WRONGFULLY IMPRISONED, THEN CLEARED AND FIGHTING THE SYSTEM (LUCINDA HITES-CLAUBAUGH — PART 4)

Lucinda:  I ended up getting an attorney that was a drunk. I didn’t know that she was an alcoholic. She was drinking port each day at the breaks and at lunch so she wasn’t quite all there. She also, I think, had the beginnings of dementia. She used to be a D.A. in her former career. And she was, I think, forgetting which side she was on sometimes because she was not advocating for me and jumping up and objecting and fighting for me the way she needed to. And all my friends were saying, “Why didn’t she object?! Why didn’t she say something?”

There were at least 25 different points where she should have said something that we wrote up later. I was convicted because they never got to hear the story of what happened. The sentencing judge who was the trial judge was gonna let me go. He sensed that something wasn’t right. But he wanted to believe the D.A. He wanted to believe that everything was kosher.

A jury ruled 10 – 2. Guilty, 10 – 2. There’s only two states in the whole United States where that is even possible. It used to be, all the other states you have to have a unanimous vote. But in Oregon you can go to prison when there are two people who are intelligent and educated and see that there’s more to this. And 10 people who are uneducated and biased and they didn’t get to hear all the facts.

I started to cry and as each left, I said, “May God have mercy on your soul.” And I thanked the two people that had said that I was innocent. The judge was supposed to sentence me but my son popped out of his seat in the peanut gallery and he said, “No, no! My mom is innocent!” And he pointed at Nicole, who was the deputy district attorney  prosecuting me, and he said, “Nicole knows that the girl never said a word. Nicole knows that she just gestured. And that was misinterpreted. She knows that the kids all know the truth! The kids know that this didn’t happen. My mom is innocent.” And the judge could’ve sentenced him to contempt of court but he actually listened to my son.

I had 120 people that showed up each day, day after day for court. When they’d said, “Guilty,” they all went, “Ohhh!” and started to cry, weeping because they knew that I was innocent.

The judge said, “I’ve never done this before but I know it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to let your mom go home with you.” The D.A. popped up and he waved her off. He says, “I’m going to do this after all this testimony and these five witnesses.” They only let me have five character witnesses. The people that had spoken for me had spoken well and one was a police officer, a detective from my son’s swim team. They’d known me with their kids for years. And the judge said, “I know, based on the witnesses here, that she will respect what I’m going to say. She won’t do anything I’ve asked her not to do. I’m gonna let her go to church. She can’t teach Sunday school right now but she will be allowed to go to church.”

 I go two places. I go to the Methodist church to sing in choir once a month and sometimes twice a month if they ask me to serve communion, cause I do love to serve communion, which is not Quakerly, but I love it. I go half the month and more to [the Quaker Peace and Social Concerns committee] and go to Multnomah silent meeting [in Portland.]

I was allowed to do everything as long as there was another person sitting beside me and accompanying me if I was gonna be near children. And I was gonna be staying pretty much at home. Otherwise, I could go accompanied to doctor’s appointments and dentist’s appointments. I could go out into the community. He said he was gonna let me spend November and the holidays with my family. December 4th when he was supposed to sentence me, the counselor from the school finally was brave and came forward and said, “Lucinda didn’t do this. I talked to the kid and what the kid said on the stand is not the same. She’s lied, she’s embellished! That’s not what she told me at all!”

The counselor knew the kid had a history of lying and wanted attention. So she had gone to the D.A.’s office and said, “I have information. You can’t be putting this person in jail.” And they said, “We’re trying to convict her.” They would not take her information. So she went straight to the judge. She wrote out a two-page affidavit about the kid and what the kid had told her. She swore to it to the judge and told him all about it.

Was this a family court?

 This was a circuit court, a criminal court. The counselor went to Salem from Woodburn and took time off to do that and she knew she would be probably getting in trouble, because [the school administrators] had not liked me and they told all the people from the school district, “Don’t say anything at the trial.” But she felt a moral obligation.

With her coming forward with new evidence and then all my 120 friends showing up again on December 4th when the judge was supposed to sentence me, he was compassionate. He said, “There’s new evidence that’s come up and I’m not happy.” He glared at the D.A. And he turned to my [alcoholic] attorney and he said, “You investigate and you get that evidence that you should have brought forward to me in court in the first place. You did not defend your client. Do your job.” He let me go a second time.

The third time I’ve come again and he said, “There is new evidence of innocence.” And he turned to my attorney and he said, “Get me these details.” And then he turned to me and he said, “I’m going to let you go home again for Christmas, to be with your family because you could be in prison for a long, long time.” And so I thought, that doesn’t sound good.

 I got to be with my family. [deep breath] Because my attorney was so bad and the judge had publicly shamed her, I told my friends, “I’m sorry, but I have to get a new attorney.” I prayed and I found a guy who was an investigator, who’d done a case for the Innocence Project, one of the first exonerees in Oregon. The attorney they’d worked with was Mark Geiger. He was mild mannered, and kind of milquetoast but he did listen.

I said, “Talk to all the kids in the class.” He talked to the kids and every single one of ‘em said, “No. This girl’s a liar.” And they told that in their affidavits. They told about how she made up stories. They told about how I had only been with the class, we had not been in two different places at the same time. So I had all these alibi witnesses and got really good statements from the counselor about how this kid had had other situations where she made up stories and falsely accused other kids of things. And then lied about it and dug herself in.

The judge was gonna release me. So the D.A. pulled some strings and found a skeleton in his closet and had him removed from the bench. About the end of January they released the news that he was going to be resigning from the bench, supposedly because he had an improper conversation with a drug person and then he hadn’t sentenced him. They made up other stuff in his background and he decided not to fight it.

 The new sentencing judge was a former D.A. who had a mindset that it’s all about winning, getting your conviction. He had a history of prosecutorial misconduct and had put people, wrongfully, into prison. He was known as a hanging judge. So he ignored all of the affidavits and the counselor’s statement and the regular teacher’s statement. And he ignored the legal precedent that the Supreme Court in Oregon had made that for tapping you’re supposedly protected by that teaching law. If they would somehow try to twist that, the amount of time for going to prison for tapping would at most, with discretion, be 12-18 months. Instead he sentenced me to 6 years, 3 months. And then I was going to be, supposedly, held as a sex offender and have to register as a sex offender in Oregon.

You were not gonna plead it down.

 I was not about to ever tell anybody that I had committed a crime that I had not committed. So, I was telling everybody in prison. “I’m here because I’m a political prisoner. I’m here because of a dirty D.A.” [Nicole, the deputy district attorney] hid an exculpatory witness, not just the kids. That’s a big point because she’s gonna be brought up for the charges on prosecutorial misconduct. I’m gonna take her to the Oregon State Bar. The ACLU wrote an amicus brief for me.

They say that I have to take her to the Oregon State Bar and have her disbarred because of what she did. She knew she was putting an innocent person in prison. I had begged the guy from TSPC, the Teachers Standards and Practices Commission, to investigate. And what he had found was that the girl hadn’t said a word, she’d only gestured. It was because of the [mis-] interpretation of that gesture, that things went hysterical. They weren’t following protocols and nobody was being logical and calm.

 He had been told that by Nicole. She knew that was the case, then she fabricated evidence. She led the kid to say other things on the stand. Because the kid was deferential to the police officers with the guns.

 People are gonna make books and movies out of my story of my life. And it’s also gonna be used for legal precedent in the state later. We’re gonna have an Innocence Project-based law eventually that gives compensation to people such as myself who are wrongfully incarcerated. A lot of states have that. We’re gonna work on that.

 So the new judge comes along and he’s friends with the D.A. who’s been lying.  He lies to my attorney. He tells him that I would not be going to prison but be kept out with bail. He said that they’d made this arrangement so I would be able to wait until the second trial, if necessary. Instead, he just sentenced me harshly and I was drug away right there in the courtroom.

And my son and my husband were aghast because I wanted them to take my wedding ring cause it was made from gold nuggets from Alaska. I was afraid it would disappear in prison. And I had all my asthma and allergy medication because I have such bad asthma that if things get triggered I can die. I needed to have my emergency inhaler on me at all times. And I had a doctor’s note that said that but they took all that away. And so there I was with my throat closing down as I’m going off to prison.

Anyway I was put in the county jail first and then they take you from the county into Coffee Creek [women’s state prison.] I would tell [my story to] everybody in prison that would listen. I was in grave danger because 92% of the women in prison had been abused, assaulted, raped. And so they saw the label that had been put on me, “Sexual Abuse 1 with a minor.” There were people who tried to kill everybody that was labeled as a sex offender. They were badly beaten up, badly hurt and some killed.

And I was lied about by some of the people who were murderers who didn’t like me because I was not actually a sexual offender and when they would have sex parties I would turn my back and I’d get out my Bible and I would cry while I read my Bible and put my focus on something else with my earphones on. I was not participating with them and so if I wasn’t with them I was against them.

 They said I did something — I don’t even know exactly what they said because I never got to see the evidence — but I was taken to the hole. I was put in solitary confinement. I don’t remember if it was 13 days or 15 days. I just remember it was too long. Cause they say you’re not supposed to be in over 10 days, according to the United Nations. It starts having an effect on your mental capacity. I know that I was starting to feel more desperate in there during those last days.

Before all this, when I was just in the regular prison population and they were having all these sex parties, I’d gone in one day to my Bible study in the chapel and I was crying. And the chaplain said, “Why are you crying? I can tell something is really wrong.” And I said, “I can’t tell you.” And she said, “You need to tell me because I can tell you’re very upset.”

So I told her people are having sex orgies around me and they’re raping various women. They’re hurting them and raping them and sodomizing them and it’s just horrible and I can’t say anything about it. I’m a Girl Scout. I wanna try to help people when they’re crying for help. It’s really hard to hear people crying for help and not go help them. Cause you’re not allowed to touch anybody else in prison, even if it prevents injury. And I was a rescue ranger and I was a rescue Girl Scout and rescue ski patrol. I rescued people and I help people.

 This one girl was having an epileptic seizure and I ran over to put my legs so she’d hit my legs instead of hitting the cement floor with her head, over and over again. And I was told that I was gonna go to the hole if I didn’t move away from her and let her hit her head. That was just the most horrible thing. They let people get hurt and they let people die. There’s no compassion.

 How many people were in your cell?

 Well, you put two people in the cells in Coffee Creek.

But you were talking about sex orgies.

 Oh. Well, I was a good behavior inmate. I was a goody two shoes. And so everybody hated me. But I was kind to everybody and I would talk to the guards. The regular cells have two people. But I was put in the unit for good behavior and it’s an open dorm. An open dorm has maybe 57 people in it. And they’re all within 3½ feet of each other’s open bunks. So people can assault each other and beat up somebody or even stab somebody or kill somebody and the guard won’t even notice. They can’t keep an eye on that many people with one person walking around.

It’s a huge warehouse. And these are guards, for the most part, that used to work at McDonald’s and now they’re suddenly working at a prison and they don’t have master’s degrees or counseling degrees or psychology degrees that would help them to be compassionate people or use alternatives to violence. Some of them are pretty sadistic. I was in the open dorm section. People that were supposedly good behavior inmates were raping and sodomizing and having sex parties. But I had told the chaplain and the chaplain said, “I’m required to tell the regular chaplain and the security, I’m sorry.” And then I was like a snitch to everybody.

I said, if you’re gonna talk to somebody and get a statement you should do it quietly and discreetly. Instead they call on the loudspeaker that I’m supposed to go down to security. So they take me into this room and they plunk a recorder in front of me and say, “You will now tell us everything you know about these sex parties.” So I said, “You can have my journals. You are welcome to read everything in them and use all of it as evidence.” But I wasn’t going to do this until the day I was gonna walk out of there. Because I couldn’t share this information until that time or they’d kill me.

And sure enough, they said, “No, you must tell us now or you will be put in the hole until you tell us.” And so I told ‘em. But, I said, “You realize that I’m in grave danger now.”

Did you request to be taken out of that . . .

 There’s no place! If they put you into solitary confinement, you’re in even more of a dangerous place. People die in there. I saw. A woman committed suicide. She hung herself. She’d been crying and crying for three or four days and they ignored her. And then they drug her body out unceremoniously. They don’t care if people die back there.

 And I didn’t have my emergency inhaler and it triggered my asthma. I couldn’t breathe. Six times when I was in prison, I couldn’t breathe. And they didn’t care. I knew I couldn’t stay in there for months and months. For 6 years, 3 months. I couldn’t do that.

Also, I would not be allowed to go to the chapel for services. I wouldn’t be able to go sing in the choir or go have piano music time in the chapel. I wouldn’t be able to go to Bible study or have yoga class. I wouldn’t get to have any contact with any human being. Because if you get put in solitary confinement you don’t get to have visitors.

After you’re out of the hole, you can have these again?

 After I got out of the hole, this lieutenant who had heard me give my statement about women who’d been having sex parties, he said loudly, as he saw me getting released out of the hole, “She should never have been in there in the first place!”

These are all men who are running the place?

 A lot of men, but there was a woman who was a captain. While I was there, a woman was the warden. So there were some women. But, there are a lot of men at the top, a lot of men guards. Cause they can break up the women who are fighting by just pushing ‘em apart. Whereas the women guards just spray Mace in your eyes. And they say, “Stop fighting.” But they don’t intervene. So people can still get killed during a fight.

When you get out, you’re slowly given privileges again. You have visitors. When I was in the hole, my family and friends came and tried to see me and they were told that they couldn’t and they got really upset. They called the prison and said they wanted to see me physically to know I was safe. And that they weren’t going to stop until they found that out.

They called the state police and filed a charge against the prison for putting me into the hole and not allowing me to see my family and friends because they said I was wrongly being put in the hole. They knew that I would not have done anything. I was a girl scout. I didn’t do anything wrong while I was in prison and I still got put in the hole. The first thing I did was a mistake. I did my laundry. I didn’t know you had to sign up for the laundry. When it was empty and nobody was using it, you couldn’t just put your stuff in.

 So I was told that I was in trouble and had to be kept in my cell without getting out for dinner. I was brand new to prison. I didn’t know the rules and they didn’t have ‘em published, they didn’t give you a book. And I demanded that they give people a book of what the rules were so we could read them if we were supposed to be responsible for them. So I changed things a little bit in prison. They made everybody have a book. I complained. I mean, I was an educated person!

Squeaky wheel!

 I tried to do things that I knew I had the right to do, even though in prison you don’t have any rights. I would talk to people on the outside and say, “Call OSHA. They’re painting in here and there’s no ventilation. And it’s triggering my asthma and I can’t breathe. Get the word out! Call the press! Tell people about these things that are happening.

“A girl just committed suicide. Tell people on the outside. They need to know that women commit suicide at a much higher rate in the women’s prison than all the other prisons combined. They need to know they’re serving us food that says, ‘Not for human consumption, bait.’ Things are green and things are purple and things are stamped DO NOT and yet we’re eating it.” I tried to get the word about all kinds of things.

Because the women thought I was a bad person, one woman threw caustic floor cleaner in my face and eyes. And that gave me a chemical burn on my eyes and face. In my left eye, I’ve only got 58% of my vision now. And I’ve got 85% in my right eye. But I had first aid training so I knew that I needed to wash it out with cold water. And then I begged for ice cubes to lower the chemical burn temperature down cause that’s what you do in basic first aid.

They would not let me have my ice cubes. They took my ice pack away from me. Then on the next shift I asked again and that lady gave me an ice pack but the next one that came on took it away. One person would be a kind guard. You could count on one hand all the people in the prison that were compassionate and would listen and be kind. And were doing good work. But that was about five people in the whole prison. For a month and a half my eyes burned because they did not give me proper medical care even though I begged for it every day.

So how did you finally get out?

 I got out because my people who had done all this work with all these affidavits before I was sentenced by the new judge, kept working on my behalf. They knew what had  happened to me was just so wrong. My attorney cried when I went to prison. He said, “I’m so sorry.” He gave me a hug and said, “I will do everything I can to get you out of here.” He wrote the appeal and won my appeal.

 The judges from the appeals court said that what had happened to me was egregious, my case should never have gone to trial in the first place. They lambasted the D.A.’s office but she still wouldn’t admit that she’d made a mistake. That she’d lied all the way through the whole thing and fabricated evidence and kept witnesses and investigators from testifying. She’d had a quash put on that investigator from TSPC so that he wouldn’t speak. My attorney and my investigators worked for me. They gathered even more evidence of my innocence. Then he won the appeal!

Have you been paid any kind of compensation?

 At this point, there’s no law in Oregon to allow me to have compensation and that’s why I have to create it. I have to go to the Oregon State Bar and place a complaint against the D.A. that did this to me. And against the judge that did this to me. Because what they did was deliberate and against the law. And I’m going to try to create a bill in the legislature that makes it like California, that has a law that says that it is a felony to withhold evidence. So then she [the prosecuting attorney] would be guilty of that crime. Because she did it deliberately, over and over again.

There are other states that have innocence commissions. I want to create an ombudsperson and an innocence commission and I will volunteer to be the first case for it.

I have come out because I won my case. The D.A. was furious. She didn’t want to admit that I was innocent. The appeals court reversed the conviction and vacated it. But, then it was sent back to the very same D.A. and the very same judge, the very same court that made the mistake in the first place. And they need to send it to a different set of people. But they don’t in Oregon. They just send it right back.

Are you saying that you’re still under some charges?

 Well I was still in prison when they said, “We are really sorry. You have earned a new trial but we don’t have any money to do it.” And my friends didn’t have money to do it again. Cause it was gonna take $136,000 to fight it again. Meanwhile the D.D.A. who prosecuted me was going to drag this out so that I would still be in prison the whole time I was waiting for my new trial. And I had just been badly hurt by people who had vowed they were gonna kill me. And I didn’t know that I’d be able to live through any more of that. [voice breaking]

 I’d gone through six times of not having my inhaler. And I’d almost died from that alone. And I’m not a big person. I’m really small, 5’1”. And they wouldn’t let me use tai chi to protect myself in prison. They told me if I ever used tai chi, I’d be put in the hole again. And I hadn’t survived it well the first time.

 My friends said, “They want you to take a plea deal. You don’t have to go to trial. Nicole wants you to say that what you did was harassment, a misdemeanor. That you tapped this kid and that she didn’t like it.”  That will be exaggerated and stretched to be called harassment. They would take away the [charge of being a sex criminal.] And I said, “Well, I’m not gonna do that!” I won my appeal on July 18th, but it was August 30th before I would agree. And I said, “I could never understand why people take a plea deal. But, I knew I was gonna get killed if I stayed.”

So you basically copped a plea.

Yes, but I didn’t say I was guilty, I said no contest because I didn’t actually commit that crime. It was a misdemeanor that I’d already served more than the time for. All fees, all fines, all everything were to disappear. And no probation, no parole, nothing required of me — it was all over.

I’ve told the legislature all of this as well, because I’ve been trying to stop some bad bills. I don’t want them to do this to anybody else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Sylvia

Sylvia Hart Wright, the interviewer and blogger, has combined efforts to help achieve a more peaceful world and social and economic justice, with a career as a librarian, author, and longtime college professor. For more about her, please visit her website at sylviahartwright.com There you can also find the first chapter of her memoir-in-progress, ACTIVIST: Adventures at the Cutting Edge of Social Change.
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