Jennifer Gonnerman's article "Freedom's Cost" [December 26] is the best piece I have read in The Village Voice in years. Ex-inmate Elaine Bartlett's story after she was granted clemency by Governor Pataki is a special one, but people who have grown up in the ghetto and had family problems due to criminal acts can relate 100 percent. Hopefully, Ms. Gonnerman can give us an update in the future.
This is the first time I read a story twice, the first time I have e-mailed a story to friends, the first time I have written a letter to the editor. Props to Elaine Bartlett for her perseverance. She is an inspiration to anyone who is struggling to correct past misdeeds. And props to Jennifer Gonnerman for in-depth reporting and providing readers with a story we needed to knowwhich is what happens after the cameras and publicity go away.
New Rochelle, New York
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As the former director of the Substance Abuse Intervention Division at Rikers Island, I am responding to Jennifer Gonnerman's article "Roaming Rikers" [December 19]. Ms. Gonnerman quotes former corrections commissioner Bernard Kerik as saying "there are five issues that inmates can really rally around to the point of a riot. One is commissary, one is visits, one is telephone, one is food, and one is mail."
Anyone who has worked on Rikers for significant periods would put a sixth issue at the top of the list: correction officer brutality.
New Hyde Park, New York
I have never been so disappointed in a piece of reporting in my life as I was by Jennifer Gonnerman's article on Rikers Island. As the daughter of a former longtime correction officer there, I believe the article was dangerously one-sided. I was struck by Ms. Gonnerman's compassion for the murderers and rapists who have been sent to Rikers, but lack of concern for the men and women who work there.
Ms. Gonnerman was quick to point out illegal beatings suffered by inmates. I wonder how many guards were attacked by inmates last year, and what is their course of action against those inmates, if any. Ms. Gonnerman mentioned a lack of medical services and drug rehabilitation counseling. I wonder what kind of psychological and stress-management counseling is offered to corrections officers who have to enter this "city-run superghetto" every day. Perhaps the suicide of the officer who jumped in front of a subway car, which was mentioned by Ms. Gonnerman, could have been avoided.
My father, John Donnelly, worked on Rikers Island as a correction officer for 17 years. Two years after retirement he suffered a series of massive strokes and two heart attacks. He passed away on March 19 of this year from congestive heart failure and complications from his heart attacks at age 53. Although he had some health issues, his doctors agreed that the stress and psychological damage from working in that environment were factors in his death at such a young age.
Ms. Gonnerman expressed skepticism about the rules against press access on the island. Perhaps if reporters were more responsible, more would be allowed access. I think Ms. Gonnerman said it best when she wrote that "in this sense all prison reporting is a lie, and the best one may hope for is a set of half-truths. . . ." Half-truths indeed.
Message for Nader
Re Lenora Todaro's interview with Ralph Nader ["Ralph Nader Lashes Back!" December 26]: Contrary to what Nader says, I most certainly did call him to get his views. He had to call me back, but my interview was initiated by me, not him. I am astonished that he would put me in his list of critics uninterested in his point of view.
I wonder if Nader read the resultant column in which I reported on his comments quite favorably. True, I was not impressed with his grasp of women's issues. I mean, come on, dry-cleaning prices? And his insistence that abortion would be safe under Bush because the country is pro-choice struck me as naive and ill-informed. Nonetheless, I noted his many excellent positions on a range of issues, from capital punishment to the environment to poverty. I wrote that I was going to cast a strategic vote for him if New York was safe for Gore. And that's what I did.
Peter Noel's article regarding Sean "Puffy" Combs ["Guns, Bribes, and Benjamins," December 12] should be Exhibit 1 for the proposition that freedom of the press is no guarantee of accuracy or fairness.
First, the article incorrectly reports that One Hundred Black Men, Inc. is a "think tank." It is, rather, a venerable, 37-year-old charitable organization of professional men who volunteer their time to make a real difference in the lives of our youth and in our community. Through its adopt-a-school program, mentorship program, college scholarships, corporate mentorship programs, and a host of other initiatives, including its wealth-creation summit, franchise symposium, and other initiatives in the arena of community development, the organization has a documented record of service, and its record is impeccable.
As an organization that has remained true to its mission for so long, it is especially unfair for Noel to suggest that we could be bought or that reported discussions concerning a possible charitable donation to One Hundred Black Men, Inc. involved some quid pro quo. When Noel called me for comment, I wish he had informed me that he was basing his report on an unnamed "prominent young Harlem politician" who, in turn, got his information from another nameless "senior member" who had "inferred" that members would serve as character witnesses for Mr. Combs in exchange for a donation. I would have had my biggest laugh in months. Any notion that the organization would ever consider accepting any donation with strings attached is preposterous.
To impugn the reputation of a community treasure like One Hundred Black Men, Inc., based on double hearsay is simply dead wrong. In January, Mr. Combs will have his day in court. Rules of procedure will, hopefully, allow for a full and fair airing of the facts involved in his case. It is unfortunate that we can't expect the same from The Village Voice.
Paul T. Williams Jr.
One Hundred Black Men, Inc.
Peter Noel replies: My story clearly points out that Williams's group rejected $50,000 from Combs because it did not want to give the impression it can be bought. It is Williams who does this "community treasure" a disservice by not explaining why it does not want Combs's money.
Thank you for Peter Noel's impressive article "Proof of Life: A Death in the Wu-Tang Clan" [December 19]. I knew Bruce "Chip Banks" Mayfield. He was an artist who was destined to keep it real by doing something to improve his own life and the lives of others around him, especially youth caught out there. Shortly before his death, he called me frequently. He had chosen to be a responsible celebritya role modelbut he felt that he needed my help. I believed him and my help was unconditional.
His funeral was in Benta's Funeral Home, in the same room my slain brother occupied after he caught a bullet to the back of his head in Harlem. For years I couldn't go back to Benta's. For Chip, it was my first visit back since 1977.
70th Assembly District
Hate in the Hills
As a gay man living in a small town in Tennessee deep in religious-right territory, I have been greatly concerned over the possible ramifications of Bush's election. Richard Goldstein's article "Stealth Homophobia" [December 19] is by far the best summation that I have seen of what I think gay people will face because of this election. I have been particularly concerned by the almost total silence of the major gay organizations as the religious right is slithering out from its hiding places. Gay people will face a far more sophisticated strategy from the religious right under George W. Bush than we encountered under previous administrations. We will be mentioned less and persecuted more. Goldstein is dead on. I am very, very afraid.
Robbers in Robes
The United States Supreme Court, by its unprecedented interference in the electoral process, has wreaked much damage. Every first-year law student knows that there was no significant federal issue lodged by the Republicans, and further that the subject matter before the Court was clearly political and traditionally off-limits to it under the separation-of-powers doctrine.
The five conservative justices, while feigning "equal protection" concerns about Florida voters, were in fact prosecuting a shameful partisan objective, intended first to muffle and then to silence the will of that very electorate. So egregious and bald-faced was their act that no attempt to camouflage their ruling in the cloth of their constitutional rhetoric will ever disguise their true intent or their harmful deed!
In a struggle that tried our intelligence and our sensibilities for 35 days beyond the presidential election, and which found liberals defending states' rights and conservatives calling for federal judicial intervention as each side tried to claim the "high ground," the conservative majority of the Supreme Court managed to find the lowest quarter. In the process, as Justice John Paul Stevens opined in his telling dissent, "the nation's confidence in the judge as the impartial guardian of the rule of law" was undermined and damaged for generations to come.
White Plains, New York
Nat Hentoff's article "Justice Scalia Was Right!" in last week's issue is the best piece in a left-leaning journal that I have read since the election. Absolutely right on, Nat. This was a constitutional question of equal-rights protection for all voters nationwidenot just in Florida; thus the 7-2 decision. The Supreme Court had to step in and clear away the chaos the Florida Supreme Court had created.
It's nice that Michael Feingold is trying to educate us on theatrical history ["More Stagely Mansions," December 19], but he should make sure his facts are straight. T.W. Robertson's play Caste appeared in 1867, so it could hardly have produced a craze for realism in the 1840s. Otherwise, a fine review.
Michael Feingold replies: Apologies for the slip. I typed a four instead of a six.
I was in error when I implied in Consumer Guide last week that the recordings on Merle Haggard's This Is Merle Haggard (Music Club) are of Capitol vintage. They're '90s remakes. As I also implied, I never comparison-listened in this case, as I generally do, and I paid, as did anyone who bought the album on my say-so. Damnthere were times I thought it sounded surprisingly pallid, too. But by the end I'd convinced myself, always a critical sin.
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