For My Mother
The government owns the narrative. They own the courtroom. They own the story being told: America is fair, honest, good. Police don't lie. Prosecutors are only interested in justice. There is no system, but if there were a system, then the system would treat all people the same regardless of income or resources. Trust us.
The Time Machine: Down the street from a 7-11, next to the projects, was the gay bar called Fox's. And above Fox's was punk rock Shangri-La in the age of Reagan.
The stairs were narrow and nearly impassible with cigarette smoke and broken youth. The union of the outsiders, school of the dispossessed, encampment of domestic refugees.
Inside was a wall-to-wall brawl: death rockers, bikers, skinheads, junkies, punks. A huge punk rocker fell through the pit like a mohawked skyscraper in an earthquake. The cave of normal blown apart in disbelieving joy. I dove in arms flailing, churning in the catharsis of forgetting: my family struggling, the cops who harassed us, a father in prison. A hand reached down and picked me up by my shirt.
Standing here, like a loaded gun, waiting to go off…. There was a tradition. From the sixties to punk rock, there were people who fought, who didn't buy into it, who stood against the abuse of power, process and the raging lies. In the culture of resistance, I began to find my home.
Welcome to America, where the Magna Carta is an evolution of our current laws.
"The Magna Carta..?"
"Yes, Your Honor, the Magna Carta, Article 39…."
No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
I believe that the human spirit is an evolving entity. (You can replace the term spirit with consciousness.) When a system comes into place like capitalism, it usually cements an evolutionary step in consciousness and how we define ourselves, but over time, it also cements a status quo, an establishment, preventing us from taking the next step forward. For example, our Constitution defends rights of exclusion - don't come on my property - but it does not encourage mutual aid. The Bill of Rights is based on a property definition of persons - don't mess with me - not a definition that acknowledges the interconnectedness and dependency of people and the earth.
From the polluted air we breathe to the bad food we put in our bodies to the toxic consumerism attacking our minds, corporations own the fucking place. Corporate headquarters in this country is the financial district in New York City. The federal judicial district encompassing the financial district is the Southern District of New York. On the rare occasion that corporations are prosecuted for their crimes, the jurisdiction where they most often defend themselves is the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.) Corporations are, as we all know, legally seen as persons. This absurd monstrosity of jurisprudence finds its genesis in a 1925 case called Pierce v. Society of Sisters and its contemporary zenith with Citizens United. Another unbearable mockery of the Constitution, fat cats laughing at us from on high. Our best and only chance is to use their tools against them - beat them with their own baseball bats. Subvert the bastards by using the bastards. If they want to be persons, then let them be persons.
Extremely wealthy persons, resource rich persons, the kind of person that can hire entire law firms, teams of legal specialists, battalions of whorish lawyers to storm into the court and go toe-to-toe, if not fist-to-face, with any form of allegation. They are psychotic only insofar as the system is psychotic, spiritually dead and sad like prison bars and the barbed write that wraps around them. In the great line up where they stand smiling at us like we're the ones about to go down, Monsanto is the suspected pedophile serial killer next door who poisons your dog's water, then chuckles as he watches him die. That may not be fair: to serial killers and pedophiles. When the Cormac McCarthy nightmare of our destruction comes down the crack pipe of our greed, Monsanto will be factually seen as the fill in the blank genocide holocaust authoritarian dictator sipping the nationalistic drink with his fake girlfriend at the Dacha.
No average citizen would ever be able to directly challenge government forfeiture of his or her assets, but Monsanto can and what we are left with is a Monsanto Hearing where the defendant is given a pre-trial hearing to determine the character of those assets. In plain English, before U.S. versus Monsanto the government could seize a person's assets and hold them through trial.1 They could no longer do this without providing a hearing prior to trial.
The process due is the process demanded: and now we had new process. Since Piece versus Society of Sisters, the corporations have excelled in carving out new due process in order to protect themselves and their assets. Note, that this process is usually pre-trial as corporations almost invariably try to settle any claims against them prior to trial due to the adverse publicity of trial and the subsequent effect on share values. If we think that many abuses of our legal system occur before a person has had their day in court, the more weapons we have pre-trial, then the better suited we are to take on the leviathan.
I sincerely hold that there is a rich vein here to be mined. This sad amoeba of law, socioeconomics and media control: cheap products bent around the corporate will. In turn, the corporate will is nothing but the institutional tool shed of the ruling classes. Look to the corporations. Coopt their strategies, use their rulings, take over the take over: the greatest mistake of the ruling classes in the 20th Century was to designate corporations as persons. Wall Street is our social justice leader.
The Time Machine:
The three deputies walked inside our apartment like they owned it. We were drug people to them, trash. They pounded through the kitchen and the living room. They opened drawers, checked the serial number on the TV set, moved lamps and furniture. They treated us like we weren't there. The younger deputy, maybe twenty-five, went into my room, picked up an old trophy and said, "Where'd you get this?"
"It's from football."
He laughed at me: "You're not big enough to play football," then walked right at me with his chest puffed out so that I had to get out of his way.
Six months before, I had watched them drag my father away into the nightmare of prison. Tie dangling, body crumpled, staring into the darkness. It was over for him, but for us it was only beginning. They stood over my mother in the kitchen as she tried to cook us dinner. They kept asking her questions, wouldn't leave her alone. They had taken everything so that we couldn't even get welfare, but still kept trying to take more. One of the worst aspects of the Drug War is Sheriff's Departments funding themselves through seized property.
I kept hearing noises, kept thinking they were going to come back. I got out of bed and went into the living room. Mom was sitting there alone, crying, with a letter in her hand. The IRS said that she owed them 640 thousand dollars in back taxes, penalties and interest from the years of my father's indictment and trial. She said that she tried to get a lawyer, but that no one would take the case. Community property laws during the Drug War were turned on their head, so that she was liable for all of his debts. The IRS kept her under audit for two years and fought to garnish her wages, but couldn't because it would have taken her below minimum wage, which was illegal. The hands that held the letter were cut and shredded from scrubbing cooking sheets at the bakery down the street.
I began to think of the great mystery of existence and how religions, philosophies and legal doctrines are all an effort to understand why we are here. Our lives are an attempt to translate the unknowable mystery of sacredness and reverence. And now I want to live with sacredness and reverence for all things in the moments of my life. A religion of the moment that gives rise to a fight for justice, love and self-reflection: where I will always try to be honest with myself, never stop seeking, and never judge others.
I see all humanity, every man and woman, in a profound struggle simply to meet the day. I look into their eyes and want to let them know that I am with them as I hope they are with me. This is the underlying message of our history: that we greet each other with love, and that that love is at its most beautiful when it endures in the heart of darkness, through tribulations and hardships, in the face of souls that have been damaged and injured, which is the collective soul of everyone.
I will walk this world humble and present in the moments of a grateful love for the mystery of existence. Through the practice of this faith, we ourselves will come to a place where our lives are filled with meaningful joy. My only fear now is that I will fail to express the truth of my heart because I am too much of a coward, or lie to myself, or pretend not to care about other people and the wounded soul of the world.
After taking down their best confidential informant on cross, the lead investigator cop got in my face in the courtroom and said: "Are you fucking maddogging her!" It took me back to the moment of standing in my little room as the cop said that I wasn't big enough to play football. It took me back to a time when it was only through the strength of my mother, like so many single mothers, that we found a home through the lightless sky. It is only by the grace and energy of single mothers that this country is still held together - even though it is this very country that has gone out of its way to tear people like us apart.
The Time Machine:
Mom got home from the bakery at nine-thirty. All our best conversations always came when I was high. She was sitting at the kitchen table, her black hair hanging over a college textbook. She was 37, taking care of two kids, working full-time and now trying to go back to school.
I sat down next to her, chair turned backward. "What are you reading?"
"About Napoleon for my test."
"Good guy or bad?"
"Just another creep…"
"What was it like in the 1960s?"
She leaned back, reflection in her eyes. "Well, there were two 1960's…"
"What do you mean?"
"There were the people who dressed up, did drugs and went to parties; then there were the people who volunteered, protested and tried to make change."
"I bet you were the one protesting…"
"We thought we could change the world. There was a group called Vista in Houston and we did volunteer work in the Fifth Ward, the poorest part of the city. Nana would beg me not to go because she was scared that I'd get hurt."
"Was it dangerous?"
"You don't think about those things when you're young," and messed up my mohawk. "You don't think anything bad can happen to you."
"I know this sounds dumb, but who was Bob Dylan?"
"You want to know about Dylan?" She smiled and got up from the table. My sister, Sarah, sensing that something good was going on, came into the kitchen. Mom went back into her room. We could hear her going through her boxes.
She came back with a white cassette in her hand. "Living room, guys."
Sarah and I sat on the floor next to each other. She put the tape in the tape deck. Crackly sounds, then guitar strumming.
Mom standing next to the small speaker on the shelf. "This one's for you, Jason," and sang gently.
"Come you masters of war...you that build all the guns…"
She seemed lost in it. Gone to a different place
"Is there a system, mom?"
She looked at me and rolled her eyes like I was an idiot. Like look at our lives, boy, and tell me there's not a system. She could always challenge me in these ways that later on would make me go deeper, that would send me to the library on a Saturday to educate myself.
"To be a rebel just to be a rebel doesn't mean anything," she said to me. "But to stand up for other people, to fight for their dignity –it's the same as fighting for your own."
There comes a time, when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to dissolve the system that ties us to our own destruction. After a long train of abuses and usurpations, it becomes our right, our duty, to throw off the reins of a corporate government, and by using their own tools against them, build a better and more just structure that will someday itself need to be overthrown. We have lived through it for too long, seen too much hypocrisy, digested too many lies: caught in the prison of an illusion of a stolen history - the ones we care about taken away into the darkness of time.
The Time Machine:
The day of the verdict came. I got up early, did no push-ups, but got dressed and walked two miles to the nearest Catholic church. The morning mass had ended. I was alone. I genuflected at the front pew, got on my knees and clasped my hands in prayer.
Eyes closed, every fiber of my body focused, I begged God not to allow dad to be sent to prison for the rest of his life. I then begged him that if dad was going to be sent to prison, that he look after my sister, my mother and me. To be with us, to not let us starve and make sure that we didn't suffer any more than we had to. I asked him not to forget me in my life, to remember that I was out here, doing the best I could.
The courtroom was full. The press was loud. All they cared about was getting their story and going to lunch. No cognizance whatsoever that people's lives were on the line. I got to my spot in the corner and felt a hand on my shoulder. It was one of the older cousins from El Paso. A guy who was always there when the money was around. He was, I guess, expecting a celebration.
The Judge entered. Everyone stood at attention. He surveyed the court, then allowed us to sit. He took his time adjusting himself in his chair, then turned to the jury: "Have you reached a verdict?"
The foremen stood. My gaze fell to the floor. Everything went silent. My breathing was short and fast. Inside I was going at super speed, but the rest of the world was in slow motion. I experienced a feeling of profound isolation, like truck headlights were bearing down on me in the dark.
"Regarding the Kingpin Charge: Guilty."
I felt erased from the world. A portrait rubbed out from the inside.
A beat on a drum: "Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty."
One half of the courtroom was in total darkness while the other was in shining light. My father was bent into himself, so that I could only see the slope of his neck. The prosecutors were smiling, making eye contact with the press. After finding dad guilty on all counts, the bailiffs came over, walked him in front of the court, then removed him through a side door. The jury moved on to Vance, who was in turn found guilty on all counts. This continued for all the uncles, so that the word "guilty" emanated from the court for half a day.
When the bailiff opened the side door to remove another codefendant from the court, I caught a glimpse of something that a son should never see.
There was my father in a cage, sitting in the darkness, tie dangling. His face was hollowed out. His body, crumpled. A vision of pure defeat, staring into the abyss of a life destroyed.
My heart ripped apart and I started to cry. I had watched my father die.
As reality descended on the day, the rows of friends and family emptied out, so that by the time I was functional, I was once again alone.
Outside in the hall, the prosecutors laughed, shook hands and interviewed with the press. I walked by the prosecutor to see if he would say anything, but he didn't notice me. So often we're not even afterthoughts to the people who shape our lives.
I don't remember much about the walk back to the apartment, except that when I got there the phone was ringing and it was mom. I could hear Sarah crying in the background. She kept saying that she was so sorry that this had happened, but insisted that it was time for me to come live with her and start back up in school.
That night I stayed up all night watching television: the vision of my caged father burning in my mind. Part of me died.
RICO STANDS FOR Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. It's the Patriot Act of the War on Drugs. It allows law enforcement to invade every aspect of a person's life before they've even stepped foot into court. The government seizes property, freezes bank accounts and goes on television to publicize it before a jury has even heard a word. The burden of proof - innocent until proven guilty - goes out the window. The person is thrown in jail with their assets seized so that they have no chance of making bail or contributing to their own defense. They are cut off at the knees, then pummeled mercilessly so that they are usually willing to make any bargain to get themselves out of the jaws of the pincers.2
The drug war, like all wars, is a war against the questioners, the seekers, the ones not going along with the plan. It is about the very consciousness of a nation: another fraud where liberty went to fade. It's about getting hundreds of millions of people to trust the ruling class more than they do themselves. All we have to do is look in the mirror to know that the story is a lie. Are you a felon who deserves to go to prison? Are you an enemy of society? Are we enemies of each other - fearful of ourselves?
Enough of the oligarchy profiting from our misery, enough of the police state, enough of war profiteers manipulating the people into doing what they're told. Ya basta! Enough is enough! We must use their lies against them, subvert them with their own weapons, light up the darkness with the fuel that fuels the machine. Facilitate their world coming to an end - or our world will come to an end - a system dissociating into darkness growing darker in the corporate sky.
The Time Machine - closing argument thirty years in the making, two weeks ago in federal court:
For today, you are the law. You are the Constitution, the living Declaration. You are the ones who carry the good fight in your hearts. Hold on to it. Stay with it. Be strong. Do not give up. Bring light into the darkness and make right what has been wrong. Make it so our Constitution has meaning. Use you minds, your life experiences, see the truth of everything they've done. The abuse of power, of justice, and the twisting of facts. You are the ones who must stop it, bring the truth home. Grasp control of it. Send a message that a human being still has rights.
You are defenders of a revolutionary tradition. A tradition that people have died for, so that you can sit where you are now. Everything depends on what you do here today. Whether you've asked for it or not: the system begins and ends with you.
1. United States versus Monsanto 924 F.2d, 1186 (2d Cir. 1991). This is obviously a second circuit, but its most successful application is found in white collar defense in the Southern District of New York. This is not a love song, nor a legal brief. My intent is to supply tools to those who think along these lines, whether or not they be lawyers. In fact, the best lawyers usually aren’t lawyers.