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January 6th, 2003:

Behind the walls

Here’s a great interview with Mark Pitcavage, former proprietor of the Militia Watchdog and current fact-finding director for the Anti-Defamation League, not to mention a classmate of mine from Trinity University. Mark’s been tracking hate groups for years now, and he has some excellent insights as to how and why our jails are a fertile recruiting ground for them:

IR: You note in your report that the men who murdered James Byrd Jr. in the Jasper, Texas, truck-dragging incident had developed their racial beliefs while behind bars. What is the link between incarceration and politicization?

PITCAVAGE: Exactly what dynamic occurs varies with each particular individual, but there are some universals. Prisoners have a lot of time on their hands, and as a result they are desperate for reading materials. They are desperate for stimulation. Some of them are just fine with pumping weights, but others aren’t and seek out extremist publications as well as non-extremist publications. You see prisoners asking for free subscriptions, for correspondence, for people to send them materials, anything. They may not be ideological at that point, but they want something – and the material they get can lead to their politicization.

Another thing is that many prisoners want to justify or rationalize what they have done or what has happened to them. They don’t want to say that they did something wrong or deserved what they got. This is true whether you are black or white. By adopting a particular ideological slant, you can rationalize that you are not a simple criminal, that you are in jail for political reasons.


IR: Is there a relationship between getting recruited into these racist groups and then committing hate crimes or other violence after leaving prison?

PITCAVAGE: My suspicion is that there is probably not a huge link, because a lot of these people just join the gangs while they are in prison, then leave them when they get out. But the fact is that some prisoners do get genuinely politicized, and on top of that prison gives them an education in violence. It’s a mess. I think that is what happened in Texas [with the murderers of James Byrd Jr.], and the result was one of the most inhumane acts ever perpetrated in modern America.

I’ve written about the perils of a punitive approach to criminal justice before, and I firmly believe that locking up broader classes of offenders is the most expensive and least effective way of dealing with crime. Mark’s interview provides a lot more ammunition in this argument.

Dan Morales’ brother in extortion probe

The brother of former Attorney General Dan Morales is the target of an extortion investigation.

Quoting sources speaking on condition of anonymity, the [Dallas Morning News] said federal agents have identified music producer Michael Morales as the person who called the gubernatorial campaign of Tony Sanchez and threatened to make public an allegation that Sanchez committed a felony more than 30 years ago.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Michael Morales tried to extort between $200,000 and $300,000 from Sanchez, a Laredo banker who ultimately was defeated by Republican Gov. Rick Perry last fall.

Rick Perry’s campaign received an anonymous solicitation in April for this information as well. They declined. In October, the Sanchez campaign was contacted with threats to make this info public. Apparently, the seller struck out both times.

Don’t know if anything will come of this. Just another chapter in the history of Texas politics, I guess.

The Boring E

I tried, I really did, to watch The Crooked E last night, but after about 20 minutes of inane dialogue and Houston stereotyping, I gave up. I bought Tiffany a boxed set of the Harry Potter books from Amazon UK for Christmas, and a couple of hours with The Goblet of Fire was a much more productive use of my time.

I will say this, though – if the rest of the movie hammered the connection to Team Bush as relentlessly as the bit I watched did, I can certainly see why some people didn’t want it to air in November, just before the election.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the Enron prosecutors are looking to build on their successes from 2002 this year. Let’s all wish them the best.