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The Empire Hits!
The U.S. Parole Commission conducted a hearing for a 15 year reconsideration of my case on 5 November 2014. The last 15 year continuance (“hit”) was set to expire in December. The hearing examiner went through the usual things:offender characteristics; the circumstances
of my 1979 offenses; a 1983 escape attempt; ancient disciplinary infractions. I was thinking a good outcome would be a one year date, a bad one, five years (and, having long experience with the agency of repression, expecting the worst!). Then the examiner went unusual. He unleashed a tirade about anarchist connections and anti-authoritarian views. He recommended another 15 year hit on the basis thereof. Four weeks later, I got a Notice of Action (NOA) from the commission adopting the recommendation and setting my next reconsideration for November of 2029.
The commission made much of the facts that I was on parole and the 1979 conspiracy included three armed bank robberies to finance the escape of a federal prisoner who had killed a customs agent. It also changed the assault of a Seattle police officer during the escape to attempted murder, using this change to raise my offense behavior category and guideline range. It did so notwithstanding that I was not at the scene of the shooting, the shooter was paroled ten years ago, and having established the old category in 2000 and defended it through seven hearings and appeals. The real reason for the higher offense behavior category is that its guidelines have no upper limit. I’ve already served more than the top guidelines under the previous, lower category.
The commission then added a specific amount of time to my parole guidelines for each disciplinary infraction I’ve had. That came to (erroneously, but ad arguendo) 32-132 months. Next, it singled out five of those infractions from 31, 31, 30, 25, and 19 years ago (attempted escape, knife, handcuff key, “uncompleted” handcuff key, escape paraphernalia — the second and last bogus) as indicative I was a more serious risk than my parole prognosis showed. These infractions, the commission alleged without saying why, further justified exceeding the guidelines by so much as the 15 year hit. It thus used the infractions to both raise and exceed the guidelines contrary to its own rules.
The commission required my codefendant to serve some 198 months on identical charges stemming from the jailbreak conspiracy, and our offender characteristics are virtually identical. The 132 month maximum the commission’s rescission guidelines say should be added to my parole guidelines thus suggests a sentence in the range of 330 months for me. The commission and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) both agreed I had 344 months in at the time of the hearing. (I actually had 421 months in, but they say the other 77 months went to the state time I got as a result of the same events.) The commission also ignored the statutory injunction that “old law” prisoners like me should be paroled after 30 years, which would put me out no later than 18 March 2016, even under their erroneous calculation.
The commission shifted into political police mode, saying, “the Commission finds your continued association and affiliation with anarchist organizations is evidence you still harbor anti-authoritarian views that are not compatible with the welfare of society or with the conditions of parole.” The NOA says zero about what it means by “anarchist,” “association,” “affiliation,” or “anti-authoritarian views” or why they might be problematic for society or parole. The examiner did mention a few specifics and waved some printouts, but did not explain what was so wrong with their content. He said I’d get copies, but so far I have not. There is no BOP or commission rule forbidding information by or about prisoners being published on the net.
The commission’s hearing examiner mentioned three sites: Prison Radio, LA-ABCF (Los Angeles Anarchist Black Cross Federation), and Denver ABC. None of them advocate violence or criminality. They are posted by mostly working class and poor people who want to make their communities and world better places. The examiner denounced “Running Down the Walls,” but did not say why. RDTW is a running event sponsored every year by LA-ABCF for more than the last 20 in which people from many communities participate to express their opposition to the overuse of incarceration, especially for political purposes. The Prisoners’ Committee of the ABCF, of which the examiner also disapproved for no stated reason, advises the ABCF on effective ways to support political prisoners, none of which involve illegality. Nor is the committee’s advice always solicited or followed. Prison Radio produces broadcasts of news and information about prison issues from a radical left perspective but advocates no violation of the law. All of these web sites post information about particular cases, prisoners, situations, and events their operators think the bright light of public scrutiny would help reach a more positive resolution. They make their posts based on their own analysis and choices; they are self-directed and independent. As for anti-authoritarian, that’s supposed to be the position of the government itself: “anti” authoritarian regimes such as Putin’s Russia, etc., and pro democracy. The commission’s decision was the reverse.
The commission also said efforts to contact my codefendant were evidence I am likely to “reengage in similar criminal activity” if released, but does not say how so. My codefendant was released from prison 10 years ago and from parole five years ago. I don’t think he’s had so much as a traffic ticket in that time. One would think the commission would want me to learn from him whatever it was he did to convince them to release him from both prison and parole. No hearing examiner could tell me, and I asked at many hearings.
The commission apparently feels anything it deems anarchist — and, by implication, any radical left–political activity or connection warrants denial of parole. It denied me because it feels I am thus involved. I’ve already served more time than could be reasonably assessed for my offense behavior and disciplinary record. My codefendant’s offense role and offender characteristics are virtually identical. Hence, the time demanded of me should be comparable plus prescribed disciplinary time. That total would be less time than I’ve already served. Nor is politics any basis for parole denial. The notion that mere correspondence with anarchists or my codefendant evidences criminal intent is simply frivolous: no print or pictures or audio to felonious intent were ever alleged, and there are no rules against such contact. Nor has the commission ever objected before to these long-standing connections, and the BOP approved them. Neither the “anarchist organizations” nor my codefendant has any criminal history during the relevant times.
The commission’s blatant use of such demonstrably inadequate and inappropriate reasons to deny my parole is remarkable. I have already filed an administrative appeal and will continue the appeal via habeas corpus against both the BOP and commission. Not only are the unsupported, conclusory, and irrelevant claims cited for denying me parole a violation of the commission’s own rules, their use constitutes a gross infringement on the First Amendment. That use violates what remains of my right to hold and express positive, progressive politics as well as that of the people and groups whose speech and association are undermined by such government attacks on political expression via the internet. I am confident that I and any comrades who have supported me by putting information by or about me or my politics into the public domain to protect me from the depredations of power have done so in good faith and not in any way that could legitimately be construed as “not compatible with the welfare of society.” I’m confident we will not cave to such pressure to self-censor.