Get comfortable, this is a long one
Trip Start Dec 28, 2004
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When I last left you I was sitting in the beer garden of a nearby bar (for those of you familiar with SIU, it was "sidetracks"). I was well past the general unease and well into fits of paranoia induced nausea and the only reason I was even at the bar was to get out of the house in case the cops were going to indeed show up. I also had a vantage point where I could see the police caravan head towards my homestead if it ever did materialize so if nothing else, I would have a running start.
We spent a few hours at the bar and then walked back to the house to prepare for that nights party. You would be surprised how much work goes into throwing a giant keg party at university but that is a post for another day. The kegs were bought and placed, the jello shots poured and congealing, and the bar stocked with a wide assortment of the cheapest gut rot liquor available. This was all accomplished by 5pm and then there was nothing left to do but wait for either the police to show up or our usual herd of drunken freshmen.
As I stated before, I was not in a mood to party. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and hide from the world for the next few weeks, not have a few hundred people come over my house. But come they did. The house filled with the usual throng of 18 year olds while I stayed in my bedroom, in my pj's (sweat shirt and pants), playing solitaire on my computer. I had gotten word about the kid's death somewhere around 10am and now it was well past 10pm. I was beginning to feel a glimmer of hope that I had somehow escaped this dire situation unscathed. I have a very vivid memory of looking at my clock which read 10:52pm and thinking 'well shit, maybe they aren't coming.' And I swear to god, the moment that thought cleared my synapses they kicked in the front door.
Even though I was expecting their eventual appearance I still was a bit confused by the commotion that I heard outside my bedroom door. There was a general confusion and scuffling crowd noise and then I heard the "get on the fucking floor. Get down on the fucking floor!!" and that's when I knew that our local law enforcement had finally decided to show up. I can't quite say the feeling I was experiencing was relief because if you have ever had your door kicked in (I have had one kick in and one battering ram) you know it's DEFINITELY NOT a sense of relief but at the same time the waiting is over and at least now you can face the bullshit head on.
As I said before, there was a massive party going on inside my house (and in the backyard) but I was cloistered in my room. I figured there was no reason to sit in my room and wait for them to kick in THAT door also so I stood up and opened my door. My bedroom opened directly to the living room and it was here that the police had about 60 kids lying on the floor at gun point. I immediately had a shotgun pointed at the left side of my head from about 5 feet away. "get on the fucking floor!!" Now I know that I have a jaded view point with this whole situation but it seems to me that the law enforcement officials who are "first through the door" and conduct these raids seem to get off on this sort of thing. I mean I know there must be one hell of an adrenaline rush but I think a lot of these guys have a control, domineering, god complex that is fed over and over again in these situations. To sum it all up, I think most of our law enforcement officials are complete jackasses.
I'm now lying face down on the floor as the police try and weave their way in and out of the bodies sprawled across the floor. They have photo copies of the student i.d. cards of all the people who live in the house and they are trying to search us out. Again, feeling no need to drag this painful preliminary act out any longer then need be I called out "I'm right here". This got a couple of the cop's attention and they came over with their photo copies and discovered that they had indeed found what they were looking for. I was quickly handcuffed (can I just say that there is no feeling more uncomfortable then this) and then left on the floor for about another 10 minutes while they tried to gain some semblance of control over the gigantic crowd and also search the house for my stash of drugs. It was after having found nothing that they finally came to me.
The detective in charge of the show (my old dear friend detective Chuck Leonard ) finally came over and got me off the floor and sat me down on our mustard yellow, crushed velvet couch (it had been named the "disco couch" and I miss it) and then he sat on the coffee table across from me. He was a big bastard, probably standing about 6'3 and dressed in some horrible generic polo shirt tucked into his khaki's, gun and badge clipped onto the belt just for good measure. If I had to guess I would say he was in his late 50's maybe early 60's, his eyes heavy with crow's feet and his hair gone completely grey. This was my arresting officer as he sat down across from me. "Now Neal, you have to know that you are in a bit of trouble here" he started off with. "This is a very serious situation. Now you can only help yourself by cooperating with us.".........I didn't even pause "ok sure. What do you need?" I was more than happy to be cooperative just so long as it had absolutely nothing to do with my drug business. If he needed someone to walk his dogs next Friday, I was his man. "Well Neal, we need to know where your drugs are." ........"drugs? what do you mean drugs? I don't sell drugs." I said with a perfectly straight face which surprised even me. Now we both knew I was full of shit and we were really just doing the first steps of a long and elaborate dance but it didn't help matters when all 60 kids who were being held on the floor started to laugh at the notion that I didn't sell drugs.
They held me on that couch for a long time. They patted down every party goer and then let them leave which took quite a while. They then proceeded to cut chunks out of our furniture looking for these illusive drugs. Oh lordy they even desecrated the disco couch.....have you no shame sir!? The wanton violence was not restricted to our furniture as they began to put sledge hammer to wall in hopes of finding my magical drywall encased stash. As the low level dicks were on their reign of destruction some others were beginning to take my roommates off into separate rooms to be interviewed and then see if their stories matched. It was probably after about 2 hours that they finally decided to bring me to the station on an old warrant for an unpaid ticket (selling nitrous oxide). They couldn't arrest me on those glorious drug charges because they couldn't find the damn drugs. My last words to one of my roommates as I was being led out the door was "I'll be back in a few hours".....man how those words have rung in my ears over the years. I was led out of the house and out into the street which was awash in the merry lights of a variety of police forces. There were cars from the SIU police, Carbondale police, State police and county sheriff. All told I would guess there were about 25-30 police vehicles parked in the street and on a few front lawns. The crowd that had gathered to watch the festivities was enormous and it was a bit of a rock star moment being led out of the house in cuffs. Yeah I know that sounds lame but I'm aiming for 100% disclosure.....or as close as I can get.
The next part of this story I did not witness first hand, but gathered through police files leading up to my trial. My lawyer filed a "motion of discovery" which means that the state has to hand over all the evidence they have against you. Well my lawyer being the swell guy that he was, photo copied the whole damn thing and sent me a copy in the county jail. An interesting side note to that.......the witness statements have a space for the person's name, address, phone number, Social security number and age. This information (other than name) is supposed to be blacked out by the police when sent to the defense lawyers but in my case, it never was. Long story short, I had the address and social security number of everyone who was going to testify against me. I think it's damn lucky I'm not a vengeful guy.
So while I sat handcuffed to a chair at the SIU police department (they let the university police arrest me because of the high profile nature of the case....what with a kid jumping out a dorm window while another student was his dealer) this is what happened. One of my roommates was taken off for his interview and was threatened with arrest due to a $100 speeding ticket that he never paid for. To avoid this arrest and that damn $100 he sold me out and told the cops that the drugs were next door. Great friend eh?
So now the two detectives go to the neighbor's house but there is no answer at the door. Being the patient prick types, they sit in their car in front of the house and wait. What no one knew was that when the shit hit the proverbial fan, the girls grabbed the drugs out of the freezer and ran across town to one of their friends and dropped it there. It's now 5am and the two detectives are starting their car to go back to the station, having given up on contacting the girls for the night, when they see 3 females enter the home (just another nail of bad luck in the Neal coffin).
The cops confront the girls and they freak out as expected. I don't hold a grudge against them because I was the one that assured them that it would never come to that so I was a bit responsible for their situation. The girls, never having dealt with the police before, gave up the location of the drugs in about 5 minutes. So now the detectives are driving across town and come to the third house in this little narcotic chain. The girl opens the door and the police ask her permission to search her house. All she had to do was say no, close the door and flush the drugs. They didn't have a warrant and it would have taken at least a few hours to obtain one with it being 5am on a Sunday morning. All she had to do was say no and close the door.....but she didn't and of course they found my drugs.
I was taken from the police station to the county jail around 7am and put in a holding cell. I had been awake all night, wired to the gills with worry and fright but now that I had a crappy ass mattress and something that resembled a pillow, I passed out cold. I'm not sure how long I was out for, I just know that I was pulled out of a deep sleep, where all my dreams were about bail hearings. I was being taken to the general population wing of the jail which meant I was officially booked into the system. I was groggy and trying to shuffle along with the guard when I asked "when do I have my bail hearing?"........"already had it, your bail is $10,000"........"oh that's not too bad" I said as we kept walking deeper into the jail. What you need to understand is that in Illinois, you pay 10% of your bail to get out of jail, so a $10,000 bail is "$1,000 to walk". The guard corrected me as we kept going "No, your bail is $100,000, $10,000 to walk"........."Aw shit" I wasn't going anywhere.
It was a day or two later that I was pulled out of the cell block to go to my preliminary hearing. The prelim is really nothing more than a reading of the charges against you, your plea to those charges and an appointing of a lawyer if you can't afford one. I had been through it before with my other case so I knew what to expect. I was looking at what is called a 'class x' felony possession of narcotics with intent to deliver. A class x being a mandatory sentence of 6-30 years with no discretion for the judge to lower the sentence due to the non-violent nature of the crime or the past history of the defendant. In Illinois, 15 hits of LSD is a class x felony. I was arrested with 750 hits.
So there I was with the orange jail garb, my arms and feet shackled to the waist chain that was cinched around my midsection as the judge read my charges......one count of murder.....one count of conspiracy to commit murder.....one count of super class x possession of narcotics. My knees went weak and I almost fell over. I don't know what the hell just happened but my situation just went from bad to ummmmm there is no category for the shit I found myself in. Life ending maybe?
After the very brief hearing, you are allowed to meet with a secretary for your court appointed attorney. She explained to me that the law in Illinois was that if a drug caused a person's death, then the dealer could be charged with murder. The conspiracy part came from the fact that I didn't sell it directly to the kid but one of my lower level dealers did, so if they wanted to pin the murder charge on me also then they had to throw in the conspiracy charge. As for my drug charges.........15-100 hits of Lsd is 6-30 years. 100-300 hits is 9-40 etc etc.....i was looking at 12-60 for my 750 hits of acid. So let's add this up friends and neighbors. We had murder which is 25-life, conspiracy to commit which is 15-40 and then the drugs which is 12-60. That's a lot of fucking years. No, strike that. That's my life. The secretary informed me that the state was willing to cut a deal right now if I were to plead guilty. The state always wants you to plead guilty just to save time, money and the small chance of a jury going against them. So the initial offer of the state for my plea of guilty was 45 years in the state penitentiary.
After this meeting, much of my free time had shifted from deciding whether or not to kill myself to just exactly how I could do it. It's a surprisingly difficult enterprise to engage in while in prison when you stop and think about it. You really only have two options and those are either to hang yourself or if you had the funds.....to overdose on drugs. I suppose many of you may be shocked at this admission but none of you have been confronted with spending half a century behind bars. I'm going to have to ask you to withhold judgment of me simply because until you face the circumstances I found myself in, you just have no idea how it feels and how you would react. You may think you have some general idea but let me assure you that you don't and I hope you never do. All this being said, I had decided to kill myself from a heroin overdose upon my arrival at the state penitentiary if I was found guilty of the charges that I was facing and was sentenced to decades upon decades of prison time.
It took a bit of convincing but I finally talked my parents into getting me a lawyer. They have always been big believers in the "system" and that everyone gets a fair shake. Those of us who have actually partaken in said system know this not to be true. My step mom actually asked "what can a private lawyer do that a public defender can't?" So I find the best lawyer in southern Illinois and he comes to the jail and talks to me for an hour in one of the interview rooms and then tells me he'll read over my case and will let me know if he will take it in a few days. Sure enough he comes back in 2 days and tells me that he will take the case but that I should know that it's not a matter of IF I will go to prison but for how long I will go. The state had me by the balls and were more than happy to squeeze.
I had been in the county jail with those crazy charges for about 2 weeks. My new lawyer (if you ever need a lawyer in southern Illinois, Richard White is your guy) filed the paperwork for change of attorney and the next day the murder charge and conspiracy charges were dropped. It turns out that the state law actually says that if the drugs directly cause a person's death......say I sold you heroin that stopped your heart.....then the dealer can be charged with murder. In my case, the drugs had not killed the person but the person had taken their own life while under the influence. When I obtained a real lawyer, the state realized they were not going to be able to get a conviction on such a lame charge so they dropped it. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had stuck with the public defender. After this turn of events the states new offer was 18 years for a plea of guilty which didn't seem all that great either. My lawyer advised me to hold out and he would keep working on them all the way up until the beginning of the trial. The state has 3 months to bring you to trial or has to release you....god bless the constitution and the right to a speedy trial.
The summer dragged on and the state was not budging from their offer of 18 years. I was beginning to get pretty fucking worried truth be told but there was little that I could do but sit and wait for a miracle from my lawyer. It was the Tuesday before my trial (it was going to begin on Monday) and my lawyer had come to say that the state was sticking to its guns with the 18 year offer so we might as well take it to trial because it wasn't going to be any worse then what the state was offering. "If I hear anything I'll let you know. If not I'll see you on Monday" were his parting words.
Ok so we have to take ANOTHER detour here so you fully understand the next part of this little tale. All through that year there had been a serial killer running around the country, hopping off of freight trains and killing the random person in their home and then hopping back on the train. This crazy son of a bitch had killed people all across the u.s. and had actually killed a couple in the county I was being held in. Well the week before my trial, this guy comes into Texas from Mexico and turns himself into authorities and confesses to all of these murders. The reason why I'm telling you this is that the D.A. that was busting my balls and trying to really stick it to me suddenly had to fly to Texas for this high profile meeting to see who gets first dibs on this guy. When he leaves, he gives my case to one of his underlings and this guy almost immediately offers my lawyer a deal of 6 years (he was lowering it from a "super" class x to a normal class x). I was sitting in the cell block day room on the Thursday before my trial when a guard pounds on the glass window that made up one of the walls and tells me to call my lawyer. The papers were signed within the hour and all that was left was my appearance before the judge the next day where I officially pled guilty and received the sentence of 6 years. I was soon on the bus to menard maximum security prison (same prison as john Wayne Gacy) where I spent the first 6 months or so before I was transferred to a medium-max prison where I spent the majority of my sentence.
What can I say about prison really? Well to begin with, on one hand it's not as bad as TV makes it out to be. There is violence but not as often as movies portray. I never saw any sort of sexual violence which was reassuring. On the other hand, the separation from the world, from society, from friends and family and from your LIFE is so much worse than anything that I have ever read or seen portrayed in the various forms of media. I had been neatly cut out of the fabric of my life and I only existed in the fading memories of my few friends and family. For all intensive purposes, I no longer existed.
My friends were murderers and armed robbers who were shockingly bad at the board game "RISK". My days were spent reading books, watching TV and lifting weights. I was able to go and read all the books that I had always wanted to read but never got around to so I suppose that was a good thing. I also wrote a book while I was in prison. I wrote the damn thing long hand on legal paper and it took up 245 pages so I figure when I'm done typing it into my laptop it will be around 500 pages. It's an autobiographical tale of my life before prison and I was surprised by how interesting the damn thing was. The first few pages can be found somewhere on this blog so check them out if you are interested.
I was released from prison 2 ½ years later a little older and a little wiser and much more bitter. I could write another 10 pages on this blog about my last day or two in prison but let me just sum it up by saying this. There is no better feeling in the world then being released from prison after a substantial incarceration. To walk through those last set of doors and out of the prison, out into the parking lot and out of the shadow of the gun towers is a feeling that I cannot really describe but let me assure you that its glorious.
In the almost 3 years of my incarceration, I received no rehabilitation and no job training. There was no effort made to change my ways and ease my reintroduction back into society. The Illinois department of corrections should be renamed the department of human warehousing. I understand now the reason behind the staggeringly high recidivism rate that occurs in the United States. The well accepted idea of just locking a criminal away for years without any sort of realistic or meaningful rehabilitation does nothing more than create a more desperate criminal upon release. I suppose I escaped this fatal spiral due to strong family support and a higher level of education. It didn't hurt that I never NEEDED to sell drugs but instead found it very satisfying to be able to BE THE GUY. Yeah the money was nice but the reputation was almost as good. When faced with going back to prison or giving up the reputation it's not much of a contest. The choice of going back to prison or feeding my family would be a much tougher choice.
So of course people want to know...."do you feel bad about the kid who died?" and my answer is no. We all make choices in our lives and we all have to pay the consequences. I chose to sell drugs and I had to face my consequences. The drugs I sold him were clean and were not impure in any way. They worked as advertised. I'm in no way happy he died but at the same time, I feel absolutely no responsibility for his death.
The next question is always "did you learn anything in prison?" and the answer to that is yes. I have learned many things and all of them negative. I won't use this blog as a forum to air my many disputes and grievances (other than the one or two that I already waxed poetic upon earlier) but all I will say is that the u.s. penal system is badly broken in need of reform.
So that's my story, first time written down and in print and it's nice to be able just to point someone to my blog instead of repeating the same story over and over again. I suppose that some of you may take offense with my utter unrepentant nature and to that I say tough shit. I have not asked for pity or for sympathy, I'm not asking for your understanding or acceptance. I've never claimed to be an angel and I'm equally not the devil either.
"In a world full of criminals, the only crime is getting caught."
-Hunter S. Thompson