By: Gunther Fiek
Posted by: Bob Chatelle
I confess that when it comes to working or looking into anything that has to do with my criminal case I have fits about it. Even when reading about other cases similar to mine is just, in a way, painful. One reason, I guess, is because of the memories it brings. It feels like reliving what my family and I went through before my trial and the first few years of my incarceration. Afterwards, everything becomes kind of numb. Another reason is because it always leaves me feeling some type of way — resentment sets in.
I’ve been corresponding with the private investigator who is looking into possible issues to pursue in my case. He recently ran an idea he had by me and asked if anyone had done it before at any stage during my post conviction remedies — or, for that matter, prior to my trial . Of course, the answer was no. Not one of my attorneys, trial or post conviction, had done what my PI would like to do. In fact, since my conviction, I have learned that there were many things my attorneys could and should have done but didn’t.
Prior to the accusations against me, my family and I saw the American justice system as one the whole world should follow. We saw the system as ‘perfect’ compared to the corruption and abuse that has always existed and still does in many Latin American countries such as mine. I also admit that, in the past, that preconceived notion led me to convict individuals merely by learning that he or she were accused and taken into custody. It also led my family – and I- to trust in lawyers who we allowed to do what they ‘felt’ was best for my defense. After all, that’s what they got paid to do. How naive we were. And now I’m paying for their incompetence and for a judicial system that seems to cater to the wealthy and convicts individuals even before a fair trial — if there’s ever one. In all reality, there’s no such thing as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in this country. It’s nothing more than a myth.
Just a few weeks ago I finished reading a book called ‘Accused’, by Tonya Craft. I was blessed with it by someone who’s godsend. I was told what the book was about but I didn’t realize that it was also a Georgia case. When I first received it, I glanced through several pages and also read the author’s note and prologue. I immediately knew how I was going to feel emotionally so I decided to put it on the side for another occasion. Then, because of research that I’m doing in order to find leads for my private investigator to look into, I decided that it was best to read the book. I couldn’t stop once I started and I finished it within just a couple of days. (I’m a slow reader so I was proud of myself). Nevertheless, the similarities of my case as the one told in the book are astonishing — as most of these type are. And it left me exactly as I described above.
An accusation is like a spark that can easily start a wildfire and, if not handled or contained properly, can quickly spread out of control thus creating panic in a community. When authorities are unable to recognize in what direction the wind is blowing, they fail at the very task they were trained to do and the misused of the tools that guarantee to extinguish that wildfire become obsolete. The wind can then blow embers and ignite multiple wildfires. The media is like a gust of air that does nothing more but feed the fires by inflaming people’s passions. When it is all over, the damage is widespread and nothing will ever be the same, for anyone, as it will take time to recover — if ever. However, after all the destruction and everything has been left in ruins, one can only go through the rubble and hopefully find the pieces necessary to help you determine how it all started, what was done wrong and how another spark can be prevented.
The difference between Tonya Craft’s story and mine is that she was able to use the right tools to extinguish that burning fire and come out victorious. She was deeply involved with her crew of firefighters, her legal team, and quickly showed them who was the chief. She used the gust of air made by the media to her advantage, not to feed the fire, but to blow the smoke away and expose the truth. My crew did the complete opposite — and I definitely was nothing close to the role of a chief. Now, I’m afraid that the damage done is so enormous that going through the rubble might just prove to be in vain.
I realize that my tone here may sound as one of losing hope. Not necessarily. Inasmuch as it may sound that way, I have faith more than anything else. Wildfires can produce fertile ground for new life to flourish. New beginnings. New opportunities. A greater good can and does come out from tragic or unfortunate events – I’ve seen and experienced it – and my beliefs teaches me that nothing happens without a reason. I’m prepared for whatever my fate may be for only God knows what’s in store for me. I spend everyday always preparing myself in mind, body and spirit for what the next day may bring. More than anything else, I have trust.
The years I have already spent in prison has taught me many lessons — too many to share in one post. Nevertheless, the most rewarding about this experience has been the people who I have met. Individuals with all sorts of background who I would have very likely never met if this wouldn’t have happened to me. I have used my experiences, whether about life, faith, my case or legal system, to help others. I’m thankful that I have been in positions to do just that while working in the general/law library, for example, in my housing unit or roommates that I’ve had. Twice, for instance, at two different facilities, I have had 18 year old roommates (imagine that) … both Hispanic. One once shared that I was like a mentor and a big brother to him. The other one told me that I was like a father he never had. One fulfilled his sentence and is out with his loved ones doing good. The other one is still serving time since he has a life sentence but, now no longer a gang member, is at another facility doing great and devoted to the faith (… and he is now in his mid twenties). How can meeting those two young men not have been divine providence?
Just like those two fellows, I hope that I can make some kind of difference in the life of everyone I meet … or those I have met. Whether my experience in my case helps someone prove their innocence or a simple conversation plants a seed that later flourishes, I trust that it is all part of a master plan. From the inside, I have also been involved in advocating changes in conditions of confinement and ensuring that prison officials follow policy just as they expect us to. Race and religious discrimination as is mistreatment of offenders are ever present throughout this environment and I intent to play a role as one being part of the solution and, of course, doing it in righteous manner. I believe that if there was ever a reason for me being here, I have a calling to do just that. And if one day I am giving the chance to walk out of this place, I hope that I can take my experiences and make a difference somewhere out there.
Despite everything, and how I may feel at times, I don’t hold resentment or animosity towards my accusers — at least I make an effort not to. Because holding on to any type of grudges would be holding me back, thus hindering me from being used the way I am. Everyone involved is a victim of a broken legal system. A greater damage has been done not to me, or even my family, but to those who the very system is in place to protect. And I’m afraid that the psychological impact places them in a far worse prison than wherever I may be.
While I was in a holding cell at the courthouse waiting for the jury to decide on my future, I wrote a letter to my parents which I gave to one of my lawyers to pass to them. It has been many years since then so the contents are sort of fuzzy. However, I remember assuring them that I was alright and that whatever the outcome was, that everything would be fine. I let them know that my deep convictions tell me so. And, again, I’m doing the same here assuring my family, friends, supporters and whoever else is reading this that despite my situation, I’m doing alright — I’m at peace.