“Power corrupts.”
— Lord Acton
To Hindus, cows are sacred animals to be revered. To Jews, cows are meaningless if unfit for profit or slaughter. We Americans fall somewhere in between, with our titanic beef industry and the way we make a show of our cattle. At a midwestern livestock show you could see a divine specimen, a cow you would swear was born in a manger to God’s own flock. And then there are those half-starved goyim you see on the side of a Florida highway: sickly, ribs exposed, cows you would never see paraded at a show.
I’m here to tell y’all that they sure do love their livestock shows here in York County, South Carolina. They parade each specimen through the stockyard for every red-blooded American to see, the ranchers proud of their system of breeding, fattening, slaughtering.
“How’d you come by that beaut’, Roy?”
“The officer activated his overhead lights, bringing the suspect’s vehicle to a stop on Cherry Road. The officer noticed that the driver of the vehicle was engaged in making furtive movements and arrested the suspect for resisting arrest. The officer then conducted a search that yielded over one gram of methamphetamine.”
“Well hot dog, Roy, that’s a winner!”
Of course, livestock cannot tell you how exactly they came to be there. All they know is that they ain’t on the farm no more. They were tied up, thrown in a trailer, and brought here, where they have been waiting for something to happen; something — but they don’t know what.
They sure do make a show of due process around here. Each inmate is paraded into the courtroom because he does, after all, have a constitutional right to be present at each stage of his trial. But it is a show, and only a show, a hollow nod to a time when the rights of a defendant meant something. Once upon a time, when nobler men tread upon this land, it was thought wise that a man should be present when the court and his accuser sought to prosecute his case; the idea being that he might be able to object to some particular outrage, or at least be aware of the proceedings so that he might discuss them in an intelligent manner with his attorneys.
But modern inmates are not men; they are cattle in the eyes of the System and its agents, fit for profit or for slaughter. They are paraded in order to assure all the members of the public that the System works — and all the animal rights activists are placated into believing that “there are, of course, protections in place to prevent any sort of abuses, you know.”
Inmates cannot be allowed to object during the parade; this would disrupt the courtroom. More importantly, it may delay the judge’s docket, and then the other thousand cases may come into jeopardy of being pushed back. Never would it occur to a judge or a prosecutor that perhaps the reason the docket is overloaded to begin with is that a great many of these men should not be there.
Some men are arrested for just cause; others on false accusations. Some men are jailed for serious crimes; others, for trivial nonsense that some lobbyist or another convinced some idiot congressman that “such & such is a serious concern for the community, and you could take a real bite out of it with this commonsense legislation that we have prepared for your office. We’ll help you make some headlines. We need more guys lie you in office, willing to take on [moral objective X].” And then there are a great many men who should have been put into rehab.
But whether you are at the stockyard for murder or possession or a DUI or “resisting arrest,” the story is the same: thou shalt not object during these proceedings — you are holding up the line. More importantly, anything and everything you say will incriminate you, so it’s really best if you just don’t say anything at all. Besides, who listens to a cow at a livestock show? You are there to be seen, not heard. It is the spectacle that matters, not the conditions at the meat factory. The unspoken truth is that all the poor beasts are being prepared for slaughter. But don’t tell little Betty Sue that: she still thinks these cows live on a storybook farm with Old MacDonald.
So much for objecting to outrageous actions by the prosecutor, the police and the judge. But the Reader will recall that this ancient right of a criminal defendant to be present at each stage of his trial is predicated upon another notion: that he may be aware of the proceedings that he might discuss them in an intelligent manner with his attorneys.
God forbid. We cannot have these cattle understanding what is going on. The whole sham of a System would collapse!
That must be why the jails have made the switch from law libraries to electronic kiosks. Ostensibly, this change was made to make legal research more convenient for inmates and to provide them with POWERFUL NEW CUTTING EDGE TOOLS! In reality, this change was made for one reason: money.
It is inefficient to shuttle men back and forth to a law library; it is efficient to put a computer kiosk in the cellblock. It is inefficient to provide staff and assistance to inmates; it is efficient to tell inmates that they are on their own.
Here at the slaughterhouse we call the York County Detention Center, the jail administration has made the wise financial decision to shut down the law library and provide the inmates with Fastcase, a legal research tool that competes with the far more expensive options of Westlaw and Lexis Nexis.
“Holy cow, Dale, look at all them bells and whistles on that thing!”
“Yes sir, we pride ourselves on being a more affordable alternative to our competitors without sacrificing any of the features you might be used to with other legal research engines. Your inmates can research case law in any State and you can save big on costly paper expenses and unnecessary payroll! We have technical staff on call that you can contact anytime.”
“Well sign me up, Dale; I’m ready to save big!”
The problem is that Fastcase, I’m sorry to say, is worse than useless. That is not a reflection of its competitive edge against Westlaw and Lexis Nexis; it is a statement of fact concerning jail conditions and the needs of inmates. Fastcase does not have legal treatises, Am. Jur. 2nd, Corpus Juridicum, motions banks, or even basic outlines of how a criminal case proceeds in South Carolina. A law library would have all of these things.
All that an online research tool has at a jail — besides a long line of inmates trying to read their messages or see pictures of their children (because physical letters and pictures are now banned in jails, being instead scanned into the computer by personnel acting as censors) — are statutes and case law. I was taught how to research case law online over a three-year period called “law school.” What training have these men received?
These men do not even know how badly they are being cheated, so they have no idea that they should even complain. They are simply happy to have the opportunity to look at something on a computer and feel as though they are making some headway in their respective cases. But in this the kiosk only acts as an opiate for the inmates, a way to fool them into thinking that they are “researching” when they are merely groping in the dark; a way to comfort them with the feeling that they are making headway in their cases when they are really just spinning in circles, with totally irrelevant case law. Who is going to set them straight? We wouldn’t want them figuring out that this was all just the illusion of progress and that the change to an electronic system was made not in their interest, but in the interest of the efficiency and profitability of the jail.
God forbid they found out. Not that it would matter much: complaints get you precisely nowhere. If a man complains that his legal mail was opened and then scanned into the computer — which means that the jail has violated the law and handed your privileged communications to the prosecutor — filing a grievance results in this illegal conduct being repeated. This one I know firsthand, because jail personnel at the York County Detention Center have opened my legal mail, read it, scanned it in the computer, ignored the grievance I filed, and then did it again.(1, 2)
Because the prosecutors have access to everything logged into the computer, this means that the prosecutor has not once but twice deliberately been given my legal mail by jail personnel. And because Jenny Desh at the Solicitor’s Office personally reviews all of my communications, it means that the prosecutors know about this illegal practice and they are willfully complicity in this conduct. Neither is this a case in which the error is harmless: the information contained in these legal mailings pertains directly to the case, which means that the York County Detention Center and the York County Solicitor’s Office have knowingly engaged in illegal conduct that severely prejudices my criminal trial.
Not that this is surprising in the least, as I noted in Part II of this series the corrupt relationship between the Solicitor’s Office and the detention center designed to force men into taking plea deals even when they are innocent. In fact, just after that article was published, I logged into the computer kiosk to find a notice to all inmates: “A date has been set for you to take a Guilty plea if you wish! Just sign up if you want to take advantage of it!”
If I didn’t know better, I might think that the prosecutor and the jail administration were making an exception in breaking the law and in engaging this outrageous conduct just to railroad little old me. Searching and reading my legal mail, refusing to recognize my religious diet (last I checked I had lost ten pounds), denying me religious materials (Christians are allowed supplemental religious materials; I am not), and throwing me in isolation without case: one might think someone is holding a grudge against me.
Only they aren’t. We would all like to believe that this sort of treatment must be politically motivated, because then there would at least be a reason for it. But no — all inmates are treated with equal indifference, more numbers than men, their shattered lives someone else’s problem, their civil rights a fantasy in some textbook somewhere.
In fact, what is remarkable is how little at all this has to do with me. The corruption of the criminal “justice” system in York County was here long before my arrival, the total disregard for constitutional protections and the rule of law itself being its hallmark. The show of due process is just that, a show. The livestock show is just the public face of the slaughterhouse.
The most disturbing part of all is that I am the sole person trapped in this system with any means at all to fight my captors. These men are, generally speaking, not educated, and I am the one and only lawyer. Many of these men are too poor to afford even a modest bond. Not only can they not afford lawyers, but their families cannot afford to give them money for commissary in some cases. Being trapped in here, they lose jobs, they lose everything — what little they had, anyway. Tell me with a straight face that these men have a fighting chance, or that constitutional rights are anything but a mere abstraction to them, and I promise that you have a career in Hollywood.
I remember being in the courthouse in Orlando one morning. I was leaving court and came to be in the elevator with a big, scary thug and two of his friends. As soon as the doors closed behind him he exhaled, ducked down, and exclaimed, “Damn that shit was scary!” Here was a man all dressed up to run the streets, a man you would not dare cheat at cards or look at in the wrong way, and he was absolutely terrified to be in court, terrified of the judge and of being surrounded by police.
And here is a secret: that is exactly what is intended. The courts are specifically designed to be intimidating and to exalt the majesty of the judge who issues rulings with all the august power of the State. As a lawyer I see the wisdom in this: court should be dead serious. It is not a place to be joking around. People’s lives are at stake.
And yet in living with the inmates, I am able to see it from a totally different perspective. First of all, it is not the inmates we need to worry about not taking things seriously when they are called to the podium: it is the prosecutors who are playing with people’s lives. It is the prosecutors taking cases to trial that they know are not winnable just so the new guy at the office can get trial experience. It is the prosecutors overcharging or adding charges in order to scare people out of going to trial. It is the prosecutors who will leave a man in limbo on the trial docket even after a witness or alleged victim has recanted their story and indicated their refusal to testify. Prosecutors play games with people’s lives every day in this country, and if you think they don’t have an axe to grind, you are a fool.
The other thing about seeing the courts from the inmates’ perspective is this: If our own myth in America is that we live under the rule of law, the reality of the criminal justice system is that inmates live under the rule of fear. I hear people at mealtime casually remarking on how scared they were in the courtroom. In all my time practicing law, this pervasive terror of the courts among the outlaw-class totally escaped my notice. When I hear them now and again complaining about their treatment at the jail, they sometimes say something about complaining straight to the Lieutenant. When encouraged to actually do so, they say, “Hell no, I’m too scared.”
In summary: a man is accused of a crime and brought into the courtroom for five minutes, told not to say a word (not that he would have anyway, being made afraid), and is then removed.
That is the show: the livestock show, the show of due process in a System that abandoned due process long ago.
In true summary: A man is arrested in some dirty fashion or another (but that’s okay, we’ll “investigate” later to cover our asses); he is plugged into the machine to make money for the System; he is denied basic human rights (which happen also to be constitutional rights), including the right to counsel, the right to due process of law, and the right to practice one’s religion; he is half-starved, malnourished, fed on garbage; he is fooled into thinking that he can perform legal research on his case when in fact he has been denied access to more relevant and helpful materials; he is strong-armed, cheated and cajoled into taking a plea deal in violation of all understanding of constitutional principle or even a basic sense of human decency; he is deliberately intimidated in the jails and the courts so that he will not voice any protest; and then, after a long series of injustices he has been powerless to stop, a series of injustices that have destroyed his personal life and anything he may have had going for him, he finally takes the deal or goes to trial.
And justice is served and the law is upheld. And little Betty Sue finishes her ice cream and goes home believing that all cows live on a storybook farm with Old MacDonald.

(1) After writing this article, the administration replied to the grievances, blaming the attorneys for sending their mail to the return address on the jail’s envelopes. Mind you that these envelopes are pre-stamped with that address and that both mailings were clearly marked, “LEGAL MAIL.”

(2) As of March 9, 2020, the author notes that yet again, for a THIRD time, the administration has illegally opened his clearly-marked “LEGAL MAIL.” Invictus writes, “They scanned it into the computer for the prosecutor on Thursday (March 5th) while I was on lockdown, so I was not able to file a grievance until this weekend, and the administration was not able to pull it until today. So they have now given three separate attorney-client privileged letters to the prosecutor.”