On March 8, 2008, this story and my essay were shared with my entire audience over 3,300 contacts, both, domestic and foreign.
(Attention newsreaders receiving the latest RSS feed from www.toxicnation.blogspot.com. The following commentary is a “letter to the editor” (five pages long – I got carried away) addressed to a small alternative newspaper, the Lagniappe, in my hometown of Mobile, AL. I am posting the “LTE” to my blog at www.toxicnation.blogspot.com for archiving purposes. This is my latest writing effort since the essay – “Success!” I am also distributing my LTE (“Dear Editor – Herman Thomas”) via e-mail to a much smaller and a more localized audience than usual.)
On February 25, 2009, the Lagniappe, a bi-weekly, ran a feature story on a two-year investigation launched by local attorney Joe Kulakowski into the case of a disgraced former Circuit Court judge, Herman Thomas. Thomas has been accused of paddling and/or having sex with young black men, under his authority, while they sat in jail awaiting trial or prison. In exchange for consenting to sex with this African-American judge, inmates often received reduced jail time or prison sentences. Thomas is also accused of using his fraternity house, Kappa Alpha Psi, and his position as the chapter’s Polemarch, or leader, to traffic in narcotics.
This judge repeatedly and secretly pulled hundred of cases off the dockets of his white colleagues without their knowledge. Upon these details coming to light and being published in the city’s daily, the Press-Register, Judge Thomas finally resigned, in March 2007. He has yet to face a criminal investigation and/or prosecution at the local, state or federal level for misusing his judicial authority including the allegations of physical and sexual abuse. It seems that nobody in the criminal justice system wants to touch this toxic case as the statutes of limitations expire for his victims’ seeking their day in court and the Class C felonies. What appears to have been well known within the African-American community has long escaped the common knowledge of white society except at the highest levels.
If you’re interested in learning more, I would encourage you to read some or all of the Lagniappe story, written by Rob Holbert, to better understand and appreciate my response. Or you may choose to ignore this latest piece. As always my commentary is atypical, unpredictable and hopefully never boring. Click on the story’s link to get started – www.lagniappemobile.com/articles/50-lawyers-dogged-pursuit-of-answers-in-the-herman-thomas-case or see the following Word attachment – “Lagniappe – Lawyer’s dogged pursuit of answers…” (Available only to e-mail recipients)
It’s troubling, sad and outrageous.
See attachment – “Dear Editor – Herman Thomas”
As always enjoy!
February 27, 2009
Re: Above the law?
While reading the piece on Herman Thomas it reminded me of what’s wrong with old Mobile. Your feature story was published on the heels of the city’s latest Mardi Gras celebration with its racially segregated mystic societies cloaked in the secrecy of the Catholic Church. How many of the story’s mentioned and unmentioned political and judicial officials, who secretly claim membership in one or more of these white-only organizations, recently got their foreheads dusted with ashes in the name of Jesus?
Corruption in politics, in law and in law enforcement is nothing new. It seems to be the norm throughout America. Television and movie studios have produced many hits shows and films on this popular topic for decades. In the 1990’s, John Grisham became all the rage with his legal suspense thrillers pocketing ten of millions from his best-selling novels and through selling off the movie rights to Hollywood.
I have no doubt that many of these “God-fearing” Christian men, wearing black robes by weekday with hypocritical titles of “Your Honor” have looked the other way, for years, to the alleged rumors of Herman Thomas’ physical and sexual assaults on society’s most vulnerable – young black men and their dignity. Why should these white judges or even a white District Attorney care for one second – its not like it was one of their sons or grandsons getting beaten or raped? This must be a black community thing; we, crackers, couldn’t possibly understand and we shouldn’t get involved. Why take an unpopular moral stance at the risk of ruffling somebody’s feathers and ruining one’s good name? It’s bad for business.
After all, these noble men go to all-white churches while their children attend all-white schools where the only Negro on campus is there because he can either catch a football and find his way into the end zone or maybe dunk the round ball. Their lawns are perfectly manicured and their homes look like something out of a Southern Living magazine but, most importantly, all the neighbors, in their ‘hood, are just like them – they’re white.
And when they’re not presiding from the bench or working in their law offices their hitting a small white ball down the country club’s back nine. Around here one’s reputation matters the most, not one’s character. Isn’t that what segregation looks like? Isn’t that what Mobile still revels in and loves to flaunt to the world every Mardi Gras season – its secrecy, its supremacy and its separation?
In September 2006, Airport police picked me up while I was experiencing a manic and psychotic episode after going sleepless for several days. Instead of being taken directly to a local hospital for immediate treatment, like any other sick person, I was transported once again to the Mobile County Metro Jail like a criminal. While the visit was a brief one, it wasn’t brief enough. While totally disoriented, extremely paranoid and refusing to share a small cell, the size of a walk-in closet, with a complete stranger, I wouldn’t leave the day room during “lights out.” Two black correctional officers (COs) left their observation post outside “the wedge” and entered our day room where I now stood alone. I was comforted by their arrival and I thought that I was going to finally get some help. As they approached me, I was struck in the face and knocked out cold. That was a first! I have no memory of that violent blow.
Seconds or maybe minutes passed before I regained consciousness in “my cell” where I quickly found myself sitting, on a metal slab – “the bed”, with my back to the wall soaked in blood from the chest down. My cellmate, a lanky black man in his 50’s, who was wearing a white undershirt watched off to my left as one of the beefy guards stood in the doorway to my right. As a regained my composure the CO stepped out of the doorway and closed the door. Without my medication, I don’t remember if I even slept that night. I doubt it.
Early next morning, I was transported in leg shackles and handcuffs to USA Medical Center for treatment. Clueless to the purpose of our ride through town and very paranoid, after the previous night’s excitement, we arrived at our destination – the emergency room. Standing in the lobby I refused to let another soul, the medical staff included, lay their hands on me or put a stitch in me. With that pronouncement, we quickly loaded back up into the van and returned to the jail. Here I was leaving a university hospital and my madness, my bipolar disorder was never addressed. I was an insane man with no legal rights and without a legal advocate. That’s a dangerous place to be – even for a white man with a college degree and no criminal record.
That afternoon my attorney, who was also a next-door neighbor, arrived to transfer me out of Metro and to check me into a psychiatric hospital across town. I don’t recall his visit, walking out of the jail or the fifteen-minute car ride. Without any sleep and my brain chemistry out of balance, I had become a zombie. Months later, the two of us were standing in my front yard talking when he brought up the topic of his visiting me in jail that afternoon. He said, “At first glace, I though you must have had barbeque for lunch from the red mess on your face.” No, that wasn’t barbeque.
Days later and while regaining my faculties, in the hospital, I realized that my two-front teeth were chipped, were broken from the CO’s ringed fist. My dentist would later say of what remained of my fractured teeth that I needed two crowns. I was sickened by his diagnosis and I insisted on having them bonded for the time being. The source of my spilt blood turned out to be from a busted chin. The bloody assault was rather harsh for simply having a mental illness, for being a sick person, but as it turns out not really. Based on recent national statistics of jails, prisons and the mentally ill (MI), the physical assault on me, by the CO, was par for the course. We don’t seem to mix well and most Americans don’t know or don’t really care about the mentally ills’ welfare.
In spring of 2007, I contacted several state legislators to discuss my traumatic experience, to bring to their attention the issue of the MI and the dangers of being incarcerated in jails and in prisons. I was seeking their help in crafting a bill requiring law enforcement to be better trained in recognizing persons with mental illness when responding to emergency calls and mandating hospitalization for the MI over repeated trips to the jail. Florida has a similar law on the books known as the Baker Act; I am quite familiar with how this law works. After our initial phone calls, I couldn’t get any forward traction out of one of the lawmakers beyond the same conversation, every few months, to what seemed like an obvious and long overdue humanitarian act. A no-brainer.
I understood this wasn’t a hot-button political issue for either party, but still. I found it quite strange that my representatives really didn’t seem to care. I have since wondered if their interest would have peaked a little with a nice campaign contribution. I don’t know. For now, I have put the issue on the backburner to be readdressed at some later date as I now pour all my energies into these essays. Based on the data, I am sure the abuse continues to occur inside those brick walls.
Without this legal protection even I remain exposed to another manic episode and to more harm inside the jail. So, are we, as a society, really all that Pro-Life? Based on my own life experiences, my opinion on the issue has drastically changed. The bumper sticker politics of the Right doesn’t match my reality in many ways.
In May 2007, I contacted Sheriff Sam Cochran’s office about the attack and his assistant jail warden returned my call to discuss the matter. There was an attempt early on, in the conversation, by the warden to claim that I arrived at the jail with the damage already inflicted. I knew that wasn’t true, what else isn’t true around there? By the time we finished the phone call I had failed to receive either an apology or a financial offer to cover some portion of my dental bill. The exercise did have some merit and our conversation put them on notice.
Last year, I talked with Sheriff Cochran at a monthly Christian businessmen’s luncheon. I am sure he had forgotten all about the incident that took place in his jail. By then my emotional pain was gone, but the damage to my teeth is forever permanent and the violation to my being continues to go unrecognized. This insensitivity by man’s Ego ranks low in my book of moral codes, but I do understand it. Like Caesar, it’s an obvious flaw in one’s personal make-up and it must be addressed to restore one’s integrity, a system’s integrity. I am always reminded of that bloody night every time I flick my tongue across the backside of my teeth and I feel a new roughness.
I wonder what triggers the degrading memories for those troubled young men who were preyed upon by the judge – does appearing before another judge? I found relief in writing and talking about my experience with others including with the sheriff’s office. Have any of them gotten any help, gotten any relief from their shame? When the state of Alabama denies injuries caused by a member of the court hasn’t the system lost its moral and legal authority? How can the courts quickly sentence a black man to death when it can’t even hold one of its own jurists accountable for murdering dozens of souls? That’s pretty weak.
Is there any guilt, any shame in Alabama? Abuse and shame are deadly because they violate one’s boundaries and can break one’s spirit. They’re cancerous tumors that spread and kill. Negativity can quickly set-in and spiral downward into thoughts of self-hate, self-loathing, leading to insanity, to violence against one’s self, against others and a life of alcohol and drug addiction. Believe it or not, but the criminal justice and penal system is a predator and is actually creating some of its own workload. With every violent act the system unconsciously insures its existence with a future criminal case and another repeat offender.
We have a pretty sick criminal justice and penal system. How sick? I’m talking about toxic – a nuclear reactor comes to mind. Without realizing it, these “gated communities” are a beehive of activity and not static as these solid buildings strung with razor wire fencing might falsely suggest to all those passing by. These toxic convicts are checking-in and out of jail, at all hours of the day, like, a cheap motel. These facilities are often located at the heart of every city and town across America. They’re creating some serious social pollution that is going unnoticed.
As a result, they’ve gotten all of us sick. The belief in punishment and warehousing over rehabilitation has completely failed. No therapy of any lasting value can take place when the warden is not only a slave master, but is also a slave of the system, as well. The free liberate and slaves enslave. Jails and prisons feed on a culture of slavery and insanity. The proof of the system’s failure and its slavery of men can be found in recidivism rates of almost 70% (67.5%) after only three years of being set “free.” The only free men who go to jails and to prisons are political prisoners.
The “tough on crime” mentality has only hardened everyone’s heart towards our fellow man leaving the sheriff to operate in complete darkness as he gets his way with the inmates. Instead of being “in charge of the law” somehow he’s become “above the law.” When this happens justice simply evaporates and everyone, in society, loses. That’s the dangerous game we’re playing in America. Does justice really exist or is it just another illusion fed to me, as a child? It’s like we’re still living in the Wild West – where you’re always at the mercy of, both, the sheriff and the judge.
While attending Catholic schools and mass on Sundays, as a child, I don’t ever recall hearing the first story of how Jesus felt the need to be armed. The other night, I was discussing this same thought with a friend. He remarked that the reason why is because “Christ is the sword.” That’s an interesting thought. He was a weapon, both, in deeds and in words. So, why do his gun-toting followers including the good sheriff and his deputies need and defend their use of weapons – is it to keep the peace? How’s that working?
To the wealthy, the powerful and the prominent, in your eyes, the lives of many others living in this same community are virtually worthless. It sounds very un-Christian, but hardly un-Mobilian or even un-American. The mounting evidence of this honest statement can be seen almost anywhere – in any crime and drug-infested neighborhood, the number of homeless living on the streets and sleeping under bridges, at soup kitchens, rundown schools, at rehabs, the condition of our jails and state hospitals.
As a writer and political essayist, I recently shared the details of my jail episode with my international audience, which includes local attorneys, business and political leaders, clergy, judges, state and federal lawmakers, Washington policy institutes, professors at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge… and, guess who – the sheriff? Still, there’s no apology, no note in today’s mail and no shame.
Abuse is abuse and it’s a crime regardless of where it occurs – even if it takes place in a secret room inside the courthouse or inside the county jail. How can the statutes of limitations ever expire when the wheels of justice were never turning to begin with?
The white establishment’s plea of ignorance is no better in God’s eyes than some black attorney who was once appointed judge and ruled his kingdom with a wooden paddle and a stiff penis in hand. A young King Felix III of Mardi Gras who “reigns” with his shiny golden scepter over white society during the days of purple, green and gold must be green with envy.
To attorney Joe Kulakowski – Good job, but don’t hold your breath waiting for justice. Not in this town. To all the colored men victimized by this color-blind legal system run amuck by perverts, political hacks and legal pretenders lacking in a conscience, but full of religion and other rotten vices – I feel your pain.
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my blog @ http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. I can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2009, 2010. All Rights Reserved. “Dear Editor — Herman Thomas” by Ted Burnett.