I visited Jacob last Monday night at the Allegheny County Jail. I missed my visit two weeks prior and gave my visit the next week to one of Jacob’s friends. Family and friends are only allowed two visits a week on specific days. It has recently been difficult to schedule around other responsibilities, but at least we are able to talk regularly. Of course, those calls come at a significant cost. I do not exaggerate when I say we have spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on phone calls. He talks to his friends regularly too; and when they visit, that is special. Last week was special and a surprise visit around Christmas from an out-of-state friend was unexpected. As a military service person, that visitor was able to make an unscheduled visit.
There was a winter storm warning for last Monday night. My husband was sure I would not be home after the visit but instead would stay at Jacob’s house in Pittsburgh. There was a time when neither of us would have considered a weather threat as a deterrent, and I did not let it stop my visit on that night. There were fewer visitors than usual that evening; Jacob said later that it had been a slow visitor day. Was it the threatened winter storm or just a normal Monday? When I walked through the metal detector, it buzzed a warning about those metal grommets on my boots. I forgot about them; I try never to wear anything that requires undressing or a repeat pass-through of the metal detector. While I sat there waiting for the call to line up for the 6 PM visit, I observed the other visitors. Tonight there was an older couple sitting in the waiting room. They were my age or perhaps older; the man walked with difficulty using a cane. They entered the elevator with me, and we dropped to the first floor. This was the place of contact visits; I had glimpsed it only from the elevator box. We have had no physical contact with Jacob since the day of the reading of the verdict. One way for inmates to get contact visits is to take a job; then they get one contact visit a month. Jacob applied for jobs and was offered one months ago, but an electrical outlet for his C-Pap machine was the issue–an issue never resolved. Just a few days ago, he told me that he was passed over to be a worker on his pod. The pod normally had 3 black workers and 3 white workers. It is probably one of those unwritten established work procedures rather than a rule. A couple of people told Jacob he would probably get that job since he was the next white man in line for the job in terms of seniority. Instead the CO tossed out the established balance and named a black man. What to do….nothing. Some things are important, and some things are not important.
I walked down the hall, the only visitor walking the full length of the hall on this visit. I began the parade past each half-glass doored cubicle looking across the 15-foot divide. I saw him waiting, looking scruffy now. Most of the visits, he is already waiting for us or in the background waiting to slide into the seat to replace the inmate from the previous hour’s visit. Sometimes though we wait, pacing past each cubicle waiting for his face to echo through the windows dividing us. On a visit a few months ago, Jacob’s girlfriend waited 15-20 minutes until finally another inmate got him. I guess the CO forgot to let him out. Obviously, our visiting time together is not considered valuable. Usually though, Jacob knows when to expect us and is waiting.
What do we talk about in this short-long, long-short hour? We talk about his son and his nephew. We talk about the mousing prowess of his cats. We talk about the presidential campaign. We talk about the things we believe in and why. We talk about his appeal lawyer and the progress of that work. Yes, he is appealing his conviction. Notices of appeal have been filed. A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast of an interview with a woman who positively identified the wrong person. Her identification led to a wrongful conviction. This convict continued to appeal until all avenues were exhausted. She told the interviewer that each time he was granted some appeal or hearing, she asked herself why he kept fighting. Why was he putting her through the pain of reliving her assault? Why did he not just give up? She never considered the obvious reason. She did not consider that he too was in pain. The answer was the most obvious one; he was innocent. He exhausted all avenues finally, but his family still did not give up. His mother managed to get others interested in his case; eventually he was exonerated. This was Steven Avery, and the podcast was on RADIOLAB. Do you ask why we continue to support Jacob in his fight? Do you think that we thoughtlessly expose ourselves to more months and possibly years of stress and upheaval and connection to the ugliness of the accusations and Jacob’s ex-family? Do we really want to spend thousands in legal fees and the auxiliary costs of incarceration with no guarantees of success in winning an appeal or exposing the truth? Do you believe that Jacob is just stubborn refusing to admit guilt and willing to bankrupt himself and us to prove his innocence? In the sentencing hearing his ex-wife said something about not blaming the ‘victim’. She had read my postings and knew I believed in Jacob’s innocence. She knew Jacob denied those accusations and testified in court that he had not done those things. Did she believe that because this court of law and this jury found him guilty of some charges that he would suddenly admit guilt? Is it really reasonable to expect someone who has testified that they are innocent to change course simply because a jury or a judge rules against them? We operate on this idea that once a court has declared guilt, that makes it so. So who did she think I should blame? Should I blame her? Should I blame the system? If this accuser had been a victim of sexual abuse, it was at the hands of someone else. Should I blame that person for not coming forward when Jacob was accused? My postings are not about blame but about justice. They are about what I believe. I must say these things whether they hurt this accuser or others. My goal has never been to hurt anyone, although I know that it may hurt people. Unfortunately, those who are hurt are less important to me than my son. If I remain silent, you would assume that I believed that my son was guilty and deserved his incarceration. How could I possibly do that? I was silent at times I should have spoken and live with regrets. You can believe whatever you wish to believe about Jacob’s guilt or innocence. You can believe what you wish about why I write these posts. The answer to why Jacob continues to fight and why we continue to support him and why his friends stand by his side is the very obvious one. The answer is the one that woman who identified the wrong person never considered. I wish we could stop; I wish we could just accept Jacob’s fate in this seriously flawed justice and penal system. I wish I never had to see this accuser again or any person in Jacob’s ex-family again. I wish we could wait for his release and watch him try to rebuild his life with all the impediments he will face. Giving up now is not possible. We know this fight will not attract any of those groups who become involved in convicts’ cases. This is not an important case to anyone but Jacob and his friends and family. Jacob’s case does not involve long or lifetime incarceration. Jacob’s conviction does however carry a lifetime mark, the ‘scarlet letter’ of sexual offenses. There will be no new DNA; no DNA was ever collected as evidence from bed-clothes or the mattress or anywhere in that house. Jacob’s lawyer asked the police officer why they did not collect DNA from those items to at least prove that the accuser had been in that master bed. The detective gave the excuse that the bed-clothes would have been laundered. The lawyer asked again why they did they not test the mattress; it would not have been laundered. If they had ever visited the home of my son and ex-daughter-in-law, they might have considered the real possibility that those bed-clothes had not been laundered in that two-three week interval between the reported last incident and Jacob’s arrest. What is the reason they never collected any evidence from the house where Jacob’s ex-wife had almost exclusive control in the week of Jacob’s arrest and incarceration? Why did they not exhaust all avenues to prove the case or at the least exclude things? Why were accusations all these police officers needed for the case?
As the hour of our visit came to an end, we were talking about the second season of SERIAL which follows the story of Bowe Bergdahl. I was listening to an episode with my daughter as we were driving on the turnpike a few days before this visit. Mid-story of my account of the commanding officer’s admonition to Bergdahl and his fellow-men that their mission to Afghanistan was not to ‘rape, pillage and plunder’, the knock comes to end our visit. I stood up and said ‘to be continued’ and ‘I love you.’ Jacob reminds me to tell his girlfriend that he will call tomorrow or when he can. They are on lockdown again. A couple of new guys came on the pod earlier that day, and first move out of the gate is to start a fight. Everyone is now locked down again.
In the lobby, I picked up my ID on the desk and started walking to the lockers. A guard calls out a warning about icy conditions. I felt some slippery places on the sidewalk outside the jail, but traffic was moving at a normal pace. It seemed to be mostly rain; my daughter called and told me that she was just returning home and the roads seemed OK in Worthington. I drove through the Strip District as I headed to a bridge to cross over to Route 28. I stopped for a couple of photos because I can never seem to pass a shot; it is as if I think the opportunity will never come again. It was now that very wet snow falling lightly, but I was not worried. As I drove north on Route 28 the salt trucks were spraying the southbound lanes of the road. The road was snow-and-ice covered making the lines invisible. We were creeping slower and slower. It was treacherous, but I could not turn back as each mile brought me closer to home. I would not be able to call Jacob to report I had arrived home safely. Of course, he had no idea of weather or road conditions where he was. Then I had the thought that if I was injured or killed in a wreck, he would not know immediately; he might even hear the news on television. That happened to a friend years ago. Her father’s accidental death was reported on television before she found out. If something happened, he would have no one to comfort him nor would he be a comfort to his family. Morbid thoughts came to me on that slippery slide home. Fortunately, I did not wreck and arrived home safely by following in the tracks of the salt truck up the state road and then racing up my path on my county road. I kept saying to myself ‘keep going’, ‘don’t stop on this hill’, ‘you are almost home now’.
While I sat here finishing this post that reminded me each time I signed into Facebook to give it an ending, Jacob’s girlfriend called me to report all visits at the jail were cancelled today. The phones in the jail were down. She was irritated of course by the waste of her time, and of course, the disappointment for Jacob. It is almost bizarre how easily we slip into acceptance of lockdowns, cancelled visits and other seemingly gratuitous rules of the jail. We simply accept ‘the things we cannot change’; that does not mean though that acceptance is blind or without questions. Some things though can never be accepted.