Related Books and Media

Eye of the Hurricane: My Path From Darkness to Freedom. (Chicago Review Press, Lawrence Hill Division, 2011) Dr. Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter with Ken Klonsky with a foreword by Nelson Mandela. 

MINT LITERARY AGENCY, mintliteraryagency.com

This book is Carter’s spiritual autobiography and a manual on the history of wrongful convictions in North America. It is within these pages that Carter explains how Truth is a higher form of knowledge than the law and how the Truth, and not the law, ‘shall set you free’. The book offers hope to those wrongly incarcerated and to those on the outside who are concerned about injustice.

“Rubin Carter describes his truly inspiring journey through his early life of brutality and suffering into his current life of hard-won spiritual affirmation and worldwide advocacy for the wrongly convicted. His views on the American justice system and the death penalty are outspoken, uncompromising and ultimately accurate. Dr. Carter’s autobiogrpahy presents the unique and passionate vision of a unique and passionate man.”

Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.

FILM: DAVID & ME, directed by Ray Klonsky and Marc Lamy

This film premiered at the Hot Docs Festival on April 27th, 2014, in Toronto. A heartrending story of a young man and his mutually supportive relationship with a wrongly convicted prisoner, David McCallum. Seven days previous to the premiere, on Easter Sunday, Rubin Carter passed away after his long battle with prostate cancer. Rubin’s loss is devastating both to those who loved him and to those thousands of wrongly convicted prisoners for whom he spoke. The coincidence of Rubin’s death, his dying plea for David McCallum and the premiere of this brilliantly crafted, well reasoned, as well as emotionally honest piece, was perhaps the most fitting farewell for Dr. Carter. Since his death, the urgency of David’s case has come to the fore; he is now near the top of the list for the Conviction Review Unit in Brooklyn.

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‘David & Me,’ a heartbreaking, urgent call for justice

David McCallum's family has wanted him to be released for 28 years, they think he was wrongfully convictedERNESTINE MCCALLUM (SECOND FROM LEFT) AND THE REST OF DAVID MCCALLUM’S FAMILY HAS BEEN FIGHTING FOR HIS RELEASE FOR 28 YEARS. PHOTO BY MATTHEW TAUB

Great film on a wrongfully convicted man

By Matthew Taub

Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief

“I actually heard about this case two years ago,” the criminal defense attorney sitting behind me said. “But it’s only seeing it like this–seeing this film–that you understand the tragedy. I’m a grown man, and I was in tears.”

This reviewer was similarly aghast. I wish I could tell you my critical impression of the documentary ‘David & Me’ — that of it’s quality, direction, pacing and plot. But it concerns a matter too urgent for a traditional review.

You need to see this film now, and then do whatever you can to get this man out of prison.

Championed by the likes of the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and an unlikely alliance of father-son Canadian writer-filmmakers, defense attorneys, and other activists, ‘David & Me’ is a layered, intricate and extremely well-executed portrait of of a false 1985 confession from a teenage suspect, one David McCallum from Bushwick. Based on that coerced confession, and despite a lack of any physical evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, and the disregard of important evidence pointing to other suspects, McCallum was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for a murder he quite clearly did not commit. He remains behind bars to this day.

Many reviews might naturally contrast the film (and the underlying case) to that of the Central Park Five. But that film championed the right of those wrongfully convicted Defendants for civil compensation–they had already been released from prison in 2002.

McCallum, by contrast, may die in jail.

“The Parole Board, unfortunately, has unfettered discretion,” said Laura Cohen, a law professor at Rutgers University, in a Q&A after the film’s screening at the Quad Cinema Friday evening. “They’re all seasoned political appointees, and David has to face them each time alone. It can be very intimidating.”

As relayed by it’s title, the film also contains a human interest story involving the filmmaker’s personal growth as a result of his relationship with McCallum. That relationship–as well as its peculiar origins, and charming development–is touching and unique. But with repetitive parole boards refusing to grant McCallum release, largely for his unwillingness to express remorse for a crime he didn’t commit, those appreciations must be reserved for another day.

“If the parole board came tonight, we’d buy them popcorn,” Cohen added. “We’d love for them to see this film.”

“I’ve asked the DA to review the conviction,” added Oscar Michelen, McCallum’s pro-bono criminal defense attorney, who appears in the film. Michelen noted, however, that he has received only a non-committal response. (Since then, the Conviction Review Unit in DA Ken Thompson’s office has begun an investigation that, if justice is to be served, will have to lead to McCallum’s release. kk)

In the meantime, you should see the film on these officials’ behalf, to help save David McCallum from a life in prison he doesn’t deserve.

Jessie Ball, Silence Once Begun (2014) REVIEW

This remarkable novel, set in Japan, documents the results of a confession to the crime of “disappearing” eleven people. Oda Sotatsu loses a ‘fixed’ bet to a character named Kakuzo, whose intention is to demonstrate to the general public the unreliability of confessions and the dangers of the death penalty. Sotatsu, the loser of the bet, based on a card draw, signs a confession that he has murdered the eleven disappeared people, all of whom are holed up at some cabin in the woods, courtesy of Kakuzo. Sotatsu is eventually hanged, but not before he experiences a transcendant loving relationship with Jito Joo, Kakuzo’s girlfriend, who had participated in the fraud. Sotatsu is the kind of man–especially chosen by Kakuzo–who accepts his fate without complaint, never defends himself, and maintains silence throughout the entire process. The novel is a series of revealing interviews with the main characters by the novelist, Jesse Ball. Bizarre? Yes. Brilliant? Yes. Is there a better description of the humiliation and horror of the death penalty? Maybe Capote’s In Cold Blood, maybe.

Near the conclusion, Kakuzo, really a cold-blooded intellectual, makes a remarkable thematic statement to the author. I wish the legal fraternity/sorority and the public would take his words seriously:

All true convictions should proceed from a scientific investigation the results of which can be replicated (and which should be shown to be replicable). A particular person should not necessarily have any involvement whatsoever in the investigation into or trial of their offense. The world itself should provide all details and all evidence. If such evidence is lacking, then a crime cannot be proven without a doubt, and a person ought not to be convicted or punished.

Amen. Would that David McCallum, Atif Rafay or Sebastian Burns had been given this benefit. They would never have gone to prison.

Ken Klonsky, Life Without (Quattro Books, 2012)

Life Without is a novel about a New York City cab driver wrongly convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Joel Ascher finds himself in an unfeeling, sometimes violent and always absurd Kafkaesque world, a prison where the guards and inmates exploit him for his money. He is also abandoned by his parents and betrayed by his brother.The book straddles a fine line between tragedy and comic absurdity.

“Can there be a nightmare more common and more terrifying than being falsely convicted and sent to prison? Life Without is one of the most brilliant and harrowing short novels I’ve read since I went on a John Hawkes binge; in fact, it has some of the same drive and adrenalin of Hawkes Travesty. Ken Klonsky’s novel is a tour de force in terms of style. read this novel, but not before bedtime.”

-Gary Geddes, Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for literary excellence.

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, The 16th Round, reissued by Chicago Review Press, 2011.

The 16th Round remains a classic of the Black Power movement that took root in the ‘war-torn’ cities of the United States during the 1970’s. Carter wrote this book from prison in an attempt to overturn his wrongful conviction; he was convicted, along with John Artis, of murdering three white people in a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. The 16th Round seethes with the kind of anger that Carter was later to reject, but its portrayal of prison life is second to none.

True Stories of False Confessions, edited by Rob Warden and Steve Drizin, Northwestern University Press, 2009

Five hundred absorbing and horrifying pages, the book presents a compendium of false confession cases. In most of the situations, the confessor is young, uneducated, and inexperienced with police interrogations. Although many of them have ‘happy’ endings, the consequences of incarceration linger well after the person is released. Warden and Drizin run the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University and know whereof they speak.

Film: Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal, Directed by Stephen Vittoria (to be released Feb. 2013.)

Mumia Abu-Jamal, until this year, was the highest profile death row prisoner in the United States. In 2012, he was moved from death row. His supporters on the outside say he was wrongly convicted of the killing of Philadelphia police officer, Dan Faulkner, in 1981. Mumia’s greater story is the political and philosophical core of his words, both on the radio from prison (until he was deprived of that venue) and in the print media. One of the ironies of prison is that the perceptive prisoner can see the workings of the society he no longer lives in more clearly than those of us who live on the outside. Mumia’s brilliance is explored in this dynamic new film.

This film by Stephen Vittoria takes almost no time on the details of Mumia’s wrongful conviction, a contention hotly disputed by Philadelphia law enforcement authorities. Instead, Vittoria places almost full emphasis on Mumia’s political philosophy, beliefs as far to the left of the American spectrum as one could possibly find. Essentially, the film’s subject is U.S. imperialism and the long history of dispossession, slavery, racism, and, yes, even genocide. As such, despite Mumia’s absolute brilliance, the film will offend those viewers who believe that America’s foreign policy can be characterized as an attempt to bring democracy to benighted nations around the world.

Vittoria’s film presents an interesting debate. Does a filmmaker simply tell the truth as he or she sees it or do they tailor the message to reach a wider audience? At no time did Vittoria even consider the marketability of Long Distance Revolutionary. The ‘truth’ here is Mumia’s truth. Are America’s foreign and domestic policy aims as self-serving and cruel as he contends? Is  the prison system designed to suppress and oppress African Americans and Hispanic people? Is American foreign policy designed to further corporate interests through power and violence? Mumia never appears angry or bitter, despite the thirty plus years he has spent incarcerated in Pennsylvania. Instead, he speaks in the measured tones one might expect of the prolific writer and researcher that he is.

The film intersperses stock footage with talking heads; its innovations, such as having an actor play Mumia in his death row cell or having the distinguished commentators (Angela Davis, Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Dick Gregory and others) directly address the viewer, enhance the subject, Mumia, a dramatic and compelling figure. His continued incarceration is an injustice, according to his many supporters. His detractors are furious that he escaped execution.  Neither side is responding to the facts of the case; rather they support or detest his political views. Mumia Abu-Jamal will always be a lightning rod, a man who cannot be silenced.

Film: Let the Fire Burn

“We had to destroy a village in order to save it.” Mumia Abu-Jamal

This unusual documentary was put together over the past two years from archival TV footage of the MOVE bombing of May 13, 1985 in Philadelphia. MOVE, an outgrowth of the Black Panthers, was a back to Africa sect that set up shop in two separate working class neighborhoods.  Their eviction from the first headquarters was accompanied by gun violence in which a policeman was killed and firemen wounded. Some confusion exists as to who actually fired the shots, since they came from automatic weapons which were not found during a police sweep of the house. Thirteen people were given huge prison sentences; they remain in prison.

MOVE’s adherents were throwbacks to Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement, although they had no clear intention of leaving the USA. It is fair to say that they were obnoxious neighbors, the property was a mess, they had a Luddite streak, abjuring electricity and other modern conveniences that go along with electrical power (e.g. television, vacuum cleaners) and they broadcast a lot of angry messages over loudspeakers, apparently an exception to the electrical ban. They were determined to bring up their kids in a manner befitting tribal, and not modern, Africa; pictures from the film show the children perpetually undressed. The violence of their messages reflected the violence done by the FBI in assassinating thirty-eight Black Panthers and throwing many more into prison.

None of MOVE’s exceptional behavior, however, justifies in the least the atrocity that took place. As in the burning of a cult home in Waco, Texas, the row house was bombed and the mayor, a black man named Goode (who quit politics to become a minister!) gave the order to bomb the MOVE headquarters/living space, inhabited by thirteen people, six of whom were children. Only one child and a woman made it out alive and the entire neighborhood burned down in what can only be described as a criminal act or even an atrocity  by officials and police. One policeman tried to save children’s lives and was held back by his superior officer. This living example of compassion and morality was subsequently called a “nigger lover” and retired from the Philadelphia police, suffering from P.T.S.D. The final tally from the MOVE bombing: eleven dead, dozens injured and sixty-one homes destroyed, well kept homes inhabited mostly by black people. Thirty-two million dollars in reparations were awarded over two decades later, but no one was charged for their part in this atrocity.

This kind of brutality was the result of two separate phenomena. First, the American defeat in Vietnam created residual anger that took decades to dissipate. The methodology that was used in Vietnam, carpet bombing, attempted intimidation, napalm, i.e. overwhelming force, became part of the mentality of police forces. For years, it was said by politicians that if only the Americans had used more force they would have triumphed in Vietnam. At best, this belief was delusional. Even now in 2014, the same methodology is being used; in Ferguson, Missouri, police clad in military outfits and riot gear dispersed and arrested people protesting the police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed young African American.

The second phenomenon was a loss in the belief of the American Dream, characterized by an unprecedented crime wave in American cities. Politicians and police looked the other way as innocent people were railroaded into prison, evidence be damned. Also, the police routinely used physical violence against mostly African American communities.

FILM: The Central Park Five

This 2012-3 film by Ken Burns, TV documentary maker par excellence, is an absorbing look at the problem of false confessions, especially with regard to black youths in New York City in the 1980’s and 90’s. The five young men were accused and convicted of raping and physically assaulting “The Central Park jogger”. She barely survived the ordeal. As soon as the faces of the accused hit the press, the lynching parties, especially the press, began their screams for vengeance. Sensationalism was the order of the day, all of it tinged with racism. That they were badgered into confessing is no surprise, considering their vulnerability and the same tactic used in the David McCallum case: tell us that they (he) did it and you can go home. The one element that does not discredit the police and prosecutors is that these five sixteen year old kids were actually in the park that night, doing other things that might qualify as criminal behavior.

If scores of these films do nothing more than guarantee the filming of interrogations, as happens in some jurisdictions, then they would have done some good.

FILM: West of Memphis, a documentary directed by Amy Berg

Unfortunately, the list of wrongful conviction films is growing ever longer. Each has its own compelling drama, none more so than the epic documentary, West of Memphis. Three Arkansas teenagers, Damien Echols, James Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley) were wrongly convicted of the grisly 1994 slayings of three eight-year-old boys who were found at the bottom of a river. Echols, said to be the ringleader of a Satanic cult, was actually slated for execution. The usual array of prosecution and police errors were perhaps more egregious here in light of a total absence of incriminating forensic evidence. The film is centered on Echols relationship with a woman, Lorri Davis, whom he marries while still in prison. She has the qualities of persistence and perseverance that advocates of the wrongly convicted need to see their cases through to the end. The WM3 (West Memphis 3) were also saved by the money and publicity that entertainment stars like Eddie Vedder and Peter Jackson (of Ring Trilogy films) were able to bring to the table.  Even so, the solution to the wrongful conviction is hardly fair or equitable; they all had to cop an Alford plea, an admission of guilt while proclaiming innocence. The guilty plea paves the way for their release, but their supporters in the community and the wrongly convicted men themselves can claim exoneration. Those who run the justice system have the last laugh; they can still claim that they got the right guys and not have to go after the real murderer(s). There are many surprises in this film around evidence gathering. The real subject, in my view, is the intransigence of the justice system.

West of Memphis recalls the Burns and Rafay case, not simply because both triple murders occurred in 1994. In both cases, huge assumptions were made about the defendants. Echols had a kind of arrogance in his bearing that reminded me of Sebastian Burns. Both were condemned by the public and the self-righteous judges and prosecutors in the absence of forensic evidence. A false confession, Misskelley and Burns, figured prominently in the conviction. Misskelley is borderline retarded and was fed various details by his interrogators. Burns, a bright young man, was deceived by police posing as gangsters. It is altogether untrue that only intellectually challenged people will falsely confess. Another parallel is that Baldwin, like Rafay, was asked to give evidence against Echols in return for leniency. Neither Rafay nor Baldwin would agree to lie. The principled courage of such people like Baldwin and Rafay (and John Artis who would not testify against “Hurricane” Carter) is inspiring.

Stories are what we live by but sometimes the wrong story is superimposed on an unrelated case. Burns and Rafay were likened to the infamous Loeb and Leopold, two wealthy young men in the 1920’s, who, through various readings, thought that some people, inferior beings, were expendable. A shared love of Nietzche for both Rafay and Leopold became a lynchpin in the prosecution’s case. With the WM3, the stories, at the time, of Satanic cults devouring the organs of young children in gruesome rituals became the  imprint for the Arkansas crime. But, in fact, it was clearly shown in the course of the film that the three submerged victims were neither mutilated or tortured, but chewed on by large snapping turtles. Oh, and another more likely suspect is revealed during the investigation, but the police and other officials want nothing to do with him. They do have their guilty pleas, after all.

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