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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine August 2004
Inside America's Prisons

EQUAL INJUSTICE UNDER THE LAW
Going back to the 1800s, US jails have been filled with people arrested on seemingly innocuous charges.
The following is a small sample of the unbelievable charges brought by the US government against American citizens.

10 Years in Jail for Writing to the Editor
Rosa Pastor Stokes was married to millionaire James Phelps Stokes and had all the money in the world to live a life of leisure. Instead of just taking it easy, however, she fought for social justice while befriending the likes of Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and Clarence Darrow. In 1917, she was arrested under the new federal Espionage Act. Under that law, individuals could be fined $10,000 and sentenced to up to 20 years in jail for interfering with the recruiting of troops or releasing information concerning national defense. Stokes received a sentence of 10 years in jail simply for writing a letter to the Kansas City Star that stated, “no government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people while the government is for the profiteers.” After her release, she continued to work for social reform. She was critically injured after being clubbed by a police officer in a 1929 demonstration demanding that the US withdraw its military forces from Haiti.

Civil Disobedience to Help End Slavery
Passed by Congress in 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act required US Marshals and citizens to return runaway slaves to their masters. Those who harbored or failed to arrest runaway slaves were to be fined $1,000, while those who found and returned slaves were entitled to a finder’s fee. Fugitives were denied the right to a trial. As a result of this law, many former slaves migrated to Canada. The Vigilance Committee in Boston, MA, likened the US Marshals to federally sponsored kidnappers. The fugitive Thomas Sims was arrested and held in April 1850. His arrest provoked such outrage that it took some 300 armed police officers and US Marshals to escort Sims to the Navy ship that transported him back to his former owner, who then sold him to another slave owner in Mississippi. The Fugitive Slave Act so outraged citizens such as Arthur Tappan that he publicly declared that he would disobey the law and helped fund the “Underground Railroad” to help former slaves in their flight to freedom.

Jailed for Not Revealing Political Affiliation
Academy Award winner Ring Lardner, Jr., was one of Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters in the 1940s. His career came to a screeching halt when he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify about the motion picture industry and his left-wing views. Lardner refused to testify, citing his rights under the First Amendment. Lardner was fired from his job and blacklisted, fined $1,000, and incarcerated for one year in a federal prison in Danbury, CT. After the blacklist was lifted in the 1960s, Lardner resumed his respected writing career and received a second Academy Award for his screenplay of the hit movie “MASH.”

Handcuffing Freedom, Igniting Civil Rights
On December 1, 1955, a revolution started. On that day, Rosa Parks, a black woman in Montgomery, AL, refused to yield her bus seat to a white passenger. The bus driver stopped the bus and the police arrived to arrest Ms. Parks and haul her away in handcuffs. Her arrest was a pivotal moment, inspiring religious leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., to organize the Montgomery bus boycott that ignited the Civil Rights Movement. In the years following, civil rights leaders were themselves frequent targets of unjustified imprisonment. Dr. King, a minister and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1964, was harassed, arrested, and jailed—once for requesting service at an Atlanta department-store lunch counter, and once for violating probation on a traffic offense.

Innocent Prisoners Wrongly Sentenced to Die
Since 1973, 114 inmates in 25 states have been released from death row after being proven innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. The idea of executing innocent people who may have been railroaded by racist or corrupt police has become so unsettling that two states, Illinois and Maryland, recently decided to suspend all executions.# Meanwhile, other cases have continued to move through the courts, freeing death-row inmates across the country. In Florida, Rudolph Holton was freed after spending 16 years on death row for a rape he did not commit.# In Illinois, Aaron Patterson was freed after 17 years when his innocence in a stabbing murder was proven. Madison Hobley was freed after serving 16 years on death row for a mistaken arson conviction. The fire he was convicted of setting killed seven people, including his wife and child. Many of these cases involved false confessions that police literally “beat out” of the accused.

Imprisoned for Betraying US Military Policy
In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg, a Harvard graduate and former commander of a Marine rifle company, passed along a 7,000-page, top-secret government study to the New York Times. The study, which came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers,” exposed the US military strategy in Vietnam as one founded on lies and distortions. He was tried on 12 felony counts, with a possible sentence of 115 years. His trial was dismissed in 1973 on the grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which later led to the convictions of several White House aides and ultimately figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon.

Woman Imprisoned for Feeding Homeless
“If feeding people is a crime, I am beyond rehabilitation,” said Sandra Loranger, who may well be the first American to be convicted of feeding the homeless. She was found guilty of violating an obscure health code law in Santa Cruz, CA, intended to regulate the kitchens in food establishments. She served 45 days in jail.

References

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