Archive for February, 2012

I’m getting used to San Quentin


February 29th, 2012 // No Comments

Familiarity and habit takes even difficult and unpleasant surroundings into our comfort zone. I look forward to my visits to San Quentin where a hungry Charles awaits me in his cage and gives me orders as to what to get from the vending machines. This time I had to disappoint him. I arrived around eight. The vendors had not yet refilled the machines with fresh food. All his favorite snacks were gone. No hamburgers, juices, ice cream, cheese cake, or salads. Coke and four oranges had to do. The stale roastbeef sandwich and BBQ whatever were a disappointment. Even his favorite potato chips were gone.

Though he figured out a way to degrease his prison fare – he has a hot plate so that he can heat it up and syphon off the fat, he mainly lives on Ramen noodles. He suffers from gall stones and hopes to be admitted for surgery. He was very excited that Goodwin Hon Liu, a Chinese American professor of law, was nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The first Asian ever and who, if confirmed, might get to deal with his case. Getting to know more about his situation and how all this came about shows to me that the judicial system failed. With all the cards stacked against him Charles didn’t have a chance to get a fair hearing, despite the years it took to get him convicted.

There is Cricket, Lennard Lake’s ex-wife, who had been present when all this happened long before Charles appeared on the scene. The way I see it, he too was on the list of people to be eliminated as soon as he no longer served Lake. He knew it, but had no place to go. As a Chinese he was ostricized from his family and his community. Among us white people we bend over backwards to help those in trouble and need. Not so there. If an Asian kid doesn’t get 100% on his test score he needs a beating to encourage him to do better, rather than comfort and tutoring to do better next time. No wonder the Japanese have such a high suicide rate among teenagers.

Back to Cricket, a woman slightly older than Charles, who treated him kindly and as an equal. The lonely, downtrodden young man on the run felt the warmth and care of his “friends” and was willing to even shoplift for them. Lake believed that he did not need to pay for things he could take. But unlike Ng, he was white and thus inconspicuous. Cricket came and went. The property in Wileysville belonged to her parents. Neither she nor Charles ever went to that bunker Lake had built in case World War III broke out and where he killed his victims, drifters he considered useless. He so eloquently documented his thoughts and actions in his diaries. The whole case was about him. But the victims wanted a culprit and the Asian Charles was it. Cricket was a woman and had been given immunity.  On what grounds? Nobody knows.  If anybody, she must have been an accomplice, else she would have turned Lake in. Being his wife is no excuse, nor her consentual enjoyment of eclectic sex – also documented.  She had three days to remove the evidence that might increminate her and plant the pieces that served to indict Charles.

When he first came to them he had no idea that his caring friends were clever con-people. By the time he found out, it was too late – again, he had no place to go and probably was too loyal to turn his “friends” in.  Cricket knew what Lake was up to and left him, got a divorce, but returned whenever she felt the need to satisfy her lust. She had never been called to the witness stand nor did anybody read her deposition. Charles could not refuse his benefactors. He trusted and admired them. Lake and Cricket were the friends he had been longing for. Though there is no evidence that he killed anybody, he was sentenced to death. How could that be? So he escaped from Ft. Leavenworth and shoplifted some items. He paid for that by serving time. But spending his life on Death Row for being at the wrong place under incriminating circumstances is no reason to convict somebody to death? What happened to our so-called civilized society? What about human rights, innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and all those other lofty ideals? Should I throw in mercy as a last resort when reason fails? Here is a man who spent 25 years awaiting the lethal injection, has nightmares about it. This is as bad as the Dark Ages.

Here is this young man, a great artist, who has the intelligence and talent for a great career, wasting away in solitary confinement. He is the victim of a frame-up and a judicial system that needs to convict somebody so that it can close the case. Considering that the death sentence does not bring anybody back.  An eye for an eye is the law of the jungle we are no longer part of, that is if he were guilty. Life in prison without parole is bad enough, but people adapt unless they manage to commit suicide. We never hear of those who succeed because we really don’t care. Fine. hat difference does it make. Perhaps one should give inmates the choice rather than lock them up for years at a horrendous  cost. Now that I met Charles I care and pose questions. I am also concerned about the astronomical prison costs that keeps productive men and women behind bars. Why can’t we learn to  live with potential dangers. There will always be killers among us. Most of them don’t get caught, as in the case of my nephew who disappeared five years ago without a trace, leaving his car, his wallet and driver’s license at home. A search was done and then abandoned. His killer was never apprehended because nobody demanded a lengthy investigation. What’s the point?

I’ll see Charles again in a few weeks and keep you posted.

 

 

 

 


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Charles Ng, the friend


February 29th, 2012 // No Comments


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Some insights on life at San Quentin


February 4th, 2012 // No Comments

My friend Valerie and I have an appointment to visit Charles again. Getting such an appointment isn’t all that easy. In prison and on death row people have nothing but time. It’s about years or death. Considering the alternative, time is in your favor. Amazing how people adapt. Some rebel and pay for it. Charles learned quickly that he’d rather play by the rules and is considered a model inmate. Now that we visited him several times we developed a kind of friendship. At first he was suspicious about talking to us regarding his life. Now he enjoys sharing his thoughts and impressions of the world outside he gets to see on his TV screen. After being shut off for some 25 years so much changed that it must be difficult for him to relate to all those i gadgets people can’t live without anymore. He spends his time designing origami pieces of art, he paints, reads and thinks and bears with the noise in prison. Just imagine some 50 inmates communicating with each other across an empty space – at the same time. The noise level is so excrutiating that the law provides earplugs to inmates. The help some. He is quite upbeat and by now accustomed to life in prison. So much so, I think, that he accepts the inevitable. From his accounts of what happened and how he got involved with those crimes he is accused of, I see a very different story from what the court came up with. There is no evidence that he killed anybody. Yes, he was a fugitive for rather minor offenses. Shoplifting, stealing weapons (a common crime in the military only he was punished for), escaping from the police (who wouldn’t under those circumstances). He did time. And is still doing time for the rest of his life, unless — yes?

Lake was a fascinating character. I have known fanatics like him – many neo nazis fall under that category – obsessed with perfection according to their standards. Of course they never take a look at themselves. Most of us would feel disgusted at them the way they are disgusted at people who do not fit their standards. Lake, a charismatic fellow and the only “friend” who took Charles in, became a buddy. As such, Charles would help out, provide services. The person who should be interrogated and investigated is Lake’s wife Cricket. She was with Lake all the time, enjoyed kinky sex and was able to switch the evidence, replacing her videos with those that show Charles. He is not innocent and certainly did a number of stupid things, but not vicious ones. When she refused to testify in court, or show up when subpoenaed, etc. nobody seemed to care. They let her off as if it was perfectly OK for her to be involved in Lake’s activities without any justification or accustions. Why should the court care as long as they had Charles, a suspect who was pronounced guilty even before he had any hearing whatsoever.

For the moment this is as far as I got. Will keep you posted as I discover new angles of this tragic drama. Vengeance is not justice.

Tomorrow I’ll see Charles again and buy some fruits, a salad, juice, ice cream and a hamburger from the vending machine. He eats while we visits. He is not allowed to take anything to his cell, but must pack left-overs – should there be any – into a plastic bag and dispose of it before returning, handcuffed to the world he is condemned to live in.


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