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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