Guest Blogger: Tommy Fitzgerald

Thomas J. Fitzgerald, Jr. is a private citizen residing in York, Pa. His claim to infamy is that in 1991 he went to State Prison for five to ten years and became a Paralegal. As a byproduct of that incarceration, he metamorphosed into an active Jailhouse Lawyer.

I’m back!
Look, a nitwit with a keyboard.

When Andy approached me about writing a guest Blogger piece, he asked me to explain the signature on my e-mail. I have a simple sentence downloaded off the ACLU site: “I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU and encourage you to join! Get informed, get active and become a member.”

As far as my signature, I always was a big fan of the ACLU, and I felt that it was important for the people that know me, or who were going to get to know me, to understand right from the beginning that I’m not backing down anymore, and that I’m willing to publicize my values and beliefs. I have always admired those same traits surrounding the mystic of ACLU card-carrying members!

When I “graduated” from the State Penitentiary in 1996, I tended to “forget”- well, I never really forgot- but unconsciously put aside those fires of activism stoked in prison to rejoin society on society’s (State Parole Board) terms. Basically, I ran scared of losing the nice conservative lifestyle I had so vigorously pursued upon my release to parole. Then ten years later fate struck again. I had run afoul of the law (proceeded to curse them out for it too – sure that helped!) by racking up two DUI for the first and second time in my life. Consequently, I was sentenced to a 48-day stint in York County Prison. Guess what, I’m back!

In my personal opinion, the overcrowded conditions were horrendous! I feel that it is unconscionable, that a cognizant Prison Administration (that’s an oxymoron) routinely houses inmates on thin plastic mattresses on the concrete floors of the day rooms for days at a time. I spent 23 of my 48 days in “Pre-Class” witnessing Administration behavior bordering on insanity. Ranging from what I perceived as HIPPA violations- the public examinations in the day room for TB and the subsequent verbal pronouncement of positive or negative- to refusal of access to the Law Library. (That really irritated me!) I filed a total of six formal grievances, and I promise you, that is just the beginning. (If Andy lets me, I’ll keep you informed.)

Back to the signature. I know there are plenty of individuals out there just like me. We’ve all gotten older (54 for me) and simply lost the fire born from being personally wronged, or worse yet, have mellowed into a lifestyle fraught with conservatism. Sooooo, “I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU and encourage you to join! Get informed, get active and become a member.”

Andy’s note: It is worth noting that in the early 1900s ex-prisoners could be returned to prison if they participated in political activity. In many states today, ex-prisoners still do not have the right to vote. Visit the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Voting Rights Project for more info about these important issues.

It’s been said that a society is judged not by the way it treats its elites but by the way it treats its prisoners. One does not need to spend time in prison or do much digging to know that we still have a long way to go.

peace, Andy in Harrisburg