This is the final installment of Hoosegow Abyss, Eddie G’s prison saga

The Hoosegow Abyss -Part 15: Eddie G’s Public Hearing

The Public Hearing

A philosopher named Michel Foucault said that we live in a web of power relationships, and that every aspect of our lives is affected by this web of power (our friendships and families, our workplaces and politics, everything). He further explains that this web of power in which we are embedded is maintained through the use of mechanisms of control, mechanisms imposed on us in a disciplinary fashion to ensure our compliance with social demands. These mechanisms are: Spatial Isolation and Activity Control; Hierarchical Observation; Time Control; Examination; and Case Development. I’ll apply each one to my public hearing.

When you entered the hearing room you were immediately searched (Activity Control, Hierarchical Observation) then separated into two distinct groups: those supporting me, and those opposed to my release (Spatial Isolation). The room itself was arranged in a hierarchical fashion with the Parole Board members and Assistant Attorney General (AAG) at the front (the apex), and the rest of us arrayed below them. One group was assigned (Spatial Isolated) to one part of the room, and the other group to another part of the room. Corrections officers then escorted me in wearing shackless and leg irons, and seated me alone against a wall. These physical arrangements were the first critical steps toward controlling our behavior.

The people at the apex table introduced themselves by name and title (Hierarchical Observation) and a Parole Board member then explained the rules: who would speak when and in what order (Activity Control), and for how long (Time Control), with different categories of people being given different times (Hierarchical Observation, Activity Control).

We are so used to the application of these mechanisms of control that we don’t even see them let alone ever raise an objection. In prison, these mechanisms are painfully obvious.

It was made clear from the start that we were not to talk over one another, and that the two sides were not to address one another…that all conversation was controlled by the board members. One of the cardinal rules was that we were NOT to engage the victim or her family in any way. The importance of this rule was demonstrated when one of my supporters, Gary A., a restorative justice advocate, turned to a victim and attempted to communicate and was immediately shut down by the board member and told to turn away from the victim by a corrections officer. This was a hearing whose major function was to impose the power of the state on all those in attendance through the application of mechanisms of control, and in no-way was it even remotely a restorative justice exercise.

The AAG began the application of Case Development mechanism of control by referring to my Pre-sentence Investigation (PSI) and the statement from my victim, Lorraine, thus establishing that I would be treated more as a case than as a person. Case Development continues throughout our lives. From the minute we are born, a case/file/record is established on us and follows us and is added to throughout our school and work years, and isn’t closed until the day we die, if then. Making me a case allowed the AAG to treat me more as a thing or object. Once that is done, the strongest of the mechanisms of control can be brought into play, that of the Examination.

We are all examined in many different ways all our lives, from the minute that doctor slaps our new born butt, until we are prepared to be laid to rest. Examinations are essential because they provide the vital information that allows us to be turned into cases.

Anyone who wanted to speak to the Apex members had to sit in a special chair in front of the Apex table (Hierarchical Control, Spatial Isolation, Activity Control, Time Control) and submit to an examination as supplicants requesting favors (for me to, or not to be, released). An important part of any examination is the ritual you must submit to for the examination to take place: you’re sworn in, you sit where you’re told to sit, you speak when you’re allowed to speak, you stop when you’re told to stop, and you answer question but do not ask them. Violate any of these precepts and the ritual (and thus the hearing) stops dead.

As you can see, so far, the Hearing is more about everyone submitting to the mechanisms of control than it is about determining if I am ready for release.

Then the AAG’s examination of me started and bystanders may have wondered why, despite the AAG initially saying his only job was to help the Board make a decision, what is taking place seems more like the whipping of both an offender and victim, than like a quest for decision-making information.

The Utility of Victims

This is where a second philosopher, René Girard, may be helpful.

Girard says that the way ancient peoples diffused conflict (and potential violence) is through the selection of a victim whose sacrifice atones for whatever wrong caused the conflict. But Girard doesn’t stop with ancient people; he says modern societies also solve situations of conflict though the use of sacrificial victims. When I first read Girard, I thought sacrificial victims were chosen against their will but soon realized that most sacrificial victims are willing participants in the ritual sacrifice, and in many cases even consider it an honor because they are often seen as the vehicles that brought back peace and equanimity to society, and in the process are often martyred.

If we combine Girard with what we know from Foucault, we can see the ritual sacrifice of a victim as the imposition of all the above-described mechanisms of control.

In this situation we had conflicts between the wishes of my victim and the AAG for me not to be released; me and my supporters’ desire for release; the need on the part of the parole board to balance punishment, public safety, and justice; and the desire on the part of state government to release as many expensive lifers as possible to help reduce the cost of operating prisons.

“But,” you may say, “the AAG said his only job was to help the Board reach a decision on my release, not make me a sacrificial victim.” But let’s be frank here, the AAG said his office defers on these release matters to the County Prosecutor, who doesn’t support my release, so the AAG came to the hearing knowing full well that he would be in opposition. That being the case, the AAG had no motive in just “helping the Board to reach a decision,” with his statement to the contrary being merely gratuitous.

You may also object to the notion that the state is holding these hearings for economic reasons. But that flies in the face of the fact that the Governor, who is determined to lower the number of incarcerated people, signed legislation to take veto power away from sentencing judges, otherwise many of these hearings would not have been held…my history of being denied hearings after a judge objects being a case in point.

So, to resolve all these conflicts the AAG really is supervising ritual sacrifices, with the sacrificial victims being me and my victim, Lorraine. The ritual sacrifice was to consist of my victim retelling her rape in minute gory detail, then me describing my part in the crime, while the AAG challenged me on any small discrepancy between my version and that of my victim. He pushed my victim for details until he had Lorraine sobbing and shaking and screaming that I was an animal. Then the AAG’s set about humiliating me, calling me a manipulator and liar, and verbally beating me; he went so far as to mock my religious experiences in what to me seemed either an overreach of his role, or incredible ignorance about the dynamics of forgiveness. “So, puff, your guilt just went up in smoke” the AAG said as I struggled to explain the importance of a particular religious experience to my transformation from rapist to a feeling human being. In other words, the AAG was trying to glibly turn me into yet another victim of my own crime, but in my mind succeeded in looking more like a haranguing interrogator.

I’ll Not Play

But a strange and unexpected feeling overcame me as the AAG got started: I decided not to participate!!! I refused to be turned into yet another victim! I stipulated to the facts as written in the PSI, and then said I had nothing more to add to that because through therapy and programming and the support of others I had faced my terrible behavior head-on in a quest to become a better person. My approach was validated by the fact that when I was able to provide a few additional facts about my crime, the AAG immediately attacked me accusing me of selective memory, manipulation, and lying.

Now what?

How can the ritual victim sacrifice proceed if a victim doesn’t cooperate?

The AAG turned to the board member and said he had never encountered a prisoner who refused to cooperate, i.e., play the victim, and in obvious frustration the AAG asked the Chairman what he should do. To his credit, the board member told the AAG, “Do your job.”

After regaining his composure, the AAG decided all was not lost. The ritual sacrifice could go on using my victim, Lorraine.

I was physically removed from the special chair facing the apex table, to a chair flanked by corrections officers and removed from any other group present. This was clearly Spatial Isolation and Activity Control designed to signify that I had a status outside of the society formed by all those others in the room. Sacrificial victims are always considered social pariahs.

As I listened to Lorraine tell what we did to her, make her dance naked then take turns raping her, revulsion and embarrassment weld up in my throat and mouth. I know those here for me were for-warned by Joe they would hear terrible things about me. I know Joe had them read the pre-sentence description of my behavior. But nothing, nothing, is like hearing it from the victim denied the catharsis of a trial.

I heard her describe me as primitive, driven for my urge for power and violence.

She was right.

But for the AAG it was the next best thing to my being a sacrificial victim; by having Lorraine tell her story the AAG served her up as a sacrificial victim who, by her own admission, sat before us degraded and broken. In a sense, the sacrificial ritual was allowed to proceed, thus easing the social tensions by providing a social catharsis. By the end of Lorraine’s story, and the testimony from her family members (all requesting that I not be released), everyone in the room was emotionally exhausted.

My Supporters’ Turn

Joe initiated the presentations on my behalf with the following statement:

I am a retired employee of the Michigan Dept. of Corrections and have known Edie G. since November 1979…38 years.

I first met Eddie when I was the School Principal and later Deputy Warden at the Muskegon Correctional Facility.

And our relationship continued when I became Eddie’s Warden at both the West Shoreline and Brooks Correctional Facilities.

After my retirement in 1999, Eddie and I corresponded via phone, letter, and email. I have also on occasion visited with Eddie while he has been at the Lakeland Correctional Facility. Eddie is the only prisoner I have ever corresponded with or visited after my retirement.

In my mind there are three issues before us today:

1. The Issue of Understanding and Remorse: Does Eddie understand the terrible crimes he has committed, and the hardships he has caused his victims, their families, and their friends; in addition to the humiliation, terror and harm he has visited on his family and their community?

And if he understands the terrible acts he has committed, is he genuinely remorseful?

2. Has Justice Been Served: Has the time Eddie has served (he is into his 47th Year) sufficient to meet the requirements for justice?

3. Has Eddie Earned Release: Has Eddie taken advantage of the opportunities and programs offered by the Dept. of Corrections to grow and change as a person, and to prepare himself for eventual release?

4. Will the Resources be Available to allow Eddie to make the Transition from Prison to the Free World: How will Eddie accomplish the transition, and who and what will be available to assist him?

The Issue of Understanding and Remorse:

During the 38 years I have known Eddie he has never once denied or in any way minimized his crimes to me.

He has taken full responsibility for his crimes, and he has sought through therapy and prison programming to understand what he has done and learn and internalize how he can avoid future criminal behavior. He has completed individual counseling, sex offender treatment, and faith-based treatment, all to deal with the terrible guilt he feels for his actions and to prevent such behavior in the future.

I am certain Eddie understands what he has done, makes no excuses for his actions, and is genuinely remorseful.

Has Justice Been Served:

In July, 1982, a sentences recommendation grid was completed on Eddie and the recommendation was for 14 years. He has done that amount of time and much more. Given that his recent psychological evaluation, as well as many past evaluations, have all found Eddie to be a low risk to reoffend, it is hard to see why keeping him imprisoned longer would add to the notion of justice served. Eddie has committed terrible crimes, and he has paid a very large price for those crimes. Eddie also had a parole interview in 1982 where the Parole Board member noted the sentencing grid score of 14 years, held up three fingers, and said she wanted to see Eddie do 3 X 14, or 42 years. I know this because I was present at that interview. Eddie is currently in his 47th year of incarceration. Are we again going to hold up more fingers?

Has Eddie Earned Release:

I know of no other person who has availed himself of prison programs more than Eddie has. This is just a partial list because other speakers will describe his other accomplishments for you:

He completed his GED.

He has completed several vocational programs.

He has completed an Associate’s Degree.

He has completed a Bachelor’s Degree.

He has completed sex offender treatment.

He has completed substance abuse and is a certified substance abuse counselor.

He has participated in and lead many prisoner organizations.

He has held myriad very responsible work assignments, including many working for women supervisors, and has received high evaluations.

He has assisted Hispanic prisoners in so many ways that in June, 2002, the Mexican government awarded him its Consular Award for Service to the Hispanic Community.

And finally, he has gone misconduct free for the past 25 years, which as a Prison Warden I can say is a near impossibility.

The Mission of the Michigan Department of corrections is to: Create a safer Michigan by holding offenders accountable while promoting their success. Of the thousands of prisoners I have known and worked with, Eddie Guerrero comes closest to being the embodiment of the success of that mission.

Will the Resources be Available to allow Eddie to make the Transition from Prison to the Free-World:

Following my presentation, you will hear from others what they are willing to assist Eddie in making his transition from prison to the free world.

Among the people who you will hear from are:

Antonio B., Former mayor of Lansing, Michigan

Bill Weideman, Retired Assistant Deputy Warden, Muskegon Correctional Facility

Alberto F., Retired Director of Community Relations, Michigan Civil Rights commission

Gary A., Retired Director of restorative Justice Ministry, Roman Catholic Dioceses of Lansing, Michigan

Phil R., Retired Jail Chaplain; Current Publisher of Radio News Jerusalem

Tom S., Fresh Coast recovery

Tom P., Retired Principle, Muskegon Catholic Central

Joe W., Director, Fresh Coast Recovery

Raymond G., Brother to Eddie G.

My other supporters testified that I’m a changed person, highlighting my educational accomplishments, contributions to prison programming, religious experiences, and my dedication to helping other prisoners, all in an attempt to allow the board to see me as a human being.

Each of my supporters did yeoman’s work, but the board members were visibly shaken by the presentation by Tony B., the former mayor of Lansing, Michigan. Tony had fallen down his home’s cellar steps and was paralyzed. Old and wheelchair bound, Tony’s wife pushed him next to the docket chair. Speaking in a whisper, he haltingly tried to tell the board members why he supported my release, but his soft voice trailed off and his wife took over. This fragile public man pulled himself together to drive the eighty miles to support me.

Again, now what?

I was trying to show the board and AAG that whether they released me or not, I was a different person…a person with dignity and integrity, and that wasn’t going to allow anyone to degrade and turn me into a victim.

Given the resources of the Michigan Department of corrections, there is nothing else I could do to prepare for release, or show I deserves release. I stipulated to what is written in the PSI, the official version of my crimes that the Board must adhere to. The versions of these crimes told by my victim are just that: her versions of the crimes. In addition, there existed a casefile containing a mountain of testimony on my positive character and worth.

The Parole Board was in a hard position: By releasing me they’re trusting that I am a changed person and truly, as my pre-hearing psychological report says, a low risk to reoffend. By keeping me locked up they will be complicit in continuing the ritual victim sacrifices, while providing no additional justice.

As I see it, the only question left was: “Given that I have served 46+ years, and accomplished what I have, have enough people been sacrificed to atone for my horrible crimes?”

The Decision

About two weeks after my public hearing, I received notice from the Parole Board that I was granted a parole.

Now what?

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Joseph Abramajtys

Old Man, Retired Prison Warden, Social Critic, Recovering Catholic, Pain in the Ass.