Spider Sense

From the keyboard of Surly 1

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Published originally on the Doomstead Diner March 2, 2014

Discuss this article here on the Diner Forum.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
–James Thurber

She battles insomnia and never sleeps well. But this night was different. She was convinced we had an intruder.

Contrary woke and put on her robe, and crept downstairs to investigate; nothing but an old house, an empty downstairs, and the winter breezes softly sighing. In the morning, as she recounted the story, I noted that she had gone downstairs unarmed. I asked whether she was going to shoo any intruder off with a broom– what? She replied that, yeah, she’d fly circles around him.

So there was nothing inside our house, but as I was to shortly learn, there was a predator in our midst. And Contrary’s spider sense, with which she is well in tune, and which has served her well in the past, sent off an early warning signal and put her on alert…

Fugitive Colorado sex offender Eric Hartwell, who apparently cut off his ankle monitor and left a group home, has been apprehended in Norfolk, Virginia, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

A fugitive warrant was requested minutes after Hartwell, 51, walked away from Independence House in Denver a week ago.

Hartwell was convicted of raping a child in 1991 and of attempted indecent liberties in 1996, according to the Colorado sex offender registry.

Apparently federal marshals kicked in the door of the hotel in a well-traveled local shopping area after he failed to answer.

You might well ask yourself, “Gee, why is a serial sex offender and rapist out on parole?” Excellent question.

The Denver Post reports that Hartwell has had a career of child rape since 1991. He is been arrested since for similar offenses, and has typically failed to register as a sex offender wherever he lived. Nevertheless, the courts felt it necessary to release him on parole with an ankle bracelet, ignoring the fact that he had removed such bracelets and absconded on parole several times previously. Flight brought him to Norfolk on Thursday.

A local columnist, Kerry Daugherty, with whom I agree about twice a year, this time got the story quite right. Piecing the story together from the available news stories, court documents and sex offender registries, she pieced together a cautionary tale of judicial naïveté and misplaced public safety priorities.

In 1991 – when he was about 28 years old – Hartwell raped a 6-year-old neighbor girl after showing her pornographic pictures.

He was caught and charged with rape of a child in Washington state. Punishable, it appears, by up to life in prison.

Hartwell pleaded guilty. So why is he free 23 years later?

Hartwell’s punishment for this unspeakable crime was a suspended sentence, 78 months’ probation. He was ordered into treatment. . .

In 1996 – while on probation – Hartwell was convicted of two more felonies: attempted indecent liberties and failure to register as a sex offender. According to court documents and news accounts, Hartwell picked up a 17-year-old pregnant hitchhiker and threatened to rape her.

She escaped after a bystander noticed a ruckus in Hartwell’s car. . .

An uncharacteristically colorful court document, filed in federal court in 2010, highlights Hartwell’s history, stating that, over seven years, “Hartwell lived and worked in at least 16 different states and did not register as a sex offender. When Washington State finally arrested him in January, 2007, for reasons which defy logic, he was released on his own personal recognizance.”

Oh, and Hartwell received 25 days – days, not years – in a Washington jail for failure to report.

Guess what happened when he was released? He bolted.

I agree with US Marshal Bobby Mathieson, quoted by Daugherty, who said, “Hartwell takes a evil to a whole new level.” It takes no moral courage to characterize as evil the act of stealing a child’s very innocence and sense of trust, or to decry assaults upon the helpless. But does it not seem incomprehensible that the sentencing agencies haven’t maxed this guy out, without hope of parole?

Evidence suggests that pedophiles remain absolutely unrepentant about their crimes, and have a remarkably high rate of recidivism. The only thought they have for their victims is to find the next. And it is the parents, relatives, and the rest of us left to care about the fact that children’s lives are utterly and completely changed. Thus damaged, they may in the fullness of time become predators themselves. Note how pedophile priests were often in the habit of preying on “throwaway” kids, or the helpless. ( For more on this, see Alex Gibney’s remarkable documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, the story of the abuse of deaf children and the institutional resistance to the investigation of that abuse on the part of Holy Mother Church.)

As Americans, we have a fascination with crimes against children, particularly if they are attractive, young white females about whom overpaid Cable News Network haircuts can stretch a story arc for many months. (Thinking JonBenet Ramsey and Natalie Hollowell here, without whom Nancy Grace would have already descended to the circle of hell justifiably awaiting her.)

You might reasonably wonder why Hartwell gets to be a parole absconder when thousands of others are rotting in Colorado jails on marijuana charges. The excuse is prison overcrowding; one wonders if the answer is not horribly misallocated priorities, with a touch of politics thrown in for good measure..

Here are some basic facts about the numbers of drug offenders in the correctional system.

(Drug Offenders in US Prisons 2012)

Federal: On Dec. 31, 2012, there were 196,574 sentenced prisoners under federal jurisdiction. Of these, 99,426 were serving time for drug offenses, 11,688 for violent offenses, 11,568 for property offenses, and 72,519 for “public order” offenses (of which 23,700 were sentenced for immigration offenses, 30,046 for weapons offenses, and 17,633 for “other”).

State: On Dec. 31, 2011, there were 1,341,797 sentenced prisoners under state jurisdiction. Of these, 222,738 were serving time for drug offenses, of whom 55,013 were merely convicted for possession. There were also 717,861 serving time for violent offenses, 249,574 for property offenses, 142,230 for “public order” offenses (which include weapons, drunk driving, court offenses, commercialized vice, morals and decency offenses, liquor law violations, and other public-order offenses), and 9,392 for “other/unspecified”.

And the irony in this is that a significant number of those doing time are inside for pot related offenses, and this at a time when, state-by-state, legislatures are moving to decriminalize marijuana. According to Alternet, we are spending $1 billion a year to jail our fellow citizens for pot related offenses.

“The new report is noteworthy because it undermines the common claim from law enforcement officers and bureaucrats, specifically White House drug czar John Walters, that few, if any, Americans are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. In reality, nearly 1 out of 8 U.S. drug prisoners are locked up for pot.

Of course, several hundred thousand more Americans are arrested each year for violating marijuana laws, costing taxpayers another $8 billion dollars annually in criminal justice costs.”

Most reasonable people would tend to agree with what Alternet’s assertion:

… Marijuana isn’t a harmless substance, and those who argue for a change in the drug’s legal status do not claim it to be. However, pot’s relative risks to the user and society are arguably fewer than those of alcohol and tobacco, and they do not warrant the expenses associated with targeting, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

The point is that Colorado paroled Hartwell and put him on the street while they still maintain a backlog of pot prisoners, despite having legalized marijuana for sale for private use. Bottom line, this revolving door is good business for the prison industrial complex. Property confiscation laws coupled with the rise of the private, for-profit prison system mean that not only does Barney Fife get to cash in on the sale of the drug-traffickers’ ill-gotten black-market boodle, but also the vulture capitalists bankrolling the private prison system get high rates of occupancy for their prisons. Win-win for the thug state. And when they need more space they parole those most likely to flee, and those most likely to commit the same crime again, public safety be damned.

Meanwhile, those of us who preoccupy ourselves with matters of day-to-day living, raising families, keeping them safe, eking out a living with one eye on the end of the great Ponzi, and studying how to best dodge falling chunks of sky, will do well to keep our spider senses finely honed, and our Smith & Wesson ready at the bedside table.

***

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Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous posts, rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of adult children in various stages of transition.

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