Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ANTI-SEMITISM? In Maryland's Correctional Institution at Jessup?

Elsa Newman is a Jew. She is white. She is above average intelligence. She is an attorney. She was a US government employee. She was very good at what she did.

Then she was unjustly arrested…unjustly accused…unjustly tried…unjustly convicted…and unjustly imprisoned, despite her innocence.

And now? I believe her to be the victim of anti-Semitism, racial prejudice, intellectual prejudice, status prejudice, professional and perhaps any other kinds of prejudice you can think of.

Humor me while I present a few examples:

Another inmate, head down, walks by Newman muttering, “Kill all Jews!”

Her cell is searched, frequently and repeatedly and left in a mess by the officials who search. She seems to be under far greater scrutiny than other prisoners.

Medications that are to be issued to her from the prison pharmacy in a blister pack containing a full months supply--meds which are a matter of life-and-death for Newman--sometimes appear in a blister pack containing only three or four pills, rather than the month’s supply.

Newman lost her job. She could not seem to get another.

A roommate--much larger than Newman, who is small and appears somewhat frail after her years of fighting for her sons and for the justice which has, thus far, eluded her--stands in a doorway so Newman cannot leave the cell.

Another time the same roommate is on her top bunk, watching TV. As Newman attempts to walk past her, the roommate reaches out to adjust her TV, and the movement effectively “clotheslines” Newman.

Same roommate, seemingly a lesbian, makes a pass at Newman. When Newman does not respond as the roommate desires, since the roommate apparently wants her to become something she is not, the roommate begins urging her to fight. “Come on girl. Let’s fight. Let’s go down!” You should know that this roommate is a woman who sent one of her previous roommates to the infirmary.

Same roommate leaves bloody sanitary napkins on the sink. When Newman reports this to guards and requests assistance, she is ignored.

Same roomate is in her top bunk when Newman fixes herself a cup of tea and sits on her bed, preparing to drink it. The roommate throws her legs over the edge of her top bunk and begins to swing them--kicking the cup and spilling scalding hot tea all over Newman.

Newman requests another cell. There is another woman who has a cell to herself and is willing for Newman to move into that cell with her. Officers and guards tell Newman there is no cell available.

Newman repeats her request to move--or to have the offensive roommate moved. Newman is informed that any roommate problems are obviously her own fault, since she has had six roommates and they all left. Hmmmmm.

Two of those roommates were released. Two were injured and had to be moved to a cell where they could have lower bunks. One stole her blind.
And then there was the most recent roommate, of whom I have been speaking, the one who said to her, “You should have been burned when all the other Jews were!” [I wonder if the woman knows when the Holocaust occurred. Probably not, if she thinks Newman is old enough to have lived through it!]

Oh, my, yes! Clearly all the roommate problems were caused by Elsa Newman! Mmmmmm-hmmmmm! NOT!

Anyhow, as the story continued, Newman was finally moved…to an older part of the prison where the rooms are smaller and darker, and where, in her cell, the hot water did not work.

About this same time, a problem appeared when Newman went for her kosher breakfast. Now with this kosher breakfast, Newman is supposed to get two hard-boiled eggs. Her previous roommate--the one who wanted her to fight--works in the kitchen. Lo and behold, on the day after Newman moved, she received, instead, two raw eggs for her breakfast. You figure it out.

In the process of the move, some of Newman’s things were stolen. Logically enough, she complained. The Lieutenant to whom she spoke ignored her. When she complained again, the Lieutenant told her “If you complain once more that you had things stolen, I’ll put you on lock.” [Newman would be locked into her cell and not be able to leave.]

It begins to look to me like one finds the same kind of “justice” in Maryland prisons as one finds in Maryland’s courts. I’ve heard it said--I’d never say it myself, of course--but I’ve heard it said that Maryland has one of the most corrupt systems in the country. However, as I have researched the case of Elsa Newman, I begin to entertain just the teensiest bit of suspicion.

Now things change slightly. Enter the picture, but from the opposite side of the country, a little, old lady by the name of Aine O’Brocken, from the state of Washington. O’Brocken [yes, that would be me] writes to Gary Maynard, head of Maryland’s Department of Corrections and Public Safety, and…OMG…at last…someone in the state of Maryland who will take me seriously--and reply! At last, someone in the state of Maryland I can respect!

His email was to the effect that he would send someone to investigate my allegations.

And you know what? The day he sent someone to investigate, Elsa Newman got hot water in her cell! It was still the crummy, frumpy cell in the old part of the prison. But it had hot water! Wow!

Shortly thereafter, she was moved again. This time she had lots of volunteer help from other prisoners and from guards. Nobody stole anything. And nobody threatened lockdown. Hmmm. A great improvement, I must admit. And, what was unusal, perhaps, she had no new roommate.

Lack of a roommate was unusual, however, and shortly thereafter, other prisoners took up a spiteful cry: “Oooooh, Elsa! You have your own condo!”

And then came further harrassment: one of the guards manipulated a situation and issued Newman a ticket. Understand now, Newman tries her best, both to be a cooperative prisoner and not to make waves or draw attention to herself. She tries to follow all the rules. She does not get tickets.

This time, however, she did. The guard claimed she had disappeared from the area where she was supposed to be, the area for which she had been issued a pass. There were, however, cameras in that area, which showed that Newman had NOT disappeared. Nevertheless, the guard issued the ticket. Oh…and I must add, that the guard waited until the following day to issue it, and it was authorized by a Lieutenant who had not even been on duty when the supposed “disappearance” occurred. Tickets, you see, are supposed to be issued on the day of a supposed infraction. And the authorizing/signing officer is supposed to be one who was on staff and working at the time of the supposed infraction.

Enter O’Brocken again. What a nuisance this obnoxious little, old lady can be!

Another letter to Gary Maynard. No word back this time, but the ticket was disappeared. And as to the “condo”? Newman shortly had a roommate.

Not a perfect outcome, perhaps…but something.

And I repeat, I am gratified that I have found one man to respect in the Maryland system--one man who would take action on behalf of an abused prisoner and try to insert some degree of fairness and justice into an unfair and unjust situation.

Thank you, Mr. Maynard.

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