Well, it all started in 1977.  I was 20 years old and had recently
moved away from home and started renting an apartment in Rosslyn
(northeast Arlington) Virginia.  The apartment was on the 6th floor,
and had a great view of the Potomac river, the Capitol, and the
Washington monument.  I could also see the Lincoln memorial if I
leaned out the window.

The rent was $182.  My other expenses were very low, as I ate only
inexpensive food, and little of that.  My entertainments were the
public library (a three mile walk) and the museums on the mall (a four
mile walk).

The only problem is that I had no income.  I had never had a real job,
so my resume was blank.

I fished TVs and stereos out of the garbage, repaired them, and sold
them.  I bought and sold books.  I babysat a few times.  I went to a
lot of job interviews.  I walked to the FCC headquarters and took
all their tests and passed them all, which got me a Radiotelephone
First Class license with Radar Endorsement and an Amateur Extra Class
amateur radio license (I had already had a General Class amateur radio
license).  (They wouldn't let me take the Radiotelegraph license test,
since you have to have worked as a telegrapher for five years first.)
I would not have taken these tests except that the FCC had recently
waived their previous $4 test fee, so the tests were free.  I thought
the licenses would help me get a job.  They did, but not until much

I decided I needed to get a roommate, so I could pay less rent.  A
fellow name of Bill Sheilds was recommended to me by a friend of a
friend.  Bill lived with his parents and his 13 year old sister about
two miles away.  He attended Yorktown High School.

I started hanging around with him a lot.  I discovered he shared
my interests in computers and electronics.  He told me about how
unpleasant life with his parents was, and about how authoritarian his
father (a General in the Air Force) was.  He was quite eager to move
in with me, and his parents agreed to it.  I met his parents and his
sister on Thursday, December 1st 1977 when they invited me to dinner.

That day is still just as vivid as yesterday.  More vivid.  I don't
remember what I ate yesterday but I remember exactly what I ate that
day.  I can close my eyes and visualize all of the furniture and
decorations, even though I was only there that one day and once more
two days later when his parents helped him move his belongings to my
apartment.  He had lots of neat stuff, including a bicycle, a stereo,
and an 8 inch telescope.

He lived there for eleven days.  After school, he would bring home
some new things, such as a toolbox, a pager, an answering machine, and
a somewhat decrepit printing terminal (a TI silent 700).  He said that
some of this was in his school locker all along, and that the terminal
had been discarded by the Air Force, and had been given to him as a
going away present by his father.

Then, on Wednesday Decemeber 14th, at about 3 pm, as I was reading
Olaf Stapledon's "Odd John", and as Bill was listening to his stereo,
there was a knock on the door.  I looked out the door lens to see
who was there.  Nobody was in the field of view, so I sat back down.
A few seconds later the knocking resumed.  I angrily asked "Who's
there?".  I stood there for a minute waiting for an answer, then I sat
back down.  When the knocking resumed a few seconds later, I opened
the door and looked into the hall.  A policeman kicked the door all
the way open, tearing a chunk of skin off my wrist.  Several policemen
poured in, some with guns drawn.  One read me my rights and told me
he had a search warrant for four stolen terminals and a bunch of
other stuff, while two others started ransacking the apartment.
One terminal was in plain sight.  Another one was in Bill's closet,
and I didn't know it was there since I respected his privacy.
I later learned that two more were found at the home of a friend
of his, whom he implicated.

Bill and I were made to stand leaned over with hands against the wall.
When I turned my head to see what the police were smashing, one of them
hit me in the side of the head with his pistol and told me not to move
or turn my head or he would 'blow me away'.

Bill and I were handcuffed and led away.  We were taken through the
apartment lobby, in which we were stared at by what seemed at the time
to be every tenant of the building.  We were driven a mile up Wilson
boulevard to the Arlington Courthouse in seperate cars.   We were
photographed and fingerprinted at the same time.  Bill didn't seem too
concerned about the whole thing.  He was joking with the police woman
who was taking the pictures, asking if he could keep a copy as a
'souvenir'.  I started to ask him to please tell the police that I had
nothing to do with any thefts, but I was interrupted by a policeman
who told me not to talk.  I was lead away into a holding cell.  It was
the last time I ever saw Bill Shields.  For someone who had such an
effect on my life, I knew him for only about a month, and had lived
with him for only eleven days.

A few eternities later, I was taken out and told that my bail was
$2500 and I was given my one phone call.  I called my mother, who was
soon in tears.  She said she didn't have the money, but would try to
raise it the same day.  I remember asking her the time and date (it
was the same day, December 14th).  For some reason, knowing the time
seemed very important to me.

I was left in the holding cell overnight.  I didn't sleep at all.
The holding cell had a view of the police desk, and I just sat there
and stared at it, and listened to the drunks and prostitutes they
brought in.

The next morning, I was asked if I wanted to confess.  I told them I
had nothing to confess, and tried to explain.  They didn't want to
hear my explanations.  They took me upstairs to the real jail, where
I was locked into an isolation cell.  I still had my own clothes on,
which were starting to smell.  My belt (which I needed to keep my
pants up) and my shoelaces were taken away.

The isolation cell had nothing to distract me.  No police or
prisoners to talk to.  Nothing to read.  Nothing to look at or listen
to.  At first I said to myself "this isn't too bad"  I paced back and
forth for a few minutes (not easy to do in a 5' * 7' cell) , then said
to myself "let me the hell out of here I can't stand it any longer!".

The same day, I was taken to court, where I was arraigned for one
count of of burglary.  I said "I plead not guilty your honor".  The
judge looked at me (my hands on my pants to keep them from falling)
with disgust, and said "You can't do that.  This is an arraignment.
Take him away."  I was taken back to my cell.

The cell contained a sink/toilet and a bunk.  I could drink all the
water I wanted (with my hands) but there was no food.  Eventually my
fear and shock began to become exceeded by my hunger.  I started
hollering for some food.  I kept doing so.  After my voice was
completely hoarse, I was brought some.  I also insisted on a phone
call, but I was not allowed one.

I was in there for three days.  Three times a day, I was brought
some food.  (The food wasn't much worse than what you get in a high
school cafateria).  The guard who brought it said nothing, and
responded to none of my questions.

After three days, at about 3 am I was taken to a room filled with
police.  They asked me if I was ready to confess.  I told them I was
innocent.  One of them said "ok, lets take him back".  I pleaded with
them to let me explain.  So they let me stay and explain.  They didn't
seem to believe a word I said.  Then one of them said that they had
found my fingerprints and my handwriting at the scene of the crime,
and asked me how I explained that.  It didn't occur to me that they
were lying (they were) nor did I wonder why a burglar's handwriting
would be found at the crime scene.  (Much later, I learned that the
burglar had written "YOU LOST SOMETHING" on the wall in one of the
offices that was burglarized, in block letters that look nothing like
mine (yes, I saw them myself, eventually)).

They also claimed that my footprints, that is, the prints of the
shoes I was then wearing, had been found in one of the offices
(another lie) and asked me how I would explain that.  I once again
insisted that I had never been inside the building in question, and
suggested that possibly Bill had borrowed my shoes (since it didn't
occur to me that they were lying or that they were out to get me).

They seemed to be happiest when I tried to recount the last two
weeks in minute detail.  They were taking notes.  They kept trying
to catch me in contradictions.  They insisted that they succeeded.
I told them they were all crazy and demanded that they let me go.
They took me back to my cell, and left me there for three more days,
after which they took me out and interrogated me again.  They kept
threatening to take me back to the cell and leave me in there for
weeks if I didn't "cooperate".  They started misquoting what I had
told them three days ago.  I kept insisting I hadn't said those
things.  I was getting very confused.  It was the middle of the night
again.  I had been cut off from all outside contact except for one
phone call for a week.  A very long week.  I statrted doubting my own
senses and my sanity.  This, I have since learned, is all too common
when someone is in an unfamiliar environment, cut off from friends and
family, deprived of sleep, and surrounded by people who seem to all
agree when someone says something false, and disagree with everything
you say.  Especially among young people.  In fact, there are many cases
where someone "freely" confessed after several days in police custody,
to a crime it was later proven that they did not commit.  This is what
the "Miranda warning" and the "free phone call" rules are designed to
help prevent.

After an hour of this, when I tried to remain calm and say "No
I didn't say that, let me explain what happened", "No, you are
mistaken", "No, I have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure",
"No, I have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure", "No, I
have never been in that building", "Yes, I am sure", trying to be a
sane island in an insane sea, I finally lost it and started screaming
"GET ME OUT OF HERE.  GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF HERE" over and over again.
I continued to scream that as they lead me back to the cell.

The next day (in the daytime this time) they tried a different tack.
Two really mean looking redneck types (just like the Evil Sheriff in
all those TV shows) started talking to me "man to man".  They told me
that I had a bad attitude, that they wanted to help me, but that I
apparently thought that it was all a game.  They said that they had
put me in solitary as a great favor to me, and that I was acting
ungrateful.  They told me that if I didn't start cooperating, they
would have to put me in the "population".  They told me in disgusting
detail what a "buck nigger" with a "twelve inch dick" would do to me
within the first hour, and told me that if convicted for all my crimes
I would receive 260 years.

I just sat there, hoping none of it was true.  After an hour of
this, I was returned to the cell.  That evening, I was awakened, given
a jail uniform, and put in the "population".  I didn't make a very
good first impression with the other prisoners, as my first questions
made it clear that I thought that it was the following morning rather
than the same evening.  But they soon decided I was better than the
previous inhabitant of the cellblock, who had been sent to a mental
hospital for attacking a guard with a spoon.

I got along much better with the prisoners than with the guards and
the police.  We spent most of our time playing cards and reading
books from the jail library (mostly relgious books, but better than
nothing).  And one prisoner loaned me some books by F.M. Busby, whom I
had never heard of before, and who is now one of my favorite authors.

I was allowed one five minute local phone call per week.  I usually
called my parents, who told me that they were still trying to raise
money for the bail.  They told me the court would appoint a lawyer
for me (I already knew this) so they wouldn't have to pay for one.

I met with the lawyer they appointed for me.  He seemed kind of
bored by the whole thing.  He kept glancing at his watch.  He told me
that he would not be available for my indictments, but that all I had
to do was answer "not guilty" to everything.  He said he thought they
had two or three indictments on me.  He refused to speculate on what
would happen.

I was taken to the courtroom.  The judge slowly read 16 felony
indictments, "... did with malice aforethought, on or about the night
of December 4th 1977, take, steal, and carry away ... having value in
excess of one hundred dollars ...".  I said my lines.  "Not guilty".
"Not guilty, your honor".  "Not guilty".  Someone in the back of the
courtroom started snickering after the tenth indictment or so.  Not

Trial was set for February 8th.  February 8th?  1978?  That was EONS
away!  My bail was raised to $5000.

My lawyer met with me twice.  He told me that things looked bad.  He
said that he had spoken with my parents and my friends, and there was
no hope that I would be bailed out.  He said that if it went to trial,
that they would have a seperate trial with a seperate jury for each
of the sixteen charges, and the whole thing would take a year or more.
He also said it was virtually certain that I would be found guilty on
some of them, and receive a ten or twenty year sentence for each one I
was found guilty of.  He said that the only reasonable course for me
was to "plea bargain".  He explained that since the prosecutor's case
was so weak, he would be willing to throw out most of the indictments
in return for my pleading guilty to one or two, and that I would get a
suspended sentence, and I would be out by February.  The only bad part
is that I would have a felony record.  He explained that this was no
longer considered very important, and that lots of people had them and
it was no impediment at all.  He said that if I didn't go along with
this, that he would withdraw from my case.  He conceded that the court
would appoint another lawyer if this happens, but he pointed out
that not only is he a close personal friend with the judge and the
prosecutor, he is an "officer of the court".  He also said any other
competent lawyer would do exactly as he did, since no lawyer wants to
see his client screw himself.  And finally, he said he though he could
try some of his influence to see if he can't get the date moved up a
little earlier, so that it will be all over with sooner.

Well, I believed all of it.  What a fool I was.  EVERY lawyer is an
"officer of the court".  This guy is payed by the state a fixed, and
rather low, rate for every case.  Not only does he not get any more
for working extra on a case, but if he does that, the state is likely
to replace him with someone more cooperative.  And without state
revenue, I imagine he would have to find some honest line of work.  If
he were any good at lawyering, he would be making a lot more, working
for clients who can pay.  Most of the rest of what he said was lies.
If only I had it on tape or in writing, how I could burn the bastard!

I was supposed to be given the plea bargain agreement, to read and
to sign, several days before the "trial" (which remained February
8th).  I first saw the things when I was in the courtroom, with
everyone waiting on me.  There was a stack of about 20 of them,
supposedly all identical.  My lawyer dumped them in front of me and
said "sign these" just when the judge was talking to me.  I started to
read the fine print on the first one, then said to myself "The heck
with this.  I've got to trust him.  The alternative is too horrible
to think about."  So I signed them all.  The judge asked me if I was
admitting guilt of my free will and wasn't coerced.  I said that I was
doing it of my free will.  He then asked me if I was really guilty.
I said no.  He asked me again.  My lawyer whispered into my ear "dammit,
say yes, its just legaleese, it doesn't mean what it sounds like".
I thought for a moment about the year of trials followed by ten or
more years in the state penitentiary (which I had been told was the
certain outcome if I didn't say "yes").  I said "yes".

The judge set sentencing for March 23rd.  Six weeks!  That's nearly
as long as I had already been in there for!  But what could I say.

This was to give the probation department time to write a pre-
sentencing report, which the judge would use in deciding what sentence
to give me.

Well, the six endless weeks passed, an hour at a time, a minute at
a time.  I finally (around March 1st) got a copy of the agreement I
had signed.  I was upset that it didn't mention any limitations on the
sentence.  Also, the other charges were not dropped, but were "nolle
prosequied" (pronounced null prossed) which means they aren't going to
prosecute now, but reserve the right to do so at any future time.

My lawyer finally returned my call after a week, and explained that
this was all normal, that nolle prosequied charges are never really
brought back, and that the judge knew that I was innocent, but was
required by law to do things this way, and that I would get probation.
I asked him when do I get my copy of the pre-sentencing report.  He
told me it wasn't completed yet.

On March 23rd I was taken to the court for sentencing.  I felt a
mixture of fear (that something might go wrong) and elation (that I
was surely about to go free).

The probation officer (a black woman) said that she had not yet
completed the report.  Sentencing was rescheduled for March 30th.
What an anticlimax!

On March 30th, my lawyer gave me a copy of the report about half an
hour before the sentencing.  As I read it I got madder and madder.
It was full of lies and half-truths.  It said that I had spent most
of my childhood going to "special schools".  She didn't mention that
they were schools for the gifted.  The implication of course is that
they were reform schools or something.  She said I had had no previous
convictions as an adult.  True, but it imples that I had some as a
child (they aren't allowed to mention any in such reports, apparently).
I had not.  I had no previous convictions, arrests, or even tickets.
Ever.  (Neither have I had any since then.)

She quoted my high school gym teacher (who flunked me) but not any
of my other teachers (who gave me As and Bs).

She quoted a lot of stuff my parents told her out of context (I later
discovered she misrepresented herself to them as a "social worker" who
was gathering information on my childhood to "help me".  She said I
had gone to a psychiatrist for several months when I was 13.  This is
simply FALSE.  I have NEVER gone to a psychiatrist.  The closest thing
to that that I can think of is that I was given a full day intelligence
test by a school psychologist when I was 12.

I later learned that this particular probation officer is extremely
prejudiced.  She makes all black people look like saints.  She makes
all white people look like monsters.

I was lead into the court.  My parents and several of my friends
were there.  The judge spoke about how "baffling" he found this case.
I was visibly very angry (I was later told by my parents).  This was
certainly because of the pre-sentencing report.  The judge asked if I
had any corrections to the pre-sentencing report.  My lawyer said "No,
your honor" but I stood up and described all the errors I had found,
in what I thought was a calm tone of voice.  When I was finished, the
judge then asked the prosecutor if he had any corrections to make.
The prosecutor had one.  The name of one of the companies I was
accused of burglarizing has been misspelled.  The judge directed the
clerk to correct the misspelling.  Not a word about my objections to it.

The judge then sentenced me to six years in the state penitentiary.
I waited for him to say "suspended".  When he didn't, I nearly
fainted.  I wish I had.

For my sentencing, I wore a suit and tie, borrowed from my father.
This was only the second time in my life (that I recall) that I had
worn suit and tie.  The first time, I wore a rented suit and tie for
my high school senior yearbook picture.  I was able to fit into my
fathers clothes only because I had lost so much weight in jail.

It didn't do much good, obviously.  I haven't worn suit nor tie
since, and don't plan to until they put me in that pine box and lower
me into the ground.

I was led back to the cellblock.  The cellblock was shared with six
other prisoners.  In the cellblock there are seven seperate cells, 5'
by 7', containing a steel bunk and a sink/toilet.  Three walls of the
cell are cinderblock.  The third wall, which includes the door, is
made of vertical steel bars.  I have been told that those bars contain
smaller bars within them, which are free to roll, so as to make sawing
through them difficult.  And that the space around the smaller bars is
filled with pressurized bright orange day-glo oil, to make detection
of sawing attempts easy for the guards.

The door is made of identical steel bars, and leads into the
dayroom.  The dayroom has a TV, a sink/toilet, and a long low table.
No chairs.  It is about 5' by 40'.  The two narrow walls are made of
cinderblocks.  One of the long walls is the front of all the cells.
The other is also made of steel bars, and faces the hall.  Across the
hall is an identical cellblock.  There were also identical cellblocks
to the left and right of ours, and to the left and right of the one
opposite ours.

A part of the long wall that faced the hall was the door.  It, like
the doors to the cells, can only be opened by inserting a special key
into a box in the hall.  The box is normally locked, and can only be
opened by another key.  As far as I could tell, nobody carried both
keys, thuse it always took two guards to open any door.  Actually,
there are two doors in series to each cellblock, arranged sort of like
an airlock.  They are never opened at once.  I guess that is to keep
the prisoners from all rushing out and overwhelming the guards.

In the halls there are video cameras every few yards.  The monitors
are in the permanently manned control booth near the visiting room and
the elevators, at the convergence of all the halls.

The jail was only about a year old at the time I was there, and was
usually fairly clean.  I never saw any rats, spiders, or insects
there.  It was heated, air conditioned, and well ventilated, which was
fortunate as most of the prisoners smoked and I am allergic to smoke.

From 8 am until 4 pm the cells were locked and we were required to
be in the dayroom.  This was very uncomfortable as there were no
chairs and the floor was cement.  From 4 pm until 8 pm the cell doors
were open, and we were allowed to be in our cells or in the dayroom.
And from 8 pm until 8 am, the cell doors were locked and we were
required to be in our cells.  (These hours might not be completely
correct, it's been a while.)

There wasn't much violence or rape.  But there was a lot of talk about
it, and about how this warn't nothing, wait until you get to the real

We played cards and watched TV and read and wrote letters.  We ate
three (small) meals a day.  All in the cellblock.  We were allowed
two 15 minute visits a week.  For visits, you would be taken from
the cellblock to the visiting room, which was just like in the comic
strips.  The prisoners and the visiters could see eachother through
a sheet of heavy glass with chicken wire in it, and could speak to
eachother on telephones.  The reasons for that setup were to prevent
things from being smuggled into the jail, and to make it easy for the
guards to monitor conversations.

Mostly we sat around and were terribly bored in the cellblock.  It
was common to not leave the cellblock for weeks at a time.  It was
then that I did yet another thing that I greatly regret.  This was
before my sentencing, and I have never been sure whether the judge
heard about it, and if so, whether it influenced the sentence in
any way.

I became curious about the doors.  The door to my cell was mostly
out of the guards view.  We could hear them coming down the hall, they
jangled so, with all the keys and coins they carried.  Prisoners were
allowed neither keys nor coins nor anything else metallic, so any
clinking or jangling we heard had to be guards.

Anyway, I started fooling around with the door.  There was a slot
in which the door rides open and closed.  I tried poking around in
there with my finger.  I tried listening and watching closely when
it was opened and closed.  One time I put a book in the way when the
door was about to close.  The book was a bible, several organizations
donated hundreds of them to the jail, so it was about the only thing
in ample supply in there.  When the door closed, it mashed the book
right in two, and closed securely.  As usual, I could not budge the

One day, when the door was open I started poking about in the slot
with my toothbrush.  It didn't quite go, so I rubbed the handle end of
the toothbrush against the concrete floor until it fit.  There was a
thing inside the door that felt like it almost wanted to go up, but it
kept sliding to one side or the other.  So I managed (I forget how) to
grind a kind of wide groove in the middle of the end of the handle, to
make it kind of like a stubby two pronged fork.  I then found, after
some more fishing around, that if I got it in just the right place and
pushed straight up and a little to the side with about 50 pounds of
force, something gave, there was a soft click, and the door was then
free to slide open and shut by hand, with about 10 pounds of force.

Having done this to the door to my cell, I did it to the doors
of all the other cells in the cellblock, with all the prisoners
permission.  I felt I should open all the doors since that way if the
guards noticed, they wouldn't have any idea which one of us did it.

That evening, the doors all closed normally, and proved to be firmly
locked.  I was able to reach through the bars and unlock it, as I had
done when it was open.  Having unlocked it, I left it closed, so
nobody could tell.

This went on for a couple more days.  I showed some other prisoners
how to do it, at their insistence.  I didn't think anyone could escape
even with this knowledge, since the halls are patrolled all day and
all night and only lead to other cellblocks and to the permanently
manned control booth adjacent to a different kind of locked door.

One day, some guards took me into a room and told me that they
needed my help.  They said that the door to the hall in one of the
cellblocks refused to work with the electrical keybox, and they knew
that I had a way to open doors without that.  They promised me that
this would not be used against me if I was to help them by opening the
door, and show them how I had done it.

They took me to the door in question and I opened it in about 3
seconds.  They were all visibly impressed, as were the prisoners in
the cellblock, who had not seen that trick before.  I showed them a
couple more times how to do it.

The next day, I was given a short hearing in which I was accused of
opening the cell doors over a period of several days.  In my defense,
I pointed out that I had not done this since I was promised I would
not be prosecuted for it.  The guards pointed out that this was not a
court hearing, but an internal jail matter, and nobody had promised
that that would not happen.  I was sentenced to 15 days in solitary
confinement, and 30 days 'good-time' lost.  I appealed in writing to
the sheriff (who supposedly ran the jail but was never seen there).
I later learned he had denied my appeal.

Solitary was pretty boring.  No TV, no reading or writing, no
visitors, no personal posessions except a toothbrush.  A new
toothbrush.  They had confiscated the hacked one.

The door was of a more old fashioned kind.  I didn't try to open it.
On the other side of the door (made of bars) was a room no larger then
the cell I was in.  The door to that room was solid steel, and I could
not see or hear beyond it.  In the other room, out of reach, was a
spotlight and a camera, both pointed at me.  The spotlight never went
out, not even at night.

I was fed the usual meals, by a guard apparently under orders not to
talk to me.

I tried to scratch the days into the wall, as prisoners always do
in the comics, but I had nothing that would leave a mark on the wall.
So I soon managed to loose all track of how many of the 15 days had
gone by.  I amused myself by doing long calculations in my head, such
as calculating the digits of e (pi is too hard without pencil and
paper) and factoring random integers.

Finally, the 15 days were over and I was taken to a different
cellblock (apparently my place had been taken in my old cellblock).

The next day, some welders came in and welded on the doors to make
my trick impossible.

A few days later was my sentencing.

Nothing much happened for a month.  Than a friend visited and gave
me important and exciting news.  A friend of a friend's friend was a
lawyer, and he had agreed to take my case.  Not only that, but he felt
that he had a good chance of having the sentence thrown out or radically
reduced as the judge had neglected to take into account some special law
regarding sentencing people who are under 21.