My Brother’s in Prison.

Via on Mar 6, 2012

My Brother’s in Trouble, & I Can’t do Much to Help.

My brother Dave is incarcerated.

Of the prison variety, in case there’s any other kind. I’ve written about him before.

He just spent two or more weeks in segregation from an alleged malfeasance. According to my harried sister-in-law, who talked to him on the phone, he was “forced to sign a confession. If he did not, he would spend 160 days in segregation” and be “shipped to Rush City (a maximum facility).” He could have kept refusing to sign and would eventually have a hearing. But Dave believed the hearing would have been unfair with nobody to represent him.

I don’t quite understand why he didn’t stand his ground. After two weeks in segregation, questioned while handcuffed to a table, I try to imagine what I would have done. It’s easy to stand my ground when my son wants to watch more TV, and I say no. Homework first! But in a prison? Probably not so easy.

So, he’s in detention for 30 days. Since he signed the confession, the incident won’t go on his record. That’s what they say.

Dave’s been in prison for six-and-a-half years, now.

A couple years ago, he was promoted to a job at the prison’s nursing home. There was more freedom there—even a room with a small window. The view may not have been spectacular, but it was better than no window. He was able to order real art supplies and create his amazing and sometimes disturbing artwork, which he sent home for his wife and son to post to Dave’s blog, which has since been taken down.

It’s hard to admit that being moved from one building to another within a prison can provide a ‘breath of fresh air.’ But it does if only for a brief moment. ~ Dave wrote, July 2010.

While life here in the Linden Unit is much better there is still no way around the daily reminders that this is still prison. ~ Dave wrote,  October 2010.

Now that he signed the confession, he will no longer be eligible to work at the nursing home.

Art above by Dave. A self-portrait of himself and his heart.

Overall, the situation has been most difficult for his son and wife, left alone in rural Wisconsin where my nephew (12 at the time my brother was whisked away) was in 4-H and marching band and school plays; and my sister-in-law has her own business that barely keeps them afloat. My nephew just started college in the fall (thanks to financial aid) and is doing amazingly well.

Both sides of the family shared the legal fees, with most of the burden slammed onto the parents. Both sets of parents are the furthest thing from wealthy. Even if you combined their net worth. Some extended family members and friends were generous and contributed. A hundred here, a thousand there. While they were able to cover the fees of the first, reasonably priced attorney (who needs a heavy-hitting high priced attorney on scale with OJ Simpson? Hell, it’s not like my brother killed anyone. He got in a scuffle over money owed to the victim who was, according to my brother, also a drug dealer. Everyone believed Dave would probably get charged with assault. Cut and dry.), it seems it will never be enough.

The first lawyer did a piss-poor job. Many mistakes were made. You get what you pay for, I guess. Dave was sentenced to 20 years for pre-meditated attempted murder.

Once my brother was in prison, another lawyer came out of the blue. He seemed promising: in prison himself at one point, Lawyer #2 (currently under investigation for professional misconduct) studied law while incarcerated and was able to get himself out of prison. He heard about Dave’s seemingly unjust sentence through another inmate and sought him out. He offered hope—even a smidgen of hope was enough for Dave to hire Lawyer #2 for the appeal. This, of course, required more money. People were already tapped. But many re-opened their wallets and hearts.

Before hiring any lawyer, Dave spoke with a public defender who would have cost nothing. But she recommended he hire a lawyer. Why? She was overloaded with cases and probably wouldn’t be able to give his case the amount of time it deserved. Hiring a lawyer can run in the tens of thousands. More if you want a really good one.

Brings to mind the new faucet we just had to purchase from Home Depot. The cheap one came with loads of bad customer reviews like, “It leaked after one day.” and “The stainless steel finish cracked off and now we’re left with plastic!” So we chose the one that cost around two hundred bucks with zero bad reviews. My husband can try to install it—he is not handy and doesn’t have much time, so if he starts it, we run the risk of having absolutely no kitchen faucet to use for an unknown amount of time–or I can pay the $149 for Home Depot to install it. More out of pocket, but our kitchen will be back in working order lickety-split with less chance of unexpected geyser activity. And if something does go wrong, they’ll come back and make things right. Spending more money can equal less stress.

Getting someone out of prison is apparently tougher than keeping a person out in the first place. (i.e., would Home Depot still charge $149 if my husband installed the faucet himself but mistakenly connected the toaster to the hose? Okay, enough with the faucet analogies). Dave’s appeal was denied. The money lost forever. Hopes dashed. He’s in there behind bars and he’s in there good. As I understand it, there are no more chances for appeal unless new evidence presents itself.

I’m just running out of things to say —if five years of thought encapsulated and illustrated on my blog has such little impact on people, including my extended family, I give up. It is truly a blind, deaf and dumb society more interested in entertainment than reality. ~Dave wrote to me 5 years later, October 2010.

So why is my brother in trouble now, you may ask.

He was accused of being on a computer. What? Why, in prison, would a prisoner have access to a computer?

Here’s what happened, according to my brother’s letter dated February 22, 2012 (written before I heard from my sister-in-law that he signed the confession):

Here’s another fine mess that my friendly nature has gotten me into. I guess I’ll start with some details, unsure of how G described the situation to you. Let’s see, was talking to Dr. P [the dentist] about the Shinders Bookstore that used to be on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis and the neon sign that hung in the window for years, designed by a college professor from MCAD, Frank Gaard. Both Sue and I have known him for years. We see the image on Google, comment on it. He gets up from his chair and I look at it for a few seconds, then follow him to leave the office. Suddenly an old ratbag officer who is usually too lazy and hungry to lift a finger walks in the back way and shouts, “Why were you on his computer?” —and here I sit.

So since then I’ve learned that on that Friday alone there were over a thousand searches done from his computer, including to some strip club site. And they tried accusing me! Or should I say they politely requested confession to the venal sin of operating a state computer. No way! But so far they have not come forth with any hard evidence to support their theories, you know, video of me in the office, at the terminal with corresponding key stroke data and matching time signatures. They just don’t want to spend the man hours to study 100,000 computer searches. So here I sit in administrative segregation which means that none of this time counts toward discipline… discipline for what? I don’t know yet. I haven’t touched a computer in six and half years.

But this folly has me otherwise worked up. If after all the good service I have provided for the D.O.C. … this is how I am to be treated?

***

I just spoke with G, not much new. She mentioned something about me writing a kite to our lawy library to get info on a public defender. I’ll try, but I may actually have to be charged with a crime. I don’t know.

***

Another day—no punishment. It turns out my room mate is on the other side of segregation and they’re holding him because he won’t rat on me, there is no tale to tell. “The rats are in the wheelhouse.”

Before my brother signed the confession, I called his caseworker and sent an email to the warden. Just to let them know there are people on the outside that care about my brother and know what’s going on. It was a lame but well-intentioned attempt to make them think twice about their actions. What if it made them treat him more harshly?

I couldn’t help but picture Dave in a small cell with a mattress on the floor, no supplies. Food and water. Was it shoved through a little slot? How great it was before, knowing he had that window. And the toilet wasn’t in his cell, but down the hall. Janitorial duties were far from glam, but pushing wheelchairs of the old inmates could, I imagined, provide him a new perspective on his life. The gig of gigs as far as prison goes.

Dave’s previous caseworker admitted to me a couple years ago that my brother keeps to himself, is quiet and stays out of trouble. But, as the current case-worker said, there are rules and not going on a computer is one of them. So break a rule—even without proof—and off to segregation you go. Could whistling a happy tune help?

Initially, I chose not to trouble my parents with this. I wanted to protect them from further hurt and frustration, the inevitable sleep loss. And that nagging hopelessness. I worry about them more than I worry about my brother. Of course I do. They’re my mom and dad and have always been there for me. But I had to finally break it to them, unable to keep it to myself. He is their son, after all. So they sent emails and made some calls. And lost some sleep.

There’s only so much you can do when your loved one is locked behind bars at the mercy of the imperfect prison system. Unless you have unlimited funds for a lawyer. Even then, if you’ve gone through the appeal process with zero appeals left, there’s not much a lawyer can do. (Although, I would think a lawyer could at least advise Dave about whether or not to sign a confession stating he did something he didn’t do). According to a few people well versed in the U.S. prison system, there are tens of thousands serving an unjust sentence. And the majority of the rest of the incarcerated just believe their sentence is unjust and/or that they don’t belong there at all.

My brother is virtually alone in there.

Unable to fight within the system. He broke a rule, in the prison’s eyes, and he must go through the process.

I stand on the side of justice and believe with all of my heart that my brother got a bad rap with his original sentencing of 20 years. And this recent trouble was just totally unnecessary, ridiculous and unfair. Unless, of course, they have undeniable proof that he actually hopped on a computer and looked up a strip club that he’d have to wait 7 years to visit.

But, apparently, there is no justice within the prison system. In most states, an inmate is not entitled to a public defender or a lawyer of any kind when dealing with disciplinary matters within prison. Prison staff act as prosecutor, judge, and jury.

I wish I was able to separate myself emotionally from the situation. Why can’t I just take in the information, do what I can do to help then carry on with my life as if all is well with the world? My mom said it’s because I’m human. I’m not a wreck, but I am emotionally drained from this recent distress within my family. When my brother is just serving his time and my sister-in-law isn’t sending frantic emails, I can distance myself and carry on.

I got crabby around my son (soon to be 11) after a recent phone call with my sister-in-law. I apologized then explained that it makes me sad and downright cranky to know that my brother’s in trouble. That I want to help, but don’t know how I can. I asked my son to please, oh please, follow every law so he can stay out of prison. Being in prison really really sucks, but it also hurts the people outside.

As much as this causes me stress and distracts me from the things I want to do with my life—what a great excuse to procrastinate!—I am not giving up entirely on my brother.

In one of my brother’s earlier letters to me from September, 2005, he wrote:

“G” (my sister-in-law) has been giving me glowing reports on how helpful you continue to be, through your support and financial advice. Thank you so, so much. Every day I marvel at the tremendous support from the whole family, my humility, my shame brings me to tears before God each and every night before I fall asleep. … G would be so frantic and sad if she didn’t have you all helping. I hope those in my family don’t tire of my letters, writing these helps the time pass.

I was never close to Dave. But I looked up to him from a very young age. Even now, I marvel at his ability to draw in such vivid detail. His art is what keeps him sane, I’m guessing. He’ll get his art supplies back at the end of the 30 day detention. After that, he’ll hopefully keep his nose to the old grindstone. And maybe one day they’ll offer yoga at his prison.

I wish I could do more to help him.

The moral of the story: Don’t go to prison, people. If you’re charged with something, however minor, be sure to hire a good lawyer no matter the  cost. Even if it means you’ll be paying it off for the rest of your life. Because life on the outside is so much easier. For everyone.

If you end up in prison, follow all the rules because you can get into even more trouble. That might be where the saying ‘double trouble’ came from.

According to the blog Prison Reform Movement, the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.4 million plus people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500% increase over the past thirty years. So be careful out there!

A final note: If you know a law school out there that would help as a class project or a lawyer out there willing to dig into this pro bono—please let me know.

To find out more about how Dave ended up in prison, visit his blog.

Prison bar art by vectorportal

** Originally published on my blog, Putting It Out There.

About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger lives in Chicagoland with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate, and NYR, and has a voracious appetite for comedy. In her spare time, she blogs at myEARTH360.com and LynnHasselberger.com. A "Green Diva" and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr & @myEARTH360) and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.

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26 Responses to “My Brother’s in Prison.”

  1. Valerie says:

    Thank you for sharing this.. I really relate as I have a 32 yr old son who has been down since 2004. He alledgely robbed a convience store with a sm pocket knife. The amt stolen was $16.00. For this he was sentenced, under a mandatory minimun quideline, called Prision Release Reoffender Act. He was sentenced to life in prison with out parole. This unjust sentence just blows my mind away…..we are in the last of our appeal process. He remains as positive as possible in the deplorable conditions of prison..Mly daughter is getting her doctrate in psychology and has created a program called finding Purpose in Prison..This has helped him and 3 others that are in the trail program so much…He is keeping his head up, staying out of trouble. We keep him in touch with the outside as much as possible. Lots of articles, mail, phone conversations, etc. It is especially hard for his 8 yr old son who basically only knows his daddy from post cards, phone and 2-3 times a yr visits

  2. Valerie says:

    ..Our justice system is seriously flawed and something has to be done..The only thing I can think to do is just love him…no matter what..I am very proud of the man he has become. He mentors and advises others. There are no programs for him there. All the funding has been cut. And because of his security status, a lifer, he can't cross center gate and do any of the jobs like your brother was doing…it is such a terrible waste of a life..I am sending love, light and blessings to you and yours…

    • So sorry to hear about your son, Valerie. Minimum guideline is life? That's crazy! It is great that he is channeling his energy in such a positive way. My brother channels it through his art, but there's a lot of anger and bitterness. Do you have a link to your daughters Purpose in Prison program? I'd love to take a look. Love, light and blessings to you and your family, too. Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me about your son.

  3. Wow, Lynn; so sorry to hear this. I will remember you and your brother in prayer.

  4. all I can think is to share the heck out of this Lynn and maybe someone somewhere can find a way to help (your brother and valeries son)
    It baffles the mind that small things get life and true criminals that can afford expensive lawyers walk free the imbalance is staggering …staggering and did I say baffling???
    I am so sorry for your pain and I can't help but hope the point of this is to maybe get things changed…our system is supposed to be about reform but sometimes I think we make more criminals than help with the injustice in the justice system.

  5. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. What an crucial dialogue to have just on the level of public discourse. And of course, the importance of personal narratives from those like your family who are suffering because of this broken system cannot be overstated. Keep bringing light to the dark corners, Lynn. Love & Light. -Sunita

  6. [...] is a lot of it about, I know. I will spare you the details of mine, but suffice it to say that it has been a difficult [...]

  7. Carol Horton carolhortonbooks says:

    Hi Lynn: That is just heartbreaking. And infuriating. So wrong.

    I know that Northwestern University Law School had some center or clinic or something that was the place that successfully researched how many people on death row did not have truly compelling cases proving their guilt – that was what caused ex-Gov. Ryan to change the law on the death penalty in Illinois. So you might want to try researching that.

    I just read an article in the NYTs today about how a new book, "The New Jim Crow" by Elizabeth Alexander is causing a big stir, and getting people to rethink our unbelievably horrible,unjust, and f*cked up prison system. While it's focused on racial issues and the African-American situation, and so not so directly pertinent to you, it might still be good to see that others are taking on the issue. It's hard to get traction on it as so many Americans have such harsh attitudes toward anyone who's ever had any brush with the criminal justice system – and, they simply have no idea how inequitable and messed up it is.

    • Thanks, Carol. Guess I need to find a MN law school to take this on since that's where is he is. Appreciate the book recommendation, too. Definitely true that people don't have any idea how messed up it is unless you happen to know someone caught up in the system. Even the most hardened criminal deserves to be treated humanely. Otherwise, how are they to become a better person in preparation for the eventual release? Prison is a way to lock "bad" people away so we don't have to think about it. Ugh!

  8. Kurt Krueger says:

    The Prison Ashram Project could help him when he is still in prison… http://www.humankindness.org/prisonashramproject….

  9. Jas Curry says:

    Loving someone in prison is the hardest, longest love I have every experienced. I send him and all his family good wishes and thoughts.

    I can only say that I understand your frustration and feeling of helplessness. My husband did some time. The endless (general) abuse and then the abuse of authority is mind numbing.

    I hope and pray that someone catches this and is able to help. It will come.

    Stay strong. Dont give up.

  10. Tera says:

    Bless you Lynn and thank you for sharing your story. As someone whose brother has been in jail multiple times your story really pulled at my heartstrings. Love to you and your brother.

  11. [...] $8,985 per person to educate and $31,900 per person to incarcerate. [...]

  12. [...] is legislated prisons over-populated religion is incorporated the profit-motive has permeated all activity we pay our [...]

  13. [...] Brain Education Association. Instructors go into schools, community centers, hospitals and even prisons in all kinds of neighborhoods to teach yoga, meditation and [...]

  14. [...] brother is in prison and this post is from his blog, which has since been taken down because it led to him being put in solitary confinement for 30 days. [...]

  15. [...] Live the moment. Get to know it. Learn from it. For it will inevitably be whisked away before you can say “Time flies!” (By the way, time does not fly if you’re serving it.) [...]

  16. [...] was at a very miserable and desperate place in my life and not just because of the prospect of jail, but because I’d lost all hope and faith in life. I was not only ready to die, I welcomed it, the [...]

  17. rebecca says:

    I hear you. My twin brother is in prison- he had a drinking problem, a bad one. His batty girlfriend was 'babysitting' some neighbour's' kids (little girls) and decided to 'put them down for a nap' next to him, passed out drunk. What happened? I don't know. And it didn't help that he took off to Canada with this girl for two years and was caught driving while talking on a cell phone. I know he doesn't and never had a predilection for kids. He had had an argument with their grandfather. He took a plea.! The girlfriend kept calling us, the family, to get money for a lawyer. Never mind that I had been homeless for a few years in the past and never did I get anything from him except to be asked ' did I have a job?. So they had a public defender. And from what I hear, he's in a really bad prison, too. We have sent some money for his books and letters. That's all we can do. I really worry what will happen to him when he gets out.

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