Wen Ho Lee is Free! (sort of)
September 13, 2000 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Wen Ho Lee is Free! (sort of)
Is this too much of a "seen everywhere" news story to post here? Or is the fact that this story was finally getting "seen everywhere" part of the good news???
posted by wendell (12 comments total)
Welcome back to the world. I'm sure there are plenty of jobs out there for 60 yr old convicted felons.
posted by smackfu at 7:29 PM on September 13, 2000

"...Wen Ho Lee was freed on Wednesday after nine months of solitary confinement..."

You know, I can't begin to fathom what nine months of solitary would be like. I think it would drive me insane.

I think there should be limits on how long you can put someone in solitary, and while I have no idea how long that should be, nine months is probably way over that limit.
posted by CrayDrygu at 7:58 PM on September 13, 2000

I'm too pretty to go to prison, but I always thought if you had to go, solitary was the way to do it. They let you read and stuff, right? No rape to worry about. I think the general population is a more horrible punishment.People, who don't need people, are the luckiest people... in solitary Do they put you in if you request it?
posted by thirteen at 8:32 PM on September 13, 2000

Thirteen, it doesn't sound like you know a whole lot about what solitary confinement means. Bonnie Kerness writes:

"Picture living in a cage the size of your bathroom, with tiers of single cages above, below, and to either side. You remain in this cage nearly 24 hours a day, day in and day out, year in and year out. Ruchelle Magee lived under these conditions in California for more than 20 years. Russell Shoats has been living in various Pennsylvania isolation units for 17 years. Ojore Lutalo in the Management Control Unit (MCU) in New Jersey just began his 13th year living in extended isolation--and he has never been charged with an infraction.

The use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons began in 1829, based on the early Quaker religious philosophy that solitary introspection would lead to penitence and reform. It soon became clear that people in isolation often suffer mental breakdown, so the general practice of isolation was abandoned. However, isolation as a means of administrative control continued and has grown to alarming proportions. In more recent times, abuse of isolation is combined with behavioral modification programs, including physical beatings, use of devices of torture, and psychological abuse.

In 1972, the first official "control unit" was opened in Marion Federal Prison in Illinois as a behavior modification experimental unit. Similar units began opening in state prisons across the country including the Management Control Unit in New Jersey. In 1983, in response to an isolated incident of violence, the entire prison at Marion was "locked down"--all prisoners locked in cells 24 hours a day without human contact. That lock down has never been lifted.

The experiment in solitary confinement expanded throughout the country in the form of supermax prisons--entire prisons that force people to live in complete isolation. Prisoners cannot see or hear another human being unless or until the administration decides that they can. The fastest growing population living in enforced solitude is perhaps youth of color imprisoned as a result of the racist crack-cocaine laws. Most of these youngsters received unconscionably long sentences. Their consequent anger tends to lead them into real or imagined infractions shortly after their imprisonment, resulting in their placement in sensory deprivation supermax prisons.

We have been told by Corrections personnel that the nationwide move to expand the use of isolation is being fostered to a great extent by guard unions, which now contribute heavily to political campaigns of "law-and-order" candidates. Various forms of lobbying secure the necessary support to build new solitary confinement units or prisons. Guards report feeling that these units provide a safe working environment. Advocates and monitors of prisons report that control units also provide a place in which prison staff can commit atrocities unobserved.

The goal of these units is clearly to disable prisoners through spiritual, psychological and/or physical breakdown. This is accomplished by arbitrary placement in isolation; years of solitary or small group isolation from both prison and outside communities; extremely limited access to education, worship, or vocational training; physical torture, such as forced cell extractions, strap-downs, hog-tying, beating after restraint, and provocation of violence between prisoners; mental torture, such as sensory deprivation, forced idleness, verbal harassment, mail tampering, disclosure of confidential information, confessions forced under torture, and threats against family members; sexual intimidation and violence, usually against women prisoners by male guards using strip searches, verbal sexual harassment, sexual touching, and rape as a means of control."

posted by sudama at 10:06 PM on September 13, 2000

Prison is not gonna be good no matter what. The magazine I work for did an article on the Marion Super Max in the last year, and many of the things in that story were horrible indeed, and some of those guys end up screwy. I heard that the writer, told people in the office that some of these guys were clearly over the edge, and others seemed calm and peaceful. All the prisioners he spoke to had complaints about the guards, but their mental state seemed to have more to do with the individual that the elapsed time as I would have thought. There are not going to be too many stories about how "I was in solitary and it was okay", but I do not think it is imposible for it to be a better experience than the alternative. Depends on the individual. We received a few letters from prisoners living in Marion, they were all happy that their situation was getting some attention. The sanity of the letters has quite a range, some were scrawled, others rational. I know nothing of psychology, I make those statements based on my perception of their thoughts, not what I believe to be the education of the writer. Could I do 20-30 years? Probably not. 5 years? I have great confidence I could. A few years back when I had no girl or money to vacation with, I experimented with extended time alone. Bought my food in advance, and did not leave my tiny apartment or speak for 2 weeks. I did it a couple of times, I was always sad when it was over. I know it does not compare, so don't slam me, I just think some other people could not have handled even that small taste of it.
The horrible stuff in the last paragraph of Sudama's post happens in the general population too doesn't it?
posted by thirteen at 11:32 PM on September 13, 2000

Ummm.... prison is supposed to be horrible. It's not a damn country club. These people have violated the rules of society, and as such should be punished (when proven guilty - which didn't happen with Wen Ho Lee).
posted by owillis at 11:59 PM on September 13, 2000

You're right owills! Let's bring back thumb screws and the rack! That'll teach them youngsters to sell their dime bags inside where the cops can't see 'em.

Prison isn't supposed to be "a country club", but neither is it supposed to be "horrible", or more specifically cruel and/or unusual. The American prison system sends people out worse than they came in . . . and that can't be good.

posted by alan at 1:44 AM on September 14, 2000

These people have violated the rules of society, and as such should be punished (when proven guilty - which didn't happen with Wen Ho Lee).

That dangling parenthesis would be funny if it weren't the reason why I pay my annual dues to Amnesty International.
posted by holgate at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2000

Amnesty is all well and good, but I feel the appeals process, etc. has been way tilted in favor of the guilty vs. the families in recent years. The appeals process is a joke.
posted by owillis at 9:52 AM on September 14, 2000

Amnesty is all well and good, but I feel the appeals process, etc. has been way tilted in favor of the guilty vs. the families in recent years.

That's the way it bloody well ought to be. In a properly functioning justice system, guilty people will get off untouched on a regular basis. It's called "innocent unless proven guilty", which implies that any time there's even a doubt about whether the person did it or not, they need to be let go.

Go read "12 Angry Men" again.

Besides, as soon as you get into the business of punishing criminals, you multiply your problems. Those people you're punishing are going to get out of jail someday, and when they do, they're going to be angrier than ever.

posted by Mars Saxman at 11:40 AM on September 14, 2000

We should, of course, recall that Wen Ho Lee was in solitary and in chains before conviction, i.e. during the period during which citizens of the United States are presumed to be innocent, lacking thus far the step where they have been proven guilty.
posted by dhartung at 5:56 PM on September 14, 2000

it's interesting to see the psychology in the discussions here.
I think it's great he's out and I for one would hire the guy. I'm not into nuclear physics (although physical chemistry rocks) but his conceptual and analytical thinking skills would blow most of us out of the water. Especially after so much quality time alone. In my opinion he was a scapegoat for a group of administrative morons in the US DOE. Fifty years ago he'd have been cooked, but thank goodness that ain't today. The US DOJ couldn't be more inept. Unfortunately, that isn't the only US Department of that lacks fitness in fulfilling its duties so watch out!
posted by greyscale at 8:45 PM on September 14, 2000

« Older DotComFailures Lives Up To Its Name!   |   Hands off... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments