Source: Reddit - September 3, 2011
I work at a real estate office. We primarily sell houses that were foreclosed on by lenders. We aren't involved in the actual foreclosures or evictions - anonymous lawyers in the cloud somewhere is tasked with the paperwork - we are the boots on the ground that interacts with the actual walls, roofs and occasional bomb threat.
When the lender forecloses - or is thinking of foreclosing - on a property one of the first things that happens is they send somebody out to see if there is actually a house there and if there is anybody living there who needs to be evicted. Lawyers are expensive so they send a real estate agent or a property preservation company out to check. There is the occasional discovery of fraud where there was never a house on the parcel to begin with, but such instances are rare. Sometimes this initial visit results in discovering a house that has burned down or demolished, is abandoned or occupied by somebody who has absolutely no connection with the homeowner. Sometimes the houses are discovered to be crack dens or meth labs, sometimes the sites of cock or dog fighting operations, or you might even find a back yard filled with a pot cultivation that can't be traced back to anybody because it was planted in yet another vacant house in a blighted neighborhood. The house could be worth less than zero - blighted to the point where you can't even give it away (this is a literal statement, I have tried to give away many houses or even vacant lots with no takers over the years) or it could be a waterfront mansion in a gated golf community worth well over seven figures that does not include the number "one". Sometimes they are found to have been seized by the IRS, the local tax authority, the DEA or the US Marshal. Variety is the rule. The end results are the law.
If the house is occupied my job is to make contact and determine who they are: there are laws that establish what happens to a borrower as opposed to a tenant and the servicemember relief act adds an additional set of questions that must be answered. Some of the people have an idea of why I am there. Some claim they never knew they were foreclosed on, or tell me that they have worked something out with their lender, some won't tell me a thing and some threaten me to never return in the name of the police, their lawyer, or the occasional "or else/if I were you". During one initial visit the sight of 50-60 motorcycles parked on the lawn suggested that we try again the next day. At a couple the police had cordoned off the area and at one they were in the process of dredging the lake searching for the body of a depressed former homeowner.
If nobody is home I have to determine if they are at work, on vacation, in the army, wintering/summering at their other home, in jail, in a nursing home, dead or if they moved away. It isn't easy. Utilities can be left on for months. Neighbors can be staging the yard and house to appear occupied to prevent blight in their neighborhood. By the same token people will stop cutting the lawn for months, let trash and old phone books pile up on their porch, lose gas and electric service and continue to live in properties that have not only physically unsafe to approach but are so filthy that when it comes time to clean them out the crews have to wear hazmat suits. One house had a gallon pickle jar filled with dead roaches on the porch. Somebody lived in that house and thought that was a logical thing to do. People like me are tasked with first contact.
Evictions are expensive and time-consuming. Ultimately once the process gets that far there isn't much that can be done to prevent it. You didn't pay your mortgage, the lender gets the house back. There are an infinite number of reasons why the mortgage couldn't be paid, some are more sympathetic than others, but in the end you will be leaving the property willingly or not. The lawyers handle the evictions - they churn through the paperwork in the background, ten thousand properties at a time. They have it down to rote function based on templates, personal experience with the various judges and intimate knowledge of the federal, state and municipal laws, along with dealing with the occasional sheriff who refuses to evict somebody, the informal policies established by the local judges and a myriad of other problems that can arise. As a business decision many lenders have determined that it is cheaper to settle with the occupants - instead of going through the formal eviction they will offer cash. In exchange for surrendering a property in reasonably clean condition with the furnace still hooked up, the kitchen not stripped and the basement not intentionally flooded the lender will cut the occupants a check. It costs much less than an eviction, provides reasonable hope that the plumbing won't freeze and can take a fraction of the time to obtain possession. This is where the personal element becomes real.
Some people jump at the chance. They don't want to live here anymore. They may be getting married and moving in but couldn't sell the unneeded house. They have a new job across the country, they're moving to the other side of the planet. They were renting and found a better place in a neighborhood where the thieves don't grin at them through the kitchen window while they disconnect a running air conditioner knowing that the average response time for the police is measured in weeks for a call like that. The cash is a down payment, a security deposit (since their landlord never returns theirs), or maybe a moving van. These are the best cases. Sometimes they are happy to hear from me. Other times, not so much.
When I make first contact and explain that the lender is offering them money to leave sometimes they tell me that they haven't slept for months, knowing that something was going to happen but never knowing if tomorrow was the day when somebody kicked in their door and threw their kids out on the lawn. Their lenders won't tell them anything, they have nothing to go on but horror stories from other people that they never knew. It never occurred to them that they should call an attorney and ask what was going on. I can be the first people to discuss their situation who isn't a debt collector: you can hear the release of a massive weight in their voice. It isn't much, but at least it is something.
Or they can get angry and defensive, tell me that they were never foreclosed on, tell me that I am trespassing and owe them $5,000 in "land use fees" for "using" their property as I walk to the front door. They threaten to sue, they threaten to call the cops, they say I should look under my car before I start it from now on. They send letters written in various forms of English - one time scribed in crayon - detailing their rights and how I am violating some maritime treaty from the 1700s. In my travels I have learned that if you copyright your name you can't be named in any kind of legal action, if you never write down your ZIP code then you aren't a resident of the United States and that if I tell somebody that their lender is offering them money to vacate while leaving the staircase (yes, these get stolen) and driveway (yes, these get stolen) in place then I am guilty of slave trading under some United Nations something or other.
For those who reject the deal, nothing changes. They don't lose any rights and it isn't counted against them in any way - neither the lawyers nor the courts care because the lenders don't have to offer anything - the eviction process continues. I listen to the stories why they can't/won't take the deal. They can't afford anything else. They don't have anywhere else to go. They want to make the eviction as expensive as possible. They're going to get "a big settlement" from some vague lawsuit any day now. They want their kids to finish out the school year. They intend to take the furnace as soon as they find a new house. All kinds of reasons. Some are heartbreaking, others not so much.
For those who do take the deal, at the appointed date and time I meet them at their former home. I walk the yard and enter every room. I open every drawer and cupboard making sure the house is clean and doesn't have old engines, toxic chemicals or dead dogs lingering anywhere. Sometimes the kids are there, maybe waiting in the car, maybe not. I see the marks on the wall showing how the kids grew over the years. I see the anguished poetry scribbled on the wall by stoned teenagers and the occasional hole punched in the wall. One woman handed me the key to her reinforced bedroom door - during the divorce her now ex-husband was still living in the house and she had to barricade herself in at night. Another said "right there is where I found my son - he couldn't handle losing the house".
Sometimes they don't want the money and don't want to be evicted so they sign a waiver stating that everything left inside can be disposed of. Hospital beds. Oxygen tanks and wheelchairs. Hundreds of boxes of shoes. A mannequin. A 2nd grader's homework portfolio. A wedding album filled with pictures with one person torn out. Get rich quick "business plans". 40 years worth of drafting documents. To the lenders and the lawyers, these things don't exist - they close the file and order a trashout. Sometimes I linger as I check the basement for mold and lead. I am the final period on so many significant chapters. To most other people it is just part of the job but in so many other universes this is where I ended up. There is no difference between myself and these people other than the intangible twists of experience.
And so I listen. I feign dispassion but I'm not fooling anybody. Somehow they can tell that I care and thank me even as they admit that it isn't my fault, that it isn't my responsibility to listen. I've stood inside another's dream for an hour as they spoke, not really to be heard but to say goodbye - to leave the ghosts behind.
They go to the car and return with the openers.
The keys are peeled from a ring.
They thank me. Sometimes they cry.
And they're gone.
I wait for their car to vanish before I put up the sign. To most everybody else it is just another house on just another block in just another city in just another financial catastrophe.
But I was there. I saw the dream end.
But at least I don't make them turn out the lights one last time as they leave.
That's my job.
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Source: Politico - May 26, 2011
Capping a week of political bickering and parliamentary delays, the House joined the Senate on Thursday to approve a four-year extension of key provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire at midnight.
Because President Barack Obama is traveling in Europe, a White House official said the bill will quickly be signed into law using an autopen, a machine that replicates the president’s signature.
Source: The Los Angeles Times - May 16, 2011
The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision in a Kentucky case, says police officers who loudly knock on a door in search of illegal drugs and then hear sounds suggesting evidence is being destroyed may break down the door and enter without a search warrant.
The Supreme Court on Monday gave police more leeway to break into residences in search of illegal drugs.
The justices in an 8-1 decision said officers who loudly knock on a door and then hear sounds suggesting evidence is being destroyed may break down the door and enter without a search warrant.
Residents who “attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame” when police burst in, said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
In a lone dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she feared the ruling in a Kentucky case will give police an easy way to ignore the 4th Amendment. “Police officers may not knock, listen and then break the door down,” she said, without violating the 4th Amendment.
Related Post - Pentagon Lies - Bradley Manning's Friend David House Speaks About Bradley's Deterioration While In Confinement
Source: The Washington Post - April 11, 2011
A United Nations diplomat charged with investigating claims of torture said Monday that he is “deeply disappointed and frustrated” that U.S. defense officials have refused his request for an unmonitored visit with Pfc. Bradley Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of passing classified material to WikiLeaks.
Juan E. Mendez, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said his request for a private interview with Manning was denied by the Defense Department on Friday. Instead, he has been told that any visit must be supervised.
Mendez has been seeking to determine whether Manning’s confinement at a military brig at Quantico amounts to torture, following complaints about his treatment and an incident in which the private was forced to strip in his cell at night and sleep without clothing.
“My request . . . is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention center visited,” Mendez said in a statement Monday, noting that at least 18 countries have allowed unmonitored interviews.
Manning, 23, has been held at Quantico since July 29 and is awaiting a possible court-martial on charges that he endangered national security by allegedly leaking classified military and diplomatic information.
For most of this time, military officials have kept Manning under “prevention of injury” watch, asserting that he poses a risk to himself. That means he spends 23 hours a day alone in his cell, with one hour allowed for exercise, and has no contact with other prisoners. He is allowed visitors for a few hours on the weekends. He must give up his prison uniform at night, though jail officials have now issued him a smock to wear.
U.S. officials have denied that Manning is being mistreated and have said that the circumstances of his confinement comply with U.S. law and Defense Department regulations.
Last month, however, P.J. Crowley, then the spokesman for the State Department, said the conditions of Manning’s confinement were “counterproductive and stupid” — a comment that angered the White House and prompted Crowley’s resignation.
On Sunday, the New York Review of Books published a letter signed by more than 250 lawyers, professors and authors, including Harvard University constitutional law professor Laurence H. Tribe, that called the conditions of Manning’s confinement “illegal and immoral.” The British government has also raised concerns about the issue.
In an interview, Mendez said that “at first glance,” Manning’s case seems to be “of interest to my mandate,” which is to investigate cases of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and report them to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
To do his job, he said, he needs to be able to speak to Manning without witnesses, including guards patrolling nearby. Otherwise, he said, “I cannot be sure Manning is being absolutely candid and honest with me if he knows that he’s being monitored.”
He said he is willing to see Manning nonetheless, if Manning wishes to see him.
The Defense Department has also denied requests for unmonitored visits with Manning by a representative of Amnesty International and by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), according to the soldier’s attorney.
Source: Aljazeera - March 19, 2011
The spectre of Bradley Manning lying naked and alone in a tiny cell at the Quantico Marine Base, less than 50 miles from Washington, DC, conjures up images of an American Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, where isolation and deprivation have been raised to the level of torture.
In fact, the accused Wikileaker, now in his tenth month of solitary confinement, is far from alone in his plight. Every day in the US, tens of thousands of prisoners languish in "the hole".
A few of them are prison murderers or rapists who present a threat to others. Far more have committed minor disciplinary infractions within prison or otherwise run afoul of corrections staff. Many of them suffer from mental illness, and are isolated for want of needed treatment; others are children, segregated for their own "protection"; a growing number are elderly and have spent half their lives or more in utter solitude.
No one knows for sure what their true numbers are. Many states, as well as the federal government, flatly declare that solitary confinement does not exist in their prison systems. As for their euphemistically named "Secure Housing Units" or "Special Management Units", most states do not report occupancy data, nor do wardens report on the inmates sent to "administrative segregation".
Prosecutor, judge and jury
By common estimate, more than 20,000 inmates are held in supermax prisons, which by definition isolate their prisoners. Perhaps 50,000 to 80,000 more are in solitary confinement on any given day in other prisons and local jails, many of them within sight of communities where Americans go about their everyday lives.
Over the past 30 years, their numbers have increased even faster than the US' explosive incarceration rate; between 1995 and 2000, the growth rate for prisoners housed in isolation was 40 per cent, as compared to 28 per cent for the prison population in general, according to Human Rights Watch.
Likewise, no one can state with any consistency what these prisoners have done to warrant being placed in solitary confinement or what their isolation is supposed to accomplish.
As it stands, prisoners can be thrown into the hole for rule violations that range from attacking a guard or a fellow inmate to having banned reading materials or too many postage stamps.
In doling out months or even years in solitary, the warden and prison staff usually serve as prosecutor, judge and jury, and unsurprisingly they often abuse that power. The cases are shocking and they abound.
Isolating the mentally ill
At the all-solitary Colorado State Penitentiary, Troy Anderson has spent the last 10 years in isolation, never seeing the sun or the surrounding mountains, due to acting out on the symptoms of untreated mental illness.
Anderson has been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, anti-social personality disorder, cognitive disorders, a seizure disorder and polysubstance dependence, and he has attempted suicide many times, starting at the age of 10.
His mental health treatment in prison has consisted largely of intermittent and inappropriate medications and scant therapy, most of it conducted through a slot in his solid steel cell door. By Colorado's own estimate, 37 per cent of the prisoners in its isolation units are mentally ill.
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