Danny, My Brother...
While there is never a reasonable excuse for violence except in the defense of one's life or the life of another, I can understand the rationale of the writer of "When I Get Out"*.
In 1982 I was a Government Official in the State of California. Due to my standing I was granted an interview with the State Attorney General, Evile Younger to plead on behalf of my brother who was in lockdown inside San Quentin. I patiently explained how we were creating sociopaths by our cruel treatment of otherwise nonviolent prisoners.
My brother was a kind kid whose greatest crime was being scared. We all know what folks do when they are hopeless and frightened.
The Attorney General's soft handshake should have clued me to his eventual pronouncement that "prisons are for punishment not rehabilitation". I began to cry. Not for my brother but for the utter stupidity of the man. I was able to choke out but you don't understand we're making things worse. He didn't care. He longed for the death penalty to be reinstated. I'm so happy he didn't live to see that but we have.
As a Christian I cannot condone the death penalty or the cruel torture we visit on inmates. We do not need to abandon compassion or forgiveness to be tough on crime. Every time we lock a human being into a box, fill them with fear, and treat them worse than abandoned animals, we create the monsters that frighten us the most.
These "monsters" are our brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, and friends. I pray your efforts are successful. I pray for those behind the walls in their cages. Most of all I pray for our Nation that we do not lose our Christian heritage in these orgies of revenge visited upon the men and women in jails and prisons.
My brother Danny, the fat wimpy guy who used too many drugs, changed a great deal during his seven years of solitary confinement in San Quentin. He became lean and disturbed. Once paroled it was only a matter of months before he was arrested, charged, and convicted of participating in the robbery of the Fresno Federal Reserve Bank. Until this time he had never been involved with guns nor robbery. He had been a petty burglar with a drug addiction. Now he even frightened me.
Danny was sentenced to 20 years in the Federal Penitentiary. Danny's brief time in Federal custody was fraught with problems. He was first incarcerated in Marion, once again in solitary confinement. Due to alleged gang affiliations he was transferred to the Atlanta Penitentiary where he was implicated in the death of another inmate. Convicted of murder, he was transferred again to Leavenworth. At the age of 34 Danny died under mysterious circumstances the night he arrived at Leavenworth. The Federal DOC told me he had
died of "natural causes". I ordered an independent autopsy which indicated he had died of a heroin overdose though no needle marks could be found.
Using my influence as a State Pharmacy Commissioner I spoke with our local Congressman, James Corman, and requested an inquiry. A week later the Congressman called me into his office. He was extraordinarily compassionate. He had called his contacts and despite all of his seniority in the House of Representatives he was stonewalled. He told me that sometimes we just have to drop things and move on.
Of course, my brother had been murdered. I brought him home from Shawnee Mission, Kansas and buried him. My father couldn't bear this tragedy. He and my mother had me do all the arrangements myself. My father, broken hearted over the loss of his first born lived but another year. He is now buried next to Danny. I cannot say no one cared. My mother received some one dozen beautiful hand illustrated sympathy cards from inmates incarcerated in State and Federal prisons where they had met my brother.
All of my fears that I had shared with our Attorney General had come true. This all happened 22 years ago. The pain has not diminished. The situation in our prisons if worse than ever. The law is meaner. What makes these deaths so awful is the waste of lives.
You may share Danny's story with my blessings and those of my mother. What is left of our family is determined to do all that we can to make our society more just, more compassionate, and more respectful of all human life.
I will add that we were a middle class family which had the advantages of a good home and good schools. Like so many others of all walks of life, our family was beset by addiction. We didn't understand much back then about drugs and in my personal and professional opinion still don't.
My brother would probably be embarrassed by my sharing but he would want me to do anything to bring down the walls, the walls of our prisons and the walls around our hearts. He would have adored you Kay. The men and women inside are so lonely. Bless you again for your work and the light of your soul.
Dr Jay R. Cavanaugh
Please accept my permission to use both letters I sent you in regard to my brother. Jay
*THE CONTROVERSIAL POEM
by Standing Deer's old cellmate
****WHEN I GET OUT****
When I get out the first thing I'm gonna do is get me a gun to protect myself from the police. Probably more than one gun because there's so many different kinds of police.
Maybe a .460 Weatherby with a twelve-power scope for kings, dictators, presidents and popes. A .357 magnum for law enforcement officials in
general, and a nice nine millimeter Browning High Power for just plain folks like you.
When I get out I want to kill as many people as I can before they get me. I'd like to get the Queen Mother and the Pope and the President
if I have the time.
Remember when you cut off my eyelids by putting me in a sensory deprivation chamber in total darkness because I wanted to go to my mother's funeral? Remember when you chained me to a bed and beat on my feet with wooden paddles until they turned to blood and swelled up like basketballs? When I get out I'm going to spend the hatred you've taught me by becoming a mass murderer.
And all you judges, jurypersons, cops, jailers and executioners can't stop me because it was you who murdered Charles Brooke and taught me that it's cool to kill. It was you who told me I lived in a free country as you ground your heel in my humanity and laughed at my pleas for dignity and spat on my manhood.
It was you who dressed up in moon man suits beat me to the floor with clubs and drugged me with Prolixin because I couldn't stop calling my baby daughter's name when she left this world.
So, in return of the lessons you have given me I'm going to teach you two things: First, that these sealed-tomb, tiger cages belong to you, Mr. & Mrs. America, and it is you who must accept the responsibility for what you and your hirelings have done to me.
The second thing I'm going to teach you is something you should already know but don't act like you do, namely the Christians say "Do Unto Others, etc." The Buddhists say something about "What goes around comes around."
In prison we simply say: Payback belongs to me when I get out.
It won't be much longer. I'm counting the days. So, you better pray I don't find you, gentle reader, 'cause when I've paid my debt to society, society must pay its debt to me.
When I get out ...