Dogs and Hard Time
Convicted rapists are people too
By JOE BAGEANT
at night through my window by the computer I can see my neighbor Stokes
bicycling at 10 pm to the local convenience store to buy groceries. Not
only is that an expensive way to feed one's self, but it is the only way
for old Stokes to cop some grubs without getting thrown in jail. Seriously.
As a convicted sex offender, he is not allowed to come in proximity with
young women in a supermarket checkout line. Nor is he allowed to visit
a park, or even his own grandchild, even though he is not a child molester
by the court's own admission. He is not allowed to drink a beer. In fact,
he is not even allowed to read Playboy Magazine.
A dozen or so years ago Stokes, now 66 with a gray ponytail,
an altogether gentle soul who labors under the illusion he looks like
Willie Nelson, (and even has a framed photo of Willie on his wall to invite
comparison). Got caught by police in a, shall we say, "a vehicular
sexual incident" with a married woman. They were both drunk, big
deal. That happens in beer joints. To make a long story short, by the
time they got to court the lady’s testimony was that it was all
against her will, which being a married woman, solved a lot of problems
for her. That resulted in Stokes being convicted as a sex offender while
his public defender all but slept through the trial.
To make matters worse, Stokes had an unregistered handgun
stashed in his car. Stupid, I know, but rednecks are often like that,
and I'd be willing to bet there are more unregistered handguns than registered
ones around here. This may horrify urban liberals, but legal or not, it
is the common practice of tens of thousands of people down here in the
southern climes of our great nation, not to mention common nationwide
to many thousands more cab drivers, night clerks, hotel parking valets,
bill collectors, repo men, single women and god only knows how many others.
At any rate, thanks to the gun, which he never touched, Stokes was prosecuted
for armed abduction for sexual purposes, and did ten years.
He’s been out for years now. But he was released
into an entirely different world than he left -- one which seems scripted
by Adam Smith and Hanging Judge Roy Bean. As a convicted felon, he has
been released from prison to serve a new sentence—to serve time
as a profit center for our economy. In truth, he has been one from the
day he was charged.
First off, he was a profit center for the prison where
he served his time. Now it is fairly common knowledge that America's burgeoning
system of privatized prisons, "super jails," and related services
has been a boon for corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America,
Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp.) and their investors.
Prisoner leasing programs such as Florida's, which rents out prison labor
for less than 50 cents an hour to private industry in the name of "job
training," make building more prisons an attractive option for state
governments and investors. It also makes recidivism desirable, since it
assures the prison labor pool. Somewhere between 1% and 2% of Americans
are behind bars, locked up at any given time, and as many more on probation
or under state monitoring, obviously capitalist style punishment is a
solid financial investment.
Now I am not about to screech here that our prison system
is anywhere near that created by Uncle Joe Stalin. We do not have nine
million people in it and we do not get sent there for being late for work
at the factory, our factories having been outsourced. However, after 1929
Stalin’s prison camps were transformed to an economic machine. And
in order to fulfill the camps’ economic goals, more and more prisoners
were required, just as more prisoners are required to fulfill the investor
goals of Corrections Corporation of America, Geo Group. In any case, convictions
are profitable and the more of them there are the more money both private
interests and the state take in.
That in itself is way the hell past just being strange.
But throw in the term sex offender and get on the registered sex offender
list (which seems to be mostly filled with Johns who solicited prostitutes,
though you'd never know it by the way they name the offense) and it all
gets really weird. Chilling even. This is partly because of the taboo
and stigma associated, but mostly for the bizarre monitoring rules, and
the money involved in enforcement. For example, Stokes must pay a couple
hundred a month for counseling, group therapy and so on, until they tell
him he can stop doing so. This therapy mainly amounts to listening to
the stories of more serious offenders, such as child molesters, even though
he is not one, but being treated by law as if he were. Such is the fate
of being legally shackled to any of dozens of types of "certified
sex offender treatment providers," an ever expanding industry, they
He also must pay for registration as an offender, blood,
saliva, fingerprints, palm prints, police registration of his internet
address (within 30 minutes of obtaining it) and so on with the Department
of State Police and the Sex Offenders Registry, providing a new photo,
address, etc., for 10 years, effectively the rest of Stokes’s life,
not to mention registering with the local cops wherever he lives. After
five years he may petition the court for relief from having to re-register
monthly. He cannot leave the state. He is supposed to inform employers
of his status as a sex offender, so he cannot get a normal job and subsists
on handyman work. In the end he generates about $400 a month for one post-incarceration
entity or another, whether he has a job or not.
Stokes's designated handlers tell him that the system
would smile upon him if he would get more formal 8-to-5 employment, something
that could be more easily tracked and taxed. Would that it were so easy
for a 66-year-old man in this country. So he replies, "I'm retired
dammit. I got the same right to live on my social security, if I can manage
to, as anyone else."
Yes, but it's not much of a life for someone who once
worked a skilled job setting up lights and stage gear in large arenas
and performance venues. Now he lives in a basement workshop of an overcrowded
apartment building/rooming house, in a space that is supposed to pass
for an apartment but doesn't even come close. For that privilege he pays
$600 a month, and is allowed to work off part of it off by the landlord
as a handyman.
Stokes tells me he could get out from under much of this
by, and here's the legal wording, "satisfying the court's criteria
for clear and convincing evidence that due to his physical condition the
person no longer poses a menace to the health and safety of others."
"You could cut your dick off," I suggest.
"Sometimes I wish I had," he sighs.
In any case, I am pretty damned convinced parole is a
racket, just like incarceration has become a racket, just as everything
in this whole goddamned country is a racket in disguise, from home mortgages
to health care. If it is vital to ordinary citizens, it’s a racket.
But fear is the biggest racket of all. Even our rightful fear of sex offenders
gets harnessed to the objectives of the corporate and political elites,
woven into the weft and warp of the national delusion we call "the
fabric of our society." The freedom loving one that currently has
2.2 million of its own citizens locked up and another 2 million walking
around under strict post-incarceration supervision and monitoring.
At this writing there are supposed to be 117 registered
sex offenders in this burg of 24,000 from which I write, Winchester, Virginia,
yet only 61 in the surrounding county which has a population of 73,000.
Let me make a wild speculation here and say there may be a difference
in the way justice is administered in the two localities.
As if Stokes needed to catch any more bad breaks, his
situation got worse. It seems he had the outrageous gall to get himself
a dog. Stokes came upon a rather large black female mutt recently, who
looked like she had a little retriever in her, according to Stokes, though
I could never see it. She was bone skinny, partially blind and being neglected
and abused by an old alcoholic woman down the street.
That dog, named Beulah, just loved Stokes. He lovingly
fed her, and she stayed by his side constantly and obediently. But she
kept getting skinnier and skinnier no matter how much he fed her. For
a while we speculated it was worms, but I've seen enough dogs to know
something worse was at work. Stokes spent money he didn’t have on
expensive worm medicine. But he surely did not have $150 for a vet and
tests, and in a nation where uninsured folks are let to die slowly because
they cannot pay cash, there was damned sure no more mercy for dogs.
Mercy too has been privatized and costs money. Meanwhile
old Beulah is hanging out in the back yard in a friendly fashion, weak
and sick as she is, sniffing and getting petted by all who come her way.
Dogs are like that. Uncomplaining and decent unto death. I’ve had
several who passed that way. She was old and getting ready to die, sure
as god made little green apples. Broke as Stokes is, this was certainly
was not going to be a veterinarian administered death, with a canine Kevorkian
attending. And being a paroled felon, for damned sure Stokes was not going
to produce a gun and shoot her, which is the way old dogs such as we saw
animals put out of misery back in our day.
A situation like that is bound to draw the animal control
officer’s attention, and rightfully so given the outward appearance
of the situation. So Stokes was busted. An examination showed that Beulah
had diabetes. Seems they’ll get a vet to examine a dog to get a
conviction but not to save a dog’s life. Whereupon Stokes was charged
with animal abuse by the animal control office of our city police department.
"You should never have let that dog get in this condition; you should
have taken her to a veterinarian!" Now Stokes has a court appearance
on the docket for animal cruelty. And of course no money for a lawyer.
That’s where the compassion of a lonely old man for another sentient
being will get you. Smack dab in the jaws of our justice system.
I hold middle class America responsible for this deformed
thing we now call justice. And I've wanted to write an article about the
sex abuse crime industry scam in this country, and proposed it to several
magazines. Every one of them said that sex abusers are too unsympathetic
as characters for them to publish. I pointed out that these are real people,
not characters in a fictional work. The editors added that they were afraid
the public might mistake such a story as being supportive of real sex
Governments and states exist to control people, and for no other reason.
If justice is achieved somewhere in the process, it’s an added bonus.
But control above all else is necessary for modern civilization to exist.
Population grows by the minute, increasing social pressure on humanity.
More rules and more control are required to keep order.
Order is defined as the way we think others should behave – or imagine
them to misbehave. We support the state’s police machinery and massive
incarceration of our fellow citizens, so long as they are being imprisoned
for the right reasons. They should pay. Every action in a capitalist world
must produce money. So they should pay in cash.
Last week I was in Minneapolis, and spent a couple of
nights getting drunk with a friend, an apartment building owner, who in
his younger years did hard time for burglary. Things were somewhat different
then, he avowed. In the fifties and sixties, a prisoner may or may not
have worked off his “debt to society.” But in these times,
he says, “The system demands that you just deliver payment in cash.
It’s more efficient. But not fundamentally different. Back then,
the rich still profited for our crimes more than we did. We stole $10,000
worth of stuff. Next day in the paper we found that the guy we burglarized
claimed it $30,000 worth for insurance purposes. Getting robbed was a
winning situation for him. He made 20-K on us.”
It’s also is a wining situation for the 20 percent
of Americans in what we call the middle class – those actually living
the middle class life as advertised by the commercial and financial state’s
marketing department. It works well for Stokes’s psychologist, his
piss tester, his lie detector service contractor, the people with the
sex offender website contract, and all good citizens with investments
on Wall Street. The psychologist needs money to send his kid on the private
school trip to Italy this summer. The contractor providing the sex abuser
services just built a summer down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The
state police officer running the sex abuser monitoring program will retire
in six years – his investments need to earn another $50,000 in that
But hold on!
Honest to God, as I conclude writing this—and I
swear on a stack of friggin’ Bibles—a police prowl car and
two of the department's animal control officers in a police truck just
parked in front of Stokes's place across my driveway. They get out after
rifling through some papers on a clipboard and talking on cell phones.
Now they have walked over to Stokes's back door. He comes
out and they sit him down in a lawn chair while they stand over him, hands
on hips, lips moving under dark sunglasses. And the neighbors are all
peeking out their blinds, watching the cops accost the registered sex
offender (once he was on the internet registry, word got around here fast).
They are probably looking at the animal control officers' truck and thinking:
"Oh my gawd! Bestiality too?)
Anyway you look at it, this cannot be good. Not for Stokes,
not for you or me or anyone else less than enamored with the idea of a
And Stokes? As he told me only yesterday, "I'm a
goddamned magnet for bad luck."
No he's not. He's just one more anonymous human profit
center to be squeezed, one more grape to be crushed in a grotesque blood
and money press that has no mercy.