest is truly the only thing that matters, then these people are behaving reasonably. They further their careers by winning cases. So what if this comes at the expense of innocent people too poor and powerless to defend themselves? Winning isn’t the main thing. It is the only thing.

David Capeless and the members of the Greed party would get along very well. They have so much in common.

And they have no comprehension of people like us. People who have values other than “rational” self-interest.

But self-interest is not rational. If unchecked, it destroys communities. And when our communities are destroyed, so are we all.

-Bob Chatelle

Going Home

Monday, April 14th, 2008


Dear Friend of Justice,

This Thursday, I will be getting up at the crack of dawn to fly to Brainerd, Minnesota. (That’s the town where the movie Fargo actually is set. And people in that part of Minnesota really do talk that way.)

My niece will be meeting my plane and driving me to my hometown, Aitkin, where I will be visiting my mother. She turned 87 in September. Her spirits are good, but her health has been failing her. She has been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and emphysema. How she got emphysema is a mystery: she has never been a smoker and has lived all of her life in rural Minnesota.

I treasure these visits. But I never know which will be my last.

My mother lives between two lakes and this is the time of the year when the ice goes off. I haven’t seen the ice go off the lakes since I was in high school, many decades ago. I plan to take a long walk every day that I am there. (I often spot an eagle in flight during these walks.) I particularly enjoy the walk to the little country church that my grandfather and great-grandfather helped build. They and many other family members are buried in the little cemetery attached to the church. This cemetery will also be my mother’s final resting place.

When I was a kid, I thought Aitkin, Minnesota was the most boring place in the world. I couldn’t wait to get away. It took me decades to appreciate it. I am now glad to have had a home town. Aitkin has shaped me in ways that I probably will never know.

A dozen years ago, I created this page about Aitkin. It includes material from the local newspaper, chronicling the year 1896.

You may be wondering about the picture above. It is a float from the world’s only Annual Fish House Parade, which takes place in Aitkin.

The struggle against injustice can be very dispiriting. Anyone involved in it needs periods of respite so that the soul can mend. I always return from these trips somewhat rested and refreshed. I will be back in Boston late on April 22nd.

-Bob Chatelle

Memorial Giving for John O'Brien

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I just received a phone call from John O’Brien’s widow, Gwen. She was concerned that the death notice for John had only suggested memorial gifts to the Malden Public Library. She felt that giving to other organizations might more appropriately reflect John’s later values and concerns.

I think everyone who knew John could think of deserving causes to support in his memory. Since John was a generous supporter of the National Center for Reason and Justice (http://www.ncrj.org/), I hope some will consider a gift to the NCRJ in his memory.

Gwen said a full obituary for John will appear in the Boston Globe this week. I shall share it when it appears.

-Bob Chatelle

Rest in Peace, John O'Brien

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

John A. O’Brien
Of Roxbury, formerly of Malden, of pancreatic cancer, at age 78, March 5. Beloved husband of Gwen (Moore) O’Brien. Former husband of Elizabeth (Prince) O’Brien of Melrose & beloved father of their children, the late James of Malden, the late Daniel of Malden, Thomas of Oneonta, NY, David of Amherst, MA & Ellen of Roslindale, MA. Devoted grandfather to Christopher, Timothy, Daniel & Haley & father-in-law of Theresa, all of Oneonta, NY. Also former husband of Olive Silva of Swampscott, MA. There will be two memorial gatherings: At the Community Church of Boston, Copley Square (565 Boylston Street) on Saturday, March 15 at 10AM, and at the Malden Public Library Fri., March 28 at 2pm. Donations in John’s memory may be made to the James & Daniel O’Brien Fund at the Malden Public Library, 36 Salem St., Malden, MA 02148.
Published in the Boston Globe on 3/6/2008.

One of the great rewards I have had since beginning my criminal-justice work a dozen years or so ago has been the truly wonderful people I have come to know.

Many of these people were in their 70s and 80s when I first met them and unfortunately many are now gone: Herbert Aptheker, Fred Lubet, Dan Finneran, Stewart Washburn, and others.

My friend John O’Brien has now joined them.

For a great many years, John taught English at Malden public high school. Among his pupils were both Gerald and Cheryl Amirault. (http://mysite.verizon.net/vzex11z4/amirault.html)

Because John knew the Amiraults, he knew from the start how ridiculous were the charges against them.

I got to know John on visits to Gerald Amirault in prison. When he learned about the tragic case of Bernard Baran, he became an avid supporter (and frequent visitor) of Bee as well.

While far from a wealthy man, John also contributed generously to the efforts to free the falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned.

John was amazingly good company. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was an incomparable story teller. He was also a talented actor and playwright. Many of his stories were drawn from his decades of experience in the classroom and in the theater.

I remember the night that Jim and I took Cheryl Amirault to see John in a production of Glengarry Glenross. She got to see her old English teacher spout language I’m sure he never used in the classroom.

The last time I saw John was but a few months ago when I attended what turned out to be the last reading of one of his plays. John was frail but in his usual great spirits. He held his own during the question-and-answer session that followed the reading.

And he told a story that I hadn’t heard him tell before. Since it is the last story I heard John tell, I will attempt to repeat it. I won’t try telling it in the first person, however, because I could never capture John’s voice.

When John taught English in Malden, one play he taught every year was Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. John loved that play and his lifelong dream was to someday play Willy Loman.

After he retired, he began auditioning for local small-theater groups. Eventually, he found one casting Death of a Salesman. He auditioned and became ecstatic when he was given the lead.

John worked hard through weeks of rehearsals and, when opening night finally came, he felt he had mastered the role.

John was to make his entrance down the center aisle from the back of the auditorium. As he was concentrating his attention, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw a woman he’d never seen before in his life who said to him:

“That will be five dollars please.”

-Bob Chatelle