Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Manipulation game

Doing Life in Pennsylvania

author: Diane Hamil Metzger
If you are serving a life sentence in Pennsylvania's prison system, you should be well acquainted with the game I'm about to describe. If not, it's not hard to learn. The only rules are to have enough hope in happy endings to be gullible and to want something so badly that you'll grasp at any straw. The game is called the Manipulation Game, and this is how it goes.

You're arrested for the crime of murder in the first or second degree. It really doesn't matter if you did it or not, or what you're degree of involvement was, because when you go to court, chances are good that you'll be convicted. Let's face it: Any self-respecting jury member knows that if the cops say you did it, you did it. So, the verdict comes in and, with it, a sentence of life in prison, mandatory in Pennsylvania. (Either that or death
are the two different?)

And now, my friend, you are a statistic. You can never have work-release. You can never have a furlough, not even at Christmas, even though your buddy with ten or twenty for third-degree murder ("plea-bargain murder") just won one. You are the best player on the prison softball team, but don't expect to go to any away games (though those not doing life are going. You have earned your college degree, but don't expect to go to graduation (although the baby-killer with ten to twenty went to hers). Your mate may be doing time in a another prison, but don't ever expect visits.

Your whole family may die, but don't expect to go to the funerals. But, if you've got to go to court to get more time, they'll sure let off of the prison grounds for that! Or if you're breaking your back at eighteen cents an hour on the prison farm crew, that's different! After all, you are a LIFER! That label makes you more "dangerous", more of a risk than any other kind of prisoner
no matter what the others are here for, or plea-label their sentences down to. None of the good you've ever done, are dong, or will do change that.

If you are innocent of a crime, in the eyes of the state and society you are guilty. If you are guilty, the remorse you may feel, the desire to change your life around
they don't matter, either. An infinite time.

In Pennsylvania, that time amounts to an average of twenty-three years, usually more. The average is going up, and the slogan "Life means life" is becoming a chilling reality. As a Pennsylvania lifer, you are now four times more likely to die in prison than to ever be released. After all, by taking your life and turning it into a living death, the state and society will give meaning to the life of your alleged victim: an eye for an eye, a tragedy for tragedy... Right? You begin to consider taking drastic measures
maybe suicide, maybe escape, maybe a descent into madness...

But wait! They tell you that you have hope. Your lawyer can put in an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court. So you wait...

You've been in prison seven years now. Your appeal has been denied. But wait! They tell you that your appeal can go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and you can win a new trial. So you wait... You really want to do the right thing. You have patience.

You've been in prison for nine years now. They say the wheels of justice grind slowly. You heard from your lawyers today: your appeal was denied. It's time to look at alternatives, drastic alternatives. But wait! They tell you not to be a fool. You have nine years in, nine "good" years. File a P.C.R.A. (Post Conviction Relief Act)! Get back into court. So you do, you have a hearing and you wait...

You've been in prison for twelve years now. Oh yeah, your P.C.R.A. was denied some time back. Thoughts of taking your future back enter your mind...but wait! They tell you to file for commutation of sentence with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons. So you begin the long, soul-killing process of applying for clemency.

Your case was heard by the Board of Pardons for the second time. You were denied, again. You look back on the fourteen years you've wasted, years you can never get back... But wait! Don't be a fool, they tell you. You've put in fourteen years, and it would be crazy to throw them all away. You're always turned down for commutation the first couple of times. Try again in another couple of years. So you wait...

You've been in prison eighteen years now. You've been denied by the Board of Pardons for the third and fourth times. This has gone far enough; it's time to do things your way now. But wait. They ask you how you could ever consider throwing away eighteen years. Try communication again in a couple of years. When you have twenty years in, you'll have a really good shot. So you wait...
You've been in prison twenty years now. When you first came to prison, the average time done on a life sentence was between eleven and fifteen years; it's almost double that now. You've done all that all that was expected of you, and more, but they've kept changing the rules on you. Maybe you're too tired to think of alternatives now... but no, damn it, you've had enough. But wait! Twenty years! You're almost there, they tell you. Don't throw it all away! So you wait...

How long do you wait? When should the waiting end? At seven years, fifteen years, twenty years? Your children are grown now. Your parents have passed away. Everything out there has changed, and you're just too damn tired and empty to start all over again, and maybe too old...

The manipulation game is an insidious game. Its perpetrators are those in power, maybe even your own family and friends play their parts, and the object of the game is to dangle the carrot, that hope of freedom, endlessly, until with each passing year it seems more and more foolish to risk blowing the time you have accumulated, the time you have wasted...

Hope is a beautiful thing, if you are the one of very few lucky ones in this game of political roulette and you make it out. But if hope turns out to be fruitless, then it becomes destructive
a tool used by the vicious to control the helpless.

Tell me, where do you draw the line?

State Correctional Institute Muncy, Pennsylvaniya, 1994

Print Friendly and PDF