Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Of Prisons, Dwarves and Lawsuits

In 2002, I interned for a semester at the D.C. Prisoners' Legal Services Project, a non-profit that advocates for prisoner rights within the prison system. The Project sought to ensure the proper treatment of inmates and to hold correctional systems accountable for misdeeds. It primarily dealt with issues like inadequate prison facilities, proper access to medical care, religious freedom, and prison guard misconduct. As an intern, my job was to sort through all of the incoming mail (the "intake") and respond to it. I first had to dispense of letters that:
(A) had no point (with the amount of time prisoners have on their hands, trust me, there were a lot of these)
(B) requested services we didn't offer (e.g., help on criminal appeals) or
(C) made claims that stretched the imagination (prisoners can get surprisingly creative)
I responded to these with a standard form letter that explained the scope of the Project's mission and suggested other organizations that might be in a better position to help (ain't nothin' quite like pawning someone off on someone else, eh?). I then would sift through the rest of the letters and determine which I thought would be a good use of the Project's meager resources. This determination typically required me to get more details about whatever the alleged problem was through written correspondence and, often, prison visits (to conduct more thorough interviews and clarify key points at issue). I then would write a memorandum with my recommendations of what should be done in a particular case and present it to the Project's Executive Director. Often I would be directed to write a letter or make a phone call to the relevant authority to ask for some corrective action. This usually brought about a back and forth with the prison bureaucracy and eventually some sort of acceptable resolution. If all else failed we would then consider filing suit on the prisoner's behalf.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, since my internship I've become fairly attuned to issues involving the efficacy of our correctional system. News stories along these lines usually catch my eye and, because of my experiences, I can spot a winner. What's a winner look like? Well… this one’s a gem:

A 4’1” dwarf who served 20 months for dealing marijuana and possessing methamphetamine is suing the prison he was incarcerated at for injuries he sustained as a result of negligence by the prison.

Byron "B.J." Rhodan, an aspiring rapper also known as "Lil Dirty," claims that two years ago while he was confined at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, Georgia, a guard ordered him to shave. When Rhodan couldn’t reach the mirror above the sink in his cell, the guard told him to stand on the sink. Rhodan claims he slipped in his attempt and landed hard on cement floor. The fall severely aggravated a back condition caused by his dwarfism, one for which he had already undergone multiple surgeries. Rhodan alleges a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and he’s seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Now in my four months at the Project, I handled a ton of cases. Many of which involved prison guards and/or prison facilities. Few were this entertaining though. Inmates accused guards of a lot of things... overlooking violence, arranging for enemies to be near one another (let's just say shivs' aren't folklore), denying vital medical care (e.g., insulin shots and even cancer treatment), refusing to cater to religious dietary restrictions (everyone wants to be Muslim in the joint... apparently their food's better), running drugs (how did you think the smack gets in there), excessive beatings (seems to happen frequently), and even demanding sex for favors (usually more of a problem with female inmates). They also complained endlessly about shabby prison facilities... toilets that shot water up into the air (do they know people pay for that in some countries?), very large spiders/cockroaches/rats (TFB better not get incarcerated), and cellblocks without cable television (how they supposed to watch their Oz?!) .

Sometimes listening to people complain was about all we could do for them... other times the situation gave us leverage (e.g., we once got a paraplegic transferred from Leavenworth because the place has no wheelchair ramps). I can't say I ever remember a case involving dwarfs though. Wish I had had one. Writing the warden on a case like that would have been good times. Interviewing Lil Dirty might have been even better. You have to admit, the little guy seems to have a point... prison's gotta' be tough for a four-footer in a six-foot world. And shaving on that sink must have been a bitch. Not sure how much this case is worth monetarily, but I say we certainly could have had fun with it at the Project.

18 comments:

Alice said...

Of course YOU KNOW I am happy to see this post. First because I've got the bastard beat by over a foot and an inch and a half in height (bless all of you shorter than me people) and because I find the different articles discussing his "downfall" fascinating.

Dood, figu-a it out! The downfall had nothing to do with a shaving incident and had everything to do with selling the double "m"s the maryjane and the methamphetamines...

Move over Rhodan and let the real news take over.

melbo said...

So is the album dropping soon? If so he's got a good publicist. Even if he doesn't win his case, who could forget Lil' Dirty after this??

Treidi said...

The movie rights to the this story could be a cash cow. Making 8 mile and fitty cents movie (what was that crap called?) look like cheap. who would play lil dirty though?

Marc said...

Alice - Sorry I forgot to hat tip you on this one. Since apparently you've delved a little deeper into this over the past couple of days having read several different articles, did I leave anything important out? By the way, what's real news anyway? Exposes into the killer-turned-not-killer of Jon-Benet Ramsey? That elusive Suri Cruise? Or Rumsfeld sounding off about how anyone who has doubts about the war in Iraq is akin to a Nazi appeaser?

Melbo - I don't know... does he have an agent? Maybe there's an opening? Turtle started representing Saigon on Entourage and made out with $40K. Something to think about.

Treidi - Was it Get Rich or Die Trying? Or was that just his video game? As for who'd play Lil' Dirty... I guess they could go with Verne Troyer or Jason Acuña... it'd take a pretty good make up job though.

Maui said...

Marc I am truly disapointed the obvious choice to play "Lil Dirty" is Tony Cox.

Marc said...

Touché

BA said...

I would just like to see Will Ferrell call him an angry elf.

Maybe he could team up with other little rappers like lil Romeo or lil Bowwow (even though Bowwow dropped the lil, gimme a break).

Mrs. McDreamy said...

He slipped on the sink while shaving and all he is claiming is back injuries? I'd say his publicist/lawyer sucks. You fall from a sink that is probably almost as high as you are tall with a sharp object grazing your face. I'd say he could have experienced much worse trauma.

Marc said...

Yet another reason why the world needs the creative litigious mind of BA.

blondemama said...

I am having such a hard time looking at his picture and saying in my head "your name is lil dirty" without giggling. Part of my mind can see the street rapper but the other part just can't stop thinking about wear he shops, what kind of car he drives, what his tiny house must look like....the list goes on and on....

Sue Ellen Mischke said...

I've never heard a story about a midget that WASN'T funny. But a midget named Lil Dirty? That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

Alice said...

I've been thinking a lot about Lil Dirty since you posted this and trying to figure out who would buy drugs from a dwarf.

There must have been a lot of "drugs will stunt your growth" jokes goin' around with Lil Dirty on the street.

Marc said...

Maybe people think buying from him is less conspicuous. I mean, come on, who'd suspect a dwarf of dealing?

Rabble-rouser said...

Don't forget about Bushwick Bill, the Dwarf rapper who was a member of the Geto Boys!

Sheldon said...

I would love to laugh at this story (and probably would have a couple years ago), but alas, I have a lot of friends who are little people (the preferred self-identification for people with dwarfism or other similar disabilities).

The challenges faced by "Lil Dirty," while they may seem humorous, if you stop to really think about them, highlight serious issues in the protection of the civil rights of institutionalized people with disabilities. Dwarves are no exception.

Fight on, Lil Dirty!

Gargantus said...

Life isn't fair, sheldon. Not everyone was blessed with rugged good looks, a beaming personality and an almost infinite amount of talent. I find that laughing at everyone less blessed than me is way easier and more fun than feeling bad for them.

Marc said...

Rabble - Touché.

Sheldon - I'm a bleeding heart liberal who worked at a prisoners' rights non-profit... don't have to convince me of the deficincies of our correctional system. But (1) I'm not fully persuaded Lil' Dirty is being completely upfront about the accident (I met my fair share of scammers at the Project) and (2) the story, while it may highlight some legitimate issues, IS still humorous. Fight on Lil' Dirty, fight on.

Garg - Been meaning to ask you, how is the view from the top anyhow?

Simon Birch said...

Ever since I grew above the 4'11'' hurdle I've always had a fascination with little people. Ok, it actually started with those Body Bronzed, green hair, chocolate making dwarfs owned by Willy. Sheldon has tried to lead me towards guilt with my love for these people but I'm glad to find that I'm in the norm for a change!

It really sounds like Lil Dirty could use a good massage! I'm just afraid that with the amount of toxins in his blood he might die from the shock to his system.