Book Releases

Tempting Fate (Colorado High Country #4) —
Chaska Belcourt’s story is out! Head back to Scarlet Springs for more Rocky Mountain Search & Rescue Team adventures and more humor and sexy romance. The book is available in ebook and paperback at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords.


Barely Breathing (A Colorado High Country Novel) — The first book in my new Colorado High Country series is now only 99 cents at all ebook retailers! This new contemporary series is set in the small mountain community of Scarlet Springs and focuses on the lives and loves of members of an alpine search and rescue team.


About Me

My photo
I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

Members

Seductive Musings

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Goldilocks Goes to Jail — Part I



Why? Why? WHY? That’s the question I hear most often when people find out that I went to jail as a felony arrest for the sake of journalism.

The easy answer is that I’m an investigative journalist and have focused a substantial portion of my journalistic work on prison issues. It made sense for me to explore the situation from the inside so that I could understand it better. There’s nothing like firsthand experience, after all.

The not-so-easy answer is this: Journalists, particularly investigative journalists, do a lot of things that sound completely crazy and yet which serve the greater public good. And, yes, any statement as grandiose as that deserves an explanation. So here goes…

Journalism is the only constitutionally protected profession in the United States. The Founders felt that a free press was essential to the survival of democracy because government was not to be trusted and someone needed to do the dirty work of keeping an eye on power. Thomas Jefferson said that if he were made to choose between a country that had a government but no free press or one with a free press and no government, he would choose the latter.

At their best, reporters are supposed to spend their careers acting as a voice for the voiceless, shining a light into the darkness, and holding public officials and others to account for their actions. We’re supposed to be the people’s eyes and ears, working to reveal corruption and abuses of power.

I’m one of those weird journalists who takes that notion very seriously. I’ve been an investigative reporter for 15 years… (Checking math…) OK, almost 16 years. Sheesh. During that time, I’ve done some pretty crazy things in order to get closer to understanding the truth. Not all of them have been entirely legal, and some of them have been flat-out TSTL. But none of them have been journalistically unethical.

For example, I’ve gone behind the razor wire and passed “No Trespassing” signs to photograph violations of federal pollution laws. That’s felony trespass — if you’re caught and if the judge decides to prosecute. If not, you just might save lives.

I once drove my car — yes, my car — into a coal mine while the dragline was operating in order to document violations of federal Indian law. That’s also a felony. But worse, it’s pretty risky, both because of the dragline and, perhaps more importantly, the armed guards. This was probably the outright craziest thing I’d ever done, and I wouldn’t have done it had there been other options.

I’ve met whistleblowers in parking lots, had conversations with anonymous whisperers, and accepted stolen documents (perfectly legal) in order to carry out my investigations. But the thing that people seem most surprised by is the time I arranged with the county sheriff to be arrested on bogus felony charges — murder, anyone? — and locked behind bars for 24 hours. My experiences there, part of my continuing coverage of women’s prison issues, underpin my latest romantic suspense novel, Unlawful Contact.

It’s not that I wanted to go to jail so much as I felt I should go. OK, I admit I was curious — who doesn’t want to know what that world is like? But the biggest motivation on my part was a desire to understand.

It started when the county kept issuing reports about overcrowding at the county jail. Although there are women at the jail, the reports focused on male inmates only; women were never mentioned. There’s a reason for that. Men outnumber women in the criminal-justice system by an absolutely huge margin. (When I went in, there were almost 400 male inmates and — counting me — 24 women.)

I called the county jail and asked whether the women were also facing overcrowded conditions. I was told that, yes, they were. And then it came to me: Stay in jail.

Yes! Brilliant idea, right? Well…

When I presented my grand plan to the county and to the jail captain, I received a resounding and definite, “No!”

That seemed workable, so I rephrased the question: “What would I have to do to arrange to stay in your jail for 24 hours as an inmate — besides commit a real crime?”

After about a month of back-and-forth negotiating, I was told that they would allow me to go into the jail provided I signed a bunch of legal documents that protected them from a lawsuit in case anything happened to me while I was behind bars.

Their concern was obvious and understandable. There are criminals in jail who sometimes kick the crap out of other inmates, even in the women’s unit.

“If you’re attacked, we might not be able to intervene in time to prevent you from being hurt or even killed,” the jail captain told me.

Perhaps that should have deterred me, but it didn’t. At the time, I was actually excited.

Yes, I was stoked. I was about to become the first journalist to stay at the jail as a journalist. It was only when I was being processed — fingerprinted, photographed and strip searched — that it finally hit me and I started to feel afraid, as my mug shot shows. But no way was I going to back out.

And although those 24 hours in the women’s unit proved to be the scariest 24 hours of my journalistic career, they were also incredibly educational. I came away with a much greater understanding of the problems facing our judicial system — and of the life struggles facing female inmates. What I learned helped guide me through years of prison reporting, during which time I unveiled some terrible abuses, winning several state journalism awards along the way.

In other words, going to jail might have been TSTL, but it helped me to be that voice for the voiceless. It helped me to shine that light into the darkness, in this case the average cell block. It helped me do my job.

In my next post, I share the experience of being "booked," i.e., fingerprinted, photographed and strip searched.

And just because I know someone is going to ask, let me explain that "Uncensored" is the name of the weekly opinion column I've written since October 1992. My mugshot was cropped and turned into a "bug" for my column for the week that I reported on my jail stay. Although the real mugshot must be somewhere, I couldn't find it. And, no, I wasn't 12. I was actually 33 in that photo. I was just scared witless!

For an excerpt, copy and paste this into your browser: http://www.pamelaclare.com/unlawful.htm

16 comments:

I really enjoy your writing!
I welcome you to read my stories as well.

Tracy said...

I came over here from TGTBTU. I am looking forward to the release of "Unlawful Contact". I'll be stopping by here to read about your stay in prison. I can only imagine how scared you must have been!

Debbie H said...

I would say you were a wee bit scared! I'm glad you made it through and shone that light when you did. Why do the officials think they can hide these dirty little secrets from the public in this day and age?

Ronlyn said...

I love you. You are stone cold crazy, but I love you anyway. (A dragline?! SERIOUSLY?!? Good GAWD honey.)

Aimee said...

You know I love you. And yeah I can relate to your experience because I was once stupid enough be put in jail because I "deserved" to be there... *rolls eyes* I'll tell you the pathetic story sometime. Justice my butt.

I don't think you were TSTL, or crazy, I think you were a hero in a system that NEEDS a hero. Period.
Not that lots & lots don't deserve to be there. I have different feelings about it depending on the crime that put a person there.

I love that pic, you couldn't convince me you aren't 12 LOL Such a baby face!

I think the officials CAN hide those dirty secrets from the public most of the time because the public doesn't usually care to know what happens to a "criminal".

I can't wait to read more Hon!

Karen said...

I'm honored to know (at least thru the internet and your books anyway) you. I think it's great that you are compelled to go to such lengths for stories that could and have changed lives.

On a side note, one summer, I worked teaching male inmates at a county jail. The first time I walked through all those clanging metal doors, I thought I was gonna pee my pants. The whole experience was very interesting, to say the least.

Can't wait to read more!

Thanks, Phantom.

Welcome, Tracy! I look forward to having you around. I'm going to try to put up the next one on Wednesday mid-day. Hope to see you there!

Hi, Debbie H. Yes, I was. At that moment, I was thinking something like, "OMG, what do you think you're doing, Pam? Next time you get a brilliant idea, drop it!" LOL!

I think officials try to hide this stuff because they know they can get away with it most of the time. Not enough people are asking hard questions. Not enough reporters are doing their jobs, IMHO. I should say that the problems I later unveiled weren't at the jail but rather in the state Department of Corrections. We'll hear more on that from Pamela Clifton.

Hi, Ronlyn. Aw, thanks. LOL! And, um, yes. A dragline. It was really more the armed Wackenhut security guys that worried me, but actually I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I was giggling, while my poor Native interpreter was saying, "We have to go! We have to get out of here!"

Hi, Aimee. You are so sweet! Thanks! And you're SO right. Most people just don't care what happens to "criminals." Even though it's supposed to be "innocent until proven guilty," people really have an intolerance for anyone who's been arrested until their proved innocent. If they're guilty, well, then they deserve whatever happens to them. Now, there are certain kinds of criminals who don't get sympathy from me — rapists and child molesters in particular. But even criminals are people. Wait till I post about Bible Betty, the very elderly woman who visits the jail for Christian ministry. She had me in tears.

And, yeah, I do look young, don't I. Please tell me I haven't aged that much in 10 years!

Karen, thanks so much! Likewise! Wonderful that you did some volunteer work there. Yes, that is such an ominous sound. That's part of my next post — the six-inch thick steel door shuts and... It's a different world.

JennJ said...

Hi Pamela Great start to your Goldilocks goes to Jail. I think you are incredibly brave to have gone to the lengths you have to shine the light on the truth. Bravo dear. I think your picture there says it all. "OH crap what have I gotten myself into!" LOL. Bless your heart I'm so glad you came out of that with only good things and nothing bad happened to you. Whew you have guts woman I couldn't do that. Can't wait to hear more!

I'll be looking forward to more of your story. What a remarkable thing to do in order to understand and write a story.

Thanks, Jenn. I'm not sure if I was brave or just stupid. LOL!

Kristie, thanks so much. Curiosity might have killed the cat, but it makes for much better journalism. :-)

Melanie said...

I can't possibly imagine doing the things you've done but I'm very glad there are brave people like you, Pamela, who are prepared to do them. I'm just going to look foward to enjoying some of the fruits of your 'craziness' - ie "Unlawful Contact" from the saftey of my bed! :D

Hi, Melanie! It's great to see you here! And that sounds like an appealing idea — reading in bed. I can't wait to finish Untamed so I can slack a bit and read up a storm. :-)

Thanks for popping in. I hope you come back again!

RoDi said...

Hey! I love your contemporary novels. They so are well written! I am anxiously anticipating the release of Unlawful Contact! Can't wait!

I was just curious: what does TSTL mean? Thanks!
- Sam

Hi, Sam — Welcome! I'm so glad you've enjoyed my contemps. Thanks! Not long now till Unlawful Contact comes out. I just got my first copy of the book today.

TSTL means "too stupid to live." It's a designation given to romance heroines who do obviously dumb or risky things. :-)

Stick around! There will be lots of contests coming up.

I really liked this investigation, Pamela! Brava!

Thank you, Wayne. I have to say it has stayed with me.

Post a Comment

Follow Me

Search

Seduction Game

Follow by Email

Blog Archive

Labels

Favorite Writing Quotes


"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale