‘The Senator Be Embezzling’
September 3, 2015 1:20 PM   Subscribe

 
I'm glad the pleas for clemency and alternative sentencing were rejected. Sometimes, the message of "yes, we send elected officials to jail" is worth the cost.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:30 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]




Why is the cringeworthy title in quotes? No one is quoted as saying that.
posted by deathmaven at 1:46 PM on September 3, 2015


Sometimes, the message of "yes, we send elected officials to jail" is worth the cost.

I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people. I think locking someone not dangerous up is hugely counterproductive. I believe sending a message can be easily achieved without imprisonment. And what did his jail experience do to teach him? Was it a lesson in justice or injustice of the law?
posted by niccolo at 1:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Why is the cringeworthy title in quotes? No one is quoted as saying that.

Page 3:
But no one noticed the peppers in my socks—which I only showed the guys after work. “Damn!” exclaimed ’Ville. “The senator be em-BEZZ-ling! He a regular convict now!”
posted by Sangermaine at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


“The senator be em-BEZZ-ling! He a regular convict now!”
posted by colie at 1:52 PM on September 3, 2015


Ah, got it.
posted by deathmaven at 1:52 PM on September 3, 2015


I don't know who the guy is but it was an entertaining read. Almost endearing: "... few had savings to fall back on." I'll bet.
posted by colie at 1:54 PM on September 3, 2015


I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people. I think locking someone not dangerous up is hugely counterproductive. I believe sending a message can be easily achieved without imprisonment. And what did his jail experience do to teach him? Was it a lesson in justice or injustice of the law?

One, define "dangerous". This here is one of the biggest issues with how we actually treat white collar crime.

Two, exactly what message are you sending when you grant clemency to a well connected upper class politician who clearly conspired to suborn a lawful investigation while tossing lower class non-violent offenders in jail regularly.

Draconian justice is worse than non-Draconinan justice. But worst of all is inconsistent justice, especially when the inconsistencies cleave on race or class.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


Conrad Black also wrote similar things from his experience. People learn sometime.s
posted by ocschwar at 2:01 PM on September 3, 2015


Conrad Black also wrote similar things from his experience. People learn sometime.s

He should still be in jail, and the ruling that freed him is one of the lesser known atrocities of the Roberts Court.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:10 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]




"Open up your prison wallet."
posted by univac at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2015


It was an entertaining read, but it certainly smacked of someone who got their education on prison from watching Orange Is the New Black and OZ.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 2:21 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, when politicians come out of jail, they often clamor for prison reform?

Sounds like the only solution to our prison problem is to send all the politicians to jail. (then, when they eventually get out, they'll enact some real reform)
posted by el io at 2:27 PM on September 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people.

I don't!
posted by kenko at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


But I requested an unorthodox sentence: two years of home confinement and full-time community service during which I would be allowed to leave my house only to teach civics and coach basketball at a St. Louis charter school I’d co-founded a decade earlier.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Huck500 at 2:44 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people.
It's common to associate "dangerous people" to just drug dealers, armed criminals, sexual offenders, etc, but a lot of things that caused the banking crisis that fucked up millions of people across the globe were caused by 50-something suits behind a computer trying to scam a few more bonuses on fraudulent deals and politicians making good for their buddies.
It's true a lot of the US prison population shouldn't even be there, but that doesn't mean the same for people that destroyed lives because they used a Bloomberg terminal and a laptop instead of a switchblade and a 9mm.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:59 PM on September 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


Good timing. He's at Books Inc in San Francisco tonight.
posted by larrybob at 3:43 PM on September 3, 2015


What we learn. Prison in our country is horrific ...those who work for the state are usually not fit for the job and are not well paid or trained. Compare prison workers here to those in Germany.
What we also learn: you do bad stuff, go to jail, but are bright and well educated, so you get out and write about how bad the jail system is. And, in this case, you end up with a nice job teaching at a decent college in New York.

In some states, there are prisons that house white collar criminals, such as Rev. Moon (founder of the Moonies), for tax fraud...a felony in his case. How many of those responsible for bank failures in the recent recession went to prison? Should they have gone? They did nothing causing bodily harm or theft but only had people lose jobs and homes.

If a young black male can be imprisoned for smoking pot, then why not a political figure breaking federal laws?
At least Mr. Smith (Goes to Prison instead of Washington) now has another publication toward tenure at the New School.
posted by Postroad at 3:53 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read it, and came away with a thought consisting of exactly four words:

This country is fucked.
posted by dbiedny at 4:02 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The guy makes it clear he knows he's privileged. He's a former lawmaker who has done time and is now pushing to reform this nightmare of a justice system. So what if he's selling a book? I for one salute him. Are there any white people MetaFilter doesn't disdain?
posted by king walnut at 4:38 PM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


Niccolo:
I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people.
I'm not inclined to strongly disagree as long as you're willing to acknowledge that there are different ways of being "dangerous."
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won't never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

-- Woody Guthrie, "Pretty Boy Floyd"
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:56 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


The guy makes it clear he knows he's privileged. He's a former lawmaker who has done time and is now pushing to reform this nightmare of a justice system. So what if he's selling a book? I for one salute him. Are there any white people MetaFilter doesn't disdain?

I came in here expecting that too, but actually I don't think anyone's being too snarky? I like the way he writes, that bit on the last page about the lovers is really touching.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Previously on MetaFilter.

Also, on This American Life.
posted by Reverend John at 5:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Doesn't anyone proofread these days?
I often think about the re-entry of the guys I was locked up [with].
posted by unliteral at 6:29 PM on September 3, 2015


So wait - what he basically did was to let people make a stupid postcard with the wrong money for an election that he lost, tried to cover it up, and suddenly a year in the pen - and everyone's like, "Good use of my tax dollars"?

With SuperPACs, the rest of these guys are doing much the same thing except they have a complex construct that gives it the color of law. Yeah, he cheated, ineptly, but a year in the pen for a first offender for a non-violent, failed crime seems way out of line.

IF we as a society were actually punishing our lawmakers and our business leaders when they committed terrible crimes with actual victims, then I'd be thinking this was reasonable. As it is, I do not.

Why exactly would "banned from the electoral process, probation" not be a fit punishment for this marginal crime, given that we have seen zero years given out in total for US government torture, illegal surveillance, perjury (i.e. lying to Congress to cause a war killing hundreds of thousands, including thousands of Americans), various other Iraqi war crimes, or on the other side, zero years for the thousands of felonies that financial firms pled guilty to (and the tens of thousands that we know for sure were "left on the table")?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:38 PM on September 3, 2015 [15 favorites]


Technically, he was convicted of obstruction of justice, not of any election shenanigans.
posted by gryftir at 7:18 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Right--the thing that really got Nixon in trouble wasn't the Watergate burglary itself, but the cover-up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:30 PM on September 3, 2015


Yeah, the "election shenanigans" was a civil offense. Perjuring himself, and conspiring with others to commit perjury, was a criminal offense.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The impression of his crimes that Smith gives in the Politico article is very, very different to the impression given by the New Republic article that TMoT&T linked to.

Compare this:
I was pretty sure campaigns couldn’t legally coordinate with an outside party. I was also pretty sure it happened every day, without consequence. After a brief discussion, my aides asked if they should move forward.

Whatever you guys do, I said, I don’t wanna know the details. Understand?

They nodded. We agreed to never speak of the matter again.
to this:
Wanting to stay one step ahead of the FEC, Smith began entreating his two former aides to lie to the investigators. [...] Smith was even more adamant that Brown stick with the cover-up. “None of us are going to get the fucking Nobel Peace Prize for our interaction with [Ohlsen],” Smith told Brown and Adams, but if they hung together they would be okay. A shady character like Ohlsen, he reminded them, “against the three of us is not even a contest.”
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:25 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why exactly would "banned from the electoral process, probation" not be a fit punishment for this marginal crime [...]

I'm not a fan of incarceration, and I agree that the there's a whole confusing mess of rationales and justifications for the ways different crimes are treated. None the less, in this instance you had someone deliberately and repeatedly interfering in a criminal investigation over a lengthy period, and suborning others to confirm his false story. That's a really serious thing, even if the underlying crime wasn't so serious.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:35 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people. I think locking someone not dangerous up is hugely counterproductive.

I'm inclined to agree, but we clearly have very different definitions of "dangerous." Our way of life is threatened much more by a crooked politician than by a two-bit street-corner crack dealer.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:46 AM on September 4, 2015


He lied to a federal agent. This is a felony. He convinced others to lie to federal agents. This is also a felony.

My colleagues on the criminal side of law practice continually admonish their clients to NEVER talk to the police regarding an investigation where they may be a subject of the investigation.
posted by mygoditsbob at 7:01 AM on September 4, 2015


niccolo: “I believe the purpose of jail is to protect society from dangerous people.”

I appreciate that this is a popular conception of punishment these days, but: this notion is exactly what's wrong with our legal system today. We conceive of criminals as dangerous, and we lock them away for our protection. This leads to a system wherein we don't see or hear those convicted of crimes, never have to think about them, never have to have any nasty exposure to people who are guilty of violating our laws.

The problem starts when we make this distinction between "dangerous" and "not-dangerous" criminals. Why? Because, statistically, in the world of commercial prisons we've built, that distinction is nearly always one of privilege. Well-meaning people often suggest that we should release anyone who's inside on a drug charge, but it turns out a tiny, tiny fraction of the people in prison are there on only a drug charge. Drug charges usually come with something attached – even if it's just assault of a police officer, which can amount to just touching a police officer in a way they don't like during the arrest – and, what's more, people who end up in prison generally end up becoming more violent, either getting charged while inside or after they leave at a much higher rate than before. Only the privileged have the resources to easily stay away from such stuff. When we draw a hard line between "dangerous people" and white-collar criminals we don't see as "dangerous," we're really only drawing a line of privilege and class.

Those are the consequences of a system that sees jail as a tool to protect society from dangerous people.

The only solution is to build a system based on a conception of justice that sees the purpose of prison as being rehabilitative. Punishment has one object: to improve the souls of the punished. It isn't to make anybody feel safer, it isn't to get revenge; it's to take people who are broken enough to seriously violate our laws, and better them so that they can rejoin society in a full way. We need to work seriously toward that goal, and we need to accept people when they reach it, welcoming them back into society and making a place for them. And if we really don't believe someone is capable of being rehabilitated at all, we need to do the humane thing and just execute them, rather than dithering about like idiots and just locking them in a tiny box for fifty or sixty years, which is frankly worse than death in many cases.
posted by koeselitz at 8:09 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I have to say: the ideas behind this article seem okay, I guess, but it's hard to take with all the repugnant and frankly racist leering at prisoners in his funny stories. But I guess being entertaining is the only way he's gonna get paid.
posted by koeselitz at 8:14 AM on September 4, 2015


We conceive of criminals as dangerous, and we lock them away for our protection. This leads to a system wherein we don't see or hear those convicted of crimes, never have to think about them, never have to have any nasty exposure to people who are guilty of violating our laws.

Meanwhile, prisoners spend their time learning to deal with the completely dysfunctional social system that exists inside our prison-industrial complex, and leave that system even less able than before to operate well in the 'normal' society they return to after they are released.

That's the moral I've gotten from my various acquaintances and relatives who have spent time in prison, anyway.

It's not just that no attention whatsoever is being paid to rehabilitation. Rather, the environment there is actively making people (who probably had some problems/issues to begin with) even worse than they were before they went in.

I'm not talking here about criminals teaching each other how to be better criminals or whatever. Just that the people I've seen leave prison return less able to accomplish ordinary, necessary societal things like maintain a stable relationship with family members, friends, or potential SOs, attend school, or hold a job.

You have people who were likely having some difficulties in those areas to start with, and then they leave prison worse off in every one of those areas, not better. And on top of it, they have a punitive legal system hovering and monitoring continually, ready to unload all over them whenever they make the slightest mistake and unable or unwilling to provide much in the way of positive support or help. And a raftload of new friends who have the same problems they do and no better way to deal with them.
posted by flug at 12:49 PM on September 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


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