On Steven And The High Cost Of Freedom


Nearly two years ago, a friend of mine was arrested. (I’ll call him Steven.) He was accused of breaking into a house, raping the man who lived there, and knowingly exposing the guy to HIV.

Since the fall of 2008, Steven has been held in Jefferson Parish, which is physically adjacent to Orleans Parish, but culturally, they’re miles apart. Yes, the jail system in Orleans Parish is notoriously bad — deadly, corrupt, the works. But it’s also accustomed to handling large numbers of gay detainees as well as those who are HIV-positive. Jefferson Parish jails aren’t so tolerant. As a result, Steven has often been denied access to his medications, not to mention other indignities.

Steven has maintained his innocence all along, and I’m inclined to believe him. For one, Steven’s a small guy — too small to overpower most other men. (There’s no mention of a weapon being involved, FYI.) For two, neither Steven nor his lawyer have been given access to the evidence against him. And on top of everything else, there’s the shadiness of the whole Jefferson Parish system, which doesn’t win them any votes in my jury of one.

Steven’s bail has been set ridiculously high for someone with no previous convictions, whose family all live in the New Orleans area, who’s well-behaved, and who seems to post a minimal flight risk. Ordinarily, my friends and I would put together some sort of fundraiser — just as we’ve done for other people in need — but it would take dozens to generate enough cash. And so, he’s waited.

Unfortunately, Steven’s case has been repeatedly delayed, and that’s taken an effect on him, physically and emotionally. Now, he’s now doing the unthinkable: he’s taking a plea deal. He’d rather put up with the hassles of being labeled a sex offender than spend more time in jail — and possibly be convicted on very flimsy evidence. (People have been found guilty of worse based on less.)

I don’t have access to all the details, of course. I haven’t even been able to visit Steven in jail. We’ve corresponded by post, and I’ve sent him books as often as possible — something to get his mind off of his predicament for a while. After reading his recent letters though, I’m not sure it’s done much good:

June 20, 2010

Those in here say “Take it and run, go home, get away from this place, it’s killing you.” Some of those out there say “Are you willing to deal with the ramifications? Can you live with this?” My question to you is “Could you live in here for two years…being treated like the scum of the earth? With a low stress threshold and a compromised immune system?”

My answer to everyone is: “Yes I can live with this.” As long as the accuser leaves me alone and leaves me to what’s left of my life, I can get by. I’ll live like a pauper with the bare minimums in life. After my unjust ordeal — trust me — I can sweat the simple stuff.

I’m not scared of death; I’d just prefer that it be by my own hand than someone else’s.

I just want this accuser to leave me alone. Rest assured he’ll NEVER hear from me; still don’t know where the man lives. Don’t care to know, either….

My neighbors who knew me before this ordeal will know that the fliers can’t be true. If they have any experience (or have any family members with the experience of the injustice system) then they should know the limitations of choices I was left with….

There’s one more fear I have. After the fliers are sent — and I may be overreacting because just down my street is…the equivalent of a “crack alley & a red light district” — but my house is only six houses down from a school. There may be gawkers. There may be closed-minded conservatives who want to burn down my house and put a bullet between my eyes.

To those of you agonizing over the daily trivial activities of: what outfit to wear, what to have for lunch, which cell phone to upgrade with — you’ve got it made brothers and sisters. Thank your god that you don’t have to make my choices.

I’m not trying to be a total downer on what for many people is a well-earned day off. But given that we just celebrated Independence Day, it seemed appropriate.

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