Inmate – and public servant
Forgive Harold Hempstead for not being perfect. He’s a felon serving a 165-year prison sentence in the series of Florida prisons. He’s a convicted burglar whose life of crime started as a teenager. He has also seen, and been forced to participate in, the horrors that rogue prison guards carry out as sport against inmates, especially the mentally ill.
This Miami Herald editorial damned Harold Hempstead with such faint praise that readers will have no reason to believe that Hempstead had already paid his debt to society, despite his tirelessness in seeking justice for Darren Rainey, and despite contrary depictions in Miami Herald’s news articles.
I understand a bit about News and Editorial boards from personal experience. After having the maximum number of letters to the editor per year published for two years running in local Scripps’ Treasure Coast Palm newspapers, I ran into a road block. The Editorial Board had substantially changed what turned out to be my final letter, and would not so much as admit that the changes politicized and skewed what I’d written, let alone print a correction. So I requested and was granted a meeting on 7/14/09 before both the News and Editorial Boards.
I attempted to persuade the Scripps’ News and Editorial boards to either a) let me author guest columns on the conviction corruption I’d documented, or b) let one of their reporters take my documents and run with them. I thought that plan B would be a shoe-in; no Floridian can escape paying for wrongful incarceration costs (including damages) and this area is known for wealthy people who go bananas when their tax dollars are misspent. I pitched a local story related to an expensive 27+ year-long upset conviction with an odd twist that a real reporter could have a field day with. For a few seconds, it looked like I was going to get a “yes” on plan B after a resounding no on A. There were real reporters present, and one became very visibly upset when plan B was rejected. I later learned that Scripps was and is no advocate for swift and sure justice, and wonder now if the reporter belatedly learned the same thing.
I’m told that some newspaper’s Boards act independently of one another, sometimes without seeking the input that would seem crucial to credibility. I’m thinking that’s what happened in the linked Miami Herald editorial about Harold Hempstead.
That would explain why the editorial concluded that “perhaps” Hempstead deserved a sentence reduction, when there’s no perhaps to the matter at all. The man deserves his freedom.
Hempstead began his public service long before the age of consent, under the direction of law enforcement agencies who knew they were engaging in child endangerment. Hempstead’s pre-prison public service was “paying it forward.”
While serving mostly other peoples’ prison sentences – per the physical evidence that implicated those who testified against him – Hempstead continued to pay it forward … he was under no obligation to put his life on the line on a regular basis to sneak food to inmates that corrections officers were systemically starving.
Hempstead’s being duped into mixing chemicals that he had no reason to suspect would be sprayed on inmates doesn’t erase any of this paid-forward time, nor does it speak to the content of his character. It instead speaks to the content of character of the corrections officers who cooked up the scam, and to anyone who would portray the scam as an informed, voluntary act on Hempstead’s part.
Hempstead isn’t looking to reporters or anyone else to accomplish his mission of making Florida prisons safe. After his persistence in pursuing justice for Darren Rainey garnered the Miami Herald‘s attention, Hempstead continued pestering the Department of Justice to act on information they already had, and additional information he provided them with. I published one of Hempstead’s sworn statements that he sent to the DoJ; I’m holding on to others.
My guess is that Hempstead’s thinking what’s I’m thinking in continuing to push the DoJ … that no one really has any reason to believe that genuine prison reform is underway, despite Governor Rick Scott and Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones’ announcements.
It’s only August, and there have already been three suspicious inmate deaths at Dade Correctional Institution, where Darren Rainey was scalded to death by corrections officers on June 23, 2012. There continues to be many suspicious prison deaths throughout Florida. I’m still hearing from inmates families that their loved ones are being abused and/or are in danger. Secretary Jones rambles on about air conditioning and tablets for inmates, when the truth is she won’t so much as smooth out the phone system so that inmates families don’t have to wait up to six months to have their phone number entered into their system.
Inmates die regularly in Florida jails, too, often before they’ve been to trial – some may well have been innocent. And there are scandals of all manner of abuse – including sexual – in our juvenile lock-ups, with whistleblowers saying that frequent inspections haven’t accomplished anything. And there are scandals concerning transporting inmates.
The biggest scandal is that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement doesn’t diligently investigate inmate abuse, neglect or homicides, and our state attorneys (Florida equivalent of district attorneys) don’t prosecute homicidal corrections officers with any diligence. They’re all under Rick Scott’s direction; he could demand diligence. But won’t.
Earlier this year, Florida’s legislature made much ado about reforming corrections, but walked out of the session before its scheduled end. Our legislators just walked out of a special section convened for restricting before its schedule end. Despite being aware of Governor Scott’s ongoing disinterest in inmate abuse, neglect and homicides, his recurring abuse of public funds, Sunshine violations and more, our legislators haven’t seen fit to enact laws that will allow for impeachment or recall.
The media touts Scott’s jobs programs as if they’re screamingly successful and therefore an adequate substitute for sound government, even though they’re not screamingly successful. Disney is firing Americans and hiring foreigners, even though they’re notorious for not paying well to begin with; QVC is closing its Port St Lucie facility, so is Digital Domain and there are likely many other bought jobs that fell apart long before they were paid for that are outside of my locale. Good governors know that employers like Disney will always throw their constituents under the bus if they don’t stand up to them, and they know that bought jobs seldom last, and often leave taxpayers holding tabs they can’t pay without sacrificing something – usually adequate wages and benefits for community and county workers, and drastic cutbacks on services and maintaining infrastructure.
Though it may seem I wandered off topic, I’m right where I started: media decisions on what to cover, when to cover it, and how to cover it; the only “perhaps” involved in whether “Caged Crusader” Harold Hempstead should serve any additional time is fictional, like the fictional trade-off between sound governing and the bought jobs that have likely cost Floridians more than they can ever recover. Had Hempstead been heeded when he began his quest for justice for Darren Rainey, there’s no telling how many lives could have been saved. For that matter, there’s no telling how many lives Hempstead saved just by sneaking food to starving strangers.
Regardless of where you live, I hope that you’ll find a bit of the crusader in you … please sign and share this petition. Thank you.