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A look insido tlio dooply flawod US prison system
May 20, 2010, was a day I will never forget.
I had been up late the night before.
The worldwide premier of "Running America" played
at the Carolina Theatre downtown. My father, Charlie
Engle, had produced and starred in the
film, which documented his unsuccessful
attempt to break the record for fastest
crossing of the U.S. on foot.
After a long day of school, I was in
desperate need of a nap.
As I sat in the car on the way home,
fighting to stay awake, I received a phone
call from a number that I didn't recognize.
It was my dad, calling from the
Guilford County Sheriff's Office.
He proceeded to tell me that authorities
had detained him earlier that day outside
his apartment, and that they still had not
informed of his charges. He said they
were keeping him overnight and that he would call me as
soon as he could.
He then told me he loved me and not to panic. And then
his time was up.
It was a short call, lasting barely over a minute. In that
short time, my brain was still fighting to comprehend
whether it had been real or not. But it was all very real.
We came to discover that IRS Special Agent Robert
Nordlander was responsible for the initial investigation
into my dad after seeing-news coverage of "Running the
Sahara," a documentary following my father's 4,600 mile
run across the Sahara Desert in 2006 to create awareness of
the water crisis in the area.
He personally invested 700 hours into my father for two
months, going, through my dad's tax returns, his mail, even
his garbage, only to come up with no substantial evidence
When 40-year-old men are still servinr
sentences from drug charges imposec
when they were teenagers, there is a
problem with the system.
of financial deviancy.
After staging a full-scale operation involving an attractive
female undercover agent — my parents are divorced —
Nordlander finally found something that he could use
against my father.
My father was accused of having illegally inflated his
income on two stated-income mortgage loan applications
back in 2005-06.
Not only was this something that millions of people did
before the housing market crashed, it was something done
by mortgage brokers, unbeknownst to him.
He would eventually serve 21 months in federal prison
for mortgage fraud, though found not guilty of providing
I got to visit him five or six times, at a minimum-security
prison in Beckley, W.Va.
The visiting room was surprisingly informal, almost
cozy, with a deep-grey carpet and murals painted on the
walls. In the corner, a 6' 7" inmate whom my dad had
become friends with distributed toys to children.
Every time I visited him, I would see dozens of children
playing games while their parents talked, their smiles
contrasting with the concerned looks of their parents.
The majority of the inmates at Beckley were drug
offenders, many of them middle-age men serving
mandatory sentences of 10 to 20 years.
When 40-year-old men are still serving sentences from
drug charges imposed when they were teenagers, there is a
problem with the system.
There is little chance for reconstruction in our system. It
prosecutes to punish, not to rehabilitate.
Although I will never get those two years with my dad
back, we have been able to make up for lost time.
But, how do you make up for 20 years?
strategies are not the solution
The reaction is nearly routine: tragedy strikes,
America responds with angry harrumphs and
rhubarb, then we slowly forget and return to our
lives. Sometimes these harrumphs address a clear
and present danger and are well
deserved; sometimes they're just
In the wake of the Boston
Marathon bombings, former
Assistant Secretary for
Infrastructure Protection Robert
Liscouski published an opinion
piece through CNN which stated,
"lEDs are one of the biggest threats
to the United States." His advice in
order to prevent future attacks is
increasing the Office of Bombing
What I ask in response is, "Why?"
"I don't think there is an urgent need for prevention
(of bombings)," said Visiting Assistant Professor of
Peace and Conflict Studies Jeremy Rinker in an email
interview. "At least, no more than before the Boston
I believe there are two main reasons why bombing
prevention in America is a fool's errand: they aren't a
constant danger in our society, and the unpredictability
and availability of materials renders them impossible
"All the materials and ingredients (to make a bomb)
are out there," said Visiting Assistant Professor of
Political Science Robert Duncan. "You need fertilizer
and diesel fueh Washing detergent, nails, bolts."
But one might desperately ask, "Isn't there anything
we can do to prevent these attacks?" The answer is
technically yes, but Americans would be forced to
cede fundamental rights.
"Sure, there are measures we could take: martial
law, totalitarianism, reducing whole populations to
the status of virtual prisoners in their own homes and
cities," said Max Carter, director of the Friends Center,
in an email interview. "Is that what we want to do?"
I say no. There's no need to construct a police state
because of one bombing.
So, in the face of facts, is bombing prevention in
America a viable prospect?
"I am not at all convinced that our form of
prevention would actually work," said Rinker. "Our
tendency is to increase security without increasing
our understanding and empathy of the possible root
causes of such a horrible act."
One might ask what these "root causes" are. The
answer is ffie same as usual: dissent against inequities,
either real or imagined, leads to violent protest by
"People that are pissed off, at somebody or the
government, want to make a statement," said Duncan.
"As long as you have thinking like that, you're always
going to have that possibility (of bombing attacks).
"We are a very violence-prone society. Hell, our
country started at the point of a gun. Our whole
history sort of rests on violence."
One thing that maddens me about the proposal of
stepping up bombing prevention in the United States
is that it's raised in willful ignorance of America's
most prevalent source of violence: guns.
"It takes a little brain power to build a bomb,"
Duncan said. "Any idiot can pull a trigger."
In light of this fact, I find it almost appalling
Liscouski would state lEDs are a major threat in
America after the rash of massacres in 2012. Where
was he last year? Vacationing on Uranus?
Notably, Liscouski is the director of Implant Sciences
Corporation, manufacturers of bomb detection
equipment; I suggest he has a dog in the hunt.
In all seriousness, I believe the issue of bombing
prevention in the United States to be nearly a moot
point. I wouldn't advise eliminating the Office of
Bombing Prevention or anything rash, but let's calm
down, accept that we can't stop attacks like the Boston
bombings and confront the more pressing problems
facing our nation.
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