Bernard Kerik: The Wrong Man to Talk about Prison Reform

Kerik, former Homeland Security Secretary nominee, should shut up.

face.jpgBernie Kerik is no friend to those who have been prosecuted excessively for drug crimes or, for that matter, to anyone serving time in prison. By my estimation, his unlooked-for discovery that America’s drug sentences have created a huge underclass of offenders is little more than fodder for Kerik’s own PR agenda.

Here’s both barrels:

For starters, though Kerik did spend time behind bars, he can’t speak on behalf of the general population. A former NYPD Commissioner and the man who once oversaw one of the facilities in which he was detained, Kerik definitely did not live among gen pop inmates. He was housed in protective custody, a much less transitory and smaller environment. Protective custody (a.k.a. administrative segregation) is mainly for informants, self-harmers, perverts, and anyone else facility administrators deem likely to become stabbing practice.

So from my perspective – and probably that of every other rational general population convict – Bernie Kerik is free to speak only for snitches and kid touchers. Sure, like me, he’s entitled to a second chance and the opportunity to use that chance and his platform productively. But I say, consider the source.

Bernie Kerik_MAFIA COPDAILY NEWSWhether or not Kerik has Mafia ties, as has been speculated for years, isn’t the problem: neither is Rudolph Giuliani’s ignoring them. Even Bouncin’ Bernie’s truly asinine marital indiscretions and his very own Nannygate aren’t what get me. I simply look at the company he’s kept throughout his life, from when he was a once-proud Marine to when he was a dutiful police officer, innovative corrections administrator, bribe-taking, mobbed-connected cop, and finally, the man I met and briefly served, back when he was one of many conspiring to take advantage of post-9/11 homeland security fervor. Creepy old rich guys, law enforcement groupies, witness tamperers, crooked political appointees, and so on.

Now Kerik is seeking to insert himself into another national dialog, this time on prison reform. Frankly, in terms of character, I think ol’ Bernie’s a player. And the yearn to be an even bigger player – a Decider – didn’t get shaken during his incarceration. It makes me want to ask him what did.

Yet here’s Kerik, out the gate, telling the nation what it needs just like he did when George W. Bush nominated him to head Homeland Security. He’s shown us no proof of personal growth. A change of heart requires more than merely glimpsing another man’s perspective. I smell a rushed approach to a fast flag planting.

THE AWNER IS NO_Where Excuses Go to DieToday, I was asked whether I thought Kerik’s views were a legitimate part of the overall discourse on prison reform. My answer is an unequivocal NO. Why not? Shouldn’t I be happy when someone with a big media platform brings attention to issues about which I care passionately? Maybe. But Kerik ain’t the guy to sing this song. In addition to what I’ve already cited, let me share my experience with his last planted flag.

As detailed in a 2011 post called From Beat-downs to Bear Hugs, Kerik was part of a cast of characters you would’ve had to hear and see to believe. Many of them were law-enforcement brass, political appointees, Swiftboat-men, and flat-out con artists – the core group of whom went on to be indicted, disgraced, incarcerated, or all three.

California Gold Star Awards_Written by John Espinosa NelsonFor those who’d rather not bother with my previous entry, this was 2003, and I’d been hired to write teleprompter banter, announcer intros, and presenting-the-award speeches for a Beverly Hills gala/fundraiser hosted by LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling and others. The theme was homeland security; the attendees were a garish, cosmetically-enhanced who’s who of Los Angeles power players, movie stars, real estate moguls, sports team owners, philanthropists, and military types. (For the record, besides my future wife and the lady who’d hired me, the military personnel were some of the only genuine human beings there.)

Though my direct exposure to Bernie was limited to the afternoon and evening of the event, someone from his team had to approve what I’d written for him and the producers had asked me to introduce myself as Show Writer in order to facilitate each presenting luminary’s last-minute changes. For the most part, the task was a joy for a guy whose then-biggest hope was to “never go back.”

It wasn’t that far after 9/11, and the raw materials for our current, protracted state of war were being grabbed by anyone who could fetishize the Star-Spangled Banner. This marked a new frontier for private security companies, construction contractors, defense firms, and especially tactical uniform manufacturers. That night, if you weren’t wearing a tux, suit, ball gown, or cocktail dress, SWAT gear was all the rage. (Speaking of fetishizing.)

But the homeland security fanfare was more than a theme: it signified compliance. The problem with compliance is that it’s easy to fake. So while many were were high on badge and hero worship  –or simply NeoConning the part–  the whole circus was so full of itself that even the red carpet press release declared the alert status of a high-value target. “War footing,” was listed as the official Operational Security “Posture” for journalists, attendees, and any jihadist sleeper cells in the LA area who may have been paying attention.

Godzilla Facepalm_Where Excuses Go to DieThe clear implication was, “Don’t mess with us: we’ve got lawyers, guns, and money.” It was as smug and self-righteous as anything I’ve ever seen. In truth it was mostly hype for the donors: an aura of power for them to soak in (and soak they did). But even though I was feeling like I’d snuck in the back door, I also felt the American flag and its colors were being abused. Not by right wing ideology or conservative values, but by people who’d hijacked those beliefs for personal gain. And there was Bernie Kerik, the principal show pony.

How is it, then, that Kerik imagines he’s any different from those who turned on each other in court and in the media when it all fell apart? Before the curtain went up that night, I’d watched him belly-laugh with a colleague who, just 3 years later, wore a wire to bring down his partner in crime and save his own butt. They were all presenting awards to each other and I’d written the power-fluff they’d recite to do so. (It wouldn’t be the last time.)

Now if you’re still back on how the world a convicted felon winds up inside a 501(c)(3) hive, first check out the aforementioned blog entry, then consider the fact that you yourself have just survived a government shutdown. Get it yet? These crazies were high as a kite on “If you’re not a cop, you’re little people,” and everyone was jerkin’ everybody else to the same theme. In other words, they were preoccupied as hell. I was vetted about as thoroughly as a certain newly minted healthcare website was tested prior to launch.

Script Page 27_2nd ANNUAL GOLD STAR AWARDS_Written By John Espinosa NelsonWhich brings me back to Bernie Kerik and whether or not he’s a legitimate voice for prison reform.

Kerik played along with these phonies that night and probably countless nights with other tuxedo-wearing clowns before and since. He was as rah-rah as they wanted him to be – even as his fingers were in pies so questionable they led eventually to allegations of nefarious profiteering. He was as corrupt as the rest of ’em, even though he held on longer.

Remember that whole protective custody thing? Even his prison in-processing was a con job. Kerik, a.k.a. prisoner #210-717, apparently “insisted” he not be administratively segregated or housed in protective custody, but he knew full well his request would be laughed at for the disruption such a misplacement would cause.

How could he have known? As a former corrections boss himself, he never would have honored a similar request, and for good administrative reason: such things inevitably result in an explosion of incident reports, assault documentation, and overtime costs. Kerik’s move was a play to BS the inmates he’d soon face. A false tough-guy shielded by a ho-hum procedural safe zone. I can’t count how many times I heard that spiel from segregated inmates while I was locked up, nor how many eyes rolled along with mine at the sound of it.

You think a guy like this didn’t find an angle to exploit in prison? Of course he did. The fact that he chose prison reform itself? This full circle that Bernie and I have come is suddenly making me nauseous.

Sell it someplace else cabbage headSo do I give this bastard a chance because I was given one? No, he won’t get an empathy pass from me. BUT Bernie Kerik is the only former police-commissioner-turned-political-hustler-corrections-administrator to ever do real time, even if it was on a snitch yard. He’s in a class by himself in many ways, but this is the one that might actually be of some value to the rest of us. (I hold the line at might.)

We might be able to learn from Kerik’s experience in the same way folks are telling me that others can learn from mine. So I’ll listen long enough to determine if the guy did any real growing as a man.

If he did  –and only if he did–  Kerik may yet prove to be one of the RIGHT men to talk.

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3 Responses to “Bernard Kerik: The Wrong Man to Talk about Prison Reform”

  1. Crawford says:

    You make a very good point.

  2. DoingTimeWithBernie says:

    Your general impression of Bernard Kerik here is spot on! I know. I was in daily contact with Bernie during his incarceration. Correction on one point: Bernie was only on solitary SHU for about a month while testifying in NYC at DiTommasso trial. The rest of his sentence was spent in a small minimum security section of Cumberland MD Fed prison. Bernie survived ok. Being denied liberty is punishment. However, as prisoners go, he had every advantage and perk allowed. I know. This jail pimp manipulated $93,000 in support from mediating his 3-year incarceration. Imagine that? Lesson learned…by me. Not him. His prison and justice reform is all about him. If anyone else benefits, just collateral consequence…

    • John Nelson says:

      Thanks for your response. My general impression of the man consists of not only of my brief interaction with him, but those around him; the hustlers, suitors, cop-groupies and the hangers-on orbiting whole bunch.

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