December 30, 2018
By Joan Brunwasser
“Prisoners are real people with real families that love them and miss them. We want and need our families home together.While we are indescribably grateful that the President made it a priority and accomplished a remarkable bipartisan victory,I wonder if he knows this victory has not set anyone free yet, that his BOP and DOJ are ignoring the law as we all continue to suffer.It’s heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.”
Blue Christmas for Gary White
For first-time readers, Gary White was a county commissioner in Jefferson County, Alabama. Good friends with Les Siegelman, he introduced Les’s brother, [former] Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to Richard Scrushy, a local Republican businessman. Because of this, White became inextricably intertwined with Siegelman, who was one of the biggest targets of the Rove-directed, heavily politicized Department of Justice.
Scrushy and Siegelman were later indicted and convicted on charges stemming from that relationship. According to affidavits provided by Gary [and Judy, who was also in the room] White was asked to perjure himself before a Grand Jury in order to make the case against Siegelman and Scrushy. White refused and the very next day, the DOJ started delivering subpoenas to build a case against him. White is now serving ten years. During that time, he has been shunted from one federal facility to another. This is installment #34 of our ongoing series*.
My guest today is frequent contributor, Judy White. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Judy.
Joan Brunwasser: There have been some very interesting legislative moves recently that bear discussing. Would you like to get the ball rolling?
Judy White: I would love to, and thanks for your interest, Joan. On May 22, 2018, the House passed the First Step Act by a vote of 360-59, giving prisoners and their families a spark of hope for relief for the first time in a long time. But then Mitch McConnell did nothing with the bill in the Senate as time was wasted and hope waned. (McConnell is pro-prison, for reasons we can discuss later.) At some point, McConnell promised advocates that he would bring the bill up for a vote after the mid-term elections, if 60 favorable votes could be secured, something that was far from certain as some Democrats seemed to oppose the bill claiming it did not go far enough and some Republicans opposed the bill claiming it went too far.
Having set a challenging condition, McConnell may have been surprised when the challenge was met. Advocates and activists spent months contacting their Senators and making the case for passage of the bill, holding a rally in Washington, scheduling “call-ins” to Senate offices, writing letters, making videos — doing whatever was possible to secure 60 (or more) commitments to vote in favor of the bill. But this was not only a case of grassroots support and advocacy by prison-related organizations and lobbyists. As McConnell backtracked and said he would not set the bill for a vote in the Senate blaming time constraints and not wanting to divide what is arguably the most-divided Senate in recent memory, on November 14th, President Trump stepped up, holding a major public endorsement of the compromise reached between Republicans, Democrats and his administration, led by Jared Kushner, whose father had experienced the “hospitality” of the federal prison system and who had been actively committed to reform from the beginning of the president’s term.
With the support of major law enforcement organizations, religious leaders, conservative organizations and leaders, rather than 60 votes, support grew to over 70 Senators co-sponsoring and committing to vote for passage of the bill. McConnell finally relented and on Monday, December 17th, the Senate voted 82-12 to end debate and advance the bill. Paul Ryan had promised a House vote on whatever passed the Senate and the President had promised to sign. That afternoon, I emailed Gary: YOU ARE COMING HOME. The next day, the Senate passed the bill 87-12 and I made chicken salad.
JB: Why chicken salad?
JW: Like all federal prisoners, and I imagine all state prisoners as well, Gary has been hungry every day since he has been in prison. You and I have discussed the constant diet of inedible, contaminated, expired and “not for human consumption” labeled substances the prisoners are given to eat. Gary has frequently mentioned missing real food and wishing for particular meals he used to enjoy when he was home. As we have recently talked about his wishes for homecoming, he has said he would like for me to make chicken salad. I was expecting Gary to be released and home immediately, so I made chicken salad.
Going back to November and even before then, information had been circulated that upon passage of the bill and the President’s signature, approximately 4000 prisoners would return home “immediately” based only on the codification of additional “good time.” Gary is one of the 4000 who would be entitled to “immediately” return home. We were filled with gratitude and hope and a hint of joy began to formulate. THIS would be our Christmas Miracle – Gary would be HOME!
On Thursday, December 20th, the House passed the Senate version of the bill and the following day, the President signed the First Step Act of 2018, entitling Gary and many others to return home. IMMEDIATELY! And while it was long delayed and should have/could have passed back in the summer getting Gary home even sooner, it felt like the greatest Christmas gift since the birth of Jesus Christ. For the first time in almost a decade, our family could spend Christmas together! In the words of Dr. Seuss, “It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore.Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” (Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”)
Even before the Senate vote, I had been corresponding with the BOP to ensure they were preparing to release Gary “immediately” as required and avoid unlawful/illegal imprisonment, something that should not have been necessary as the increase in good time had been in the bill before the House vote in March, giving the BOP plenty of time to program recalculations and plan for compliance with the law immediately upon passage. Surely the BOP would not have ignored the impending changes and surely they would not deprive all those prisoners and families of Christmas. Or would they? Would the BOP be the Grinch and steal Christmas?
The devastating answer is yes. They would and they did. Today, December 26th, is Day 5 of Gary’s unlawful imprisonment.
JB: I’m so sorry, Judy. How deflating! Is the BOP stonewalling all of the 4,000, just Gary or what?
JW: It’s all of them. Leading up to final passage, wives and families were receiving frequent updates that for many of us, under the requirements of the bill set to become law, our loved ones would be coming home “the day the bill is signed by the President.” He signed it on Friday, but to my knowledge, not a single prisoner has been released, and I have been checking frequently. Those updates, in hindsight, were hype or wishful thinking, as apparently no one had taken steps to ensure that the BOP had set the recalculations and would comply with the law. We got excited and dared to hope, something that is risky for many of us. Just knowing Gary should be home, that he is legally entitled to be home under federal law, but he remains unlawfully imprisoned is devastating.
Gary has asked the prison employees responsible for releasing him what the hold-up is, and the response is perfectly maddening. Are you familiar with “Hogan’s Heroes”? It was a 1960s-’70s sitcom that took place, fittingly, in a German prisoner of war camp. There was a character, a somewhat benevolent incompetent German prison guard named Sgt. Shultz, who ignored all kinds of things that happened right in front of him. His frequently repeated line was, “I see nothing! I know nothing!” https://youtu.be/4efMVgBHEfw Take away the benevolence and that’s the response Gary got from the prison staffer when he asked to be released: “I know nothing.” Truer words may never have been spoken. Never mind that it was and is his job to know, and that it is the responsibility of every employee in the bloated bureaucracy of the BOP to comply with federal law.
Over a week later, and after over six months’ notice of the impending changes and the “immediacy” of the changes that would free Gary, Gary remains locked in federal prison. Yet another missed Christmas, another birthday about to be missed, and another year beginning wrongly as the BOP ignores their responsibility to comply with a federal law they opposed and do not like, as thousands of prisoners and their families are suffering irreparable harm. Not to mention wasted chicken salad.
JB: So, here we are: truly a case of that saying: all dressed up and no place to go. What’s the next step? Is there something you and all the other 4,000 families can do to move this along already?
JW: Prison wives and families develop a “network” of sorts, from which I have learned that some BOP employees are apparently doing their jobs and have given updated paperwork to prisoners showing their current information including the First Step Act changes. Others – including us – are not as fortunate as we are left in limbo, unlawfully deprived of the benefits of the new law, and men and women, including Gary, remain unlawfully imprisoned. Rather than spending Christmas at home together for the first time in nine years, Gary remained in prison and I spent the holiday driving and sitting with him in a prison visiting room, which will be repeated this weekend unless the prison decides to comply with the law and release Gary. We will “celebrate” his 72nd birthday with a vending machine candy bar rather than a birthday cake with family singing to him.
There is really no excuse, and keeping Gary past the time he was entitled to return home is illegal and compensable. There is no forcing or shaming the BOP into doing the right thing just because it’s morally wrong and illegal not to, as they are accustomed to ignoring laws and rules, have no morals and are beyond shame. Their day of reckoning will be harsh and there will come a time when they learn the cost of injustice and inhumanity.
The First Step Act is a major, historic victory for human rights, prison reform, and a step toward changing a broken “justice” system. Prisoners are real people with real families that love them and miss them – we want and need our families home together. While we are indescribably grateful that the President made it a priority and accomplished a remarkable bipartisan victory, I wonder if he knows this victory has not set anyone free yet, that his BOP and DOJ are ignoring the law as we all continue to suffer. This is one of the times I wish I could tweet or knew someone famous who would call the President and persuade him to free Gary and the others who should have gone home last Friday but who remain in prison. Any help or ideas???
We will persist. We will make use of any and all options that exist and perhaps come up with new ones. What we will not do is sit quietly and fret over the blatant disregard of federal law by an unaccountable federal agency. It is truly shocking that BOP employees so casually break the law – the very part of the government charged with the custody and rehabilitation of those convicted of breaking laws routinely breaks laws harming a lot more people than prisoners have.
Night has fallen and Gary and a few thousand others who should be home with their families will begin Night 7 of unlawful imprisonment. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time.
JB: I couldn’t agree more. You got an encouraging sign of sorts this evening. Care to share it with us?
JW: After visiting Gary on Christmas, I had Chinese carryout for dinner and this was my fortune cookie:
I shared what it said with Gary, my oldest and dearest friend. He thought it was great.
JB: I’m with him! To paraphrase, from your fortune cookie to God’s ear. Anything you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
JW: Thank you for staying in touch and being supportive through all these years, Joan. There is always more but we can follow up another time. I have my unlawfully imprisoned husband to focus on and I appreciate all help.
JB: Thanks for keeping us in the loop, Judy. I hope by the next time we speak, Gary is already safely at home.
Update: December 30: Today is Gary’s 72nd birthday today. He is still not home.
Some reactions to passage of First Step Act:
Trump’s prison plan to release thousands of inmates
NYTimes Opinion Piece: Donald Trump Is Doing Something ” Good?
* Judy White series, in its entirety:
The Feds and the Prisoner’s Wife – Do Unto Others… as You Please October 27, 2010
Judy White’s Giving Thanks for Prison Visit: It’s All Relative November 29, 2010
No Heat in the Cooler: More Tales from Edgefield Federal Prison December 16, 2010
The Devil’s in the Details: More Tales from Edgefield Federal Prison , January 11, 2011
Hello Kitty Mysteriously Disappears from Prisoner’s Mail at Edgefield , January 24, 2011
Neglect at Edgefield Federal Prison Causes Inmate to Lose Toes September 27, 2011
Magic Behind Bars: The Case of the Disappearing 600 Pound Chicken February 22, 2012
Are Federal Prisons Finding it Hard to Let Go? April 24, 2012
Gary White and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week , November 29, 2012
Scrooged! Millington Federal Prison Camp’s Version of Christmas Spirit , December 24, 2012
The Bureau of Prisons, The Flood and Your Tax Dollars At Work , January 27, 2013
Revenge of the BoP: OpEdNews Censored in Two Federal Prisons , February 17, 2013
Warning: Incarceration in US Prison May Prove Hazardous to Your Health , February 23, 2013
Battling Injustice: the BOP and Corrupt Judges , June 18, 2013
Ties that Bind: How the BOP Undermines Families, Part One , July 27, 2013
Ties that Bind – How the BOP Undermines Families, Part Two , July 30, 2013
Anti-Crimson Tide Discrimination? September 15, 2013
Inmates Stick Their Necks Out to Cast Light on Recent Prison Death November 11, 2013
Forrest City Federal Prison: Where Prisoners Don’t Have a Prayer January 7, 2014
Here They Go Again! Watch BOP Make Up Infractions On the Fly February 22, 2014
Is BOP Using Our Tax Dollars to Sever Family Ties? June 15, 2014
BOP: ‘Til Death Do Us Part? August 1, 2014
Submitters Website: http://www.opednews.com/author/author79.html
Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of transparency and the ability to accurately check and authenticate the vote cast, these systems can alter election results and therefore are simply antithetical to democratic principles and functioning. Since the pivotal 2004 Presidential election, Joan has come to see the connection between a broken election system, a dysfunctional, corporate media and a total lack of campaign finance reform. This has led her to enlarge the parameters of her writing to include interviews with whistle-blowers and articulate others who give a view quite different from that presented by the mainstream media. She also turns the spotlight on activists and ordinary folks who are striving to make a difference, to clean up and improve their corner of the world. By focusing on these intrepid individuals, she gives hope and inspiration to those who might otherwise be turned off and alienated. She also interviews people in the arts in all their variations – authors, journalists, filmmakers, actors, playwrights, and artists. Why? The bottom line: without art and inspiration, we lose one of the best parts of ourselves. And we’re all in this together. If Joan can keep even one of her fellow citizens going another day, she considers her job well done. When Joan hit one million page views, OEN Managing Editor, Meryl Ann Butler interviewed her, turning interviewer briefly into interviewee. Read the interview here.While the news is often quite depressing, Joan nevertheless strives to maintain her mantra: “Grab life now in an exuberant embrace!” Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at Huffington Post, RepublicMedia.TV and Scoop.co.nz.