Although Jennifer Gonnerman, in "The Miseducation of Elaine Bartlett" [February 15], paints Ms. Bartlett's history and family with tender accuracy, she opens the article with a cheap shot, portraying women in prison generally as predatory and cruel. In my 14 years in federal prisons and county and city jails, I heard commonly spread rumors of rape and exploitation of weaker women by hardened jailbirds but almost never did any of this actually occur. I met my share of bullies and thieves, but the vast majority of the women in prison are similar to Elaine Bartlett: people with kids, moms, problems, and places to go in life if only they could get a chance.
In 1985, shortly after my arrest, I spent 10 months in the Baltimore city jail. New arrivals were met with staring eyes, but when we shouted "fresh meat," it was to amuse ourselves by parodying the popular dime-store novel view of women in prison. The reason we gathered to ogle the new arrivals was that we were bored numb by the unending bleakness of prison days.
The Voice coverage of the human cost of the Rockefeller drug laws has been great, but please don't allow the message to be undermined by carelessly singling out Ms. Bartlett. Her case is emblematic of thousands of others, many of whom are among the women trying to lead their lives inside the walls of Bedford Hills.
Line of Fire
Re Rebecca Segall's article about Gidone Busch, killed by police who were called after complaints that he was making too much noise and dancing in the street ["Cops Killed My Son. Politicians Betrayed Me," February 29]:
It's frightening how much power the cops have over who they will protect, and who they will shoot at. Where's the line? I guess they get to decide that too?
Then I want to know the profiles of these people who hold such power over all our livesmaybe they aren't qualified or well-trained.
Despite the fact that the victim in this case had a hammer, it seems clear that he was not attacking anybody when he was shot. I have been known to sing loudly, and dance enthusiasticallyand I've been misunderstood by others. Am I next?
Bullets and Ballots
In response to Rebecca Segall's article on the police killing of Gidone Busch:
As a member of the ultra-Orthodox community of Crown Heights, whichuntil this occurrencebacked Mayor Giuliani with both money and political support, I must say that this case will definitely be a defining factor in who we will back in the upcoming senatorial race.
Mayor Giuliani should take heed of the fact that, although we in the Orthodox community do not march and scream like other groups, we are engaged in every aspect of political life in New York Cityand please know that we do not forget when Jewish blood stains the streets!
Being 13 isn't easy when you live in the shadow of news about police officers who are ready to kill. If unarmed and innocent people can be killed by police in the inner city, it is clear to me that no one is safe. I used to think that something like this couldn't happen to me because I am white, and live in the suburbs.
Now I wonder.
Daniel Patrick Farrelly
Fair Lawn, New Jersey
In response to Peter Noel's article on Lester Pearson ["Poster-Boy Perp," February 22]:
I am a longtime friend of the Pearson family. One of his sisters is my best friend. I really am glad someone has looked at him in a different light. Yes, he had his troubles in the past, but growing up in the streets of the Bronx can do that.
This is a young man who was trying to get his life in order, but once they get you in the mix of the system, you are always guilty until proven innocent. Thank God for a voice like the Voice.
Michael Musto has been writing wonderful copy for years, but he's way wide of the mark with his comments about Madonna noting that Rupert Everett is a fantastic role model because he's not seemingly gay [La Dolce Musto, February 29].
Gay lib is just thatthe freedom to act the way you want. It's the freedom to be nellie or to butch it up as much as you want, depending on the situation you're in.
All Madonna was saying is that middle America expects its queens to be flaming, and marginalizes us the same way. Just because you're gay doesn't mean you have to be camp. It fucks much more with people's heads if you aren't.
It's about tolerance and respect. Lots of times people don't guess I'm gay, and it's not because I have some crazy urge to fit in. It's because this is me. And I don't let anyone dis my sexuality. Ever.
Michael Musto replies: If gay lib is the freedom to act the way you want, then one type of gay shouldn't be deemed a better role model than another. I feel Madonna's just adding to the oppression of the nellies.
In Norah Vincent's warmed-over Roger Kimballisms regarding the February 7 forum on queer politics presented by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Baruch College [Higher Ed, February 22], she chides me for not including any "libertarians, conservatives, and old-school liberals" on the panel. I guess Vincent didn't want the facts to get in the way of her knee-jerk caricature of the discussion, but if she'd done even minimal reporting, she'd have contacted me (since we're colleagues at the Voice, finding me is a no-brainer). Vincent would have learned that we invited most of the people she says should have balanced the panel and many others. They declined.
One old-school liberal told us he didn't think it was appropriate for queers to debate issues like marriage in public; a leading conservative demanded a speaker's fee of $2000; some invitees failed to respond to repeated messages. So we decided to open the discussion to the audience early to make room for a wider range of opinions.
We also understood that in presenting three progressive yet disparate speakers, our panel was achieving a kind of balance in the broader context, since the conservative and old-school views are widely published in the mainstream all the time. (Indeed, Baruch students told me that they had frequently read arguments for including gays in hate-crime legislation, but until the forum, had never even heard that there's cautionary dissent among queers.) But now that Vincent's spouting in the Voice the very clichés that you can find in the tabloids any day of the week, it's clear that she neither understands nor cares about that principle, which is also dear to this paper: making space for thoughtful alternative views.
I applaud the efforts of those who want to be inclusive (using terms like "two-spirit," etc.), but they must now go one step further and include people who don't necessarily agree with every ounce of the militant queer community's perspective on this big ol' crazy world.
As a young college student with pretty solid liberal credentials, I felt like an outcast in the gay community simply because I liked to wear lipstick, occasionally slept with boys, and honored my parents' marriage. It would be a shame indeed if we queers, who worry endlessly about gay teenage suicide, were to let one gay teenager who happens to be a Republican, or who wants to go to business school, or who truly feels that abortion is wrong, slip into the abyss of despair and suicide. We must take better care of our own.
Congratulations to Norah Vincent for her witty, courageous, and truthful look at people who claim to be inclusive, and who have such tremendous power in the gay community. I'm glad the Voice has been brave enough to give this woman the column she deserves.
Gretchen M. Michelfeld
Reading Alisa Solomon's article "Lesbian, Gay, and Binational" [February 29], about amending immigration laws to make them more gay-friendly, sent my blood pressure skyrocketing.
I am an American living abroad, in part because my boyfriend could never live in the U.S. under current laws, and Sweden welcomed me. It's reading this kind of news that makes me realize I'm not likely to move back. As a gay man, I'm treated with respect I would never get in the U.S.and I have little hope for a country where such a simple change in the immigration laws isn't likely to happen soon, especially in light of recent legislation such as the Defense of Marriage Act.
In James Ridgeway's Mondo Washington column [February 29], he states that three of the leading candidates for president have Ivy League degrees. For the record, Alan Keyes has two Ivy League degrees from Harvard: a B.A. in government affairs and a Ph.D. in government affairs.
Officer and a Gentleman
Dear Nat Hentoff,
I'm a retired police officer who spent two days in your company in 1973 after your apartment had been burglarized. I captured the perp who was trying to use your bank book to unload some of your cash. I remember how we spoke of the seemingly hopeless crime wave that was going on then.
I wonder how you feel now, since there has been such a huge falloff in crime partly because of the Giuliani administration. I remember that you seemed like a knee-jerk liberal who believed that criminals were the victims of a racist society in America. Are your feelings still the same? Do you still believe that environmental factors are responsible for people's actions? Are you still a hardcore liberal? I seem to recall that you had an enlightened view on abortion because you were an atheist. Are you still with thee woman who accompanied you to court? Do you remember the event?
James M. Henderson
Nat Hentoff replies: Then, as now, I am a knee-jerk believer that all of us, including the police and the Giuliani administration, are bound by the Constitution of the United States. That includes the Bill of Rights, which Giuliani ignores. Then, as now, the woman who accompanied me was my wife, Margot. I am still a Jewish atheist civil libertarian pro-lifer. I do remember the incident, and I appreciate your help.
Jane Eyre is a work of great originality, power, and depth, however much it's considered the ancestor of romance novels, and that smirk-and-sensibility-loving Michael Feingold ["Old Home Weak," February 22] can kiss Charlotte Brontë's ass.
Weehawken, New Jersey
In Jennifer Warren's article "Showtime at the Apollo" (February 22), the weekly readership of the New York Amsterdam News was reported as 30,000. According to the publisher, the paper's weekly circulation is 30,000; its readership is 180,000.
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