20 August, 2021

Missouri Irradiates Prisoners to Keep Drugs Out of Its Prisons (And I Feel Fine)

Here's something nice: I no longer have to strip naked then squat and cough in front of strangers before being permitted a four-hour visit from loved ones. Several prisons in Missouri have started using full-body x-ray machines to see if anyone's trying to secret contraband in or (for whatever reason) out of the institution.

My first taste of this, like a sip of goat's milk or a world without bees, will probably take some getting used to. I've been waiting for this visit from my mother for nearly a month. She and I waited much longer last year, yes, but since the Department of Corrections lets us vaccinated people visit, a month-long wait once again feels like a stretch of time.

The room where the big machine stands is still referred to as "Strip-Outs" by the staff – "Strips," if you're cool. Walking inside, ceiling-mounted cameras monitor in ten directions, presumably to document misconduct and shenanigans. This horseshoe-shaped room is not a place to be shy. I stand at one side, behind a red line taped to the floor, and wait for someone inside to call out, "Next."

When the guard posted there does, I round the corner and find the usual scene in Strips slightly altered. The scanner, a closet-sized unit with flat surfaces that someone tried to differentiate with two contrasting shades of hospital blue that somehow remind me of my grandmother's bathroom. A Department of Corrections emblem has been affixed to the side. The device, with its blunt corners and total lack of aesthetic considerations, manages to appear half futuristic, half retro – and one hundred percent institutional.

The guard who called me into the room is tall, with a small island of dark hair at the top of his head. It looks like he's wearing the world's tiniest beret. Standing behind a tall touchscreen control panel on casters, he tells me to choose my size of visiting clothes and change into them. Folded state-issued grays line the top shelf to my right. Of the bright orange foam shower shoes glaring out from the cabinet to my left, I pick a pair with "XL" written on the toes. Such stylish footwear for this afternoon get-together! After I exchange my own gray pants for a loaner pair and throw an almost-matching gray shirt over myself, the guard beckons me to step up.

"Put your feet on the feet and stand real still," he tells me, meaning the outlines of footprints on the floor of the device. I comply. The machine hums and clacks. Then take a step down. He rotates as I do, strategically angling the touchscreen on its casters so I can't see inside myself.

"What all does that show you?" I ask.

Without looking up, he says, "I can even see if you've had lunch."

What a concept: my pancreas has become a security concern.

When he says, "Enjoy your visit," I take it to mean that I'm cleared to enter the visiting room.

I'll be scanned again on the way out, when they'll compare the incoming with the outgoing. So many scans! I usually get at least one visit a month. Radiation's effects are cumulative. Will this give me cancer or otherwise mutate some random gland? I sure hope not. It's my mother who's come to see me; time with her is precious. Thus, in the way of anyone who makes regular life decisions that place their health at some degree of risk, in exchange for a short-term payoff, I kinda don't care what harm it can do. If it keeps me in contact with those whom I love, by all means, scan away!

13 August, 2021

Framed for Life

The latest bit of media about my case came out a few weeks ago – a four-volume book, titled Framed for Life. The author, John Allen, whom I now, in the decade since he published the first book about my case, think of as a good friend, hopes to influence a readership made up of politicians and investigative journalists.

With a scalpel, Allen's multi-part book dissects my wrongful conviction, showing how Jackson County, Missouri, prosecutors (now-disgraced Amy McGowan, in particular) committed fraud on the court in their efforts to convict me of murder. The books not only expose facts of my trial that were overlooked by virtually everyone, they're also a scathing indictment of what one judge called Jackson County's "culture of corruption." Or so I gather; I can't comprehend more than a few words of them, here and there.

I have copies of the volumes, generously furnished by the author, and I'm in the process of reviewing them. The thing is, this is stuff that I've been over and over and over a hundred times, and can barely assimilate any more. It's as though the parts of my mind where information about my case, the 1997 death of Anastasia WitbolsFeugen, is stored have reached maximum capacity. MEMORY FULL, my brain might as well be saying. I even have a hard time talking about it; it incites an insidious kind of stress, the physical tells of which are twitchy eyelids, jaw and neck tension, and the occasional headache.

Nevertheless, I'm currently picking my way through Volume One of Framed for Life. It's slow going. This isn't because the book's a mammoth tome (it's actually quite thin) but because I can only take so much at a stretch before my tolerance hits its limit and I overload, unable to take in any more about perjury, withheld documentation, and lies, lies, lies, lies, lies.

It's interesting, if dismaying, to see old journal entries I made during the year I was held in the county jail before trial. I can still remember the splintery number-two pencil dancing uncomfortably in my hand, writing those thoughts in fear but under the somewhat protective spell of naivete. Those handwritten pages from half a lifetime ago – those I understand. Their language is unambiguous to me, the concepts they introduce are familiar in a visceral way.

I wish I could warn twenty-two-year-old Byron of the pitfalls awaiting him at trial, how stacked against him the deck is. But I can only sit reading, mute and impotent, as the travesty plays out on the page. Again.

How many more times will it, I wonder, before this is finally over. It gets so old. Or maybe that's just me, waiting for justice.