I had the amazing opportunity to screen a new documentary, Justice Denied, and meet Howell Woltz. His story is incredible.
In short, Howell is an innocent man who was arrested and convicted of "conspiracy against the government." He spent 8 years in prison and was beaten, deprived of sleep, and transported all over in an effort to break him and force him to testify against a politician the government was trying to catch. Because he refused to lie, Howell served every second of his 87 month sentence in prison in awful conditions. To this day, he's never been told what his actual crime was. Conspiracy to do what exactly? He has no idea. Where did this happen? What government would do this? Oh... the United States of America. This happened right here in our own backyard.
As I heard Howell's story, I realized there is much I don't know. Howell experienced firsthand just how broken and corrupt our justice system has become. I knew it was unfair. I had no idea the extent. Howell spent his time in prison helping other prisoners fight against the injustices done against them. He worked on over 400 cases, helping prisoners with no voice fight against corruption. Now that he is free, he wants his story to be told so that it doesn't happen to others, so that the justice system in the country he loves can be freed from corruption. As Howell says, "this can't have all been for nothing. I can't have gone through all I went through and have nothing change." He wants to make a difference. I want to be a part of that.
Let me start by telling you what I didn't know:
I didn't know the extent to which our prosecutors ignore the law. When the judge in Howell's district refused to hear the case against him because it was "a sham," prosecutors judge-shopped and transported him across the state to prosecute him in a courtroom where the judge had a vested interest in catching the guy the government wanted Howell to testify against. This is illegal and unethical: legally your case has to be heard in your original district AND judges with a conflict of interest in the case are supposed to recuse themselves. Yet this happens all the time. Prosecutors are allowed to illegally move our "innocent until proven guilty" around until they find the judge that will give them the result they want.
I didn't know the system doesn't even bother to cover it up. Our government also arrested Howell's wife and openly admitted to him that it was just so that they would have more leverage to force him to testify against the politician they were trying to catch. They joked about their ability to pick their own judges within his ear-shot. His own attorneys worked with the prosecution to create a plea bargain before ever meeting with Howell, knowing he had plead 'not guilty.'
I didn't know the US had "sleep deprivation pods" where prisoners are sent to make their lives miserable so they are more likely to agree to plea bargains. In these pods, people are allowed 4 hours of sleep with a thin blanket. They keep it cold in there and the other 20 hours of the day they aren't allowed access to their blankets and are not allowed to rest.
I didn't know about "diesel therapy," a strategy to break-down prisoners during which they are transported across the country to another prison, put through the admission process there (hours of being searched, fingerprinted, kept awake), just to spend less than 24 hours in that prison, and then shackled and transported across the country to another facility to do it all again. Over and over. Our tax dollars pay for this lovely service, by the way.
I didn't know that juries have the power to judge laws that are unjust. When a jury meets, they not only decide if a person is innocent or guilty and what the punishment should be. A jury has the right to decide that a law is bad/unjust and can choose to free the defendant because they think the law itself is wrong. This is how the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1857 were abolished. But guess what? Now Judges don't want folks to know this and NO juries are told that they have this power. The state of New Hampshire just recently introduced legislation requiring that juries be told about this. I had no idea.
I didn't know that the vast majority of cases are finalized by plea-bargain, that most of the folks in prison get out early when they agree to falsely testify against someone else. Prosecutors KNOW that prisoners are testifying falsely. I didn't know that 99% of cases that go to trial end up in convictions, thus increasing the pressure on prisoners to accept a plea bargain written by the prosecution. If you are innocent, you are better off signing something that is false than standing in front of a judge to try to have your case heard.
I didn't know that “The Land of the Free has
5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners. The cost is staggering:
$80 billion a year, or $35,000 per inmate.” (The
Economist Magazine, 2013) We imprison more people than any other country, including dictatorships. "One in thirty-one American adults is in the corrections system today.
Either we are the most evil people on earth, or we are doing something very wrong." (Senator Jim Webb, 2009).
You didn't know either, huh? So what can we do? For one, help Howell share his story. Share this post, tell folks about what's happening right here in our own country. Want to see the documentary? Contact me, I can get you access to it (it's not released to mass media yet).
See the trailer for the documentary here: http://vimeo.com/74495609
Purchase Howell's book: Kindle version. Y'all, this reads like a movie. I finished the book in three nights.
Like Justice Denied on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JusticeDeniedWoltzMedia
And stay tuned... I'm hoping to have some more action steps. This is scary, y'all. We need to fix this. Honestly, I'm a little scared to post this post. After hearing what happened to Howell and seeing the vast amounts of proof he has in his favor, I'm not convinced I'm safe sharing this with you. ugh. What happened to him could happen to any of us. Scary.