Tag Archives: City, Urban, Houston

Celebrating Success

Celebrating SuccessControl by the media and lazy group think which promotes the idea that it’s easier to accept the official version than to question things on our own. Too many people take a negative approach toward men incarcerated as if by virtue of finding yourself in a adverse legal situation automatically reduces you to a less than.

Perhaps this is one of the side effects of runaway capitalism — the tenet that if you not producing or at the very least fully engaged in the rat race, you’re no good and a waste of time. One of the reasons the first question most people ask when they meet you is what you do. And if it seems you don’t do nothing, at least nothing significant to that person or society then you are nothing.

So every chance I get I want to trumpet the success of formerly incarcerated men. Nothing spoils the doomsday sayers day more than a fat dose of success.

Exactly what K.B. Webb, one of my former cellies who I co-authored a book with back on the Wynne unit is doing — succeeding on a grand scale. In a mere six months, the brother has started his own business Chiselers Fitness, found employment as a truck driver, reestablished a relationship with his son and is diligently rebuilding his life after spending 8 years locked in a cell being treated as less than.

I wonder what all the talking heads who seem to only want to increase penalties for this or that, while labeling every man in prison as a current or future Charles Manson. Which is nothing but a bunch of hogwash and propaganda that politicians and wannabe TV personalities spread to make a living, seem important, and keep a job.

A real success story like this will never make it onto the nightly news shows that are only interested in scaring the people with horror tales to increase their ratings. Yet somebody has to tell the world “the rest of the story”, and since they won’t, I will!

Check this brother K.B. Webb and Chiselers Fitness out on Facebook and Instagram because he’s the truth. When you’re in the Houston area, look him up so he can help you drop a few pounds, mention the “Prison Griot” and he’ll probably give you a discount. Real talk.

Same Old Soup

same old soupFor a brief moment try to imagine this. You are a poor Hispanic or African-American in any of the this nation’s high-crime, impoverished, predominately minority neighborhoods; Watts, South Central, 3rd Ward, Southside, Chicago, Brooklyn, New York. I’ll let you pick your own poison.

Now on top of being a poor racial minority let’s say you’re unemployed and like to hang around your neighborhood and maybe even smoke marijuana and drink alcohol to ease the pain of a constrained existence.

One day while hanging out at the local barbershop, corner store,  nightclub etc, a guy you kinda, sorta know-one of those friends of friend’s cousin’s baby-moma type of things. But this guy approaches you, it has been a while since you last saw this friend of a friend and by all appearances it looks like he’s doing well for himself. After shooting the breeze for a few, he asks you what you into, how you getting by. Since that’s all you doing is getting by, there really isn’t much to tell him. Before long he’s flashing his bankroll and telling you what he’s got going and asking if you’re interested. This is like asking a man lost in the middle of the Sahara desert in 115 degree temperatures if he would like some water. You think?

Still, this’ the streets so you got to keep your game face on. So you pretend to think about it for a while then say what the hell. Why not, you’re broke, unemployed with little future prospects – I mean what do you have to lose? And according to your new buddy from around the way he knows a guy who has a lick (robbery) set up. Supposedly there’s this cartel stash house with 20 to 30 kilos of cocaine plus a few hundred grand inside, but this friend of a friend’s friend needs some guys to do it. He can’t do it hisself because the people inside know him.

Wooed by the prospect of quick riches and a escape from the soul-killing poverty that has destroyed and is destroying nearly every person you know, you agree to go along. The only problem is you don’t have a gun, but your new friend waves you off, that’s no problem, and says he will hook you up with one, and since you don’t have a car he’ll even pick you up.

After a brief discussion a date and time is agreed upon and when the time comes, your new buddy who is going to help you get rich picks you up and drives you to the scene of the crime.

A few moments later you and your friend setting down the block from the alleged stash house supposedly casing it out. Eventually your friend reaches in the glove box and hands you a gun while asking you if you ready? You nod, never expecting that nod to cost you the next ten to twenty years of your life.

Before you can get out of the car large red-faced aggressive men in Dupont made Kevlar body armor welding American-made machine guns rush the car and snatch you out, “ATP”, they scream, while slamming you on the ground face first, “you’re under arrest.”

The scenario I just asked you to imagine might sound like a scene out of the latest Triple Crown urban novel, but it’s not. It’s a real life sting operation currently being conducted in these United States of America to unsuspecting potential criminals with the prospect of quick riches.

In these stings, the ATF who selects the alleged criminals to target begin the operation with a paid informant (the friend of friend flashing cash). This informer, paid snitch, legal criminal, introduces the target to an ATF agent who provides the transportation, weapons, along with the who, what, and where of the robbery. Nationwide more than 1,000 people have been duped by the federal government and subsequently incarcerated in these “stash-house” operations over the previous decade.

More likely than not this injustice would’ve continued to rob young minority men of their liberty and the general public would’ve been none the wiser, had US District judge Ruben Castillo not noticed a peculiar thing about all these cases. Of the 26 “stash-house” cases filed in the Chicago Federal courts, all of the defendants were either black or Hispanic.

Which is even more troubling when you consider how these cases begin. Unlike a normal criminal case that begins when a person breaks the law, with these cases the government selects the person, proposes the crime, and provides the means of carrying out the crime.

What they were doing was so blatant that it forces even a conservative Republican judge to conclude that the government was deliberately targeting blacks and Hispanics and to call for a full investigation.

So here it is once again in our supposedly best justice system in the world, in our post-racial no need for Affirmative Action, or voting laws society. Those entrusted with the power of life and death s well as liberty are caught red-anded breaking the laws they are sworn to uphold and targeting the most vulnerable among us .

“You tell me things have changed… and I say not enough.

You tell me justice for all… and I say all who can afford it.

But you tell me a Black man is President… and I say ride through the bedrocks of the ghetto and tell me what that has meant

No Justice…No Peace to me is evident

Upset you turn away…scream why can’t I see?

Oh but I do see that our ideals are myths

Myths propagated to make me behave…

and send me passively to my grave

Perhaps some would say even make me a slave”

While operation “stash-house” as reported in the USA Today, Friday August 2, 2013 edition might surprise some people. For most blacks and Hispanics living daily up under the heavy arm of the law, this story was nothing more than a mainstream expose of of their day to day reality.

Rims to Die For

rims

I am the product of a Southern urban culture in which cars play a major role. In Houston the city of my birth people trick out all types of cars which makes living in the city like being surrounded by a 24/ 7 car show. You are likely to see everything from a late model Cadillac with Ferrari doors to a purple Maserati with hot pink interior.

It’s literally off the chain and for the most part it’s all good. But there is one pair of rims that have been dubbed the most dangerous rims in the city.

These rims known on the streets of Houston as Swanger or Elbows are a essential part of Houston’s car culture, yet they have a long bloody and deadly history. Originally invented by Crager for limited edition Cadillacs, the car giant put the rims on the 83 and 84 Eldorado models, but quickly discontinued there use after it was discovered the rims had a tendency to loosen in certain places and to make a clacking sound.

The rims bare a strong resemblance to another chrome Crager rim the 15 inch 30 spoke, with one exception. Unlike the 30 spokes that sit flush with the tires, the company’s 83 and 84 model rims extended out from the tires hence the nickname elbows. Due to the rims tendency to clack Cadillac stopped ordering them for their cars forcing Crager to discontinue production.

Shortly after the Detroit auto giant decided to move on to another type of rim for their luxury vehicles, the rims became a smash hit with Houston’s underground car scene, often showing up on late model Cadillacs, Buicks and Oldsmobiles.

From the mid to late 80’s the rims could still be purchased through Cadillac dealers as they proceeded to liquidate their entire back inventory of the troublesome rim. Once that avenue was tapped out the rims began to be bought and sold strictly on the secondary market. And as is generally the case high demand caused the prices to sky-rocket. To the point that a brand new set of 83’s or 84’s that could’ve originally been purchased from the dealer for under six hundred dollars a set nearly tripled in price.

By the early and mid 90’s a set of 83 and Vogues would set you back anywhere from fifteen to twenty five hundred depending on their condition. While a set of 84’s which have straighter spokes that stick out about an inch further would cost anywhere from three to five thousand.

On top of this sudden price increase was the fact that with the exception of a few Mom and Pop tire stores, most notably Big Tex on the Southside there was nowhere in Houston that you could just walk into and purchase a set, creating a process to where even a person with the money to buy a set would have to search around and try to find someone willing to sale a set. A process that was not only tedious but equally dangerous.

A tragic consequence of this high demand and short supply was the robbing and killings that began around 92. At one time the car jackings were so bad that a saying developed which was “83’s get you jacked, 84’s get you killed.”

Between 1992 and 2000 it’s believed that over a hundred young men and even a few women lost their lives as a result of riding Swangers.

Before long the rims had developed their own folklore to the point where putting a set on your car meant you either had a death wish or that you were someone who didn’t mind riding around strapped at all times.

When I was growing up, I craved a set badder than I wanted oxygen and didn’t rest until I got my first set. But soon I discovered that the rims were more trouble than they were worth and ended up selling them to another guy who didn’t mind spending most of his time guarding his car, or better yet his rims.

Today while these rims remain as popular as ever and very much a H-town staple things have improved a whole lot. In the early 2000’s spurred on by an employee who had grown up in Houston. Executives at Texas Wire Wheel decided to purchase the rims design patent from Cadillac and to start making newer versions of Elbows strictly for the Houston market.

While the originally elbows only came in 13 and 15 inch and are still favored by old heads. The newer version come in a range of sizes including the mind boggling Gorillas and Super Pokers.

Texas Wire Wheel’s decision to begin production of “Swangers” again was undoubtedly a good business move for the company. It also had the unintended consequence of decreasing (not stopping) the robbing and killings that had become a regular occurrence as result of the rims coveted status.

So the next time you’re in Houston, enjoy the weather, the Zoo, the Space Center, Reliant Stadium and all the beautiful shinny cars you’re likely to see. But beware of the rims, they bite.

Harris County Justice

If you’ve read, “Railroaded In Harris County” by Dell Robinson, you already know a good deal about Harris County’s unique brand of Justice. Just as I do myself, being a casualty of this convict-at-all-cost, truth-be-damned conviction machine.

A December 9, Houston Chronicle article about LaDondrell Montgomery let me know just how widespread this problem is. And that, like it happened to me in 1998, it was still happening unabated today. Despite all the high-profile exonerations, million dollar lawsuits, innocent commissions, and public pronouncements by district attorney’s and elected officials, essentially nothing had changed – young, poor black men were still being railroaded in Harris County as a result of faulty eyewitness testimony, unethical detectives, overzealous prosecutors, and inadequate incompetent defense attorneys.

Thirty-six year old LaDondrell Montgomery was just the latest example in a long line. Arrested for a 2009 aggravated robbery and identified by eye-witnesses as the robber, he stood trial in front of a Harris County jury, was found guilty and subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

The district attorney, who had just added another notch to his stellar conviction record, shook the jurors’ hands and thanked them one by one for performing their sacred duty. While Mr. Montgomery, who had already had several previous run-ins with the law, was led away to begin serving a long lengthy prison sentence, one that wouldn’t allow him to even be considered for parole until he was 66 years old in 2040.

A silent hip hip-hooray could be heard from the small but resolute, “get tough:on crime” crowd, who were fond of saying “you do the crime, you do the time.”

Curiously, their manifesto never mentioned anything about when you don’t do the crime, yet still wind up with the time?

It turned out that was the case with Mr. Montgomery. While the ”eye witnesses” were on the stand testifying in painstaking detail about his actions on the night of the robbery, actions that took place while he was already in jail for another charge.

When judge Mark Kent Ellis learned about this ironclad alibi, he hit the roof, “it boggles the mind that neither side knew about this during the trial. Both sides in this case were spectacularly incompetent.”

Fortunately for Mr. Montgomery, this information was brought to light as it led to his conviction being overturned and dismissed.

But none of that changes the fact that he was accused. Tried, convicted and ultimately sentenced to life. L-I-F-E IN P-R-I-S-O-N

For this to happen exactly how many people had to fail in our “just”, unfaultable justice system. A system where we are taught that only the guilty are arrested, tried, and convicted.

First, the police officers and detectives failed in arresting the wrong man.

Next up was the prosecutor, who is supposed to be a advocate of justice.

Then the criminal defense attorney, who couldn’t even succeed in defending a innocent man.

The eye-witnesses who positively identified the wrong man even though they said they were 100 percent certain it was him while on the witness stand.

The twelve law abiding supposedly reasonable-minded, average citizens of Harris County who were chosen to hear the alleged “facts” of the case and to then render a decision.

Collectively they represent the criminal justice system and they all failed, each and every one of them. And as a result a innocent man was sentenced to life in prison.

While you think about that, ask yourself what would’ve been the outcome if Mr. Montgomery had been at home with his wife and 2 year old daughter on the night of the robbery, instead of the Harris County jail an alibi so air-tight that even a creative prosecutor couldn’t refute it?

Had he been at home with his family instead of in jail, the prosecutor would’ve convinced the jury with superior oratory skills coupled with righteous indignation that his wife was simply lying to protect her husband and the jury would’ve believed him.

And LaDondrell Montgomery would’ve been another innocent man in Texas prison with a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit and nobody would’ve cared. After all he was indicted by a grand jury and tried by a jury of his peers. They had to have had some evidence or he never would’ve been indicted, or convicted at trial, right?

Wrong.

I’m a proof of it, as so is LaDondrell Montgomery.

Montesquieu said, “There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.”