Milgaard Inquiry

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One Sentence, Two Prisoners: Movie Review of Orange Is the New Black

One Sentence, Two Prisoners

Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) has nothing but time on her hands. She is serving fifteen months for laundering money for her estranged lover, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), who dealt heroin for a West African kingpin in the blockbuster Netflix hit, Orange Is the New Black. Orange Is the New Black, based on the true story and book by Piper Kerman, was created by Jenji Kohan and produced by Jodie Foster.

When we first meet upper-middle-class and ever so cultured Piper, she is preparing to leave her business, her best friend, and her adorable fiancé, Larry Bloom, played by Jason Biggs. It is hard to imagine how she will survive the chaos that awaits her – kind of like sending Chelsea Clinton off to contend with a Russian mafia cafeteria manager, who takes offense at one measly comment about her unpalatable food and decides to starve Piper until she is good and sorry for her faux pas. Meanwhile, cliques, gangs, lewd male prison officials and every other conceivable kind of terror abounds.

Unlike Oz, a series about men in prison, Orange Is the New Black focuses on the female experience. It is a riveting dramedy made all the more entertaining by the fact that it's real.

It also poses the question, who else is affected by our adverse experiences even when we feel entirely alone? Larry is an aspiring writer and one day he has a column published in The New York Times about his experience being engaged to an inmate. Neither Larry nor Piper can truly celebrate his good journalistic fortune because Larry feels guilty that Piper is still in prison and he is living a normal life where no one will suddenly attack him with a wrench or throw him into a moving dryer in the Laundromat, and Piper feels that Larry doesn't know her; he has written about the old Piper, the person she was before IT happened. Larry doesn't know the new Piper, who struggles in the estrogen jungle and she takes issue with the title of his column: "One Sentence, Two Prisoners." Is Larry really a prisoner, too? He thinks so.

Recently I watched Foreverland, a Canadian HBO show about William, a young guy with cystic fibrosis (Max Thieriot from Bates Motel), who spent nearly three hours every day doing physical therapy on his lungs just so he was able to breathe. He hooked up with a girl who encouraged him to go all the way to Mexico to scatter the ashes of one of their mutual friends who had just died of CF. Most people with cystic fibrosis don't live past 21. William made the long trek at great physical cost. At one point he argued with the girl, who was trying to connect with him. She said to him, "Do you think it's easier being the healthy one?" And he shouted an emphatic yes.

Yes, it is easier being the one who is not going to die of cystic fibrosis just as it is easier being the one who can visit the penal system and get in the newly-washed BMW after a stressful hour together and go home. But that's not to say that the people who love us and are involved with us are not deeply affected by our experiences, be that incarceration or terminal illness. They are profoundly influenced and they have the right to their own feelings – but they may not get much sympathy by telling them to the person who is actually imprisoned in a compound or by their body.

Orange Is the New Black is a radically different kind of TV series. First, it's only available on Netflix and not on TV or DVD. Second, it focuses on women, and third, it lets us know what most sane people already realize: the penal institute is failing us. Inmates are disproportionately people of color, they are not treated humanely or with respect (the new blacks), there is little protection from violence within the walls, and the concept of rehabilitation is a joke. These women are just doing their time and desperately counting the days until they get out. Will they have changed? Perhaps, but not necessarily for the better.

Thanks to the criminalization of marijuana, the reduction in rehab centers for addictions, which is where sick people belong, and the large number of illegal immigrants in the US, the country has one of the highest incarceration rates in the industrialized world. Not exactly something to be proud of. With 1 out of every 18 men and 1 in 89 women behind bars, according to CNN, Orange Is the New Black is educational and eye opening.

Sigrid Macdonald is a manuscript editor and the author of five books. You can find her at  







Saturday, April 28, 2012

This is my account of the David Milgaard Inquiry.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Blame, blame, blame the victim

Ah yes, when all else fails, why not admonish the mother of a clearly established innocent man who spent 23 endless years behind bars rather than place responsibility on the police and prosecutors of this horrendous case?

That's exactly what Justice Edward MacCallum did this afternoon, after three years of reviewing, examining and analyzing reams of paperwork, processing 114 witnesses, spending 11.6 million dollars, and listening to the sad and sorry tale of the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard. In 1997, Milgaard was finally exonerated of the charge of murdering Gail Miller in Saskatoon in 1969 after DNA evidence proved conclusively that he could not have been the killer. During his almost quarter-century stay behind bars, his mother Joyce worked tirelessly with private investigators, her priceless lawyers Hersh Wolch and the inexhaustible David Asper, family members, friends, church supporters and members of the public who believed in her cause. She did everything she could, including appealing to the press and the prime minister, to free her son because she knew that if she didn't, Dave would have been there forever -- he'd already tried to escape out of desperation and had been shot by the police for doing so. And he refused to admit guilt or show remorse, hence, the parole board wouldn't let him out.

On second thought, I'm going to go one step further. Instead of still being in jail, Milgaard could easily be dead. He was bipolar, he was kept in solitary confinement for long periods of time, and his medications were not well regulated. He also tried to kill himself twice in prison -- a little gang rape can really ruin your day! As the old saying goes, the third time is a charm, particularly for a man who would not have had any hope or reason to believe that he would ever see the daylight.

But instead of praising Joyce Milgaard for doing the system's prosecutorial work, and for actually finding the real killer, Larry Fisher, who remains behind bars for that murder, Justice MacCallum decided to slam her once again. She was overzealous. She was paranoid. She thought that there was a cover-up (funny that Larry Fisher was never tried in Saskatoon for his rape convictions and that the same cop who handled the Fisher rapes was working on the Milgaard case. What a coincidence! But not a cover-up, of course.)

Justice MacCallum did acknowledge that testimony from Nichol John should have been stricken from the record during Milgaard's original trial because what she had said on paper to the police about seeing David stab Gail, she never repeated again, particularly during the trial. (Police pressure? A drugged-out, financially-challenged kid who was only 15 or 16 years old, held in jail overnight without her parents or any lawyers present? Poor Nichol now suffering from memory loss or false memory syndrome? Nah, this is all in the imagination of the Milgaard Camp, which lacks an appropriate trust of authority.)

In all fairness, MacCallum also recommended that juvenile investigations be taped in the future. And he did say that a now deceased policeman from Calgary was aggressive in his polygraph of Nichol John, but MacCallum stopped short of calling this a form of misconduct.

There were so many ways in which the Milgaard case was mishandled, and I haven't even looked at the information for two years, but the top ones that come to my mind were the coercion of teenagers to say exactly what the police wanted them to say. Originally when they were interviewed, Ron Wilson and Nichol John said that Milgaard never did anything wrong. It was only upon repeat interrogation that they said otherwise, and Nichol said that David stabbed someone and stole her purse SOLELY when she was being held overnight without counsel in jail. Then she retracted that comment and never made it again.

Albert Cadrain, one of David's friends, testified against him and tipped the police off to blood on David's clothing. But Cadrain received a reward of $2000, which was a lot of money back in 1970, especially to a kid. And his mental health was always less than stellar (several bricks short of a driveway, actually, through no fault of his own). He was hospitalized several months after he'd made these comments about Dave; moreover, when he told the police that he saw blood, he also said that he saw the Virgin Mary but the latter was ignored and never treated as the hallucination that both it and the blood were.

Out of the 13 different recommendations that Edward MacCallum made, according to The Canadian Press, one of them was that "the federal government establish an independent review commission to examine claims of wrongful conviction," so that these appeals no longer have to go to the justice minister. But this recommendation has been made many times before and no one has followed through. Who has the authority to create such a commission? Let them do it!

So, the police and prosecutors involved in this case are officially off the hook. They didn't have tunnel vision, they didn't turn a blind eye to Larry Fisher's striking M.O., and they didn't make any catastrophic errors. Then how did a perfectly innocent kid spend the better part of his youth and middle years in a dark, dangerous hole? That's like saying that the operation was a success but the patient died -- this is a whitewash.

Justice MacCallum has proved the Milgaard point precisely, which is that the justice system is totally incapable of examining itself in an unbiased fashion.

Sigrid Macdonald
Former co-coordinator of the Milgaard support group in Ottawa

Monday, September 22, 2008

Resolution to the Milgaard Case at Last?

The StarPhoenix announced that the long-awaited findings from the David Milgaard inquiry will be made public this coming Friday. Hallelujah! It's about time. I'll post them as soon as they're released.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Dr. Joyce Milgaard!

Last week, Joyce Milgaard received an honorary doctor of Law degree at the University of Manitoba. She spoke at the Duckworth Center to an audience of 2500 people, encouraging them to support an independent panel that would review claims of wrongful conviction. England, Australia and New Zealand already have such boards but the United States and Canada are far behindin that respect. This is something that AIDWYC (The Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted) has advocated for years.

It's about time that Joyce received some accolades for her years of labor after the way that she has been attacked in the Inquiry for forcing the police and justice system to do its job.


Friday, September 01, 2006

Way behind

I'm *way* behind in my posts because frankly, I had hoped that the inquiry would end months ago. I'm going to take a break from posting and recommend that all of you catch up on the news by visiting CBC, Injustice Busters and AIDWYC. All of these web sites are in my link section to the right.

Thanks for understanding. I will probably return in a month or two to wrap things up.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Was the Department Of Justice Slow to Move in Milgaard's Appeal?

That's what David Asper believes. He told the inquiry today that Eugene Williams, former investigator for the federal Justice Department, created delays in responding to various portions of the Milgaard appeal.

Milgaard first wrote to the federal Justice Department in January of 1986, asking for his case to be reopened. Asper did not file the documents until December of 1988, according to Betty Ann Adam of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Approximately two years later, Kim Campbell, Justice Minister at the time, turned down Milgaard's request, forcing him and his lawyers to file a second application in August of 1991. Milgaard's case went before the Supreme Court of Canada, at Campbell's referral, in November of 1991. The rest is history.

Sigrid Mac

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