“I see that Time’s the king of men,
For he’s their parent, and he is their grave,
And gives them what he will, not what they Crave.”
Pericles, Prince of Tyre
As a complete novice to the blogosphere, allow me to introduce myself. For my blog identities, I have chosen two pseudonyms: (1) The Court Jester; (2) The Time-barred Bard behind Bars. Introductory Shakespeare quote notwithstanding, I will not be serving as a jester to the royal court of merry olde England and its colorful, yet sometimes treacherous kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses, lords and ladies. Instead, I will function as a contemporary jester to the U.S. court and legal system, and it’s “royalty”-judges, as well as the prosecutors, defense attorneys, and expert witnesses. As court jester, I will closely examine the American criminal justice system, and in particular, the legal system of the Commonwealth of Virginia, my former home state. A major focus of this blog will be to provide analysis of the criminal court cases of defendants and convicted appellants.
My second sobriquet is the Time-barred Bard behind Bars. As a prisoner in the Virginia Department of Corrections, I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the inner workings of the Virginia/American criminal justice system. This eye-opening, disillusioning experience led to the discovery that it is virtually impossible to successfully challenge the blatant violations of the U.S. Constitution that commonly occur in both state and federal courts across the United States. As a result of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, less than one percent of federal habeas corpus post-conviction appeals are successful, regardless of the frequency and severity of the constitutional violations. In addition, the consequences of incarcerating millions of American citizens will also be explored. The United States has indisputably earned the title of being the international capital of mass incarceration, with only 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The highly efficient and effective courtroom conviction process has led to the massive, extraordinarily expensive American prison industrial complex.
A brief history of court jesters will enable readers to understand how I intend to utilize this authority-challenging role to critique the American criminal justice and penal systems. Perhaps the easiest targets are idealistic, superpatriotic but fact deprived legal truisms, such as “While not perfect, the American criminal justice system is the best in the world.” Other inspirational, devoid of truth proclamations include, “All men are created equal.” Perhaps the best example of empty, reality missing rhetoric is the treasured legal chestnut, “Equal justice for all.” Whoever penned that knee slapping howler never set foot in an American courtroom and followed the criminal cases of indigent defendants to their predictable convictions and imprisonments. Thus, another emphasis in this blog will be the huge, undeniable influence of money – “legal tender” – in the American criminal justice system.
As the Court Jester and Time-barred Bard behind Bars, I will respond to these and other topics from different perspectives, including critical analysis and satire. Even though crime and victimization are never even remotely humorous, courts, jails and prisons are an entirely different story. Though the humor may be dry, sardonic and black, finding comedy in the midst of unfairness, struggles and suffering can be a useful coping tool. Institutional incompetence, rigidity and absurdity – whether legal, penal or otherwise – can be a rich source for comedy-oriented commentary. A variety of approaches will be used to illustrate the many weaknesses and shortcomings of the American legal system. Possible areas for criminal justice and prison reform will also be recommended. The grim, depressing, stultifying and dangerous nature of everyday existence in U.S. jails and prisons will be depicted. There will be many times when the Court Jester and the Time-barred Bard behind Bars will be hard pressed to find humor in the midst of injustice, deprivation, abandonment and feelings of hopelessness.
Another important topic of this blog will be the relationship between Christianity and the American criminal justice and penal systems. Biblical teachings about justice, morality, courts, judges and the treatment of both the poor and prisoners will be contrasted with how these issues are dealt with in the U.S. legal and penal systems. The response –or lack thereof – of American Christians – including pastors, politicians and other believers – to the teachings of Jesus in relation to the criminal justice system, the death penalty, prison conditions, the treatment of prisoners, and criminal justice and prison reform will also be explored. It is hoped that the issues raised and perspectives taken in this blog will generate constructive comments, questions and dialogue.
In medievaltimes.com, a court jester is defined as “a professional clown employed to entertain a King or nobleman in the Middle Ages.” A jester is also referred to as “a fool, buffoon or clown.” The history of court jesters began before the Middle Ages, when they reached their heyday. The “follus” or “fool,’ mentioned in the 12th century was rewarded with land as payment for his services. When Richard Peltour retired as court jester for the court of King Henry II, he was given 30 acres by the King, on the condition that he return annually to the court on Christmas day to “leap, whistle and fart.” Medieval jesters typically wore a “Fool’s Ht, which had three points with a jingle bell at the end of each point.” Some jesters carried a “mock scepter called a bauble which was adorned by a carved head or the inflated bladder of an animal.” According to medievaltimes.com, “The medieval jester had privileges which were not afforded to many other persons of the court. The court jester was one of the few characters who could freely speak his mind without causing offense, and somebody who could use humor to mock, jibe and joke about the lords, ladies and nobles of the court.” Fortunately, readers of the Court Jester will not be subjected to any leaping, whistling or farting.
Some court jesters employed by the King during the Middle Ages became famous. They became famous. They were provided with horses and servants. The jesters were often multitalented – able to play musical instruments, sing songs, tell jokes and stories, juggle, dance and even fart a tune. Court jesters were given two dangerous duties. One was delivering messages between warring leaders. Because of the potential for fatal outcomes, this difficult task led to the phrase, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” The bodies of some court jesters, or their severed heads, were returned to their camps by trebuchet or catapult. During the middle ages, jesters were also used to entertain the troops, and to mock and bait the enemy, a dangerous role. In contrast, history.com described the “professional fool.” “The professional fool employed by a nobleman was usually very astute, educated and normally were regular clothes, like their masters, rather than the classic fool’s costume.” By the time of the time of the Elizabethan period and into the 17h century, jesters stopped performing at royal courts and in people’s homes. They became comic actors on the stage.
Because the Court Jester is not allowed to have internet access, printouts of comments and questions have to be received via snail mail. Substantive reader responses may lead to future blog topics. I look forward to reading and responding to what people think of and feel about these significant legal and moral issues facing America today. Periodic quotes, topics and jokes taken from the Court Jester’s previous writings, including two books about the American criminal justice and prison systems (currently unpublished) will be utilized when relevant. I hope to post blogs written by the Court Jester (aka the Time-barred Bard behind Bars) on a weekly basis.