Adonis Diaries

Archive for June 27th, 2016

A prosecutor’s vision for a better justice system

When a kid commits a crime, the US justice system has a choice: prosecute to the full extent of the law, or take a step back and ask if saddling young people with criminal records is the right thing to do every time.

In this searching talk, Adam Foss, a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in Boston, makes his case for a reformed justice system that replaces wrath with opportunity, changing people’s lives for the better instead of ruining them

Adam Foss. Juvenile justice reformer

By shifting his focus from incarceration to transforming lives, Adam Foss is reinventing the role of the criminal prosecutor. Full bio

The following are my opinions, and do not reflect the opinions or policies of any particular prosecutor’s office. 

0:20 I am a prosecutor. I believe in law and order. I am the adopted son of a police officer, a Marine and a hairdresser. I believe in accountability and that we should all be safe in our communities. I love my job and the people that do it. I just think that it’s our responsibility to do it better.

By a show of hands, how many of you, by the age of 25, had either acted up in school, went somewhere you were specifically told to stay out of, or drank alcohol before your legal age?  

How many of you shoplifted, tried an illegal drug or got into a physical fight — yes, even with a sibling?

how many of you ever spent one day in jail for any of those decisions?

How many of you sitting here today think that you’re a danger to society or should be defined by those actions of youthful indiscretion?

When we talk about criminal justice reform, we often focus on a few things, and that’s what I want to talk to you about today.

But first I’m going to — since you shared with me, I’m going to give you a confession on my part.

I went to law school to make money. I had no interest in being a public servant, I had no interest in criminal law, and I definitely didn’t think that I would ever be a prosecutor.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.|By Adam Foss

Near the end of my first year of law school, I got an internship in the Roxbury Division of Boston Municipal Court. I knew of Roxbury as an impoverished neighborhood in Boston, plagued by gun violence and drug crime.

My life and my legal career changed the first day of that internship. I walked into a courtroom, and I saw an auditorium of people who, one by one, would approach the front of that courtroom to say two words and two words only: Not guilty.”

They were predominately black and brown. And then a judge, a defense attorney and a prosecutor would make life-altering decisions about that person without their input. They were predominately white.

As each person, one by one, approached the front of that courtroom, I couldn’t stop but think: How did they get here? I wanted to know their stories. And as the prosecutor read the facts of each case, I was thinking to myself, we could have predicted that. That seems so preventable not because I was an expert in criminal law, but because it was common sense.

3:12 Over the course of the internship, I began to recognize people in the auditorium, not because they were criminal masterminds but because they were coming to us for help and we were sending them out without any.

My second year of law school I worked as a paralegal for a defense attorney, and in that experience I met many young men accused of murder. Even in our “worst,” I saw human stories.

And they all contained childhood trauma, victimization, poverty, loss, disengagement from school, early interaction with the police and the criminal justice system, all leading to a seat in a courtroom.

Those convicted of murder were condemned to die in prison, and it was during those meetings with those men that I couldn’t fathom why we would spend so much money to keep this one person in jail for the next 80 years when we could have reinvested it up front, and perhaps prevented the whole thing from happening in the first place.

My third year of law school, I defended people accused of small street crimes, mostly mentally ill, mostly homeless, mostly drug-addicted, all in need of help. They would come to us, and we would send them away without that help. They were in need of our assistance. But we weren’t giving them any. Prosecuted, adjudged and defended by people who knew nothing about them.

The staggering inefficiency is what drove me to criminal justice work. The unfairness of it all made me want to be a defender. The power dynamic that I came to understand made me become a prosecutor.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the problem. We know the criminal justice system needs reform, we know there are 2.3 million people in American jails and prisons, making us the most incarcerated nation on the planet.

We know there’s another 7 million people on probation or parole, we know that the criminal justice system disproportionately affects people of color, particularly poor people of color.

And we know there are system failures happening everywhere that bring people to our courtrooms. But what we do not discuss is how ill-equipped our prosecutors are to receive them.

When we talk about criminal justice reform, we, as a society, focus on three things. We complain, we tweet, we protest about the police, about sentencing laws and about prison. We rarely, if ever, talk about the prosecutor.

In the fall of 2009, a young man was arrested by the Boston Police Department. He was 18 years old, he was African American and he was a senior at a local public school. He had his sights set on college but his part-time, minimum-wage job wasn’t providing the financial opportunity he needed to enroll in school.

In a series of bad decisions, he stole 30 laptops from a store and sold them on the Internet. This led to his arrest and a criminal complaint of 30 felony charges. The potential jail time he faced is what stressed Christopher out the most. But what he had little understanding of was the impact a criminal record would have on his future.

I was standing in arraignments that day when Christopher’s case came across my desk. And at the risk of sounding dramatic, in that moment, I had Christopher’s life in my hands. I was 29 years old, a brand-new prosecutor, and I had little appreciation for how the decisions I would make would impact Christopher’s life. Christopher’s case was a serious one and it needed to be dealt with as such, but I didn’t think branding him a felon for the rest of his life was the right answer.

For the most part, prosecutors step onto the job with little appreciation of the impact of our decisions, regardless of our intent. Despite our broad discretion, we learn to avoid risk at all cost, rendering our discretion basically useless.

History has conditioned us to believe that somehow, the criminal justice system brings about accountability and improves public safety, despite evidence to the contrary.

We’re judged internally and externally by our convictions and our trial wins, so prosecutors aren’t really incentivized to be creative at our case dispositions, or to take risks on people we might not otherwise. We stick to an outdated method, counterproductive to achieving the very goal that we all want, and that’s safer communities.

Yet most prosecutors standing in my space would have arraigned Christopher. They have little appreciation for what we can do. Arraigning Christopher would give him a criminal record, making it harder for him to get a job, setting in motion a cycle that defines the failing criminal justice system today.

With a criminal record and without a job, Christopher would be unable to find employment, education or stable housing.

Without those protective factors in his life, Christopher would be more likely to commit further, more serious crime.

The more contact Christopher had with the criminal justice system, the more likely it would be that he would return again and again and again — all at tremendous social cost to his children, to his family and to his peers. And, ladies and gentlemen, it is a terrible public safety outcome for the rest of us.

When I came out of law school, I did the same thing as everybody else. I came out as a prosecutor expected to do justice, but I never learned what justice was in my classes — none of us do. None of us do.

8:49 And yet, prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system. Our power is virtually boundless.

In most cases, not the judge, not the police, not the legislature, not the mayor, not the governor, not the President can tell us how to prosecute our cases.

The decision to arraign Christopher and give him a criminal record was exclusively mine. I would choose whether to prosecute him for 30 felonies, for one felony, for a misdemeanor, or at all. I would choose whether to leverage Christopher into a plea deal or take the case to trial, and ultimately, I would be in a position to ask for Christopher to go to jail. These are decisions that prosecutors make every day unfettered, and we are unaware and untrained of the grave consequences of those decisions.

One night this past summer, I was at a small gathering of professional men of color from around the city. As I stood there stuffing free finger sandwiches into my mouth, as you do as public servant —  I noticed across the room, a young man waving and smiling at me and approaching me. And I recognized him, but I couldn’t place from where, and before I knew it, this young man was hugging me. And thanking me. “You cared about me, and you changed my life.” It was Christopher.

 I never arraigned Christopher. He never faced a judge or a jail, he never had a criminal record. Instead, I worked with Christopher; first on being accountable for his actions, and then, putting him in a position where he wouldn’t re-offend.

We recovered 75 percent of the computers that he sold and gave them back to Best Buy, and came up with a financial plan to repay for the computers we couldn’t recover. Christopher did community service. He wrote an essay reflecting on how this case could impact his future and that of the community. He applied to college, he obtained financial aid, and he went on to graduate from a four-year school.

After we finished hugging, I looked at his name tag, to learn that Christopher was the manager of a large bank in Boston. Christopher had accomplished — and making a lot more money than me —

He had accomplished all of this in the six years since I had first seen him in Roxbury Court. I can’t take credit for Christopher’s journey to success, but I certainly did my part to keep him on the path.

There are thousands of Christophers out there, some locked in our jails and prisons. We need thousands of prosecutors to recognize that and to protect them.

An employed Christopher is better for public safety than a condemned one. It’s a bigger win for all of us. In retrospect, the decision not to throw the book at Christopher makes perfect sense. When I saw him that first day in Roxbury Court, I didn’t see a criminal standing there. I saw myself — a young person in need of intervention.

As an individual caught selling a large quantity of drugs in my late teens, I knew firsthand the power of opportunity as opposed to the wrath of the criminal justice system. Along the way, with the help and guidance of my district attorney, my supervisor and judges, I learned the power of the prosecutor to change lives instead of ruining them.

And that’s how we do it in Boston. We helped a woman who was arrested for stealing groceries to feed her kids get a job.

Instead of putting an abused teenager in adult jail for punching another teenager, we secured mental health treatment and community supervision.

A runaway girl who was arrested for prostituting, to survive on the streets, needed a safe place to live and grow — something we could help her with.

I even helped a young man who was so afraid of the older gang kids showing up after school, that one morning instead of a lunchbox into his backpack, he put a loaded 9-millimeter. We would spend our time that we’d normally take prepping our cases for months and months for trial down the road by coming up with real solutions to the problems as they presented.

Which is the better way to spend our time? How would you prefer your prosecutors to spend theirs?

Why are we spending 80 billion dollars on a prison industry that we know is failing, when we could take that money and reallocate it into education, into mental health treatment, into substance abuse treatment and to community investment so we can develop our neighborhoods?

why should this matter to you? Well, one, we’re spending a lot of money.

Our money. It costs 109,000 dollars in some states to lock up a teenager for a year, with a 60 percent chance that that person will return to the very same system. That is a terrible return on investment.

13:53 Number two: it’s the right thing to do. If prosecutors were a part of creating the problem, it’s incumbent on us to create a solution and we can do that using other disciplines that have already done the data and research for us.

number three: your voice and your vote can make that happen. The next time there’s a local district attorney’s election in your jurisdiction, ask candidates these questions.

One: What are you doing to make me and my neighbors safer?

Two: What data are you collecting, and how are you training your prosecutors to make sure that it’s working? And

number three: If it’s not working for everybody, what are you doing to fix it? If they can’t answer the questions, they shouldn’t be doing the job.

14:34 Each one of you that raised your hand at the beginning of this talk is a living, breathing example of the power of opportunity, of intervention, of support and of love. While each of you may have faced your own brand of discipline for whatever malfeasances you committed, barely any of you needed a day in jail to make you the people that you are today — some of the greatest minds on the planet.

14:56 Every day, thousands of times a day, prosecutors around the United States wield power so great that it can bring about catastrophe as quickly as it can bring about opportunity, intervention, support and yes, even love. Those qualities are the hallmarks of a strong community, and a strong community is a safe one. If our communities are broken, don’t let the lawyers that you elect fix them with outdated, inefficient, expensive methods.

15:22 Demand more; vote for the prosecutor who’s helping people stay out of jail, not putting them in.

15:27 Demand better. You deserve it, your children deserve it, the people who are tied up in the system deserve it, but most of all, the people that we are sworn to protect and do justice for demand it.

15:37 We must, we must do better

4 days, 3 armies, 3 battles

Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell.

Waterloo? It could easily had been Ligny, Quatre-Bras. Or eventually called Mont Saint-Jean and Belle Alliance

It was Willington who spread the name of Waterloo, a quaint little village.

Army, corps (up to 30,000 members), divisions (5,000), brigades, battalions (500) and compamies

Wars are but open roads where chariots, canons and supplies can be moved and transported.

That’s why Quatre-Bras was strategic to hold

Quatre-Bras was the Carrefour of the transverse secondary road that cut the main route north to Bruxells. And Nap (the short name given by the British to napoleon) strategy was to split the two armies and prevent them from linking, giving him the time to eliminate one army at a time.

As Nap fled the tiny island of Elbe on February 26, 1814 on The Inconstant with a one thousand troop, he landed 2 days later on Golfe -Juan (between Cannes and Nice).

Most of his former 20 major officers had sworn allegiance to Louis 18 and were Not happy of this turn of events.

Soult was minister of war and Michel Ney vowed to bring Nap hand-cuffed to Paris. Marechal Berthier fled to Bavaria as Nap approached Paris: He was the main administrator and organizer of his armies and Nap relied on him.

Nap was Not only the most eminent military leader, but also the greatest administrator for raising and organizing armies. Within less than 100 days, Nap had a well trained and well equipped army, larger than any single army in Europe.

What Nap lacked was a highly qualified and loyal high command.

And it happened that during the campaign, Nap was sick, suffering and in pain.  While Wellington and von Blucher were seen among their soldiers and on the battlefield, Nap was unable to be present to guide and provide the necessary morale.

Soult and Ney had suffered major defeats by Wellington in Spain and Portugal (Battle of Bucaco) and were Not the proper army leaders for this campaign. And yet, sick and suffering Nap had to rely on Ney and Soult’. Nap considered Ney the most courageous among his officers but stupide enough to win a war.

The two most brilliant generals, Davout and Suchet, were Not part of the Army of the North.

Emmanual Grouchy was nominated marechal against the consent of Davout because he was a staunch aristocratic loyalist of the Ancient Regime.

Napoleon took the initiative to attack and split the Prussian and English armies before they join forces.

On June 15, the French troops advanced and occupied Charleroi, getting ready to defeat the Prussian army in Ligny, which was commended by Marshal Von Blucher. Blucher fell from his horse and was unconscious in the battle field. A Prussian officer covered the medal filled chest with a jacket in order to prevent the French from recognising the chief.

Later  this night, the Prussian retrieved the unconscious Blucher and whisked him away.

It was Blucher who decided that his retreating army regroup up north in Wavre to be closer to the British army (20 km away). Other wise, his second in command General Von Gneisenau was for retreating to the east, away from the British army.

In the mean time, Bonaparte had ordered Marshal Ney (10,000 infantry, 4,600 cavalry, and 35 canons) to take hold of Quatre-Bras immediately in order to prevent any British move toward Ligny.

Ney arrived on June 16, a day late from joining the army.

In the meantime, Gen Constant-Rebecque of the British army disobeyed the order to stay put at the town of Nivelles and advanced with 4,000 troops to take hold of Quatre-Bras.

Ney failed to obey the order and lingered a full day and night before deciding to capture this strategic position. Ney was fearful that Wellington will re-enact his tactic of Ruse Eculee of sheltering his hidden troops out of sight of the attacking cavalry as in Bucaco.

Nap dispatched the Corps I of Gen. Erlon (22,000 infantry, 1,700 cavalry and 46 canons) to strengthen the position of Quatre-Bras in the eventuality that Wellington might force his way to come to the rescue of von Blucher.

As Nap watched the Prussian army disbanding in Ligny, he wanted to believe that Quatre-Bras was in the bag. He ordered Gen. Erlon to swiftly move his troops and attack the right flank of the Prussian army and secure total destruction.

Gen. Erlon was very close to Quatre-Bras, but had to take the route to Ligny by order of Nap. Half way, Erlon was ordered by Ney to return to Quatre-Bras because he had difficulties there: Wellington had decided to send more troops to that location that prevented Ney of any quick victory.

General Erlon spent this critical Friday moving his corps between two battlefields, unsure which order to satisfy first. If he satisfied one of the orders, there would have been No Waterloo.

On Saturday, as Wellington was retreating from Quatre-Bras toward Mont Saint Jean, Ney refrained from pursuing the retreating army the entire morning. And Wellington managed to have all his troops safely implanted on Mont Saint Jean.

When Nap gave the order to go after Wellington’s retreating army, a monsoon kind of shower prevented the French troops to advance quickly in the mud.

On the morning of this crucial Saturday  of June 17, marechal Grouchy informed Nap that the Prussian army chose to move north to Wavre. Nap lingered most of the morning to reply to Grouchy (33,000 or the quarter of Nap’s army) . Thus, Grouchy knew where was the Prussian army but he avoided to nail it down.

Actually, Soult had ordered Grouchy to take Waver instead of cutting off the route for the 2 armies to join forces. Grouchy entered Wavre after the Prussian army had vacated it and was moving to join Wellington army. Before advancing to Wavre, Grouchy and his staff heard the firing of canons but, against the wishes of his officers to backtrack, he insisted on advancing to this futile city of Wavre.

On this Sunday, and 2 hours before sun down, Nap observed that the Prussians were already occupying a crest opposite Mont saint Jean and knew that before long their numbers will increase steadily. Nap spread the lie that what they are seeing are Grouchy troops and ordered an all out attack by the Imperial Guards.

Nap engaged his canons and the land was filled with fumes. The Guards reached the summit and engaged the British infantry and a slaughter-hood took place before the Guards retreated in total disarray within an hour of the attack.

And what happened to the injured soldiers?

The French surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey of the Imperial Guard had invented the flying ambulance. Special chariots with brancards were dispatched to the battle field and surgery were done here and there on the critically injured soldiers. The less critical cases were sent to a particular center in the battlefield to be treated.

Jean Larrey had discovered that the less the injured suffered from their wounds, the quicker they survived.

And what happened to the British injured soldiers? they were left for over 24 hours in the battlefield. Those who were transported to Bruxells were dropped on the streets for the inhabitants to care for them.

If you had to be a soldier, which army would you serve under?

In each of these main battles, over 20,000 soldiers were left dying on less than a square-mile of battlefield. Most of the injured would die from loss of blood or remain handicapped for the rest of their life: Nobody cared for them for 2 long days.

I contend that it was von Blucher who won the battle: Within 24 hours, he crossed all the obstacles in order to join the forces of Wellington. Otherwise, Nap would not hurry and take the gamble in the last hour to launch an all offensive attack with just 8 battalions of his Imperial Guards. 

Notes 1: After the Waterloo bloody “victory” where the British and the Prussians suffered more casualties than the French army, Wellington wrote to his brother William: “Never have I been so close to be beaten. It is the most despairing situation I found myself in.

“Wellington knew the value of Nap and had said: “The only presence of Nap in the battlefield added 40,000 soldiers to his army”. Once Nap passed away in 1821, Wellington said: “Thus, I am “now the living most recognized military man”. He was wrong: The Prussians had raised many more worthy generals in the meantime.

Note 2: If Nap had send just a corps to the city of Mons, Wellington would have never assembled his army to join the Prussian army: Wellington main concern was to leave the western front without any defences because the British army relied on its navy for all its supplies in men, cannon and livelihood.

Note 3: It was revealed later that Soult and Grouchy were working in tandem to committing conscious errors so that Nap would Not be able to claim total and crushing victory: They didn’t want an all powerful Nap in Paris.

Note 4: All the French officers went into exile and returned a year later totally absolved and even rewarded for their failures. Grouchy was whisked to the United States. Only Ney refused to go into exile and was executed by a firing squad.


Proofs of love (2002)

How do you want me to prove to you

That I’m in love with you?


You are not going to tell me, are you?


Admit that you don’t know.

Admit that you have no clue.

Say you need to be surprised

Of the many ways love is shown.


You say that you have no comments?


Say that you need to be in love.

I’ll make a deal with you.

I’ll stop all the trivial activities of living.

I’ll concentrate on thinking of you.

I’ll share with you my feelings.

I’ll share with you what I learned from being in love with you.

We’ll discover together the many ways love can be expressed.


Is it a deal?

Say you need to be in love and you need to start this adventure with me




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