An Honest Man Goes to Jail

Based on some recent experiences, I would like to relate a story about how our justice and incarceration systems are broken. Before I relate the gritty details, first I’d like to share some findings with you that disagreed with my preconceptions of the justice system. The story will be told along the way.

Myth #1: Being Read Your Rights (the Miranda Rights)

If you are going to be arrested (in this case, for a contempt of court charge relating to a traffic ticket you’ve already paid and a court date that may never have existed that you were never informed of), don’t expect to be “read your rights.” The officer who arrested me told me some sort of bupkis about it only applying to people who were being questioned in relation to a crime. Turns out they have no obligation, or desire, to inform you of your rights for other types of arrests.

Myth #2: The Pat-Down

One might believe that an officer of the law would not feel you up and touch your genitals when they pat you down for weapons (after asking you if you have any weapons and being told no). It does not feel like any less of a violation of my person because I am male. It gave me a feeling of nausea somewhere in the pit of my stomach, and I had an uncomfortable sensation in my groin for the rest of the day. I am lucky enough to have no prior sensation of violation to compare it to, but I don’t know what else to call the feeling. I was felt up twice, in fact: once at the arrest and once at the jail. We’ll get to the jail in a moment.

Myth #3: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

If you are arrested for some reason (in this case, for a warrant relating to something you’ve already paid and a series of court dates you most certainly attended with bells on), don’t expect anyone to care that you are not guilty of the crime, let alone take the expectation that you are innocent. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a nice idea that has no real-world equivalent. If there is any hint of a reason to think you’ve done anything wrong, you are treated as guilty.

Myth #4: The Phone Call

You know that old saying, something about the one phone call when you get to jail? There were phones I eventually had access to, but these phones only made local calls. I am living in a new city. The phone numbers I have memorized, such as my parents’ home phone number, my fiance’s cell phone, or my best friend’s cell phone, do not have local area codes in this city. Looks like you don’t get to make a call after all.

One of the officers took pity on me (probably because I’m “white”) and let me make a quick phone call from the desk. I don’t think most inmates get that opportunity.

Myth #5: Due Process

If you believe you would have a trial date to at least try to prove your innocence before being thrown in jail, you would be mistaken. In fact, in a county where the traffic violation and theoretical warrant did not occur, they have little to no information about any reason why you have a warrant. You will be summarily thrown in jail, the details will be sorted out later… theoretically. Ah, but there’s the bond system, right? That leads us to…

Myth #6: No Taxation Without Representation
…and also…

Myth #7: The Abolition of Debtor’s Prison
In this particular case, I was able to pay the fine, narrowly, to be released on bail for a crime I did not commit after wasting 5-6 hours of my time and giving me a terrible score as an Uber Eats driver while my delivery, and any subsequent ones, were forcibly neglected. However, what if someone were theoretically unable to pay a court fine? Or a bail fine? They would sit in prison while the outside world, and all of their life’s affairs, go by unattended. So far as I can tell, the “justice” system and incarceration system are a money-making scheme that lacks any soul. This leads me to the last, and ugliest, myth.

Myth #8: You Are Safe if You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong
I am a “white” man, 35 years of age, with no tattoos, piercings, or any history of misdemeanors, prior arrests, felonies, etc., basically anything worse than two (now three) traffic tickets. I’m sure white privilege was working in my favor throughout this ordeal, and would only have been worse if any of the above was not true.

In the past, I used to see the police as a necessary compromise for public safety. I could see there were problems with the justice system as a whole, but I also saw police officers as doing a necessary duty and keeping people safe. Changes clearly need to be made, particularly in how black people are treated, or people of any ethnicity other than “white”. I saw these things at a distance, as a theory.

Now, the police lights already make me uncomfortable, and I would go out of my way at this point to avoid them. It is not because I feel guilty, but out of a sense of fear.

What are they going to misconstrue this time? What mistake will the police make this time that I will pay for? Not wearing any reflective gear while they stand in the middle of a pitch-black road in the dead of night, with no traffic cones or other obvious signs I should stop? Will they believe I failed to yield properly while they are double-parked and not directing traffic, doing god-knows-what? Will the problem be more insidious, such as a justice system losing the record of me paying my traffic fine and inventing a court date I was never informed of? What else might go wrong? What if I was reaching for my phone to make a call and they thought I had a weapon? What if I was black?

I won’t bore you with all of the details, such as the near-mistaken identity that plagued me with someone else who has my birthday and a very similar name (I was lucky enough to have my Social Security card on me, there’s now a copy of it in my file for this reason). Suffice to say, it took forever, it was awful, and that was with fairly cordial interactions with the police. I can hardly imagine what the black woman who came in after me was going through, her night was a heck of a lot worse than mine (she was screaming mad and pregnant).

Advertisements

Backgrounds from the Underdark

“Backgrounds from the Underdark,” available at Dungeon Masters Guild for $1.99

My writing and game design continues with a new product on Dungeon Masters Guild for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, a collection of character backgrounds thematic to the Underdark. Yaay!

A Finished Project


“Spells from Elsewhere” available at the Dungeon Masters Guild website

It is very unusual for me, but I am pleased to share that I have a finished project, and a product to show for it. I have always wanted to turn my love of gaming into a career, and I hope that this tome of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition spells I am now marketing can help me get there. Even if it’s just a small step, I am still happy to have finished something before moving on to the next project.

No poem today, I’m afraid. This means business!

Old(ish) Projects: Descent into Wonderland

Dealing with some wannabe gangers.

I feel like the king of half-finished projects: an epic poem (which I’ve written about before), a tabletop roleplaying game system, the notion to write a book of poetry, half-finished (and very old) fantasy novels, the burgeoning idea for a graphic novel recently, the list goes on. Having watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 recently, I think my mind has slid back towards science fiction again, and a very specific old project of mine that has nothing to do with cosmic superheroes: my mod (short for module) for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Shadowrun has been around since the 80’s, building on the idea of a cybernetic dystopian future with the twist that magic is real, and the reawakening of magic causes dormant genes to suddenly manifest in various humans, transforming them into elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, etc. Basically, it’s Dungeons and Dragons meets Johnny Mnemonic (okay, okay, The Matrix, that’s a more well-known comparison), high fantasy mashed into cyberpunk with touches of horror splashed in. It’s gimmicky, but it’s also pretty damn cool. Aside from tabletop roleplaying, there was an old console version of the game for the… Super NES? I could look it up, but I feel too lazy right now.

Much more recently, there has been a series of computer games starting with Shadowrun Returns, and proceeding to Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The games come with a built-in toolset that allows you to modify the game, create your own content, and even effectively create your own version of the game (if you’ve heard of Skyrim mods, it’s the same sort of customization but for Shadowrun: Hong Kong instead). The games have a top-down, tactical control system in combat that is very much like XCOM if you’re familiar with those sorts of games. Unlike XCOM, instead of building a base between missions, you have character interactions, dialogue, world exploration, the whole RPG (roleplaying game) package.

So! The point is, I have been crafting a mod for SR:HK (Shadowrun: Hong Kong). I’ve taken a couple of runs at it so far, but I have been working alone and I seem to lose interest after a few months and burn out on the project. I came back to it once already, then set it down again for a while. Now I’m starting to feel the urge to fire it back up again and start working on it some more. It’s still a long, long way from being done (my estimate on how complete it is ranges from about 2% to 5%, it’s meant to be an entire stand-alone campaign, not just an add-on to the base game), and I probably need help from other people if I plan on getting it done before, say, 10 years roll by. This leads me to conundrums: do I release a horribly-incomplete, buggy mess to the public at large and ask for help in troubleshooting and feedback? Do I keep it safe and secret for an untold time while I try to get it closer to a playable game (not even a polished game, just a playable one)? I don’t know what the right answer is.

Aside from having to learn tiny amounts of programming and using the toolset (which is daunting), the thing that’s bogging me down right now is the tremendous amount of dialogue I have to write. To give the player any feeling of autonomy and choice, there must be multiple options in dialogue, different choices to be made in what to say and how you say it. Think of it like an iceberg: if you did a complete playthrough of the game once, you might encounter, say, 10% to 30% of all of the possible dialogue that exists in the game. So, if one playthrough of the game takes 20,000 words of plot exposition and dialogue (just throwing out a number, not based on anything really), multiply that by 3.5 to 10 times and that’s how much more writing is lurking down all the paths the player didn’t choose in that playthrough. On top of that, it’s not like writing that many words for a novel, it’s a herky-jerky writing method where you keep doubling back to different dialogue trees and putting yourself into a new frame of mind based on different choices.

It’s a labor of love, because you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

I should have started with teasing the plot, shouldn’t I? The name of the mod is “Descent into Wonderland,” and it has a lot of neat themes running through it. I think I described it as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Dredd” meets “Tron” meets “Die Hard,” but don’t worry, I will explain what I mean if that didn’t make any sense. So, first off, there is a strong element of “Alice in Wonderland” inspiration in this mod, but it’s not a retelling of the story by any stretch. More like… elements have been borrowed, and the characters in the game are aware of the references they’re making. Without giving too much away, you end up getting trapped in a skyscraper, and have to fight and think your way out (the “Die Hard” and “Dredd” elements come in). You are a hacker for this game, and sometimes you have to go into the Matrix and either beat up defense programs or solve puzzles (the “Tron” element).

That's a lot of blocker IC, chummer.

On top of all that, you end up dealing with a sort of “retirement community” of old shadowrunners (mercenaries and hackers who work outside the law, sometimes for the highest bidder, other times they have moral causes) who come with outrageous personalities and problems in many cases. I could tell you even more, but I’m probably running past a reasonable word count now. Suffice to say, I am enthusiastic about my project, and I hope I can stick with it this time around. Life may take me in other directions soon, so there’s no telling what might happen. I’d like to think the 450 or so hours I’ve put into this project so far weren’t wasted time, but who knows?

No poem for this entry.

Between

I know space can be cold and dark
a vacuum scarce on particles
and when you’re in the black
it might feel like death
the misery expands from you
with nothing to hold it back
and at the same time you can’t breathe
trying to gasp but there’s nothing
only your rising, then fading, heartbeat
to make the slightest semblance of noise
in your ringing ears
that burst from the pressure changes.
But before you give in,
let me offer you this lunar landing module:
if you must die,
wouldn’t you like to walk on the Moon first?

If You Could See the Stars

Like a nebula you surround me
in a cloak of forming stars,
setting sail on astral vapors
across the heavenscape;
you softly light
in clouds’ delight
a cosmologic scene:
a cerulean sphinx, a verdant cove,
or eyes aquamarine,
a crimson girl with umbrous curls who delves the velvet deeps;
if this be dream,
then may I never waken from this sleep.

Within the deeping pockets,
I can spy chaotic scenes:
as the forming stars are burning,
as the gases storm and keen,
colossal
elemental forces are at work within,
sublime;
and I love you,
every particle:
we are fleeting, and we
did/do/will exist
at every point,
and past
the ends
of time;
my nebula,
my starscape,
my sea of astral rhyme.

In Case You Were Wondering

What essences I have dreamed,
what hearts and souls I have schemed,
What darknesses I have screamed,
I do not know;
what beauty I have made,
what shimmerings in the shade,
what wistfulness I have bade,
oh my soul;
what Whitmans I have been,
Dickinson again and again,
I’ve been wallflower, I’ve been spin,
and this grows;
you don’t drain the Poe out of me,
you give it heart and you set it free,
can I say, “What will be, will be?”
I do not know;
what dreams had I given up on,
how many times cursed the dawn,
now it’s here, and it’s simply wrong,
oh, our souls;
prisms dancing in rainbow hues,
music instead of morning news,
castles crumble for love of you,
this I know;
this is more than exotic love,
or melancholy erotica,
intoxicate me and take my blood,
and this grows;
neon skirt and transparent blouse,
among the stars living hand to mouth,
when we’re together it outweighs doubt,
this I know;
I can touch you without my hand,
I can clothe you in astrakhan,
I can love you without a plan,
oh our souls.