Archive for April, 2008

Fight Fiercely Hahvud

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

2008 is a reunion year for me. Until recently, I had been thinking about it as my 35th reunion. But I subsequently realized that it will be my 45th. (And I once was quite good at math.)

I generally don’t attend these reunions. But this year I did submit a class report. The text follows:

I last submitted a Class Report ten years ago. I also sent a copy of that report, as an introduction, to Bernard Baran, an inmate of a Massachusetts prison. I had been urged to contact Baran by a friend who was convinced that Baran was innocent. For some reason, she thought I might be able to do something to help him. Why she thought that, I didn’t know—I was not a lawyer or a person of influence. I was a computer programmer. (She later explained that she prodded me because she knew I was persistent. Stubborn may be a better word.)

Little did I then know that Baran and others like him were going to be my principal occupation for the next ten years. Currently, Baran is out of prison (under severe restrictions) because a judge granted him a new trial. The DA, however, has appealed the decision and the Appeals Court had a hearing in February. (For more information, see my blog ( or the Web site of the Bernard Baran Justice Committee (

I could never have done the work for Baran and others without the constant help and support of Jim D’Entremont, my partner for the past thirty-eight years.

Through my work for Baran, I became concerned about others rotting in prison for crimes that they did not commit and the fact that there are really no organizations to help the overwhelming majority of them. The Innocence Project, of course, does wonderful work. But DNA is present in only a tiny percentage of cases.

So I founded another organization: The National Center for Reason and Justice (

During these past ten years, I have become increasingly appalled by what I’ve learned about the American criminal justice system. It doesn’t work. And if you have little money and lack connections—if you are one of the “people who don’t count”—it really doesn’t work. The “people who count”—the wealthy and powerful—can hire the legal help they need to free them, even if they are guilty. The poor and powerless too often end up with lawyers who become their worst enemies. Justice—like education, health care, decent housing, freedom—is now a luxury, out of the reach of most Americans.

Once a conviction occurs, it is nearly impossible to get it overturned. We live under a government incapable of admitting error and that chooses instead to compound it. By relentless repetition, they believe that lies can be transformed into truth. But without a working criminal justice system, none of us can claim to be free. Even the people who count. Even the ones who went to Harvard — whose motto, I believe, is still veritas..

On a more personal note, I must confess that I am one of those many unfortunates who just don’t do well under capitalism. My current economic situation is very challenging. I had been deriving most of my income as a programmer from one client. And I made the mistake of outliving him. His widow took over the company on his death and she severely curtailed my contract.

I have spent several months looking for work. But I have an unconventional resume and my age works against me. I have applied everywhere I could think of, including temporary agencies and all five of the Starbucks in my neighborhood. In short, I am unemployable.

But I do receive a modest stipend from the National Center for Reason and Justice. And I have started to collect social security. So I hope to continue to scrape by.

Jim and I will also be losing our home. For the past years, we have been living in a co-op. But the membership has decided to sell the building. Currently, we have no idea where we will end up. But we certainly can’t afford to stay in Boston.

I have now been living free of drugs and alcohol for over a quarter of a century. I have not forgotten the empty, useless life I lived when I was a slave to booze. Working with our society’s victims is often extremely painful. But I prefer the pain to the spiritual pain suffered by all drinking alcoholics. Anything I may have accomplished, I could not have accomplished without my sobriety. I am extremely grateful.

Most citizens now live in fear. And our government works for the privileged few who own it. One person can do so little to change a corrupt and powerful system. I sometimes wonder if the struggle is worth the pain..

But I recently attended the memorial service for a friend, the novelist Ivan Gold. (A fellow recovering alcoholic.) During the eulogies, someone recalled that Ivan had once said, “If you die still trying to do what you believe is right, you’ve won.”

On that assumption, I will continue the struggle.

-Bob Chatelle, ’63

Another Reason I'm Glad I Left the People's Republik

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

It’s now almost twelve years since Jim and I were run out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have no desire to live there again, even if I won megabucks and could afford to do so. But I do return once every three months to have my teeth cleaned.

I arrived today in Harvard Square very early for my appointment. The sky was clear and the temperature was in the low 70s. It was a perfect spring day. I decided to stroll down Kennedy (formerly Boylston) Street to the river. But when I reached Memorial Drive, my enjoyment of the day was seriously marred. I discovered that that intersection has been renamed Scott Harshbarger Square.

The renaming, of course, had been done by God’s Chosen Few: the Cambridge City Council. Jim and I had lived in Cambridge a long time and I remember some past political achievements. With particular fondness, I remember the time that the city hired people to comb through its citizens’ trash, so that it might identify and punish recycling miscreants.

I am not surprised that God’s Chosen Few anointed Harshbarger: he has the reputation of being a great “liberal” — whatever the hell that means. But for me he just personifies the current moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Democratic Party. (Note: I am not a Republican.)

Most of you reading this will have no problem remembering Scott Harshbarger. If you need your memory refreshed, here is a link to the text of a flyer I distributed many years ago before a Harshbarger speech:

To find out more about the Fells Acres (Amirault) case, follow this link:

The influence of the Amirault persecution was felt not only in Massachusetts but also across the nation for many years thereafter. Many witch hunters, to this day, consider it a “model” prosecution, an example to be emulated.

Now I am fallibly human and make mistakes all of the time. I have never hesitated to forgive those who admit their mistakes. But Harshbarger has never apologized to any of his direct and indirect victims: the Amiraults, Bernard Baran, the Souzas, many others. The extent of the damage he did and the amount of needless suffering that he caused is anyone’s guess. But he has never admitted the slightest mistake. To this day, he persists in his Spitzeresque arrogance and hubris.

I cannot say whether Harshbarger is evil or merely stupid. And the fact that he went to Harvard rules out neither alternative.

Since he asks for no forgiveness, I shall give him none. But neither will I honor him. To honor him is to say that it is admirable to trample upon justice in pursuit of political ambition.

By choosing to honor him, God’s Chosen Few succeed only in bringing dishonor upon themselves.

-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

Innocence Project Petition

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Dear Friend of Justice,

Today a subscriber emailed me a link to this Innocence Project petition, which I hope you will sign.

Massachusetts is one of the states that, disgracefully, has no DNA law.

Go to

-Bob Chatelle