How much death works
Autumn Harris' lungs were so filled with fluid they weighed four times what a normal person's lungs should weigh during her autopsy. The thirty four year old died in an Alabama prison in 2018 after going untreated for pneumonia by medical staff for weeks according to a malpractice lawsuit filed by her father in 2020 that will finally get a hearing next year. Six years of waiting for the possibility that maybe someone will be held responsible for his daughter's death.
Harris had been arrested because she missed a misdemeanor court hearing over an alleged theft of $40 Alabama.com reported.
State investigators interviewed women Harris was being held with and one said she got so sick toward the end that she started to hallucinate and was calling one of them momma.
If you are poor please do not make a mistake of any kind. Please do not fuck up in such and such a way leading you to need $40 very badly or to miss a court date. Do not fuck up even once despite the entire world being littered with boobytraps just waiting for you to make a false step. The floor is lava but not in the way that usually means. If you are poor almost every fuck up you might make carries with it a potential death sentence in this country.
It sounds facile and obvious to say that kind of shit doesn't it? It's almost like what's the point? You know it and I know it and people walking through the obstacle course on hard mode know it better than anyone.
I guess we have to keep saying it anyway.
We're all of us walking through the obstacle course to be clear it's just at varying degrees of difficulty. Unless some of you reading this happen to be rich in which case can I have $50,000?
(I don't actually know what "the floor is lava" means.)
This piece was originally for paid subscribers only. Chip in if you can please and thank you.
By chance after I wrote that part above I went and got changed out of my 60 degree January day moldy running clothes and put them in the washer with some other sundry items and started the laundry and quick-walked naked upstairs to the shower which Michelle would have been mad at me for doing on the infinitesimal chance that a neighbor happened to be looking in the window at that very second and saw my cold little penis flapping around (in my estimation they would be the perverts in this scenario not me!) and I got dressed and went to the kitchen and ate some of her leftover lunch she had put by the sink and poured myself a large enough belt that they'd charge you $45 for it at a bar and went outside and lit a cigarette and sat in the humid winter air and a newsletter popped up in my inbox and I read it and it was Melissa Gira Grant (writing on Ghost instead of Substack now as she pointed out) and she more or less had written a version of the same type of thing I was just trying to say which was this:
The carceral state is everywhere and I am rounding the corner of my block and repeat it to myself so I remember to write it down when I get back to my desk, and that won't be for another ten minutes by the time I get my keys out and put my coat down and put my phone down (and forget where I put my phone down) and the carceral state is everywhere, in the United States I correct myself, on my stoop now, because that's where I am the carceral state is everywhere, in the United States, but not for everyone...
I like that.
The carceral state is everywhere.
The carceral state is everywhere in the United States.
The carceral state is everywhere in the United States, but not for everyone.
Please enjoy this multimedia collage piece I have entitled
Elsewhere in Alabama a man named Willie Ingram has been released from prison after serving almost forty years. He was sentenced to life for a $20 robbery he was convicted of committing with a pocket knife after some other property related crimes he had done years earlier.
“I didn’t know what to think, I was so happy. I thought I was going to be in prison for the rest of my life, but God made a way for me," the seventy year old Ingram said upon his release according to the Appleseed Center for Law and Justice who represented him.
They explain more about how cases like this work:
Mr. Ingram is one of hundreds of older, incarcerated Alabamians serving sentences of life or life without parole for offenses with no physical injury that occurred decades ago. The state’s “three strikes” law, the Habitual Felony Offender Act (HFOA), mandated these lengthy sentences for a single Class A felony (even a robbery, burglary, or drug trafficking offense where no victim was physically harmed) if an individual had three prior felony offenses, no matter how minor. Drug possession, forgery, and theft of a small amount of property count as priors toward a death in prison sentence. The three underlying offenses that contributed to Mr. Ingram’s sentence were two burglaries in the second degree and grand larceny for a $50 purse-snatching, all property crimes.
Our research into dozens of cases from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s shows that many prosecutors were eager to seek life without parole sentences in these kinds of cases. Black defendants, like Mr. Ingram, were especially vulnerable, as 75% of people serving life without parole for robbery convictions under the HFOA are Black, in a state with a Black population of 26%.
Police in the U.S. killed more people in 2022 than in any other year since anyone has bothered to try to seriously keep track which was only ten years ago. Think about that. There wasn't much of a concerted effort to catalogue how many police killings there are across the entire country until around the time Miley Cyrus' Wrecking Ball came out.
Police in Cambridge, MA where I spent the bulk of the past twenty years either working or going out killed their first person in ten years (as best as I can tell) last week.
Is it weird to say that I was kind of relieved to see that statistic? Good for them. Good for Cambridge. The police there very rarely kill people!
Until now. Now they have. A young man having a bad mental health episode.
The total number of police slayings across the country last year was at least 1,176 according to Mapping Police Violence. That's thirty one more than the year before and twenty four more than in 2020 the year when it seemed like maybe possibly hopefully things might start to change for the better. Remember that feeling?
You will probably not be surprised to hear that almost none of these killers face any consequences.
Of those killed by police in 2022 25% of them were Black.
Black people make up 13% of the population.
Only a third of police killings are set into motion by what they allege to be violent crimes taking place. The rest are for bullshit that cops escalate like traffic stops and mental health checks.
Sometimes it's an even flimsier pretense than all of that as in the case of Keenan Anderson who was recently tased to death by Los Angeles Police after getting in a car accident and waving to flag them down for help. If you haven't seen the video of the police holding him down and essentially executing him in the street I can't say that I really recommend it. "They're trying to George Floyd me," Anderson says as a cop is kneeling on top of him and then they did.
Charon is rifling through the pockets of the poet Charles Simic as we speak. Or maybe he's already done with it by now a couple days later. I don't know how long it takes for that whole transaction to transpire.
I shared this one in here a few years ago. I was very excited about the first Hell World book coming out at the time.
Eyes Fastened With Pins
by Charles Simic
How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death's laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death's supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address somehow wrong,
Even death can't figure it out
Among all the locked doors...
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death's side of the bed.
When I went to Poets.org to read a few of his poems the other day when I heard the news of his passing they hadn't yet updated the site so it still read "Charles Simic 1938-" and I thought that was a detail he would've appreciated. A transitional period where it is known that one is dead and yet the documents haven't been updated.
Damon Krukowski the writer and musician from Galaxie 500 and Damon & Naomi wrote about Simic this week.
The piece starts like so:
I was an undergrad at Harvard when I read on a book jacket that Charles Simic taught at the University of New Hampshire. I called up and found that you could register and pay for just one course at a time there, so I did. I drove up weekly all semester from Cambridge and took his poetry workshop – once, twice, and then he said no need to register again, I could just drive up and meet him in his office. So I did.
He taught by example. The lesson was: enjoy life. Enjoy books. Enjoy food. Be in love. Be miserable. Enjoy that, too.
Naomi and I made a zine together called Exact Change, and I brought him a copy. He enjoyed it. Then he took a manuscript out of a filing cabinet. Have you ever thought of publishing a book, he said – my publisher rejected this, because it is prose poetry and they don’t want prose poems. Take it home and see if you like it.
We loved it. We decided to start a publishing house. Naomi had already designed the book when Charlie told us his publisher changed their mind – they wanted the manuscript after all. It won the Pulitzer Prize.
I love that turn at the end. A nice reminder that publishers don't know what they're doing any better than the rest of us.
by Charles Simic (1938-2023)
With only his dim lantern
To tell him where he is
And every time a mountain
Of fresh corpses to load up
Take them to the other side
Where there are plenty more
I’d say by now he must be confused
As to which side is which
I’d say it doesn’t matter
No one complains he’s got
Their pockets to go through
In one a crust of bread in another a sausage
Once in a long while a mirror
Or a book which he throws
Overboard into the dark river
Swift and cold and deep
This Massachusetts news lady went viral the other day for posting a video of her flubbing her lines on a stand up meaning that she let her natural accent come out.
She's not wrong. That is in fact how one pronounces New Hampshire.
Free all of us.
Let us speak how we were meant to speak.
I was reminded of this bit from a while ago that I wrote in here:
I told my visiting friend who is the type of friend I can say weird shit to that I thought I had changed in the years since I'd seen him. That I was more nervous now and jittery about being anywhere and less confident and he said haha no that is how you always used to be before too and it was a bigger insight than any I've gotten in therapy of late. Oh right haha. Ok. Maybe I'm just who I am still.
To be fair I spent a lot of time around this friend high out of my mind so that could be a factor here.
Then I talked about actual therapy with him floating in the pool there my arm hair bleaching blonde in the sun and I said I had come to this realization talking of late that I was comfortable now at this later stage in my life in reverting to the sloppy Massachusetts townie I had started life out as and was meant to be. To strip away all pretense. All those years in the middle of living in Boston and being in New York and playing in bands and writing for fancy magazines and such were an effort to overwrite my origins is what I learned about myself I said. For example how I had purposefully lost my Boston accent perhaps as a type of class traitorship I said and he laughed again and said wait you think you don't have a Boston accent? and I said oh haha.
I guess I really thought I was getting away with something all those years.
It is however nice to hear my accent being used in the service of good for a change from time to time as in this video of a Revere City Councilor admonishing residents who don't want the senior center being used for shelter for unhoused people at night in dangerous weather.
"We're talking about people's lives here, and you know what, if I have to lose some votes to save some lives, then I will do so," Marc Silvestri said. "Because you wanna know what, people are gonna die on the streets, and if you're gonna look at them in the face and say you're ok with that, then be so. But you know what? I'm not. I'm not ok with burying people because it's fifteen degrees out."
Usually when you meet a guy who sounds like that and is looking at you like that it's not going to be a great time for anyone.
Speaking of the unhoused. I have a policy that it is almost never alright to hit an old man.
Defector recently had a post where everyone did predictions for 2023 and this nomination for the "color of the year" by our friend David Roth is worth highlighting I think.
4:31 p.m., Wintertime: Kind of gray, kind of blue, somehow harder to see in than the actual dark. It comes on before 4:31 p.m., now. It comes on earlier some days than others; some days it just starts this way and stays there, dialing itself up and down without ever quite swelling towards actual daylight or sunset until such time as it is abruptly 6:07 p.m., and actually dark. There are movies that get made in Romania that show up on Showtime or especially Starz during the day, featuring actors you might recognize from TV or the films of the early 2000s in which they are getting revenge, or being chased through the woods, or being tormented by a manic and strangely styled John Travolta, where it always looks like this. I think it will be a big year for this color.
It's this color right now as I'm writing. It's so very not cold in January right now like it also wasn't cold in December. It's fine. It's probably nothing. It's nothing at all. Michelle had been laying on the couch and she still is but she turned inward toward the wall of cushions just now which is a sound that represents the approach of sleep to me. And now she is sleeping. Right over there on the couch. At 4:46 p.m.
Now it's a few days later and it's even less cold in January and I'm awake and I don't want to be.
Now it's yet another day later and finally cold like it's supposed to be and I'm awake and I don't want to be.