1,825 Days of Hell is the shocking story of one man’s fight to regain his self-respect, dignity, and livelihood against a government bureaucracy so bent on exerting total control over his movements and activities that it was willing—and astonishingly able—to unilaterally revoke, without due process, his constitutional rights, including the most fundamental and cherished American right to freedom of speech.
It is the tale of a harrowing journey through the US parole system, a mismanaged and bloated bureaucratic labyrinth of onerous regulations, restrictions, and reporting requirements that more than half of all parolees fail to complete, most of whom are returned to prison—most often without committing any new criminal offenses!
In 1,825 Days of Hell author Jerry Tanner takes on a corrupt and self-propagating US correctional system that deliberately and methodically thwarted his every effort to become a hardworking and productive member of society once again, despite having been one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the health-care industries in the history of two states: Alaska and Maine.
A scathing exposé of our hopelessly broken American parole system told from the perspective of someone who experienced and was victimized by it, this book is a must-read for every American who values and holds dear the rights and freedoms embodied in our Constitution. As the author states, the Department of Corrections in these United States is in peril of becoming, instead, the Department of Incarcerations.
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1,825 Days of Hell: One Man's Odyssey Through the American Parole System
Corrupt and Self-Propagating US Correctional System
By JERRY TANNER
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Jerry Tanner
All rights reserved.
RELEASED ON PAROLE, ANCHORAGE
Like a Punch in the Face
Being carted off to jail, or prison, call it what you will, feels like a deep, bloodless wound when you know in your heart that you committed no criminal offense, not to mention knowing in the plain rationality of your mind that you are innocent of even so much as having the intent to commit any wrongdoing at all, much less a bona fide crime. I don't know how actual criminals feel about it—the ones who had committed burglaries and car thefts, or had drug convictions or other offenses that were just serious enough to land them in minimum-security Palmer, but not serious enough to send them to a more restrictive facility—but I can only judge that for them, being incarcerated from time to time was simply a part of that life. I actually and honestly mean them no disrespect, nor certainly not to condemn them for this. In truth, the only basis I have for making such a judgment was the cavalier and casual way that some of the inmates at PCC seemed to take being "inside" in stride. There were, for instance, those times when a "new" inmate would walk into the common area and be cheerfully greeted and welcomed back with laughter and high-fives from the inmates already in residence like it was some sort of family reunion. So many of those guys had been there before, and they all seemed to be great buddies who knew each other rather well. And make no mistake about it, as much as law enforcement and department of corrections officials publically decry the high recidivism rates across the country, the fact of the matter is that the criminal justice and correctional systems in virtually all 50 states rely on the revolving door of recidivism for their continued existence, funding, job security and growth.
While I was in PCC, I had resolved to get through it, to behave, follow the rules, and do my time; get released and then go about rebuilding my life. But when I got out, that bloodless wound was still there—it is a wound to the psyche, not to the physical body (though it can take its toll there too, as stress so often does). Being released from prison was one of the strangest and most awkward feelings I have ever experienced in my life. As much as you are expecting it to be a kind of cathartic release, it actually puts a person into a state of paranoia. You go around feeling branded, as if you are wearing a big black barcode imprinted into your forehead that says "EX-CON." You go around expecting that people will recognize you as a criminal: "Hey, there's the guy who just spent 16 months in Palmer Correctional Center! What's he doing here?" You literally "feel" like a social pariah, and I found this as troubling and as hurtful as it was remarkable, because heretofore I would have never imagined that being a "social pariah" could actually have a specific feeling associated with it. And further, all that I had ever done previously in my personal and business life was to try to help people.
And life as an "ex-con" makes you flinch, almost literally, as though, when you try to go out to public places and lead a normal life, life itself is going to punch you in the face for no reason other than the fact that you once went to prison, never mind why, or whether you were truly guilty of anything or actually deserved to go there in the first place. An overheard conversation in a restaurant, an odd look from someone on the street, each makes you wonder: are they talking about me, or, what was that look all about? So you go about your day feeling like you have to look over your shoulder all the time. I know that's irrational, and maybe a bit of paranoia, but that's how you feel, and it's a big part of the hurt that you feel.
Back during the days and months leading up to my trial, and when things seemed to be spiraling out of control, was when I had first gotten the notion that I ought to write a book about my experiences, and about the things that were happening to me in life and business that I seemed utterly powerless to stop or get control of in any appreciable way. Somewhere along the way, someone suggested that I should start keeping a daily diary or journal in which to write down everything that was happening so that I'd have a written record, and wouldn't forget anything. I didn't dare try to do such a thing in prison for fear of reprisals from the corrections officers who might think that I was writing down bad things about them. I don't know whether or not that was unjustified paranoia on my part, perhaps from watching too many gangster movies or police dramas on TV. I suppose I was being melodramatic.
Still, there was the incident, recounted in Derailed, when my attorney, unbeknownst to me, tried to slip a tape recorder and twelve blank cassette tapes past the guards responsible for checking through our incoming mail for contraband, which was the only time I got into any hot water with the corrections officers, including being dragged to an appearance before one of the sergeants and then ultimately the Camp Commandant himself, who, shall I say, was rather cross about it until I was able to convince him that my intentions were in no way sinister. My attorney had gotten quite a kick out of hearing about that little confrontation, but I didn't find it particularly amusing. Still, keeping a written journal in jail, where it's pretty darn difficult to conceal anything that you're doing, might have put me much more at risk with the other inmates than with the corrections officers or their superiors. Whether or not there is any such thing as "honor among thieves," one thing that my jailhouse colleagues seemed to universally hate and despise was a "snitch." If any of these guys had gotten the slightest whim of an idea that I was writing down stuff about them or their crimes, I would have been subject to unmerciful and unrelenting abuse by the whole lot of them, while the guards would ignore their actions or simply look the other way (and probably gain some not-so-secret sadistic pleasure from observing it going on). Regardless, I thought that the idea of writing my thoughts and activities down in a daily journal was a good one, and I started to do precisely that, immediately, on Day One of my freedom, June 28th, 2009 when I was released from PCC onto the streets of Anchorage, and collected there by my Mom and Dad.
There is perhaps nothing that better illuminates the vacuity of my mental state, the painful depression and emotional exhaustion I felt, and the desperate desire to withdraw into myself, all of which 16 months behind prison walls had put me in, than the first 30 or 40 daily entries in that journal from July to mid-August, the summer of 2009. Most of those entries are one-liners, and they curtly describe watching TV one day, playing cards the next, and on the more adventurous occasions, taking a walk outside or maybe risking a single trip to Wal-Mart or some such place. Many of them say simply and nonspecifically, "Stayed at home with the family." It's true that my family was there for me and there really wasn't much that I had to do that they couldn't do for me if necessary, if I simply didn't feel up to it—outside of reporting immediately to my parole officer of course—and I was desperately grateful they were there. If they weren't, I probably would have rolled up in a ball on the floor of my Anchorage apartment and stayed there until I starved to death. Getting out of prison, I learned, is not some wondrous, miraculous event of striding back into freedom and into the light of some new day, there is no veil of sorrow and darkness that is lifted, no "great weight" that is removed from one's shoulders. In hindsight, I would have to say there are few, if any, occasions in life that are more anticlimactic than being released from jail! And for me in particular there was, at best, only the lingering anxiety and the unresolved issue of what I was going to do with the rest of my life now, now that I had lost one of my companies and was engaged in a bitter battle over the other, which was not likely to end well for me, either. The only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to go home to Ohio and be with my family while I sorted things out.
And if my principal reason for wanting to go home to Ohio was an emotional-psychological one, and in some sense a non-rational one (I say non-rational deliberately as opposed to irrational, because my desire to go back was certainly not "irrational) of simply wanting to be with the only people I felt I could trust anymore, that being my family of course, there were in fact some sound practical, rational (or semi-rational!) reasons for wanting to do so as well. For one thing, I had lost my business in Alaska, and it had happened in something of a public disgrace in that the story of my indictment, trial, and sentencing had made the papers. It wasn't the bad publicity that bothered me—by now that had been nearly two years earlier, and I doubted, in my clearer moments, that anyone would remember that far back, or that they would care about all of that anymore, for that matter. But with Immediate Care gone, there was really nothing to keep me in Alaska anymore. I was prohibited from working in the health care industry that I loved by virtue of now being a convicted felon and thus no longer allowed to be a party to state health care contracts. Nor would the local bankers or financial institutions have anything to do with me after what had happened.
But another reason I think I wanted to get out of Alaska was that I felt railroaded by a state that for all intents and purposes refused to give me the opportunity for a fair trial in which to air my side of the story, a state that effectively denied me due process under the law, and ultimately denied me justice. I wanted to leave Alaska at least in part because I felt that the state had screwed me over—big time. Whether that's a "rational" reason or not, well, I simply don't care. What Alaska did to me was despicable, plain and simple. If, after all of that, I wanted out of the state, who could blame me?
So in any case, and as required, I reported in to the parole office on the first full day after my release, June 29th, whereupon I was told that reporting in was merely an intake procedure, and I was set up to meet my PO, one Greg Matthews, nine days later on July 8th. At that first face-to-face meeting, I informed Mr. Matthews that I wanted to immediately initiate a formal request for transfer to the state of Ohio. PO Matthews told me that the procedure involved to do that would take up to 45 days to complete. It was the first of a legion of falsehoods, half-truths, and out-and-out lies that I would be told by law enforcement and corrections officials over the entire frustrating course of the time I would remain on parole. It was also my first lesson in learning that being released from prison does not mean you are now free—not by a long shot.
As demoralized as I might have been, I was determined to get back to work doing something productive when I got out. In the heyday of Immediate Care in Alaska and I-Care Pharmacy clear across the continent in Maine, I had, at times, been working 70-hour weeks and, I confess, loving it. Admittedly, my former life partner did not love it, and he would claim that my dedication to my work was one of the main factors contributing to our breakup, but I never believed that line of bull from him anyway. Besides, a lot of water had gone under that bridge by now, and I had a strong sense that I should try to get busy again if I wanted to retain my sanity.
While I was in PCC, I had asked one of my attorneys to research book publishers and literary agents, and as soon as I was released I started to contact each and every one of them to see if I could find one who would be interested in publishing my story. I also set to work writing it, even going so far as hiring an editor to help with conceptualizing and developing the manuscript in order to make sure it met publisher-worthy professional standards for style and content. In addition, as soon as I was out, I started researching different businesses that I might like to get into. In particular, I looked at numerous franchise opportunities. I reasoned that I wasn't a "kid" anymore, I didn't know if I still had the energy and brashness to start a new company from scratch, and really, I guess I was honest enough with myself to realize that I just didn't want to go through that whole start-up ordeal again, having been through it more than once before. So a time-tested and "proven" franchise seemed like a good way to go if I could find one that I really liked. I also decided that getting some serious exercise would be a good way to try to ward off depression, and perhaps relieve some of the boredom that I had experienced in jail, and which I expected to continue on the "outside" until such time as I could find something useful to busy myself with. So about a month after my release I joined the Alaska Club, a fitness and exercise organization with a location in South Anchorage, which I visited pretty regularly for the first several months.
My parents stayed in Anchorage with me in as long as they could, but eventually it would be time for them to go home to Ohio. They stayed through July, and flew home on the 31st. I was very sad to see them go, and they were worried for me, worried about leaving me alone up there. But I told them I'd be fine, and actually, I wouldn't be alone right away, because about a week and a half prior to their leaving, my Uncle Roger had arrived in town, and the two of us would pal around for another week or so, that is until he too had to head home. So I think that made it a little easier for my parents to more or less "hand me off" to Uncle Roger when we said our good-bye's at the airport. Uncle Roger was a retired Air Force officer, and he loved to go out to Elmendorf Air Force base and kick around a bit. He had planned to stay in Anchorage for a few weeks into August, but then some important family business forced him to cut short his stay, and he left on the 6th. I chauffeured him to the airport, and when the plane took off, for the first time since I had met Russell Stoner almost 20 years earlier, I was alone and on my own in Alaska. It was like the words of that old Michelle Shocked song; I was "anchored down in Anchorage." Only the "anchor" was the Alaska Department of Corrections.
But by that time, I was pretty much okay with it, or at minimum, I was resigned to the fact that it had become clear that my situation was going to be that way for an indeterminate amount of time. Because, just a few days prior to my parents' departure, in just my second meeting with PO Greg Matthews, he had told me that my initial request for transfer to Ohio had been denied. As it turned out, I was in part responsible for this rejection because, when I was released from Palmer, I had refused to sign off on the "Conditions of Mandatory Parole," which, ironically enough, I was required to abide by whether I signed off on them or not. However, I had done this on the advice of counsel. The Alaska Order of Mandatory Parole unequivocally states that (quoting verbatim), "The Parole Board may have me returned to custody at any time when it determines that a condition of parole has been violated." One has to wonder why the state even bothers to give the individual parolee the option to sign the conditions at all, given that it makes no difference whatsoever whether you do or don't, but there you go! It's also interesting to note in passing that the statement says "when" a condition of parole has been violated, rather than "if." Not a particularly optimistic or fair-minded attitude on the part of the Parole Board, which seems to regard parole violations as inevitable.
Later in this book, I will have much, much more to say about the restrictions embodied in the "Conditions of Mandatory Parole," and particularly the much longer list of "Supplemental Conditions of Mandatory Parole." (See Figures 1A through 1F at the end of this chapter.) And worse still are the restrictions that are not specifically defined under the conditions of parole that the parole board may impose arbitrarily, and without cause or reasonable explanation, but simply at the board's discretionary whim, and against which no legal means of appeal exists, which I will also discuss at length. However, because my refusal to sign came back to bite me in the ass so quickly after my release to prevent me from doing the one thing, perhaps the only thing, that I was certain I wanted to do, which was to go home to Ohio, it is perhaps necessary to briefly explain here why I had refused, which I had done both on principle and, as I stated earlier, on the advice of counsel. Rather than some act of grandiose defiance, the principle aspect of it was, on the most basic level, a matter of simple, logical practicality, and I can use just one simple "condition" of parole as an example to illustrate this.
Specifically, provision 32 of the "Supplemental Conditions" would have prohibited me not only from consuming or having alcoholic beverages "in my possession," it also would have prohibited me from going into establishments where alcoholic beverages were served. I naturally took this to include any restaurants that had a liquor license. After all, my attorney told me quite bluntly that, in essence, "If you sign off on those conditions, the parole board will hold you right to the letter of each provision," such that, for example, I would risk being in violation of my parole if one fine morning I bought a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and a lottery ticket at a deli that also sold beer. I felt strongly that this was totally unfair, and moreover, had absolutely nothing to do with the things I was charged with in the first place. There were a number of conditions just like this, which imposed prohibitions against a whole wash-list of things that had nothing to do with me, or with my case, and which I therefore believed (and still do) should never have been applied to me. So I refused to sign, and I turned the whole matter over to my attorneys to resolve. They, of course, failed, and the state refused to budge.
Excerpted from 1,825 Days of Hell: One Man's Odyssey Through the American Parole System by JERRY TANNER. Copyright © 2014 Jerry Tanner. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Released on Parole, Anchorage, 1,
Chapter 2: Going through the Motions, 21,
Chapter 3: A Jail without Bars, 39,
Chapter 4: Deliverance Delayed, 51,
Chapter 5: Be Careful What You Wish For, 65,
Chapter 6: When Enough Becomes Too Much, 93,
Chapter 7: My Book: Banned in Ohio, 105,
Chapter 8: Conclusion, 137,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I found myself skimming through the book early on due to the lack of substance in the writers complaints which were whiny to say the least. I regret spending money on this mess of long winded run on sentences that were either filler to take up pages or just lack of decent editing.