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An Ozark E-Zine

First in a series of investigative reports by Christine Louise Beems, editor emeritus, chronicling the process of interdiction, adjudication and dijudication as it exists in our drug-war-torn society today. [INDEX HERE]

In absolute terms, the United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world. More than 2 million of our American bedfellows are in prison and jails even though violent crime and property crimes have been, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice, declining since the 1990s.

Currently, 740 out of every 100,000 adults in the United States are serving time behind bars, awaiting trial or otherwise detained. This is the highest per-capita incarceration rate among all the nations of the world, no holds barred.

In Arkansas, statewide inmate population reached 13,892 at the end of February 2007, up from 13,676 at the end of October 2006. Perhaps even more telling, there were 13 ‘new hires’ reported in the February 2007 "ADC Advocate" (employee newsletter of the Arkansas Department of Correction).

According to Human Rights Watch the cost of our current justice system goes far beyond taxpayer dollars spent on police, guards, judges and prisons (roughly $190 BILLION per year in 2004, up from $40-billion in 1982), but incalculably contributes to the exponential costs of wasted lives, wrecked families and troubled children. The adverse cultural consequences of weakened communities, diminished opportunities for economic self-sustainability and social disenfranchisement reverberate far beyond jailhouse walls.

Contrary to popular perception, violent crime is not responsible for the burgeoning popularity of prisons. Exploding statistics have been propelled primarily by shifts in public policy, the single greatest force behind which is, as it has been for some time, the national War on Drugs.

Resultant of this, it is estimated at one in 32 American adults now living is or has been at some time involved in the Corrections System. Last week, Michael C. Kelley of Shirley, Arkansas, a 62-year-old, newly retired Social Security beneficiary and part-time musician, became one of these stats.

His name – for the first time in his life – made the front page of a newspaper (see: Van Buren County Democrat, March 28, 2007). "I won’t be coy, dear," the affable, gravel-voiced Kelley shamefacedly admits. "I am not a saint, but neither am I the ‘criminal villain’ that article made me out to be."

Arrested for allegedly cultivating marijuana and ancillary offenses, currently out on bond, as a somewhat typical case in point of ‘how the justice system works’ from the accused’s side of law, it would be (except for this report) highly unlikely and quite improbable that much of anything about Michael C. Kelley would ever be heard again. At least not in the ‘headline’ sense.

Yet Kelley asserts and many would agree that if the accuser’s version of events makes the front page of a newspaper, given the social stigma and ‘trial by media’ society we tolerate today, "An explanation from the accused should have the same weight."

Kelley asks: "How many times have we scanned the front page, reading with dismay or amusement about the latest 'scoundrel' to be 'captured' by our ever-vigilant gendarmes? Why constantly of course. Yet we never hear about the sinister forces behind these predicaments or the process of the legalities necessary to exonerate a man. And the way things work in the criminal justice system now, this could happen to anyone next week."

Kelley relocated to Fairfield Bay in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains during October of 1998 at the behest of his aging and recently bereaved father who was by then 91. "I have made my home in this community and have become very fond of the Ozarks and all of Arkansas," he explained. "We led a quite life. A good life," he recalled.

Above: Michael C. Kelley in the living room of
the house he rents, where he was arrested.

"I am speaking out now to tell you how this distasteful business came to light and why even those of us who would never so much as spit on the sidewalk are at constant risk of arrest, innocent or not. I will make my plea at my arraignment, which is now set for April 16, so do not construe what I’m saying as an admission of guilt. But the people around here need to know about a little thing called THE INFORMANT. That’s the person with so little moral fiber that they skulk around seeking, as the scriptures intone, 'those they may devour'."

Kelley continues, "They do this for various reasons. To buy their way out of a meth-bust perhaps, sometimes for money or maybe just for the evil power they have as police sycophants. Drugged with a sense of omnipotence that makes him think he is greater than his handlers, he can exact revenge or carnage with the placement of a phone call or by planting evidence against an ‘enemy’ – anyone who defies or annoys him – setting up a sting and having the lives of many individuals turned topsy-turvy in a blink of the eye. They can do this to anyone -- even you -- guilty or not.

"I shall not, however, denigrate the policemen that showed up at my door last Monday afternoon. Though I did have to decline the investigator’s kind offer of becoming a snitch myself 'so it would go easier on me'. But the officers in fact were polite, restrained and almost apologetic for causing this old man a lot of trouble. I appreciated that. And THE INFORMANT has been a tried and true formula for eons. When the Great State of Rome was bound and determined to bring down Jesus, they turned to THE INFORMANT.

"A person perceived as a friend, someone the Lord himself trusted, turned Him in for a sack of silver. His name was Judas Iscariot and like all snitches his true identity was ultimately revealed. ‘Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known’," Kelley quoted the Book of Matthew, chapter 10, verse 26.

Like so many of our country’s raggedly poor, quite probably the months ahead for Kelley shall be filled with legal proceedings; hearings and discovery and perhaps even offers of prosecutorial ‘deals’.

"My own bail was fifty thousand dollars for those one-inch tall plants alleged to be mine. Keep in mind here that my total income working as a dishwasher was less than $7,000 for all of last year. And the year before. And the year before that. All the while I was, I might add, caring for my aging pop who passed on to glory a bare 18 months ago. All I ask now," Kelley concluded, "is the presumption of innocence, which I might add, is everyone’s Constitutionally guaranteed birthright." ~~~

Christine (Weiss) Beems
Editor Emeritus,

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