Tuesday, November 27, 2012

He Ain’t Bullshittin’ - Kid Rock Foundation Has No Costs

Kid Rock was on WJR, Detroit’s major league AM radio station, this morning, talking about his great love for the city and so on, a riff he repeats to anyone who will listen.
He mentioned that his Kid Rock Foundation has zero administrative costs, a claim that can easily be verified. So I did. And outside of legal and accounting costs, he is dead right as I look at the foundation’s 2010 tax form, the last year publicly available. The second notable thing is that the foundation brought in a paltry $51,000, which is simply a fundraising issue in the wake of its $616,000 bank in 2009, when the foundation was founded and seeded.
Among its 2010 benefactors were the Food Bank Council of Michigan, Orchard Lake Schools, Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, and, inexplicably, the It Takes a Community Foundation in Massachusetts, which is aimed at life in New England.
In 2009, the foundation made great use of its relatively larger coffers, donating to Operation Homefront, the Rainbow Connection, and May We Rest in Peace, a group that helps pay to bury the indigent in Wayne County.
During the course of news investigations I conduct regularly, most non-profits, including foundations, sit on millions of dollars while forking over hundreds of thousands in salaries.  The money someone generously gives in hopes of making things better for folks less fortunate ends up paying for a first class plane ticket and $450 hotel room. I think back to revelations I wrote about last summer of the University of Houston professor with a taste for the finer things that he achieved on the backs of donors to the Cullen Foundation.  Check the comments at the end of this story; people actually support this kind of thing.
That may work in a place like Texas, where greed may as well be part of the state motto. But in Michigan, such flagrant extravagance is frowned upon.  The Kid Rock Foundation for now does the workmanlike thing so many forget about – it just delivers. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Email from Inmate Regarding Sarah Pender, Girl Wanted - Yes, Prison is a Bad Place

I received an email over the weekend from a former inmate at Rockville Correctional Facility, a women’s prison in Indiana from which Sarah Pender, the woman at the center Girl, Wanted: The Chase for Sarah Pender, escaped in August 2008.  The email was sent under an obvious pseudonym, although I would never out someone with such a candid and honest delivery.  I’ve edited some of it to avoid personal details about two named officials. Here it is:

I just read your book "Girl, Wanted". It was truly excellent, but fawning isn't my purpose. You were left with some unanswered question for which I feel you deserve straight answers. As you discovered, the Blue Wall is alive and well with the Department of Correction. Although I walked out the gate at Rockville for the last time in 1996, there are things you don't forget, and the DOC's hatred (not exaggerating in the least) of media attention defies understanding even when nothing particularly bad is happening, exponentially more so when it is. First, I have to stand in defense of [prison internal affairs investigator] Jerry Newlin as he is a very decent person who has attained his social position you rightly describe as the 'dean of Rockville' by being honorable and good at what he does. In other words, he is too honest for future promotion yet pragmatic enough about choosing his battles that he has had such remarkable longevity. I have never met [Rockville prison warden] Julie Stout. I can only hope she is less filthy than her predecessors, Gene Martin who was transferred there as an assistant superintendent under then-superintendent Michael Broglin. Broglin. I believe in the shuffling process he had a stint at the Reception Diagnostic Center at Plainfield, which is a 24/7 lockdown facility. (OMITTED)  Significantly, you may notice that sexual indiscretions are handled much different for those in more senior positions than for the hourly staff. In a situation for which a blue-hat correctional officer or a sergeant would be fired, a lieutenant or a captain would be demoted unless he had someone really peeved at him (or her), someone wearing a suit simply gets moved to a different facility. I would have been unaware of this if not for knowing a well-connected captain, a couple of suit and tie people, and a few better connected inmates. Most trafficking happens at the hands of captains, counselors, assistant superintendents, and superintendents.
The staff tend to be an eclectic group. Prisons are often built in economically depressed areas in which they are often the largest employer in the county. Voting with one's feet is often not economically viable, and the job attracts not only people who are there because they need the jog, but also those who see illicit opportunity with being paid hourly and receiving benefits serving as a bonus, and also those who for lack of a better explanation don't have a dog at home to kick and get their gratification from taking to work and taking it out on the inmates.
One critical thing pertaining to finding truth from the outside comes to mind: In a moment of hubris, Gene Martin made a declaration to an assembly of staff to the effect that when dealing with reporters, you make up your mind what you are going to tell them. Regardless of what they ask, you tell them what you decided to tell them.
Hopefully tying together a few loose ends helps, if nothing else, to ease the curiosity left after so much work makes you the owner of questions that are generally unanswerable.

Her email backs up a lot of the criticism I had for the Indiana Department of Correction, which runs on a prayer it seems.
From the book, Girl, Wanted:

Indiana Department of Correction… is an institution that has seen some very poor performances and doesn’t appear to be making any strides toward improving things. Twice in my initial research for this book, an employee of the Indiana DOC hung up on me, literally, when I asked for some help and some access. This is the kind of hostility bred under poor or stressful working conditions. I was hardly discouraged by such conduct; in fact, it created a suspicion that something was very wrong with the inner workings of the system, and they were afraid someone was going to look behind the curtain. That day may yet come.

And more from the book, regarding my persistent pursuit of public records surrounding the escape of Sarah Pender and the prior record of a guard named Scott Spitler, who helped Pender escape:

The Department of Correction refuses to release any records regarding the escape, including investigations stemming from the breakout or anything the department might have been looking into regarding Spitler’s conduct leading up to the escape. But an arrest affidavit for Spitler filed in Parke County three days after Sarah’s breakout stated that, according to [Jerry] Newlin, the prison’s internal affairs investigator, “Spitler and Pender were already known associates (outside the realm of normal correctional office/offender interactions) prior to this date.” Newlin said that “Spitler was also suspected of trafficking and unprofessional conduct with offenders.”
And yet, despite suspicion that Spitler was engaging in conduct that could be a security risk, nothing was done to monitor his activities. Spitler was allowed to carry out his duties without any supervision, an obvious security breach that allowed Sarah to run.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ten Minutes With Me Goes by Like Five: Q & A in Plain Dealer

Spending some afternoon time in a bar with journalist par excellence Michael Heaton of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland is just one more great part of this occupation. We sit and talk and drink, he asks some questions and the next thing you know, a beautifully simple blurb like this drops.  Thanks to Heaton, who has his own book, Truth and Justice for Fun and Profit: Collected Reporting, the book, Nobody’s Women: The Crimes and Victims of Anthony Sowell,has moved up in Amazon rank. I check it every few days, just to make sure I’m going to recoup the advance and live to write another day.
I also look at reviews; most every writer does, out of a morbid curiosity. Today, there were a few news ones, including something from a reviewer calling herself Georgia Girl that hit close to my own sentiment: “I hesitate to give the book a 5-star rating because it is a chilling, upsetting book. But, it is an interesting book that was well written and researched.
That’s how I felt as I wrote it – chilled and upset.  Good insight. And thanks to these other folks who handed down some kind reviews.