“Never mind, you stay here and see for yourself.”

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

When the time has come for slaughter, no rancher wants to wrestle a cow. So they corral him, prod him into a stall too small for him to move, stun him, and then go in for the kill. How much more efficient than the old way of doing things! And no risk of injury to the rancher or damage to any property!

The fraud of the so-called justice system is that it is allegedly predicated upon the idea that a man will fight to clear his name, sacrificing everything he holds dear, suffering every injustice imaginable, all in the interest of truth — as though there were any shred of honor remaining in the American courts. The lie is that a truly innocent man would never confess to something he did not do, or enter into a plea agreement admitting that he did it, because no innocent man would ever sacrifice his good name for the sake of the mere “convenience” of ending his ordeal. The truth is that men do exactly that on a daily basis in every county in the country.

We have, over several centuries, developed a legal tradition that holds sacred the rights of the accused on the notion that it is better to set a guilty man free than to convict an innocent man. We have, over these centuries, developed rules of evidence and procedure that are designed to protect the rights of the accused and the integrity of the judicial system. Yet just as these rules have been scuttled or disregarded at an alarming rate nationwide, we have simultaneously allowed a dystopian system of bureaucratic oppression to arise right under our noses.

The reason men sign away their good names, their clean records, and their freedom is because they never get the chance of reaching the stage at which they would be afforded such protections.Instead, they are like cattle corralled, prodded into a pen in which they cannot move and stunned into submission. It is a rare cow who resists the rancher in the pen, and it is a rare man who resists the System when trapped in a cage and subjected to the rule of bureaucrats.

The process of corralling, trapping and stunning, as utilized by American prosecutors, entails overcharging, the ruination of lives, and the subjugation of their intended target to dehumanizing, unsanitary and otherwise intolerable conditions. The inmates call this “psychological warfare,” and everything from the meals to the capricious hostility of corrections officers is considered a test of one’s endurance. Rumor has it that the plea rate here at York County Detention Center is 97% : only a madman would stay here longer than he must.

The most egregious part of this process is a prosecutorial practice so widespread throughout every State in America that it is simply accepted as part of the prosecutor’s toolbox. That practice is called “overcharging” and is a blatant, unapologetic attempt to terrify a victim — by which I mean, a defendant — into entering a plea agreement. For instance, let us say that a man possessed just under a gram of methamphetamine. Rather than charge him for possession, he will be charged with “possession with intent to deliver,” a far more serious crime with a greater maximum penalty. The threat of greater prison time “encourages” the defendant to enter into a plea agreement, admitting the lesser charge of possession and saving the prosecutor the time spent on a jury trial.

That is, anyway, the ideal scenario: scare the defendant into pleading to what he actually did anyway, and justice is served and everyone saves the time of a trial. In reality however, things are rarely so clean. Prosecutors routinely add absurd charges, fake charges, extra charges — whatever they have to do — in order to force the defendant into pleading something he did not do at all.

I could write an entire book on examples of this disgusting practice, but I will stick to three stories (and will not identify these cases or their origins in the interest of protecting their identities).

The first case is of a young man charged with armed trafficking of cocaine, a crime he absolutely did not commit. The prosecutor offered him thirteen years on this false charge, even knowing that neither the gun nor the drugs belonged to him, even knowing that the actual dealer had been identified and had fled the scene prior to the raid. She did this because she could — because his name was on the hotel registry, because no one would testify against the real dealer, and because the young man was not a sympathetic defendant. What he was actually doing was prostituting girls in a different hotel room, girls that were hooked on heroin. No one will cry for this scumbag, the prosecutor told herself, and so she broke the law and all standards of prosecutorial ethics in order to put him away. Luckily, his mother hired a private attorney at the last minute who demonstrated the impossibility of the gun charge, and the offer of thirteen years dropped down to three years in prison. He could not sign a plea to that false charge fast enough.

The second example of overcharging is a case in which a man was charged with burglarizing his own home. For those who do not know, it is a legal impossibility for a man to burglarize his own home: it has to be the dwelling of another party. Yet the police leveled that charge because they could — because he caused them problems, because they disliked him, because he was a dirt-poor ex-con who had no power to do anything about it. He was facing a false charge for which he was officially facing twenty-five years to life in prison. Obviously he was inclined to sign a plea bargain on a lesser charge for time served instead of going to trial.

The third example of overcharging is a case in which a man was charged with selling his own pills to an undercover cop. Although these were prescription painkillers and he did not buy drugs from any upper-level traffickers, he was “persuaded” to enter into a substantial assistance agreement with the police; which is to say that he agreed to assist the police on setting up other people who may or may not have been selling drugs before the police decided to target them. The reason he did this is that the police officer who set him up threatened to arrest his pregnant girlfriend and charge her with trafficking if he refused. The prosecutor went along with this despicable deal, and the agreement was signed. He ended up being sentenced to eighteen years in prison, having neglected to set up anyone else, and his girlfriend tragically miscarried the child.

As I said, there are myriad examples of this practice all across America. Lawyers have come to see this process as perfectly legitimate and eminently reasonable. How much more efficient than the old way of doing things, and no risk of injury to the lawyers’ reputations or waste of judicial resources!

The point is exactly this: the American legal system was designed with the rights of innocent men as its central concern — not the ability of state agents to force men into pleas, not the ability to circumvent trial, and not efficiency. Overcharging in order to strong-arm men into entering pleas to crimes they did not commit (or ideally, to lesser crimes that they did actually commit) is an affront to every concept of law we were ever taught to cherish in this country. It is an atrocious, un-American and inhuman practice that treats men as cattle to be prepared for the slaughter, not as men endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; not as men standing with dignity before the court to fight for their honor.

All that being said, the far greater crime of the System is the very real destruction wrought on the lives of the accused. In cases in which bond has been denied — and we have seen more and more of this in regards to political dissidents over the past several years — the damage to a man’s life is catastrophic. In certain cases, admittedly, bond is denied for good reason, such as when someone has a history of failing to appear for court, or when bond was previously granted and the defendant gets arrested on a new charge. Yet it is obvious, especially in cases involving political activists, that the denial of bond is often used for the illegitimate purpose of pressuring men into submission.

Those who are not criminals, those whose true crime is thoughtcrime, will be incarcerated until they learn to love Big Brother. The jail system is alien to them, a foreign culture of a different breed of person, unfamiliar and fraught with peril. Still, the queers and the meth-heads are not the problem here. All men are equalized in jail, as all men face the same devastation outside the walls.

Denied bond, your suffering is the least of your concerns. Your job, and therefore your income, is forfeit. Your family is on their own. Your children will not see their father but once per week through glass. Without income, your bills go unpaid, you will lose your home, you will be forced to sell any assets you may have had. The longer this goes on, the greater the toll on your family, your friends, your loved ones. Depending on how long this goes on, some men have nothing left to go home to. Keep in mind that as this process unfolds, you watch helplessly, as a spectator, being all but cut off from communication with the outside world, unable to affect the events annihilating your life, like a figure frozen in a Greek tragedy.

Tell me, dear Reader, what do the rules of evidence matter then? When a man’s life can be absolutely ruined in a matter of months, his priorities begin to change. His simplistic, black-and-white view of justice and honor begins to look like an insane lie, the corruption of the System distorting every value he thought he held dear. Ultimately he realizes that abstract concepts of truth and justice are meaningless compared to holding his wife in his arms, or being with his son on his birthday, or simply providing for his family.

Until your life and your family have been utterly devastated in such a manner, you may not be able to comprehend why an innocent man would admit to something he did not do. But I have seen it, and I have experienced the devastation if not the the change of heart, and I can assure you that this happens every day. Neither could I ever blame a man who gave in to the System any more than one could blame a stunned cow in a pen for allowing its skull to be punctured. It is an excruciating pain that only a madman would suffer willingly; the sane take the deal when offered.

All of the above being taken into consideration, the conditions of a man’s incarceration become trivial. An innocent man can be taken off the street and thrown into isolation for weeks, with no record of arrest or disciplinary infractions or even parking tickets. Still, what does isolation ultimately matter to a man who has been unjustly torn from his family? The inmates are fed a steady diet of bread and pasta that satiate hunger but provide no nutritional value whatsoever, but what does processed filth matter to a man who can no longer sit at meals with his loved ones? The deeper wound was already made; the conditions of the jail only heap insult upon injury.

The point of isolation and a diet of artificial slop we would not feed to our dogs is exactly what the inmates say it is: psychological warfare. Even in general population we are locked in our cells for seventeen hours per day; given canine toothbrushes cleverly repackaged as “no-shank” toothbrushes (which is to say that someone in York County who sells dog toothbrushes is friends in the good ol’ boys club here with someone involved in providing vendor contracts to York County Detention Center); prohibited dental floss and mouthwash; forced to shower in stalls with black mold so atrocious it is a wonder the entire building is not evacuated and shut down by the health department. Yet really, these are all just inconveniences, not even worth mentioning in comparison to what ills have befallen every man here, innocent or not, in the outside world.

The point of all these things — the malnutrition, the unsanitary conditions, the denial of basic personal hygiene — is partly so that whomever profits off this meat factory will profit greatly, and partly so that the System can keep the pressure on, “encouraging” each inmate to take the plea deal is offered him and get out. If you are stupid enough to stick it out, well, that means more profits for the cattle ranchers.

They want every inmate to be weak, degraded, humiliated, malnourished, sick, demoralized, and treated alternately as children or as animals. This serves the interests of the jail’s stockholders and of the prosecutors.

It does not serve the interest of justice.