Tag Archives: creative nonfiction

Book Blurb for Supermax Prison: Controlling the most dangerous criminals

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I feel fortunate to have received a book blurb for “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals,” written by Terry Turchie, author of “Unabomber:  How the FBI Broke Its Own Rules to Capture the Terrorist Ted Kaczynski.  Special Agent Turchie is now retired, pursuing a writing career.

Rarely does a book come along that truly shows the final point in the life of a violent criminal.  Supermax Prison does just that.  It brings the reader into the lowest depths constructed for human life in the United States:  incarceration for the human being too violent to live with others, even other convicts.  A must read for everyone interested in criminality, law and order and well written books.
-Terry Turchie, Speical Agent FBI (retired) Unit Director Unabomb Task Force

 

A book review to die for.

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A book review can provide a “writer’s high,” or reduce the author to a pile of rumble.  But when the words come from his mentor, the review is a big deal.

Elizabeth Theresa Klaver was a Professor of English at Southern Illinois University; my client when I had a financial planning practice, and a friend as I shared my history of physical and sexual childhood abuse.  Poetry was my means of expression. I shared my poems with Elizabeth, and what followed were months of private sessions where we worked on my writing skills. What happened, we never could have imagined.  My fourth book is about to be published.

Supermax Prison is the best of Franklin’s books to date.  It’s a must read for anyone interested in the US criminal justice system and its Supermax prisons.  Franklin provides the historical context for the supermax and the philosophy behind it, the pros and cons, the supporters and detractors, and whether it can actually work in practice.  The supermax at Tamms, Illinois, is his case in point.  Covering its rise and fall, Franklin shows how local developers in Southern Illinois, one of the state’s most impoverished areas, convinced the governor to award the supermax to the village of Tamms, bringing with it hundreds of jobs.  Soon, though, it became a subject of controversy, lauded on one hand as a model of rehabilitation, therapeutic support, and security for both inmates and employees and on the other as a torture chamber. Recognizing that there are no easy answers to the problem of what to do with the most dangerous inmates, Franklin gives a fair hearing to all sides of the supermax question, providing documents and interviews with Tamms inmates and their court appeals, guards, psychiatrists, therapist, the warden, and even the chaplain.  Though the story of the Tamms Supermax ends with its closing, Franklin draws on his research to imagine a prison of the future that might just work.                                                          

Elizabeth Theresa Klaver, Professor of English

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The writer crawls from his cocoon.

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My last blog was written on October 30, 2015 when I had recovered from two back surgeries and swallowed my last oxycodone.  The pain was gone, my swagger was back, and the creative juices were flowing.  It was time to take that glorious trip I had taken on three prior occasions.  It was time to write a book, and leave the seclusion of my cocoon.

Nineteen months later, I have a signed contract with History Publishing Company
for my latest book, “Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.” The projected release date is mid-June, 2017.  It seems appropriate to include the Prologue in this blog.  After all, this has been a major part of my life for the past nineteen months.

Prologue

Few residents can tell you that Illinois was granted statehood on December 3, 1818, or that the state animal is the white-tailed deer. Fewer still know that the bluegill is the state fish, or that the monarch butterfly, painted turtle, and pumpkin pie gained similar state recognition. But most people know about the place called Tamms.

In the mid 1990’s, Governor James Edgar and the Illinois legislature signed off on the construction of the Tamms supermax prison, built just a stone’s throw from the village of the same name. Small towns were sprinkled across the countryside with room for seasonal crops and native wildflowers that graced the picturesque bottomland of southern Illinois. Herds of cattle steadied themselves as they stood on the hilly terrain, and black vultures, sometimes called “shabby undertakers,” patrolled the two-lane highway just east of the prison gate, swooping down to devour the latest road-kill.

The Tamms’ supermax was the ultimate result of prison violence during the 1980s and early 1990s, when prison gangs mirrored the organizational structure and control of a big-city Mafia. Most inmates who entered the Illinois maximum-security prisons had to make a choice between joining a gang that offered protection, friendships, financial rewards, access to drugs and other contraband, or surviving as a lone inmate in a dangerous, even lethal world. Some of the more violent inmates eventually sent to Tamms included Henry Brisbon, the I-57 killer; William Cabrera, sentenced for the killing of correctional officer Lawrence Kush; Ike Easley who stabbed superintendent Robert Taylor to death; and Corey Fox, an inmate who strangled his cellmate. The Tamms supermax seemed to be the best way to reduce violence, protect the safety of staff and inmates, and improve the functioning of the four antiquated maximum-security prisons in Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections, together with architects, construction workers, and outside advisors were determined to create a state-of-the-art facility that would provide safety for inmates and staff, with a special emphasis on the mental health needs of a unique population. In 1998, Tamms opened with the certainty of success, and the assurance of jobs in a county that labored under the weight of eighteen percent unemployment.

But time eroded public confidence in a facility that imposed long-term solitary confinement years beyond acceptable practice. What began as a high-tech facility became known as a hellhole of misery, a place where the sane became insane, the sickest turned crazier than before. News outlets, inmate lawsuits, scholarly exposes, and human rights groups contributed to the demise of Tamms some fifteen years later. Any counter arguments were like whispers in the crowded arena where gladiators ruled the day.

The strangulation of a seventy-three million dollar structure is a story that needs to be told. Rakesh Chandra and Larry L Franklin met at the Long Branch coffee shop in Carbondale, Illinois, to discuss the possibility of a book about the Tamms supermax. Chandra had been the Tamms’ psychiatrist over a seven-year period. Franklin had written two books on women sentenced to life in prison for murder, and had experience as an investigative journalist. Together they began a journey of twists and turns that eventually expanded beyond their preconceived expectations.

Human rights groups were passionate in their criticism of the supermax; politicians were unwilling to provide adequate funding; scholars sometimes picked their favorite statistic to prove a point; inmates told unimaginable stories sprinkled with a measure of truth; and families shared stories passed on by boys who became broken men. But the quieter voices spoke of inmates who improved while at Tamms; mental health workers who were able to practice their craft; correctional officers who lived beyond their life expectancy; the orderly function of lesser restricted facilities; local residents who spent a chunk of their life to bring the supermax to their area; and southern Illinois residents who brought home a paycheck every two weeks.

While there are stories of unimaginable violence, sadness, and injustice, there are hues of happiness and hope. An abundance of literature addresses the perceived evils of Tamms. But any piece of investigative journalism moves past the obvious and seeks the information hidden within the unfamiliar. I discuss in some depth the treatment of mental illness in and out of a prison setting, the difficulty of providing correct diagnosis within a unique population, and society’s moral responsibility in caring for the mentally ill. It is the author’s desire to present the good and bad, the certain and unimaginable. The reader can choose sides on the issue, or embrace the broader story of Maxed Out: The birth and death of the Tamms supermax.

A get your attention book

The Newest Book from Larry L. Franklin
Mnemosyne: A Love Affair with Memory

Mnemosyne:  A Love Affair with Memory is a beautifully written, powerful book about two men from different centuries who are struggling with memory.  One is struggling with his own memories; the other is working to define and codify what memory is.  These two stories, however, are more about the soul journey of each man.  Larry’s journey is one through the painful memories of childhood sexual abuse — a journey through the darkness of the soul into the light.  Richard’s story is a journey of a man who goes from the height of his career to being shunned for his research into memory and the decisions he made in his life.  The powerful scene at the end of Richard’s story is a image that will stay with you.  Larry’s story, however, is one that inspires and uplifts.  It is a testament that life can be a joyful experience, even if one has endured horrifying abuse as a child  As a therapist, I have worked with many clients who struggle with a painful past.  As such, I honor the courage Larry has shown in creating a work that will be an inspiration to any person who is struggling with life’s painful issues.
Review by Olivia  

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Mnemosyne:   A Love Affair with Memory, written by Larry L Franklin, is a work of creative nonfiction, and can be purchased as an ebook, paperback or hardback at Amazon and most bookstores.  Please checkout the links to the Introduction and Chapter One.

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/introduction.pdf

https://llfranklin12.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/chapter-1.pdf

 

 

 

 

Hey funny man, show me your pain.

broken-heart-sad-wallpapers-pics-for-boys.7Robin Williams, John Beluski, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze:  all funny men who chose to die.  Robin was my favorite.  His improvisational skills had no boundaries, as he hurled funny lines fast and furious, seemingly from a place where few have ventured.  These comedians, ambassadors of humor, sang lyrics meant to tickle your soul, while suffering an inner dissonance that challenged their ability to get out of bed.  They lacked any resolution to that harmonic pedal point of misery, a can’t-move sadness that creates the illusion that death is more attractive than life. They call it depression.

Depression can be caused by many things — genetic makeup, physical and sexual abuse, conflict, death or loss, physical or emotional pain, reaction to medication, to name a few — causing a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The misfiring of a handful of neurons can bring you to your knees.  When information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between the terminals and nearby neurons is filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters, which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons.  At times, brain activity might resemble a well-lit midway at a county fair, with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously.

Medication and psycho-therapy are the preferred treatments for depression. Medication controls the level of neurotransmitters that flow from one neuron to another.  This is done by “tricking” the neurons into changing their actions based on the assumption that they have received an increased or decreased level of neurotransmitters.  Certain medications force the release of the neurotransmitter, causing an exaggerated effect, while some medications increase neurotransmitters known to slow down or reduce the production of other neurotransmitters.  Some medications block the the release of neurotransmitters completely.  Medications can be a godsend, but the side effects can be intolerable for certain individuals. Maybe the newfound drug will work, and then, without warning, cause the individual to curl into a fetal position and wait for the pain to pass, or choose to die.  The next drug will bring them peace, it certainly will.  Perhaps….

Psycho-therapy is the art of understanding and creating strategies to deal with the tormented soul.  Reliving the physical and sexual abuse was my journey.  In the process, I became desensitized to the emotional trauma, leaving me with a soft melodic hum that I hear each day, warning me if depression is on its way.  Some people check the weather each day, I check the forecast for depression.  Is it going to be a cloudy or sunny day?

Hey funny man, where does the humor come from?  How can you suffer through such sadness, spout jokes and act crazy all at the same time?  For me and my fellow comedians, it’s quite clear.  Psychologists call it coping mechanisms.  Coping is a method of dealing with the misery.  Maybe you learn techniques from your therapist, perhaps the medication, or some self-imposed means — drugs, alcohol, meditation, compartmentalization of memories, dissociation.  And yes, we can’t forget “humor.”

I remember a certain day when I was barely fifteen.  It was a time when Johnny Carson was the funny man of late-night television.  Sitting in the isolation of my home, the idea entered my mind that I could become the next Johnny Carson.  I seemed to have a talent for saying “witty” things, acting crazy, and making my friends laugh.  Then, I added alcohol and hours of practice on my trumpet.  I had formed my identity.  If I had not become funny Larry, the boozer, the trumpet player, perhaps I would have died.

If my misery ever became too much for  me to handle, I had my ace in the hole.  Death was a way out, an escape hatch of sorts.  During childhood, throughout my teenage years, and well into adulthood, my imaginary conversations with God were direct  “Keep sending the misery,” I challenged.  “I’ll deal with what I can, but if it ever becomes too much I’ll end my life.”  Surprisingly, this gave me the element of control that I needed.  I had a way out, and I was in control.  Hey, funny man, that’s pretty cool.

Decades later, I retired from playing the trumpet, became a moderate drinker, but I’m still considered a funny, crazy man.  I asked my therapist if my humor was annoying, and whether I should refrain from being “funny.”  She asked me to imagine myself without the humor, and whether I liked that person.  I quickly came to the conclusion that the imaged person was boring and without feelings.  She smiled, followed by a few quite seconds.  “Hey funny man,” she said.  “I like who you are.”

I know why some comedians appear to be so funny.  For many, it’s how they cover up their misery.  I’m not surprised that so many have committed suicide.  Perhaps their misery was greater than mine.  Maybe I was just one of the lucky ones.  Or perhaps my therapist saved my life.

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/robin-williams-why-funny-people-kill-themselves/

I killed someone. Am I insane?

IMG_0088In a matter of days, we will know the fate of Eddie Ray Routh who is on trial for the murder of Chris Kyle, an American war hero, and his friend, Chad Littlefield. The twelve jury members of Erath County located in Central Texas, will decide one of four verdicts:  not guilty, guilty, guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity.  While Routh admits to having killed Kyle and Littlefield, the defense attorney claims that Routh was insane at the time he committed the crime, and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Less than one percent of defendants in criminal cases plead insanity, and only one-fourth of them are successful. The majority of those acquitted by reason of insanity are schizophrenic or suffer from bipolar disorder. The insanity defense has become the last choice, an act of desperation, giving only a glimmer of hope for the most disturbed, who, while in a confused state of mind, sometimes make an unconscious choice to commit a violent crime.

Insanity can be as mystifying as a trip to the moon. The photos, the words, the creative simulations that bring us close to flying through space or walking on the moon, seem like make believe. Traveling through the world of insanity, where neurotransmitters pop and crackle like fireworks on the fourth of July, is even more baffling. Only one percent of the population, roughly 2.5 million people, make the trip. They are so unique that we call them by a different name – schizophrenic or bipolar.  Was Eddie Ray Routh insane when he killed Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield?

While lawyers argue in legal terms – insanity is a legal, not a medical concept – psychiatrists reason in the scientific language of behavioral and cognitive psychiatry. Psychiatrists often complain about being asked, sometimes months after the act, to determine whether a defendant knew the difference between right and wrong, to determine a moral question rather than an evaluation of the defendant’s mental competency. How could the jury be certain that Routh, or any defendant, was insane when they committed a crime?  The jury, saddled with their personal bias, is left to judgments based on the quality of counsel, the attitude of the trial judge, photos of a brutal crime, and the salesmanship of the expert witnesses. Not guilty by reason of insanity is determined by a not-so-exact science.

The United States followed England’s The McNaughtan rules from 1843 to 1953. “A person may be insane if at the time of committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, arising from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
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It was Friday, January 20,1843, when Daniel McNaughtan, a thirty-three-year-old stout Scotsman of average height, walked from Charing Cross to Downing Street. A typical afternoon in London – men, women, a few horse-drawn carriages, and the occasional stray dog moved along Downing, a street lined with two, three, and sometimes four-story brick structures – was about to change. In a sliver of a second, McNaughtan’s actions changed how the United States’ judicial system would view the insanity plea for the next one-hundred-and-ten years.

McNaughtan approached Edmund Drummond from behind, so the story goes, and pushed the muzzle of his pistol into Drummond’s back and fired. Drummond fell to the ground. While McNaughtan returned the recently-fired pistol to his breast pocket and pulled out a loaded one, a nearby policeman lunged at NcNaughtan and wrestled him to the ground, causing the second pistol to fire erratically into the air. McNaughtan was shackled and taken to jail. Drummond was treated by a physician who removed the steel ball that had lodged under the lowest left rib next to the skin’s surface. The next morning Drummond experienced breathing difficulties, and upon further examination, it was determined that the rib had been shattered, and the wound had become inflamed. In an effort to treat the inflammation, the physicians extracted a quantity of blood from Drummond’s temporal artery, and a large number of leeches were applied to his back. On Monday, two days later, his condition worsened and he was bled again. On Wednesday, Drummond died.

Friday, the day of the shooting, when McNaughtan was taken to the police station, he was asked about the identity of the person he had shot. “It is Sir Robert Peel is it not?” he replied. In his haste to right his perception of social injustice, McNaughtan had mistakenly shot Edmund Drummond, private secretary to Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, his intended target. McNaughtan’s statement reflected the depth of his paranoia.

     “The Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They follow, persecute me wherever I go, and have entirely destroyed my peace of mind. They followed me to France, into Scotland, and all over England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go. I cannot sleep nor get no rest from them in consequence of the course they pursue towards me. I believe they have driven me into a consumption. I am sure I shall never be the man I was. I used to have good health and strength but I have not now. They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty, they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me; in fact, they wish to murder me. It can be proved by evidence. That’s all I have to say.”

On Friday, March 3, 1843, Daniel McNaughtan stood trial for the murder of Edmund Drummond. Sir William Follett, solicitor general, represented the prosecution, while Alexander Cockburn led the defense team. Chief Justice Tindal, assisted by Justice Williams and Justice Coleridge, presided at the trial.  Through a series of witnesses, Follett established a narrative that McNaughtan had killed Drummond. And the fact that Sir Robert Peel was the intended target did not lessen the crime. The murder was the result of an “ill-regulated mind,” so he said, “worked upon by morbid political feelings.” Anticipating an insanity plea, Follett told the jury that they needed to consider the defendant’s state of mind at the time he committed the crime. “If you believe that when McNaughtan fired the pistol, he was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong…, that he did not know he was violating the law both of God and man: then undoubtedly, he is entitled to your acquittal.” Follett went on to explain that if the defendant committed the act under partial insanity, that his disease was confined to politics, then according to the “principles of the English law” the jury must bring a verdict of guilty.

Cockburn, attorney for the defense, asked the jury to show proper respect for the medical experts, and to consider the fact that past judicial treatment of the mentally ill was formed without the benefit of modern medical knowledge. “Madness is a disease of the body operating upon the mind…and a precise and accurate knowledge of this disease can only be acquired by those who have spent a lifetime in its study.” Cockburn went on to explain how the mind is divided into two separate parts: one houses the intellect – the perceptions, judgment, and reasoning; the other holds the moral faculties – the sentiments, affections, propensities, and passions. While one section might be subject to disease, the other could be healthy. One diseased section might make a man “the victim of the most fearful delusions.” The fact that the defendant was able to formulate and carry out his plan did not mean that he was sane. It was his moral side, not his intellect, that was without reason.

Cockrun called both lay and professional witnesses. The lay witnesses contended that McNaughtan suffered from delusions of persecution almost two years prior to the assassination of Drummond. The professional witnesses, led by Dr. Edward Thomas Monro, examined McNaughtan four weeks after his arrest. Monro maintained that the defendant’s moral faculties were impaired by his “extraordinary delusion.” Monro testified that for McNaughtan, everything was done by signs: that encountering a man on the street carrying an armful of straw meant that he was destined to “lie upon straw in an asylum.” The defendant received a “scowling look” from the victim as he passed on the street, another sign that aroused feelings of past persecution. Shooting Drummond gave McNaughtan much needed relief.

After several additional medical witnesses supported Monro’s diagnosis, Justice Tindal asked Follet if he had any expert witnesses to contradict the defense. When Follet answered no, Tindal said; “We feel the evidence, especially that of the last two medical gentlemen…who are strangers to both sides and only observers of the case, to be very strong, and sufficient to induce my learned brother and myself to stop the case.”

Justice Tindal told the jury that all of the medical evidence seemed to support one side, and that he questioned whether it was necessary to go through the other evidence. “If you think the prisoner capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, then he was a responsible agent and liable to all the penalties the law imposes…If not so,…then you will probably not take upon yourselves to find the prisoner guilty. If you think you ought to hear the evidence more fully…I will state it to you, and leave the case in your hands.”

The jury foreman answered, “We require no more, my Lord.”

“If you find the prisoner not guilty, on the ground of insanity…proper care will be taken of him,” Justice Tindal said.

The jury did not retire to its chambers. They huddled in a group, so the story goes, and exchanged brief whispers that McNaughtan did not know what he was doing. After retiring to their chairs, the foreman stood and addressed Justice Tindal. “We find the prisoner not guilty, on grounds of insanity.”

McNaughtan was taken to the criminal lunatic department of Bethlehem Hospital to “await the Crown’s pleasure:” the equivalent of a one-day-to-life sentence. An 8 x 10 foot stone cell, containing a trundle bed, straw mattress, chair, and small table, became his home for the next twenty-one years. Except for one incident when McNaughtan refused to eat and had to be force-fed, he was considered a model inmate-patient at Bethlehem. But his photograph taken in 1856 showed a hardened man with a chiseled face and eyes like petrified wood. In 1864, this troubled man was transferred to the new State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Crowthorne in Berkshire, where he would reside until his death on May 3, 1865.

Immediately following the trial, the public was outraged, and feared an imaginary group of madmen might kill with impunity. They believed that McNaughtan had gotten away with murder. The Times argued that even if McNaughtan was persecuted the way he imagined, he still should have been held accountable. They further believed that “the judge in his treatment of the madman yielded to the decision of the physician, and the physician in his treatment became the judge.” The Illustrated London News added that those who passively indulge themselves in the doctrines of socialism and infidelity and thereby willingly undergo a process of mental intoxication cannot claim to be entirely without legal or moral responsibility. The Examiner questioned how the medical experts could be certain about the state of McNaughtan’s mind, while The Weekly Chronicle took the position that the defendant was insane, and that it would do little good to punish him.

Queen Victoria felt that justice had been denied. She directed Sir Robert Peel to push the legislature into requiring the judges to follow the law as laid down by the lord chancellor. In response to her concerns, the House of Lords took up the question of criminal responsibility, particularly in the area of insanity. Chancellor Lord Lyndhurst declared that no change in the laws concerning insanity was necessary. He believed that the “only course…the Lords can pursue is to lay down some general and comprehensive rule, and to leave those who administer the laws…to apply that rule.” The chancellor then suggested that the judges of the Supreme Court of Judicature be gathered to hear opinions on the law on insanity, with particular attention to the McNaughtan trial. What evolved from those hearings became known as the McNaughtan Rules, which examined three general areas of the insanity law: criminal responsibility of persons laboring under partial delusions; direction to the jury in such cases; and evidence, i.e., medical witnesses present at the trial. Stated briefly: To establish a defense on the grounds of insanity, it must be clearly proven that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.

In England, the McNaughtan Rules were the test of criminal responsibility until the Homicide Act of 1957, which introduced the Scottish concept of “diminished responsibility.” The Act allowed the jury in first-degree murder cases to find a defendant guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter, provided the defense could prove by a “balance of probabilities, that the defendant was suffering from such abnormality of mind…as substantially impaired his mental responsibility.” For the defense, the choice was clear: A not-guilty due to insanity sentence resulted in an indeterminate, possibly life stay in a mental hospital, while the lesser crime of manslaughter followed a court imposed penalty, most often of shorter duration. After the Homicide Act of 1957, and the repeal of the death penalty in 1965, the McNaughtan Rules were seldom applied in England. In the United States, however, the McNaughtan Rules were followed for over a century.
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The Durham rule (1954) “An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect.”
United States v. Durham 214 F.2d 862.

The first significant change came in 1954, when Monte Durham, a 23 year old man who had been in and out of prison and mental institutions for the past four years, was convicted for housebreaking. Although the defense failed to convince the judge that Durham did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the act, Durham’s case was appealed on a technicality, and reached the Appellate court. Citing leading psychiatrists and jurists of the day, the appellate judge – determined to right the McNaughtan rules – stated that McNaughton was based on “an entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity.”

Justice Leventhall, Circuit Judge for the United States Court of Appeals, expressed concerns that McNaughtan’s language on the right/wrong provision for insanity was out-dated, no longer reflecting the community’s judgment as to who ought to be held criminally liable. The Durham rule more accurately reflected the “sensibilities of the community as revised and expanded in the light of continued study of abnormal human behavior.” But critics complained that Durham lacked specificity, allowing alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, drug addicts, and the like, to successfully use the defense to avoid a variety of crimes.
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The Brawner rule (1972) A defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”

United States v. Brawner 471 F.2d 969

It was 1972, so the story goes. After a morning and afternoon of heavy drinking, Archie W. Brawner Jr., went to a party, where he was injured in a fight that broke out in the evening hours. Brawner, beaten and alone, left the party and told some friends that several men jumped him, and that someone was going to pay. Minutes later, he returned to the party, entered the apartment building, moved down the hallway, and shot several times into a metal door. One of the bullets pierced the door and hit Billy Ford, who fell to the floor and died.

At the trial, a friend testified that Brawner “looked like he was out of his mind.” Expert witnesses, called by both the defense and prosecution, agreed that Brawner suffered from a disease of “psychiatric” or” neurological” nature. But the experts could not agree on what part the mental disease or defect played in the murder of Billy Ford.

Brawner’s case was later heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which argued that the Durham rule was too restrictive, and should give more power to the juries. What became known as the Brawner rule was based in large part on the American Law Institute’s (ALI) Model Penal Code, which said that a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess “substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Although subtle in appearance, the changes were significant. The substitution of the word “appreciate” for the word “know,” as used in McNaughtan, showed that a sane offender must be emotionally as well as intellectually aware of the significance of his conduct. The use of the word “substantial” was meant to respond to recent case law developments that required showing total impairment for exculpation from criminal responsibility. Brawner broadened the definition of mental impairment used in McNaughtan, including both the cognitive and emotional aspects of mental illness.
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The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 (U.S.) A person accused of a crime can be judged not guilty by reason of insanity if “the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.”

March 31, 1981. Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, finished a speech pushing his economic program and deploring the rising violent crime in the inner cities. Surrounded by secret service agents, metropolitan police, and white house staff, Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel and hurried through a light rain toward a limousine parked some twelve feet away. It was 2:25 p.m., so the story goes, when Reagan, looking very presidential with his Reaganistic smile, and a slightly cocked head that was a staple in his movies, waved to a hundred or so well-wishers standing behind a roped-off area. Reporters readied for a story; cameramen wanted that special photo; and a patchwork of people waited for a glimpse of their President. It was a scene that would be replayed countless times on the daily news, and discussed on every talk show across the nation.

It was sudden, like a flock of black birds in startled flight. Gunshots pierced the air, six of them. Bang, bang, and then a pause, followed by four successive shots fired from within the crowd. It appeared as though the President had not been hit. Secret service agents had pushed him into the car. But an eye witness, as reported by Lou Cannon of the Washington Post, said it all; “The President winced. The smile just sort of washed off his face.” Three men fell to the ground – Timothy J McCarthy, a secret service agent, Thomas Delahanty, a metropolitan policeman, and James Brady, the likeable press secretary who friends called “the bear.” While McCarthy and Delahanty each had flesh wounds, Brady took a bullet to his head. Rain washed puddles of blood down the sidewalk and onto the road. Agents pounced upon a white, blond haired man, later identified as John Hinckley, a twenty-nine year old dressed in a raincoat, blue shirt, and dark trousers, who gripped an automatic handgun while they wrestled him to the ground. Hinckley was then subdued and whisked off to jail. The President’s limousine and police cars raced to the George Washington University hospital.

President Reagan’s wound was serious: a .22 slug penetrated his chest, ricocheted off a rib, and entered his lung, resting about one inch from his heart. An eighty-minute surgery followed by   twelve days in the hospital led to a full recovery. McCarthy and Delahanty recuperated as well. But Brady was not as fortunate. The bullet seemed to explode in his head, causing permanent brain damage.

Numerous eye witnesses and a video recording left no doubt that John Hinckley was the shooter. Initial public speculation centered on whether Hinckley would spend the rest of his life in prison, or if he would be put to death. But as days passed, Hinckley’s future became less certain. His mental state began to unfold. In 1976, five years before the shooting, Hinckley became obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, where a psychotic taxi driver, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro), contemplates political assassination and then rescues a young prostitute, Iris (played by Jodi Foster), from a pimp. Hinckely took on the mannerisms – the army fatigue jacket, the fascination with guns, and even the taste for peach brandy – of the Bickle character. Hinckley’s infatuation with Iris developed into a full-fledged imaginary love for Jodi Foster, so much that he sent her love letters and stalked her on the Yale university campus. It was later revealed that Hinckley had even stalked President Carter and planned to assassinate him to impress Jodi Foster. But each time, he was unable to follow through on his original intent. A love letter sent to Foster just hours before he carried out his assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan showed the depth of Hinckley’s mental illness.

Dear Jodi,
     There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.
     As you well know by now I love you very much. Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself. Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence. I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.
     I feel very good about the fact that you a least know my name and know how I feel about you. And by hanging around your dormitory, I’ve come to realize that I’m the topic of more than a little conversation, however full of ridicule it may be. At least you know that I’ll always love you.
    Jodi, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you, whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.
     I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I’ve got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake! By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me. This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel. Jodi, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.                    I love you forever,

John Hinckley

The insanity law at the time of the shooting provided that an accused was not criminally responsible for his act if, at the time of the commission of the crime, the defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, “lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Vincent J. Fuller, the lead attorney for the defense, said that their challenge was to show that Hinckley did not “appreciate” the “wrongfulness” of his conduct. The psychiatrists for the prosecution concluded that Hinckley was legally sane – that he appreciated the wrongfulness of his act – at the time of the shooting, while the psychiatrists for the defense testified that Hinckley was psychotic – and legally insane – at the time of the shooting. The lead psychiatrist for the defense said that Hinckley had “an incapacity to have an ordinary emotional arousal, autistic retreat from reality, depression including suicidal features, and an inability to work or establish social bonds.” Hinckley was schizophrenic.

John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The public outcry was fast and furious. Less than one month after the trial, congress flexed it’s muscle and held hearings on the insanity plea. The emotional shock and anger in the attempted assassination of a popular sitting president, and the not guilty verdict, caused congressional leaders to create laws based more on polls than on common sense. What happened over the next three years were limitations of the insanity plea, requiring the use of the word “severe” mental disease, and replacing “unable to appreciate” with “lacks substantial capacity”; a shifting of the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense; stricter procedures governing the hospitalization and release of defendants; and limiting psychiatric testimony by enacting a statute stating that “No expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of a defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or a defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are for the trier of fact alone.”   Three states – Utah, Montana, and Idaho – abolished the insanity defense.

In 1984, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The federal insanity defense now required the defendant to prove, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.” The insanity defense seems to have made a full circle back to the McNaughtan rules of 1843: the “knowing right from wrong” standard.

Another byproduct of the debate was the “guilty but mentally ill” (GBMI) verdict, which was adopted by twelve states. (By 2000, twenty states used GBMI). While the defendant is considered guilty of the crime, he is judged to be mentally ill, and therefore entitled to mental health treatment while institutionalized. If the defendant recovers, he will spend the remainder of his sentence in prison. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), opposes the GBMI statue because the statue punishes rather than treats the person with a serious mental illness who committed a crime as a consequence of their illness.

It can be argued that the GBMI is a compromise, possibly a copout, no longer requiring the jury to make the difficult choice between guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. If the jury wants to hold the defendant accountable, but wants to show compassion for someone who is mentally ill, GBMI provides the illusion of justice.  Ralph Slovenko, Professor of Law and Psychiatry at the Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, said that “guilty but mentally ill is a sham. It is nothing more nor less than another guilty verdict.” According to Slovenko, the jury has the misconception that the defendant will receive special treatment for his illness. Instead, the guilty, and the guilty but mentally ill, are sent to the same prison.  The defendant remains in the mental health wing until they are well enough to survive in the general population.  Meaningful treatment is not the reality.

I killed someone.  Am I insane?

Evil is predictable

New-ISIS-video-shows-whats-claimed-to-be-two-Russian-spies-being-executed-by-a-young-boy

images                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   ISIS video shows captured Jordanian pilot burned alive.
Japanese hostage beheaded by ISIS.
ISIS Militants decapitate American Journalist.
ISIS video shows a young boy executing two men identified as Russian spies.

The boy, barely ten-years-old, holds a Glock 9mm handgun freshly racked with one bullet in the chamber and sixteen more in the magazine; certainly enough to kill the two Russian captives kneeled in front of him.  Any gun owner will tell you that the boy knows the proper technique for shooting a handgun.  Standing by the boy is a man, perhaps his father or an ISIS militant.   The two of them, the child and the man dressed in camouflage green, stand without emotion, as if they have been programmed to kill.  A picture of before and after is what I see.  The child, a home-made version of the adult, wasn’t born that way.  Creating hate is a centuries long practice without an end in sight.  If taught to hate, a new-born baby becomes a killing machine.

Begin with a two gallon pot partially filled with crystal-clear water.  That’s how you make a monster.  Cover and bring to a rapid boil.  Lower the temperature to medium, remove the lid and add all sorts of unsavory things — black eyes, broken bones, and deep-cut gashes; chunks of depravity, feces, and regurgitated vomit; unwanted sex with stone-faced monsters, ignorance, and hate-filed stories told when day becomes night.  Now add knives, guns, bombs, and all kinds of explosive devices.  Reduce the temperature to low and let simmer throughout the childhood years and well into puberty.  Ingest a tablespoon of the liquid each day and swallow hard.  So much evil.  So bad that one can barely swallow, let alone speak.  In time, the liquid becomes a dark, thick substance covering the bottom like a freshly-laid blacktop on a country road.  Purity into evil, a new-born baby into a hate-filled monster, that’s what you’ve done.  No heaven filled with beautiful virgins for you.

Behavior is controlled by an individual’s concept of reality, and when viewed collectively, define who we are as a nation. Reality is built on our genetic makeup and life’s experiences — nature and nurture. Developmental biology tells us that we are a combination of the two. Nature tattoos us with a genetic makeup – DNA – while nurture is a product of what we see, hear, smell, and touch, and the countless life experiences that mold our core. From the beginning, we are organisms with a genetic blueprint that continually interacts with our environment causing change to occur as we move from conception, to childhood, to adulthood, and finally to death.

“Even the most unrepentant assailants, the most cold-blooded murderers, the most sadistic of serial killers, were once infants.  There was a time when they could barely hold a rattle, much less a gun; when they smiled for Christmas portraits and giggled at peek-a-boo; when they were afraid of fireworks, needed help to feed themselves, and wore shoes no bigger than ring boxes. What happened?  What inner or outer factors — parents, schools, genes, morals, abuse, television, neglect, stress, attention deficits, self-esteem, temperament — has the power to transform innocence into violence?  The answer provided by modern neuroscience is ‘all of the above'”  Biology of Violence by Debra Niehoff

While neuroscience explains how evil evolves, we are less clear on how to contain, reduce, or eliminate it from our society.  The evil/hatred perpetrated by terrorist groups sends chills through the hearts of others.  We, as Americans, have chosen to kill these hosts of hatred.  A war without end, that’s what it is.

Why do some people hate us so?  I thought, or at least I’ve been told that America is God’s favorite country, a shinning example of what other regions should emulate.  Perhaps we should take a second look and climb down from our “high horse” and study our ways.  Remember the Native Americans who occupied the land we now call America; people we moved to reservations while we sucked the land dry.  A historian is better qualified than I to explain some of America’s missteps that are too often forgotten.

Some would argue that the invasion in Iraq was based on lies; an unforgivable mistake that spread hatred throughout the middle east.  A ten-year war, projected to be over in a matter of weeks, and paid for with Iraqi oil.  Liberators, that’s what our leaders said we would be.  Instead, we hear stories of American torture; Abu Ghraib prison where sexual, humiliating photos of prisoners were taken for all the world to see; and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center (GITMO) where many captives were held for years without charges or evidence of wrongdoing.  While I love my country, I sometimes feel shame.

Our actions are often times led by knee-jerk legislators with hair-trigger mouths. Who can shout the loudest and gain the most attention sometimes dictates our actions.  Thoughtful decisions are portrayed as weakness, and overpowered by the constant noise.  Stay strong, watch our backs, nurture friendships, continue to kill.  That’s what we do. But if we want to leave a legacy of good over evil, we must think before we act, and avoid the “Iraqi mistakes” of the future.  Our children deserve to live on a more peaceful planet.

We’ve done many wonderful things that go unnoticed but make me proud.  The Peace Corps and Americorps are note worthy.  Look to our work in West Africa to contain and eliminate Ebolia.  And if diaster strikes another country, we are the first to offer help.  Maybe a historian should list our good qualities as well.  Good trumps evil.  Stay strong, watch our backs, nurture friendships, and kill only when necessary. Make God proud of America.

Truth? You have to work at it. 2nd. Edition

city museum 2006085 Every election cycle is filled with thousands of political ads chocked full of deceit, half-truths, and the kitchen sink.  Most of the time I click the mute button on my remote, waiting for the political garbage to disappear.  But as bad as they are, they work.  I thought it was time to rerun a blog I had written on 3/13/2014.  The original blog was in response to all of the political and religious postings that I saw on Facebook.  With midterm elections at hand, it seems appropriate to take another look at life’s biggest illusion — truth.

***

Lies, lies, there are so many lies.  As a society, we’ve become very good at spinning tales which are presented as the truth.  And the biggest lies of all are broadcast over the airwaves; nonstop, twenty-four hours a day.  It’s so bad that each political slant has it’s own network hell-bent on promoting their own political agenda by, you guessed it, lies.  At first, it was more subtle; photoshop, cut and paste, and the distorted truth became a lie.  Now, the truth is as difficult to find as fireflies on a sunny day.

I’m reminded of the 1881 fairy tale about Pinocchio, the wooden marionette carved by Geppetto, a bachelor who yearned for a real boy of his own.   Eventually, through a lot of hoping, praying, and imagination, the good fairy changed Pinocchio into a real boy.  But wait, the good fairy would not tolerant lies.  She told Pinocchio that if he told a lie his nose would grow.  Well, you guessed it, Pinocchio told a string of lies and surprise — Pinocchio’s nose grew so long that he couldn’t get out of his house.  (Imagine our House of Representatives with noses so long that they would fill the chamber.  And those nose hairs.  Yuck.)  To save Pinocchio, woodpeckers flew into the house and pecked at his nose until it became the normal size.  Moral of the story — don’t lie or your nose will grow.

In the days when I was a boy, parents handed out advice that was designed to keep you from lying or doing “bad” things.  If you make a bad face your face will freeze in that position for the rest of your life.  Make your eyes go cross and they will remain cross.    I heard this one at the church  – If you masturbate  you will go blind.  That one scared the hell out of me.  Well, I didn’t go blind but I am a bit near-sighted and have worn glasses since I was five years old.  Go figure.  My mother’s favorite — Rich people aren’t happy.  You’re lucky that we’re poor.  Another of her favorites — If you stay out past midnight, you can’t be doing anything good. Well, I’ll have to give her that one.  About telling the truth:  if you don’t tell the truth something bad will happen to you, and yes, you will go to hell.

Our reality, the truth as we see it, is based on a combination of our genetic makeup and our life experiences; nuture and nature, that’s what they call it.  If we follow this line of thought, each person will have a unique opinion of the truth.  Some people might say that the Bible holds the truth.  Well, that might be true, but as soon as you read it the words become mixed with your concept of reality.  The truth becomes less clear.

I’m reminded of something that a buddhist monk once said, When you think that you have all of the answers, you’ve lost your way.  Now we don’t have a treasury map for finding the truth.  We do what we have to do — read, listen, think, look within.  Truth brings peace.

God told me that I needed a “buzz.”

7301_100437136820483_587807534_nIt’s been a long time since my last blog, maybe two weeks or perhaps a month.  As most of you know, I’ve been struggling with back pain.  In January 2014 I had surgery for two herniated disks in my lower back.  Surgery was successful, pain disappeared.  I probably should add that the pain leading to the surgery was extreme, ungodly, pain-in-the-back, fucking low-life bad.  But it was over, until a few weeks later when the pain appeared in another spot in my spine: not as bad as before, but it sucked.  I’ve been trying several modes of treatment with limited results  — I still have back pain.  I take two Excedrine every four hours for pain.  It doesn’t leave, it just moves into the back seat of the car while I try to watch the drive-in movie from the front seat.  I find myself sleeping a lot during the day.  I mow, take some pills, pass out on the sofa, followed by the same routine, day after day.  It’s beginning to suck.

This brings me to my latest experience.  It happened this afternoon as I was mowing the grass.  I had this conversation with God, or maybe an imaginary talk with God.  I really don’t know, but it was satisfying.  I must have said something like, “Hey God, things are not going well.  I hurt, I take pills, and I sleep.  Doesn’t say much for the “golden years.'”

“Maybe the answer is in front of your eyes,” he must have said.  “You know how they said in your church that the streets of heaven are paved with gold.  Maybe there’s another way of looking at this.  Maybe heaven isn a continuous ‘buzz.’  Think about it.  That’s not so bad.  Maybe you can gain a temporary reprieve from your pain.  Drink a bottle of wine and eat some “cheddar fish crackers.”

“I think that I understand,” I said.  I opened a bottle of wine and poured myself a bowl of those “cheddar fish crackers” that my granddaughters like.  Wine and “fish crackers” can be mighty fine.  It was overcast tonight, nice cool breeze outside.  I invited my wife and dog to join me outside.  “Tonight,” I said, “I am going to get a nice buzz.”  And oh Lordy, I have a nice one going on.  My wife had one glass and several fish crackers.  My dog, Bailey, had numerous fish crackers, and I had a bottle of wine.

So, here I am.  The buzz is still real and fine.  Had dinner, maybe one of the best I’ve ever had.  My wife still loves me, even though I sometimes act like a fool.  And Bailey, she always loves me.  You know, dogs can sense the really good things of life — that’s me.

I don’t know how often I’m going to repeat this, but it was wonderful tonight.  Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow, the next night, and so on.  Thursday I meet with my surgeon to discuss my latest MRI.  To be cut open or not, that will be the question.

Now I arrive at the moment when I hit the “return” button on my computer.  No more thought, no proof-reading.  Shit in, shit out, that’s tonight’s offering.  Tomorrow morning I won’t believe that I sent this out.  But it is what it is.

 

 

Fish heads in an open bag — listening to the mentally ill.

cherryblossom_cover_smThese  are excerpts taken from my second book, “Cherry Blossoms & Barren Plains:  A woman’s journey from mental illness to a prison cell.”  I have drawn from the chapter called Fish heads in an open bag. Becca, the subject of my book was serving sixty years for allegedly killing her five-year-old stepdaughter.
***
I have listened to Becca for hours upon hours.  In every season of each passing year, I have sat across from her in the visit room looking at her drawn and tired face, listening to her struggle to find ways of expressing her mental and emotional realities.  What she says is not always cohesive, or narratively coherent, but over time, I have learned to piece together the fragments of her mental processes, and the images that she sees, in ways that blend with my imagination.  If Becca hears “voices” or “racing thoughts,” it might now be said that I do, as well.  I believe that I understand her and can, in one sense, show what Becca might say if she could find the words.

My name is Becca.  It was the 1980’s.  I was barely a teenager and the summer days were long and dry.  Bacon was frying in a black metal skillet, and the morning was clear.  My mother was talking and pouring her first cup of coffee.  Her voice was faint and the words made no sense and the sounds became one, like the annoying hum of a fluorescent light.  She probably told me that Dad and my brother were going fishing for the day, or that my room was a mess, or that I was just a bad kid.

I might have been thinking about the fish heads I saw at Friday night’s fish fry.  The severed heads were stuffed into open bags.  The bodies were gutted, washed, and rolled in seasoned flour, and cooked in black skillets like my mother used.  The heads were alive.  The eyes and mouths continued to open and close, and called out for help.  Their misery was real and hard, just like mine.  My mother’s shouting brought me back to her reality.  My mind jumped around a lot in those days.  Maybe that’s when my mind began to slip away.

The voices have no name.  They’re not these booming commandments from up above or down below.  They’re more like thoughts, racing thoughts that pound the inside of my head like a jackhammer.  Sometimes I write the words on a piece of paper, and then another, and another. Later, when I’m kind of normal, people tell me that the words make no sense.  They stare at me like I’m different, and then they turn and walk away.  It’s so lonely in my world of cherry blossoms and barren plains.  I wish that I could take you on a tour of my brain.  All of the twists and turn through the cerebral matter must be a bit like running through a maze.  Wherever I turn, I’m always lost.

It’s been nearly ten years and some ten-thousand pills later, since I killed Dani.  I can barely say it since I still don’t remember doing it.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about it.  But each time I try, I end up seeing fish heads in an open bag.  Now I try not to think about that part.  I just think about what a wonderful girl Dani was.  I tell Larry, my writer friend to write more about Dani.  I want everyone to know her like I did.  I want them to know how she liked to read books, listen to music, and play make-up.  I bought her a long blond hair piece.  She loved wearing that hair piece.  

I haven’t gone completely manic since I’ve been here.  I take my meds eery day.  I can’t take a chance on losing control of myself.  But the meds are not easy.  I never feel right.  My hands shake, I get nervous, and I always have some kind of depression.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s God’s way of letting me know that I’m a bad person.  But that’s not what my psychologist says.  I get to see him one time a month.  And that’s not what Larry or the Pastor say.

How do you know when you begin to lose your mind?  I don’t think that you can pick a certain day, an exact time, or even an unusual event.  Maybe it’s a bit like cancer.  One day a doctor tells you that the MRI shows a cancerous growth the size of a grapefruit, and if untreated, you will die.  The tumor had been growing for some time, somewhere in your body, unseen by the naked eye.

My mental illness was the same and went undetected until the doctors told me in 1993 that I was bipolar, and if untreated, I would lose my mind.  Looking back, I believe it began the day when I saw fish heads in an open bag.  But as bad as I felt, I’ve always had my doubters.  Some think that I faked it and used mental illness as an excuse for my violent behavior.  Others believe that I’m an agent for the devil.  But until you’ve visited the dark side and felt my torment, I’m here to say that mental illness is for real.