karlapic10

FINDING KARLA… AGAIN

Somehow Paula Todd (see “Finding Karla: Fact or Fiction or Both Pt. 1, 2,3) has been elevated by legacy media to a Level One expert on Karla Homolka (a.k.a. Emile Bordelais.)

Since I have now posted thrice critical remarks about Ms. Todd’s anemic effort why am I up on the high horse again?

Because, information, no matter how useless or irrelevant, is like a virus. It’s everywhere and tends to seep to the surface like rocks in a spring field. Like everyone else, I’m overloaded and bemused.

I receive Google Alerts whenever “Karla Homolka” appears anywhere in cyberspace or the press and, a week or two ago, I received a blazing notice from the hinterland that Ms. Todd was going to grace Midland with her presence and be quizzed on her groundbreaking book “Finding Karla.”

The “announcement” was in the Midland weekly newspaper.

Midland is a wealthy little town located on Georgian Bay in Simcoe County, Ontario, Canada. It sits on the south end of Georgian Bay’s 30,000 Islands and is the economic center of the region, meaning everyone for a hundred miles has $$.

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Weeklies are delivered up here in the Great White North by an operation called Metro News. I mention this because this blog is about law and disorder (not just about Karla and Paula Todd) and when talking about law and disorder I would be remiss were I not to mention the multi-millionaire owner of Metro News, Alex Petraitis, and his arrest a few years back for conspiring with the ex-husband of his mistress to kill his wife so (according to the Attorney General) he could continue being spanked while wearing diapers by said mistress (who was also practising dominatrix,) in peace.

Mr. Petraitis, a rather gregarious and amiable fellow, in his late sixties at the time, wisely retained my good friend and lawyer Edward L. (Eddie) Greenspan to defend him.

His trial was not only an unbelievable, even hilarious parade of depravity, perversity and incredulity, it was also protracted and mysterious and not to be missed by anyone who’s a fan of that sort of thing and/or a true crime buff. (Here is a link to a relatively comprehensive summary of the case from the National Post.)

I digress. Back to the “Midland Mirror” and Ms. Todd. When I read the following I just lost it: “Paula Todd, the investigative reporter who found convicted killer Karla Homolka living in the Caribbean, will appear at the Midland Cultural Center on Sept. 23 as the next guest in the “A Day in the Life” conversation series.” Slightly naive and behind the curve but that’s life in glorious summer enclaves like Midland.

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Again I digress: The blurb goes on: “Investigative reporter Paula Todd is used to asking the tough questions…”

What? Really?

If Ms. Todd is a purveyor of the “tough question,” why the hell didn’t she ask Karla just one when she was allegedly in Guadeloupe sitting right across from her in her living room for an hour?

Oh yeah, I remember now, she was too scared. Remember her pamphlet was suffused with silly sallies about how afraid she was of everything: flying all the way to Caribbean, the island of Guadeloupe because it is French speaking (in spite of the fact that Ms. Todd speaks fluent French), Karla herself, other islanders possibly in Karla’s thrall, like the police and prosecutors were way back when Karla’s was given this future where Ms. Todd finally “found” her.

Even if I did not know Ms. Todd, all this badly written nonsense would be unbelievable. I realize it’s petty but those who know anything about this story will understand why I couldn’t help myself.

Karla, who has lost considerable weight since I last talked to her in prison circa 2002, is a wisp of a girl (a phrase her lawyer George Walker frequently used to describe her when Karla was 20 – 30 lb. heavier, before she went to jail.

She is short, attractive, curvaceous, blonde and petit. On the other hand Ms. Todd is much taller and how shall I say, robust? Ms. Todd takes care of herself. Remember, I have actually spent time in close proximity with both women: Karla while she was in jail and much heavier but still curvaceous and Ms. Todd when she interviewed me (some say attacked – see some of the reader reviews of her e-essay online) a couple of times for the show she co-hosted for a decade on TVO, “Studio Two”. (Full disclosure here: I know Karla much better than I know Paula Todd.)

Karla is about as physically intimidating as a cashmere coat. She is also mild mannered and quite pleasant for the most part. On the other hand, Ms. Todd is much bigger, very self-assured to the point of deliberate intimidation, her perpetual posture particularly when dealing with topics and/or persons she disapproves of.

The newspaper’s squib goes on: “Todd is perhaps best known for tracking convicted killer Karla Homolka, the former wife of multiple murderer Paul Bernardo, to her new home in the Caribbean. The scoop was outlined in her book “Finding Karla…”

I guess the “best known” part is probably true now that everyone has forgotten Paula Todd was on TV virtually every night for two hours for a decade. As I said, I’ve been interviewed on a couple of occasions by Ms. Todd during the years I was writing the definitive books on the case and at least once that I remember while under indictment and I’m 6’4″ and at that time weighed in about 300 lb. Some say I’m intimidating. Paula Todd was not the slightest bit afraid of me. In fact, if I recall, I felt a bit concerned for my well-being.

Now for a few facts for those of us who still care about them: There was no scoop, it wasn’t a book (it was more like a bad essay – today they call it “long form journalism”) and Karla was not pulling a Whitey Bulger – she wasn’t hiding – ergo she could hardly have been “found.”

Anyone who cared to know already knew Karla had been wintering on the island of Guadeloupe, a French protectorate in the Caribbean, since approximately 2007 and spending the summers in Montreal. This was not news. No newspaper editors I spoke to and proposed a little “what’s she doing now?” squib prior to 2012 were the slightest bit interested – in fact, the very opposite. I was told on numerous occasions nobody cared. Karla was yesterday’s news.

Not to suggest that legacy media daily news editors know what they’re doing.

The Americans have never heard of Karla Homolka. Or the French. Or Japanese. Not even the Germans. And those few Canadians who have seem to not be particularly interested in the one thing I find mildly interesting – the fact that Karla moves freely back and forth, wherever she pleases, in the world, across the continent, across the seas, hither and yon.

It would have been interesting to know where else Karla has been or was planning to go but alas Ms. Todd thought that her quest sufficient in and of itself (whether actual or virtual) for such a small pamphlet which appears (since she did not ask any questions at all, let alone tough ones) to have aspired only to lining her and her “editor’s” (the peripatetic Derek Finkle’s) pockets and defraud the reading public.

And contrary to the repeated statements by our (i.e. Canadian) traditional media to the contrary, Ms. Todd is far from the first one, either in digital or physical form, to pull such a stunt and have some modest success with it.

Frankly, if Paula Todd really did go to Guadeloupe (See my earlier posts “Finding Karla: Fraud, Fiction or Both, 1,2,3″) and sat across from Karla for even a few minutes the end product is a bigger indictment of her weaknesses as a writer and an “investigative journalist” than if she made it all up.

Furthermore, contrary to the Midland Mirror squib, an e-essay (it’s even a bit of a stretch to call it a pamphlet) does not a book make. I know that legacy media is very much still engaged in manufacturing consent but this is taking it a bit far, methinks, calling “Finding Karla” a book.

I reiterate because I can: Karla was not lost or on the lamb. She was over 18 and free and she wasn’t under any indictments, or legal restrictions and there were no warrants out for her arrest. The system was finished with her a long time ago. 2015 is the 10th Anniversary of her release from jail (where she resided for 12 long years.) She did the crimes and the time. Hello! She isn’t hiding. She doesn’t have to.

Since the day she was released from prison virtually everyone I know has been mostly aware of exactly where she was at any given moment on any given day because I was. And I was getting my information from other sources. “Finding Karla” was a yawn not a revelation.

Given that Ms. Todd’s short effort at fictional non-fiction was woefully short on real feeling, artifice, opinion and fact I would think she would be too embarrassed to keep up the ruse for so long but apparently not.

While I’m on the subject – for the very last time – I should mention that I’ve seen Ms. Todd pontificating effusively from the medium she loves the most, television, as if she knew everything their was to know about the case in general and Karla Homolka in particular. She was highly visible in two of the recently very poorly conceived and produced hour-long segments made respectively by a British production house called Two-Four for one or another of the many American cable channels surfeit with tales of law and disorder.

The latest (in which I played a very small part but was happy to do so because I was handsomely reimbursed for my time – participating in projects like these can be very time consuming) was made by an operation out of Knoxville, Tennessee called Jupiter Entertainment for “The Oxygen Network” (not available in Canada, mercifully) series “Snapped.” It aired in late August or early September.

Disasters of the fast cut and amateurish awkward reenactments interspersed with a plethora of talking heads (many of whom never knew very much of anything about the case to begin with let alone the only important question it raised – why and how did Karla get away with murder) the programs are misguided, confused, fact-challenged and tedious.

Final words on Ms. Todd and her e-essay: In something so short the least one expects is accuracy – a basic, fundamental familiarity with the facts particularly given that all the facts and the full back story have been out there and easily accessible since 2003. But no. Given what I read the facts do not appear to be relevant to Ms. Todd’s work which means that on it’s face it is without merit and a rip off, even at $2.99. I have seen many reader reviews lamenting that unlike higher priced downloads, there are no refunds at $2.99. Caveat emptor always. Downloaded essays and stories at this price point are more “you pays your money and takes your chances.”

Ms. Todd has just been nominated for a “prestigious nonfiction award” according to a bulletin from the community college where she works: “Independent journalist, lawyer and part-time Seneca professor Paula Todd’s “Extreme Mean” has been nominated for the 2014 Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust Prize for Nonfiction.”

“Extreme Mean,” is a shrill, morally outraged, typical of Todd over-the-ton examination of the growing trend of cyber-bullying and the psychological damage it inflicts on its victims.

Hopefully, this effort contains more facts than fiction. Regardless, it is part of the ongoing onslaught elevating the poisonous culture of victimology in which we live.

Todd has written a blog on her publisher’s website to help promote “Extreme Mean” that in my opinion goes way over the top.

It is in the form of an “open letter” to Robin Williams’ distraught daughter, Zelda (who Todd doesn’t know from Adam) entitled “Why the Internet Needs Zelda Williams.

Apparently, in the course of “blaming” Ms. Williams for her father’s suicide some extremely mean cyberabusers known as “RIP trolls” posted pictures of a corpse (alleged to be her father’s) with strangulation marks on the neck.

This was understandably unendurable for Zelda Williams and she reasonably stopped tweeting and quit social media altogether.

Todd references the picture of the corps twice in the relatively short blog in which she proclaims solidarity with Ms. Williams, telling her she knows how she feels and pleads with her to reconsider and come back to social media because we “need” reasonable and sensitive people like her?

It seems to me that this kind of posturing has become a trope in Ms. Todd’s oeuvre where by she adopts the mantle of everywoman and then goes on catalogue her empathy and understanding and sympathy while graphically descibing the the bad behaviors she decries.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog: “But how does sending a close up of a strangled corpse (2nd mention of the corpse in the “open letter” to Zelda) to the deceased’s family register protest against public mourning, or “grief tourism,” as it’s called? Are you, Zelda, being blamed for using social media to reach out to shocked family, friends, and fans? Surely, we all have a right—a psychological need, actually—to express our emotions. Your father was a candid veteran of the drug and alcohol wars of celebrity, an intellectual fighting depression and oncoming Parkinson’s, and a man who endured his demons to bring us entertainment. Nothing gives cyberabusers the right to censor any of our reactions to his passing.”

So Paula Todd is qualified to “explain” the world to Zelda Williams and clearly thinks that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

There is something troubling about this. To me, it’s self-serving and opportunistic. But I don’t think I’m expressing myself particularly well. Everyone one is to one degree or another self-serving and opportunistic. Read Ms. Todd’s blog and tell me what you think?

LAW AND DISORDER BONA FIDES – PT. II

It happens more often than not.

Two days after Michael Brown was shot dead by a white cop in a predominately black neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police in South Los Angeles. That’s Rodney King territory. But I’ll wager dollars to donuts you know absolutely nothing about Mr. Ford’s untimely passing, probably haven’t even heard about it.

Like Brown, Ford was young, black and unarmed. Like police in Missouri, the LA cops did not immediately released the cops’ names that shot Ford or release the autopsy report. But there is no rioting or looting in South LA.

Why is one shooting covered relentlessly for a week and the other completely ignored?

It’s taken 20 years but in the wake of the acquittal of the thug cops who beat Rodney King senseless and the subsequent destructive rioting, police and black community organizers in South LA have learned something about detente.

Immediately after Ford’s shooting local police maintained a relatively low profile – no tanks or armored personal carriers or cops in full army combat gear; rather a handful of bicycle-riding cops in polo shirts patrolled the streets.

As you might expect the whole community was just as pissed as the one in St. Louis but in L.A. the Police Chief and other top-ranking officials showed up for a community meeting at the local church and did more listening than talking. When a private audience was demanded by one of the most prominent community leaders it was granted.

In many precincts in LA, cops stay in regular touch with major community organizers. Likewise, organizers and local church leaders have various cops’ phone numbers memorized. When protests are planned, seasoned organizers let police know, even when they’re the targets.

It doesn’t mean that policing is necessarily any better or different in LA than it is here in my stomping ground or St. Louis.

In fact, it happens way more in Los Angeles the most other places. LAPD police have shot and killed 12 people like Brown and Ford so far this year. Since 2007, 300 people have been shot dead during conflicts with the LAPD.

This time there was nothing for the media to shoot in LA. And there was probably some discussion about the unwillingness to put the Justice system in disrepute if two very similar incidents were sensationalized within a span of 48 hours.

Back to my bona fides:

I have so successfully infiltrated, investigated and written about police and prosecutors, their manipulations and motivations, their ineptitude and malfeasance the powers-that-be decided to make me the subject of an eight-year long investigation.

I was twice arrested and twice put on trial, first in early 1998 for three years and again in 2003 for another three. (On the first occasion I was charged with two or three counts of breach court order/ publication ban.

After a six-month investigation the police concluded that 18 pages in my book “Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka” could not have been written unless I had seen the visual portion of the videotape evidence restricted by court order during the Bernardo trial in the summer of 1995.

I was acquitted of those charges in late 2000.

In 2003, I was criminally charged with 104 counts, disobey court order/publication ban, 5 counts of improper storage of firearms and the Attorney General of Ontario sued me in civil court as an “Enemy of the State.”

Years later, when they were blatantly shown (i.e. we had the goods on them) that they had committed gross “abuses of processs,” I agreed to plead guilty to one count, misdemeanor, breach of publication ban.

In return the firearms charges were dismissed along with the other one hundred and three court order breach charges, half of which were felonies each one of which carried a penalty of two-years plus a day i.e. hard time in the Big House. Also, the Attorney General withdrew the civil lawsuit.

And so it ended.

As a consequence, I have had more direct experience with police and ministries of the attorneys general than 99.9 % of the population in North America and that is quite remarkable, given my disposition: aging, middle-class, well-educated, law-abiding, white male.

Many of the larger writing assignments I’ve accepted over the years brought me into the ambit of authority. Then again, what is true for the majority of the population is also true for writers.

The majority of writers and journalists in North America do not have any direct experience or exposure to the courts, the offices of the district attorneys or their handmaidens, the police. Certainly not both sides. Certainly not as a thorough researcher and writer on the one hand and a criminally accused and prosecuted on the other.

I am also unique among the legion of talking heads and pontificators with their blogs, books, pedigrees and degrees, in law and criminology and what-have-you; I am not on one side or the other: Got no dog in the fight, no reputation to maintain.

Crime beat reporters might be thought an exception, except theirs is a symbiotic not a critical or even investigative relationship to police and prosecutors. And none that I know of have ever been arrested, criminally charged and prosecuted for almost a decade.

Most appear to be beards or apologists for police. Even so, even were Noam Chomsky and I wrong about how the media functions – or dysfunctions – in the world of daily reportage, crime beat reporters are a small minority of which I am definitely not one. I have never worked for any news media organizations. And I am at this time not aware of any who have ever been arrested and criminally charged with felony crimes.

As described, my expertise is rooted in a couple of the more difficult topics I chose to write about – the sexual homicide of a Toronto shoeshine boy, Emmanuel Jacques by four pedophiles in the late 70s and published in a magazine entitled “Sympathy for the Devil.

More recently, the crimes, trials and incarcerations of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, a large, complicated case I wrote about exhaustively and definitively in two books, “Invisible Darkness” and “Karla: A Pact with the Devil,” both initially published in North America by the Random House Group.

As a consequence of getting the back story right and bringing facts into the public domain that the authorities spent enormous time and money, I was taken down like a drug dealer in the kitchen of my old farmhouse at 6 AM Sunday morning by a dozen heavily armed cops, spent a weekend in jail, was subsequently raided and put out of my house for a 24-hour period while the goon squad ransacked the place.

Both my wife’s and my computers, backup and voluminous files were seized, and in spite of the eventual favorable outcome, never returned, I was relentlessly prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Both criminally and civilly, although there was nothing civil about it.

This sort of thing brings back ugly memories and I’ve never been at all convinced that writing is a cathartic excercise. For me, it’s just hard. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. There’s one more section on this topic to come.

LAW AND DISORDER BONA FIDES – PT. I

Here we go again: Another unarmed black man in an amazingly racist America shot dead in the afternoon by another white cop, buried in Missouri in August, amid rhetorical old-timey black gossip preacher ellipticisms “calls for yet more action and civilized behavior”.

Reminds me of David Wiffen’s great, wholly unappreciated song “More Often Than Not”:

“Well, have I not been quite far enough
How many times do you have to die now
How many sets has it been
Not another one, oh no
And would you believe
That it happens more often than not…”

What about all those other (legion) calls for action in Los Angeles after a posse of cops beat the living shit out of a defenseless Rodney King and, in spite of the fact it was all caught on video, (then highly unusual unequivocal evidence of mindless racist authoritarian violence) a white jury acquitted the whole bloody lot, inciting the most extended, nightmarish race riot in the City of Angel’s history.

What about Montgomery and Mobile and Mississippi? One thing history tells us: It happens more often than not, and will continue to do so.

There are the mourners and celebrities and community activists, not necessarily the same ones or as many “A” listers for Michael Brown, but reasonable facsimiles.

I met Rubin Carter once. I heard Bob Dylan’s anthem. Carter died a bitter man, estranged from the Canadian “family” who “saved” him and betrayed (at least in his eyes) by James Lockyer and the organization for the wrongly convicted Carter endorsed and worked tirelessly for up here in the Great White North, land of hewers of wood, drawers of water where the rallying cry is not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” rather “law, order and good government”. A nation shaped by an anomaly, Rubin should have known he would never be entirely at home in a Hypocracy.

Another black man (or boy), unarmed, shot dead in the street by a white cop in broad daylight. At Kent State it was white children shot dead by white National Guardsmen. At Sandy Hook the child killer was indiscriminate. He didn’t care what color the children were.

Yesterday it was Michael Brown they eulogized in St. Louis at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

“There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown, but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Columbine massacre, for black on black crime,” is how the Rev. Charles Ewing, Brown’s uncle, put it at his nephew’s funeral last Monday afternoon, August 25th.

“Something is rotten in the State of Denmark,” is the way Shakespeare put it. And indeed there is something rotten at the heart of our democracy.

It is by no means immediately evident. If it were that short litany of recent outrages would not have been available to Rev. Ewing.

Like Henry James “figure in the carpet” or an Escher drawing, it takes proximity and close scrutiny to discern. But when the configuration of seemingly discordant shapes and patterns yields a picture, as it invariably does, it paints a nightmarish panorama and tells a story both disturbing and revelatory.

Perhaps because it points to something that is fundamentally wrong in how we recruit, teach, instruct and configure the minions who man those institutions responsible for seeing Justice done, the “figure” that reverses out has never been closely examined, at least not in a sustained, accessible way. Thus its recognition brings out ennui not revolution.

Or perhaps the deep, structural fissures and systemic anomalies in our institutions of law and order have been, by virtue of the very impenetrability of their thick, institutional carapaces, impervious to investigation.

These are institutions and individuals sworn to “serve and protect” but they are among the least devout and most secretive in the world. They have been allowed to evolve that way. And it seems that our collective willpower and attention span are even shorter than news cycles. We are a society of social amnesiacs.

Whatever, I decided to try and configure the patterns in an intelligible way in this blog called “Law and Disorder: Analyzing Disorderly Conduct” as much to corral my own disparate thoughts and ideas about the topic as for whatever readership it may garner.

You may well ask, as Penny Wharvey McGill did in Oh Brother! Where Art Thou about Everett, (played by George Clooney) when she says to him “Vernon here’s got a job. Vernon’s got prospects. He’s bona fide. What are you?”

Indeed. What qualifies me to add my voice to the cacophony of all the other stutterers and pontificators out there? What are my bona fides?

Simple. The melodious lyric of Joni Mitchell‘s “Both Sides Now” – I’ve seen them, I’ve been up close and personal on both sides of the law for decades now and therefore uniquely qualified to analyze and criticize. And until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes don’t doubt it.

If you do doubt it stay tuned. Part 2 in the next day or two.

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WHERE PAUL BERNARDO USED TO LIVE – PT III

James_KP-24_Mural in double sized cell

My friend, the great photographer Geoffrey James, was able to get an all-access pass to Kingston Penitentiary, including the Segregation Unit and those cells only moments before occupied by such murderous sexual deviates as Saul David Betesh, Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams.

As with all great art there is precedent and tradition. Prisons are not a common subject in the societal lexicon or dialogue – they should be but they’re not; in photography or in life. But the formidable American shooter Danny Lyon has done it before, in the 1960s.

In Lyon’s case, he somehow talked his way into a number of operating prisons in Texas and got loose on the ranges and among the work crews. The results are quite remarkable. Not so easy getting access here. As Geoffrey is quick to point out, “Americans are different, they have no shame.”

Years ago, shortly before it was scheduled to close, Geoffrey tried to talk Eastern State Penitentiary officials in Philadelphia into a similar project but the vagaries of bureaucratic thinking denied him the necessary timely permissions and, as Geoffrey also said to me “once they say no, it’s forever.”

“So the trick this time was to never let anyone say no.”

Ironically, Eastern State, transformed into a successful tourist attraction, now encourages everyone to bring a camera. Bringing his camera, a digital Leica Rangefinder and taking pictures inside Eastern State now would be completely pointless for James. The part Geoffrey needed to capture is gone. Very soon after an institution like a prison or an asylum closes, it irrevocably changes and thereafter, “it too is gone forever.”

In a process that is somewhat magical what was once a Gothic house of horror becomes a tourist trap and just as they arrive in droves at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater so to do tourists attend prisons like Eastern State and the Ohio State Reformatory (the 250,000 square-foot facility where “The Shawshank Redemption was shot in 1994) by the tens of thousands. Snapping pictures is what tourists do; it is not what Geoffrey James does.

Geoffrey has well learned over the years what all good investigative journalists know: “Never rush in and get a no.”

Chains of command must be learned. There are far more people in a bureaucracy that can say “no” than “yes. You have to know, literarily and figuratively, from whom you are seeking permission and what they may require to say “yes”.

In Geoffrey’s case he found his way to the right Regional Commissioner of Corrections, who he understood to have been the warden of the Kingston Prison For Women (K4W) where Karla Homolka was housed for the first 4 years of her sentence. It was similarly closed by the correctional authority for good when the last prisoner was transferred out in May 2008. The walls have been demolished and the property now belongs to Queen’s University.

The Commissioner understood implicitly what Geoffrey meant when he said the work had to be done immediately before the renovators moved in, while the laundry is still undone, because once closed and tampered with, the prison part of the facility evaporates.

She was predisposed to Geoffrey’s project because she knew exactly what he meant when he talked about evanescence and immediacy, to get in and start shooting right away even before all the prisoners had been relocated.

A prison is evacuated according to the incarcerated individual’s assessed risk level – the most dangerous first the least last. There are other considerations but that is the main criteria.

Some of the portraits of the inmates that were still there waiting to be moved (to where God and the prison authority only knows) are among the most haunting in the book.

Change is very difficult for the institutionalized – think about Brooks (James Whitmore) the old con in The Shawshank Redemption and the most gentle, wise and kind character in the movie.

When released after 50 years, Brooks hangs himself.

Shortly after they learn of Brooks’ fate, contraband smuggling con Red (Morgan Freeman) explains what it means to be “institutionalized” to Brooks’ best friends, fellow con Heywood (William Sadler) and convicted murderer Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), the protagonist of this thoroughly compelling picture: “The man’s been in here fifty years. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man. He’s an educated man. Outside, he’s nothin’! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands….These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them.”

The thirty-foot high, 10 foot thick limestone walls of the historic Kingston Penitentiary are those walls

The Shawshank Redemption was filmed on location in the famed Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio. As did Eastern State Penitentiary, the Ohio State Reformatory has been transmuted into a tourist magnet that has helped boost the economy of Manifield and the surrounding counties. Last year, the O.S.R. had 80,000 visitors. The 250,000-square-foot fortress, first opened in 1896, a number of years after the Kingston Penitentiary, has become a state landmark. Today it is as important to the local economies of the three or four surrounding counties as it was when it was a functioning prison.

Geoffrey James new book “Inside” about the historical Kingston Penitentiary has achieved his goal. All kinds of institutional cruelty as well as accomplishment, the troubling ambiguity that characterizes North American penal history, is palpable in many of the un-peopled photographs that otherwise appear to be, on the surface, explorations of architectural accents and angles.

It is thoroughly evocative collection that fully captures the spirit of place.

In many of the photographs the claustrophobic cells look like their occupants have just gone out to the canteen. Much of the prisoner’s artwork (some of it truly remarkable,) old-timey pin-ups and newspaper clippings still cling to the walls. Bunks appear just slept in with unlaundered blankets askew. The resulting collection of photographs, captions and short revealing endnote written by James is a disturbing, thought-provoking, completely original narrative that elegizes at the same time as it eulogizes… and indicts.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian novelist said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” That has been my direct experience and its truth is manifest in Geoffrey James “Inside.”

This book of photographs, captions and short essay is exactly what Geoffrey James is all about: Composing narratives with magnificently rendered still photographs that capture both the past and the future.

He did this with his first published collection in 1989. la campagna Romana which appears to be a fine suite of beautifully framed landscape photographs taken with his “primitive, shoe-box panoramic camera.” It is, in fact, about the same thing “Inside” is about: the photographer’s search for something ineffable, in the case of la campagna Romana, the famed Roman countryside and whether it actually still exists.

In the preface to la campagna Romana Geoffrey James says “my journey, rather than leading to any kind of understanding of this landscape, brought only a dawning sense of the labyrinthine complexity of Italian life, of the manner in which the political permeates everything… at Castel di Leva, just south of Rome (Plate 17), I talked with a shepherd’s wife while staring across the GRA at a vast Eurosprawl of radio towers and supermarkets and military barracks – a vision, if ever there was one, of the future of campagna.”

Change a few nouns and verbs the same could be said about “Inside”. It’s about his search for the truth about prison, about it’s soul, no matter how dark, and what it says about our civilization.

Because he sees in this world – as it is immediate and inexorably captured by the lens – another world, perhaps one more real, with some vestige of truth, the one jagged piece of the jigsaw puzzle that allows for a multi-diminsional, integrated apperception. He thinks this might be it and that’s why he bothered.

Greater than the sum of its parts, “Inside” will be published on September 18 by Black Dog Publishing, London, England with support from the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, On.

native  ground

entrance to inner compound

WHERE PAUL BERNARDO USED TO LIVE – PART I

James_KP-24_Mural in double sized cell

I had not heard from Geoffrey James for years. His is a hand-made, civilized life. He’s a man of the world with refined tastes so he got my immediate attention with his opening gambit: An invitation to come up to his studio and see a picture he recently took of Paul Bernardo’s prison cell literally hours after it was vacated.

“Got my attention” is a gross understatement. I was gob smacked. Geoffrey is one of the world’s great photographers. And not one I would ever imagine having any interest in taking a picture of such a feckless sex killer’s cell. I really had no interest in Bernardo, I couldn’t imagine that Geoffrey did. And I was right.

Over a light lunch of crusty fresh bread, cheese, pate and chilled white wine he explained that he couldn’t resist because he knew such a invitation would cause me considerable psychic dissonance.

He knows that I was one of the very few journalists in history ever allowed singular entry to Kingston Penitentiary for the specific purpose of interviewing an incarcerated sex killer.

It was a long time ago.

Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister. And the degree of difficultly was such that I had to ultimately get a ministerial directive from then Attorney General Jean-Jacques Blais because there was no way the warden or the Regional Commissioner of Corrections was going to let a journalist cause as much discord and tension inside the institution that such a visit would precipitate. Because the prisoner in question was high-profile and isolated in the Segregation Unit – he would not have lasted a day in general population – they had to lock down all the other inmates to safely facilitate the interview for as long as it took. It was the rare exception to an unwritten bureaucratic rule where a “no” meant “no” forever. It was an institutional nightmare and no one was happy about it.

My interview subject was the Shoeshine Boy Killer Saul David Betesh.

Circa 1977 – 79 I was assigned to write a long piece for “Toronto Life Magazine” called “Sympathy for the Devil” which, among much else, documented exactly how Betesh and three of his cohorts kidnapped, raped and murdered a twelve-year-old Portuguese immigrant named Emmanuel Jacques.

The warden and the prison staff were not the only ones who saw me as a duplicitous pirrahea. It was a controversial case in part because the killers had taken a series of over three hundred Polaroids documenting virtually every moment of the rape and murder.

In those days, homicide detectives often liked journalists and were inclined to cooperate and talk. I managed to get a hold of all those Polaroids without much difficultly. When flipped like a deck of cards, what the photographs depicted came magically alive like Helios‘ racehorse-in-motion. It was without exception the most horrifying spectacle in my life and indelibly imprinted on my psyche.

Geoffrey understood something about that article, it’s motivation and all my subsequent work that most people (including many so-called learned men and women in the fields of criminology let alone the myriad hacks on this continent that call themselves journalists) do not. While that article and others I’ve written and my books may have been read, few have really read them.

He knows that I am not particularly interested in crime per say rather the effect unusual and bizarre criminal behavior has on our institutions of law and order and their purveyors and practitioners such as police, prosecutors, including attorneys general, court clerks, expert witnesses, defense lawyers, the correctional service and its minions: All bureaucracies that are secretive and otherwise imprevious to scrutiny.

High profile over the top crime tends to create cracks in their otherwise impenetrable carapace of power, privilege and paranoia.”

As Leonard Cohen wrote “cracks are where the light gets in.”

Mr. James’ interest was not in Paul Bernardo about whom he could give a rat’s ass, it was the penitentiary.

Geoffrey James also knew that since those days and that experience I maintained an abiding interested in that particular institution and its history.

He well knew that I did not consider Bernardo an “important” or “interesting” figure any more than I did Betesh – perhaps even less than Betesh who was, like Bernardo, a monster and a most disagreeable interlocutor because, like most monsters, he is mundane and infantile.

The boundaries between fiction and non-fiction have become blurred by our unfettered interest in serial offenders of all descriptions. It is why “Criminal Minds” is one of the longest running shows in television history. And wildly popular. Has anyone noticed that it’s not very good, repetitive and boring?

Remember people, Hannibal Lecter is a fictional character. Silence of the Lambs is a great movie, even better book but Thomas Harris made it all up. Neither is there anyone in the Behaviorial Science Unit of the FBI that even remotely resembles Clarice Starling.

So is my other favorite. John Doe (played by Kevin Spacey)in the chilling 1995 “Seven“. Even a little bit of study will tell you how far these serial fiends are from real serial fiends.

The telephone call was Geoffrey’s opening gambit to set me up for a full preview of his latest project called Inside which documents, at some length and compelling detail, the recently closed Kingston Penitentiary, the most famous prison in the country.

A few years after it was opened Charles Dickens toured the facility in 1842 and pronounced it “an admirable gaol.”

In the tradition of transforming historic correctional institutions into tourists’ traps, as Pennsylvia did with Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, the government decided it was high time that Kingston’s doors be closed to its original purpose which it was on September 30, 2013.entrance to inner compound

And the moment those massive doors were closed they opened for Geoffrey James and he became the first photographer in history ever allowed inside – at least the first with his camera and equipment and a full mandate to document what it had become since Dickens’ had his look about. (To be continued).

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LIFE ON NUT ISLAND AND SOCIAL AMNESIA – PT. I

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Life on Nut Island

The Boston Marathon bombing: Now there’s a crime that speaks directly to us about the dangerous times in which we live, the inherent growing isolation of the individual in “society,” our perpetual pathological unawareness and psychic blindness, the helplessness of entire law enforcement bureaucracies in the face of one or two renegade lunatics – heavy stuff not the squalid, sordid tragic mess with which I became so entwined, the salacious Bernardo/Homolka saga that consumed ten years of my life and from which I will probably never fully recover.

As usual I’m on about unlearned lessons from Nut Island. My two arrests in 1998 and 2003 and subsequent decade-long prosecutions had nothing to do with “free speech” or “free expression” as many journalists and media-types and writers’ groups conceived – nothing so lofty.

(I was, of course, thankful for the Writer’s Union, PEN’s and CJFE’s and the Human Rights Watch support which was hung on that hook. Any writer in trouble with the police and/or government deserves that support providing they have not robbed a bank or killed their partner.)

Even though my arrests and prosecutions were “personal,” the consequence of a perceived offence that I had, unwittingly or not, levied upon a couple of politically powerful men, still none of it would ever have happened except for a quirk in the space – time continuum, a small “c” classic case of two or three people being in the wrong place at the right time for the wrong reasons.

Neither can anyone draw any survival lessons for the young and innocent from the story I was somehow destined to chronicle in “Invisible Darkness” and “Karla“. What lessons can we teach our daughters from the Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French abduction, rape and murder?

What is to be garnered from already street-wise and aware teenagers who approached, in Kristen’s case, a late model car with an attractive young couple in a church parking lot in the middle of a sunny afternoon in response to an ask for directions in a city in which people perpetually get lost and constantly ask for directions?

Is the lesson that you never ever talk to a stranger (or stangers) Susie, under any circumstances, regardless how innocent they appear. If some one asks you for directions you must immediately tell them to “fuck off” and run into the nearest house and phone the police?

Or in Leslie Mahaffy’s case: Is the lesson never practice “tough love”; never lock your teenager daughters out of the house in an attempt to teach them lessons? Maybe, but when mothers’ are at their wits’ end, tactics can get weird.

Does a “mistake” like that (if that’s what it is) deserve such an horrific and final restitution? Of course not.

But that would be the sum total of any lessons this reality show the Bernardo’s created conveys: “Don’t lock your daughters out of the house at night.” But what about all the tens of thousands of sons and daughters who don’t care whether their parents’ doors are locked because they long ago decided not to go home at night anyway? It’s a hopeless tautology, and hardly one from which lessons can be drawn.

And are we any closer to understanding psycopaths or sociopaths or whatever term is au current for this fictious character than we were when the figure was first coagulated in that unreadable book “Mask of Sanity” by Hervey Cleckley published 1941? Even if you buy into psychopathy, how does it explain or deter murderous creatures such as Paul and Karla?

There is however a lesson that can be taken from all extreme cases such as the Boston Marathon bombing, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, Amanda Knox and her incarceration in Italy and the arrest and “successful” prosecution and wrongful conviction of the five young men who were convicted of a rape in Central Park ten years ago: The lesson is as unattainable as solid explanations for “Why Hitler“? We must scrap our institutions of law and disorder and start again because they are completely disfunctional and beseiged by a kind of organizational necrotizing fasciitis.

Read about it and watch: I wrote a piece published in Walrus Magazine in 2007 and soon to be released as an electronic long-read called “Life on Nut Island“. Amanda Knox has just published a memoir “Waiting to Be Heard“. And then there is the documentary called “The Central Park Five“?

STRANGERS AND STRANGE ANNIVERSARIES – THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

The French Invasion was followed by the British.

In February 2013 yet another television producer, this time from England, reached out to me. As the French are from the British, Mr. Turner was entirely different than Ms. Ladou. “I’m contacting you from a television production company called Twofour Broadcast based in Plymouth, UK. We make a documentary series called ‘Born to Kill?’ (known as ‘Twisted’ in the US) which is distributed worldwide. We’re currently on the fifth series and looking to focus one of the episodes on the case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka.

“The series ‘Born to Kill?’ tells the stories of some of the world’s most notorious killers through the words of the people that knew them, their victims, and communities best. The central crux of the series is to answer the nature vs. nurture argument – were these killers’ actions determined by violent predispositions they were born with, or a result of upbringing and life circumstances pushing them towards it?

“For previous episodes we have interviewed prosecution and defence from the cases, spouses and family members of the killers, the perpetrators of the crimes, criminal psychiatrists, victims’ family members, and expert journalists, always receiving positive feedback from those involved. Through those that knew the killer and the contemporary social environment best, we question the true impetus and drive of the crimes, rather than glorifying or vilifying as I’m aware many crime documentaries tend to do when focusing on serial killers.

“To help illustrate the kind of documentary we wish to produce on Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, you can find a link to a previous episode we have produced in the series on the case of Santa Cruz killer Herbert Mullin here:

As a consequence of my interaction with Mr. Turner and TwoFour which began in November, 2012 and continued over the ensuing four months I sent a missive to to TwoFour’s Chief Executive Charles Wace cc’d to the Managing Directors Mark Hawkins and Melanie Leach, as well as Executive Producer Neil Edwards.

“I am writing you out of sense of frustration and indignation. I am the author of two books on a Canadian crime commonly referred to as the Bernardo/Homolka case. The case has finally caught the eye of the producer(s) of one of TwoFour Groups’ programs ‘Born to Kill’.

“My two books, both published by Random House Group companies are titled ‘Invisible Darkness: The Strange Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka’ (1997) and ‘Karla: A Pact with the Devil’ (2003). In spite of their age, both continue to sell briskly around the world.

“I own the worldwide broadcast, media and digital rights. I am recognized as the leading authority on this case and the books are rightly considered encyclopedic and definitive. “Virtually everything of any consequence in my books is understood to be proprietary information.

“In November 2012 someone from “Born to Kill” reached out to me and since then, off and on, and since February 2013, very much on, I have participated in a well meaning and open correspondence with one James Turner. Just before I was to be interviewed for the program in Toronto on March 28, Mr. Turner unceremoniously and without explanation cut me loose for want of a better phrase. His note from March 22 read

‘Hi Stephen,

Unfortunately we can’t proceed. Thank you very much for your correspondence but the schedule has changed and we’re no longer able to go ahead with the meeting and the interview.

Thanks again for your interest,

James’

“It was obviously the decision of whoever is the exec producer for this segment “Born to Kill” to exclude me. I do know that the project is going ahead because I know a number of the people who are scheduled to be interviewed in Toronto and environs from March 27 through to March 31.

“After all the time I was enticed to commit, not to mention the advice and leads I freely provided, the disrespectful and terse manner in which I have been dismissed cannot stand.

“Mr. Turner thanks me for my ‘interest’. It was not my interest in ‘Born to Kill’ it was the producers’ interest in me and my work. I had never heard of ‘Born to Kill’ or TwoFour Studios before I received an email in November 2012 asking me if I would be interested in participating in the program.

“As Mr. Turner said in his first email to me on February 22, 2013 ‘I’ve been reading your fantastic book, Invisible Darkness, which has helped my understanding of the case immensely. As someone who knows the case and has had direct contact with Karla Homolka, I feel you could offer valuable insight into the case and it would be wonderful to hear from you.’

“To my one line reply asking how I might be of service Mr. Turner said ‘We’d love to interview you for the documentary if that is of interest to you. Any advice you could offer for our own research would also be appreciated.’

Then on February 26 he said ‘Looking at our schedule, the crew is planning to be in Ontario from Wednesday 27th of March to Sunday 31st. Are any of these days convenient for you for the sit-down interview?’

“You might want to review the entire correspondence.

“A great deal of my time has been gratuitously wasted. When it came time to negotiate appearance fees and expenses Mr. Turner, with considerable corporate bombast, he gregariously explained, at length, the TwoFour Studio’s nickel and dime policy.

“Thinking your studio honorable and bona fide and in the interest of getting the story right for the European market I reluctantly agreed to the terms for reimbursement for the bare minimum expenses and nothing else. In return for this agreement, obviously considered by Mr. Turner’s superiors as too generous, I was dismissed.

“I was supposed to be in Boston this week and next. Mr. Turner told me unequivocally that I was going to be involved and I believed him. I rearranged my schedule at considerable expense to accommodate the ‘Born to Kill’ crew in Toronto between March 28th and the 31st.”

In the letter I go on to discuss “breach of contract” and “proprietary rights” inherent in copyrighted material: “Because the case was so complicated and so old, it would be virtually impossible for your lawyers or American lawyers and perhaps, today, even most Canadian lawyers (except for the three or four who did the legal work on both my books) to determine the extent of those rights and if they are infringed. It is virtually impossible to do anything substantial on this case without infringement.

“For example, Mr. Turner explained that the guiding narrative for “Born to Kill” series was the nature v. nurture dialectic. If someone in the segment you are cobbling together were to speculate whether Karla was “mad or just bad” that could constitute an infringement of my rights.

“One of the reasons that the Hollywood movie “Karla” was such a disaster is that the director and producer Michael Sellers was compelled to leave half of what he shot on the cutting room floor because he repeatedly infringed my rights.

“Mr. Sellers was also compelled to pay considerable compensation for assuming he could do his project without consultation with me and/or my agents and the bona fide Hollywood producer who at that time owned the motion picture rights which have since reverted to me. We found it remarkable that Mr. Sellers actually shot his entire movie either thinking that we would not notice or “naively” assuming that no one would raise objection. It is a testament to Mr. Sellers level of competence and his standing within the motion picture and television community that he did.

“For example, one of the things Mr. Sellers had to leave on the cutting room floor was a character based on Dr. Hans Arndt and the entire narrative sub-plot of his controversial, complicated relationship with Karla.

“Dr. Arndt’s relationship, opinions and assessments do not exist anywhere else other than in my books because I had an exclusive arrangement and agreement with him and he died years ago, tragically, a very youthful and fit 60-year-old, without ever speaking to anyone else about the case.

“If you require any more information, I will be happy to provide it. I look forward to your response,

“Sincerely, Sw