Tuesday, October 28, 2014

play up, play up and play the game

A few days ago the Brattleboro Reformer ran a piece by Mike Faher on a man who repeatedly ignored a relief-from-abuse order, then stole the victim's car and took it to Florida.

The cases against Smith date to summer of 2013, when the former Ludlow man was accused of repeatedly violating an abuse-prevention order. Police said Smith had been text-messaging and calling a Windham County woman with whom he had been ordered to have no contact.

In court documents, Vermont State Police said Smith "texts and calls (the victim) numerous times a day. Too many to document. (The victim) contacts us almost daily about the amount of times Smith has contacted her."

The pattern apparently culminated in Smith taking the victim's car and ending up in Florida, where he has family. He was arrested Aug. 22, 2013, in Florida by the Marion County Sheriff's Department and later was returned to Vermont, where he has been incarcerated since.

Smith eventually pleaded guilty to four violations of an abuse-prevention order and six violations of his conditions of release. He also pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace by phone, and he pleaded no contest to operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. 

The prosecutor in the case, Ashley Harriman, was the one who acted in my cases, first when an obsessive, intrusive neighbor was charged with unlawful trespass, later when he broke in at night threatening to shoot.  The sentence she originally proposed in my case was 2 or 3 to 5 years. The sentence she proposed in the new case was 36 months to 14 years.  In the latter, as far as I can make out, the obsessive behavior took the form of text messages and phone calls; the defendant did not actually break into the house with a weapon threatening violence.  As faithful readers may remember, she settled for 14 months in a plea agreement, without going to trial, because my deposition "showed absence of fear."  The accused served 9 months of the sentence, and was released with no restrictions.

The point to take away from this, anyway, is the startling lack of enforcement of both the abuse-prevention order and conditions of release.  The victim contacted the police almost daily about the frequent violations, and nothing was done.  It was emphatically not the case that, upon the first violation, the person under prevention order was taken into custody so that no further violations could occur.

Now, the victim played the game the way Ms. Harriman likes it to be played: she went right on reporting violations to the police even though the offender remained at large. In other words, she took the risk of reprisals again and again - and she was lucky, as these things go.  The defendant stacked up multiple offenses, duly reported; he did not attack her; he merely stole her car (which has, apparently, not been recovered).

But I was told, when I found a state trooper willing to issue a citation of trespass, that it would be safer to move out of my home to avoid reprisals, in view of the defendant's long criminal record and history of violence.  And I was later told, after the defendant was arraigned and released on bail, with conditions of release, that it was "probably safe to return," but if I had a problem I should call the police. The prosecutor later told me I should report even technical violations, because if there were violations "on a daily basis" this would give leverage to the prosecution - and my victim advocate confirmed that there was no guarantee that a violation would result in the defendant being arrested and taken into custody.  So to play the prosecutor's game I would need not only to report incidents but leave myself open to reprisals by staying where I was, rather than retreating to my sublet in the nearest town.  The final break-in was provoked because the defendant seemed to me to be pushing boundaries, despite a warning that he must be meticulous in observing conditions of release; I sent him an email with a list of actions which would result in an immediate call to the police, and the result was -- an incident which the prosecutor apparently found insufficiently frightening. The idea that failing to call the police after earlier, minor incidents might itself arise from concern for reprisals could not be entertained -- it would implicate both prosecutor and victim advocate in playing games with the victim's safety.

When I was later warned of the defendant's imminent release from jail I went to talk to the Women's Freedom Center, in part to ask whether a stalking order would help.  The question I asked was how consistently these were enforced.  Answer: We'd like to think they're enforced.  Well, I would have liked to think so too, but if they weren't I might be back in a situation where reporting violations did nothing except annoy my faithful admirer.

The piece in the Reformer suggests that my concern was well-founded. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

why i am not a painter

On Saturday I was still working on my display for the Library Vaccine installation at Artists Space - a mere 10 days after the opening of the show.  I asked one of the staff whether I might keep the keys and stay after hours; the curatorial assistant, Rachel Pedderson, approved this, so I stayed on under the impression that a few hours would suffice.  Ended up working straight through the night and on up to noon the following day, which did not, truth to tell, feel like a long session -- this is the way I would work if I were a permanent occupant of the library, which was, after all, the normal state of affairs until I left Berlin two years ago to, erm, finish a book in two months. (It's the stalker's biennial. Yay.)

Progress was slower than usual because I was composing for a wall.  These days, of course, a writer normally pours a stream of words into the bottomless well of the hard drive -- no sooner have I committed this metaphor to my as-yet-unpublished post than I see that it's completely up the creek (and "up the creek" seems to have come through the fingers without a brain-check), and needless to say I can remove all trace of this bodge at negligible inconvenience.  Or leave it up simply to remind us all of the importance of revision... Length is not much of a consideration -- if a post is insanely long I can a) put most of it below the fold, b) break it up into two posts, c) break it up into three posts, (and so on).  At any point I can put one or all versions under considerations in the drafts folder. And if new brilliant ideas occur to me as I develop the one or more separate posts into which I am subdividing my initial post this is GOOD -- or rather, the only point at issue is whether they are, in fact, new and brilliant. Allotting them additional posts is not a problem, nor is allotting them space in the drafts folder.

Composing for a wall, or rather a wall and four tables (whose surface is largely occupied by books), is naturally quite different.  The area available is fixed.  And all of it cannot be used, at least not without a lot of ingenuity. Given yet more time I might have used the expanse above the 6" mark by, say, using increasingly larger typeface and images which would be visible from the ground.  The floorline looks less promising, but no, given time perhaps I could have done something useful such as display a range of scripts which might be new to the visitor.  Prime real estate, however, was limited, and typing on a screen turns out to be poor training for gauging how much wall space a text or image will require to be, not just visible, but apprehensible. I would print things out on tabloid paper and stick them up and find whatever it was going on for several pages (i.e. down to the floor), or extending relentlessly down the length of the wall.  Doing the old CTRL-A and reducing the font size to 10 or even 8 pt -- I believe there are monuments which do the equivalent in cuneiform, but --  Long story short, I seemed to spend a lot of time reformatting pieces of paper and sticking them up and taking them down.  Much of this, lately, courtesy of  Barbara Epler of New Directions, who with unbelievable kindness let me move my suitcases to her apartment last Tuesday and stay there when I was not revising the wall.

For a writer, anyway, the point when a document is "finished" is the point when you stand back, look at the thing as a whole, and realize that it can be improved by drastic structural changes.  New brilliant ideas occur.  But Barbara has another guest coming tomorrow, and I can't think off-hand of anyone else who might have a room to spare, and in any case I am already not sure that all this endless revision was in the spirit of the thing.  So I am heading back to Vermont.  For the time being.

One thought I'd had was that having my library in NYC might make it easier to get somewhere with the Mute Inglorious Nabokovs project -- and if I lived in NYC perhaps it would have done so. I don't really know whether it is possible to enable a complete novice to get the hang of the Greek script and a few elements of grammar and read the first 10 or 20 lines of the Iliad or Odyssey in an hour or so - but here was the library, here were four tables and this splendid space, it looked like a chance to find out.  I don't know whether this could be done with a range of texts in other languages - that is, whether variety would be exciting or just confusing - but it looked like a chance to find out.  Various academic friends had said it is actually very tricky to try something like this in a college setting - it does not fall squarely under the remit of a single department, it is not filling a need which any department has already identified, so it would be hard to get funding.  So I thought a different venue might be a better starting point -- and, of course, have not really managed to use it in this way.

If any readers of pp happen to be in New York in the next month, anyway, there are notes and drafts of stories and the novella Paper Pool, not to mention the chance to sit quietly down with Gordon's Introduction to Old Norse or O'Neill's Reader of Handwritten Japanese.  The gallery is at 38 Greene Street, between Broome and Grand. opening hours Tuesday-Sunday 12-6.

(And now I must catch my train.)