While Wall Street crooks walk, thousands sit in California prisons for life over crimes as trivial as stealing socks
On July 15th, 1995, in the quiet Southern California city of Whittier, a 33-year-old black man named Curtis Wilkerson got up from a booth at McDonald's, walked into a nearby mall and, within the space of two hours, turned himself into the unluckiest man on Earth. "I was supposed to be waiting there while my girlfriend was at the beauty salon," he says.
But that day in the mall, something came over him. He wandered from store to store, bought a few things, still shaking his head about his girlfriend's hair appointment. After a while, he drifted into a department store called Mervyn's. Your typical chain store, full of mannequins and dress racks; they're out of business today. Suddenly, a pair of socks caught his eye. He grabbed them and slipped them into a shopping bag.
Wilkerson never made it out of the store. At the exit, he was, shall we say, overenthusiastically apprehended by two security officers. They took him to the store security office, where the guards started to argue with each other over whether or not to call the police. One guard wanted to let him pay for the socks and go, but the other guard was more of a hardass and called the cops, having no idea he was about to write himself a part in one of the most absurd scripts to ever hit Southern California.
Thanks to a brand-new, get-tough-on-crime state law, Wilkerson would soon be sentenced to life in prison for stealing a pair of plain white tube socks worth $2.50.
Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose "third strike" is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.
Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children's videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.
this is a p good history of 3 strikes. 3 strikes has always come across as back-of-the-envelope type bullshit policy that sounds good to the casual observer but doesn't actually solve any problems, so i'm interested in hearing some opinions here
and uh, before we start, just to muddy the waters here for our "party lines" types:
The surprise came when Mills went looking to raise money for what he expected would be a hard-fought campaign.
"I could not get any liberals to give me any money," he says. Mills did find one donor – George Soros – but that was it. In the end, more than 90 percent of the campaign was funded by two people: Soros and Mills himself.
Meanwhile, the campaign was having astonishing success attracting support from conservatives, even hardass law-and-order types. The very father of modern zero-tolerance, brokenwindows-policing techniques, William Bratton – the former chief of both the New York and Los Angeles police departments who had built his career around the idea that cracking down on minor crimes like subway-fare jumping and vandalism would reduce violent crime overall – backed Prop 36. "The Three Strikes approach," he said, "has political appeal for dealing with repeat offenders." But, he added, "Evidence has shown limited impact on crime levels."
Former Reagan Cabinet member George Shultz was another supporter, as was Reagan's attorney general, the anti-porn crusader Ed Meese. And, shockingly, so was Grover Norquist, the anti-tax mullah to many extreme-right causes. Norquist called California's law "big government at its worst," and added that "nonviolent offenders should be punished – but conservatives should insist the punishments are fair."
The many conservative endorsements, along with numerous endorsements of prominent California law-enforcement figures, went a long way toward helping the proposition finally pass in November.
The people who led the campaign remember their election-night victory with great fondness, but the whole experience was a bit bittersweet, at least for Mills, who seems scarred by the failure of liberals to stand up for the Norman Williamses of the world.
"They'd say things like, 'I hear you, but I really care about environmental causes, education for the poor,'" Mills says. "What it came down to, though, is that these people just don't care about the poor people of color who are locked up, and would as soon see them not released."
oh look phil ochs was right; liberals are fuging pathetic
meanwhile meese and norquist's broken clocks were right this time
anyway, what say you tinderbox