Enriching lives through the power of words  

From White House to Jailhouse: An Americans Hero's Life
James Elwood Conner, Ed.D.

"I am a very blessed man, even in prison. I know good things will happen to me—and I am on my way to the top."
Richard Vanderkhe Hamilton, III—11/2Q/2000

,On November 15, 1975, I was taken by wheelchair from my room at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, down a long hallway to a meeting room. All the hospital big brass were there. In about ten minutes, the doors opened. In walked President Gerald Ford. Two other patients and I were to be honored. No T. V. cameras. No press releases. No publicity of any kind. All was very hush-hush. The President said that for reasons of national security, ana given the recipients' top-secret status as members of the Special Operations Group, there would be no public account of the proceedings. Then followed a brief ceremony. The President, in turn, pinned a Distinguished Service Medal on each of our chests, shook our hands, and strode out of the room.

 

WE ARE OUR STORIES, AND IN LARGE MEASURE, WHAT WE CHOOSE TO MAKE OF THEM. Richard Vanderbilte Hamilton, his story sounds a lot like something straight out of "Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul." A problem for any writer, though: it sounds a bit contrived. During the course of his life, Richard has received scores of awards and recognitions, in civilian, military, and penal life: from New York mayor, Ed. Koch, for: teaching 200 handicapped children to swim; serving as a sentinel or guard at the White House; "turning a company from a $2.5 million-dollar operation into a $6-million profit center overnight"; during the course of his incarceration—in addition to helping countless inmates earn high school equivalency certificates—he created a 501-C-3, tax-exempt foundation, Gett Smartt America; he has helped countless illiterate prisoners learn to read; he has spoken to school children about the hazards of drugs; during prison time, he has earned,
in addition to his Masters Degree in Business Administration, a Masters in Health Administration; to help in his dream to become the "greatest inspirational speaker in the world," he has enrolled in the Toastmaster's program.

One warden was moved to tell Richard that in all her years of working in corrections, she had never seen a more outstanding inmate.
RICHARD'S DOWNWARD SLIDE BEGAN ON THE DAY HE QUIT A JOB PAYING $70,000 A YEAR, plus bonuses. He invested everything he had in a Sports Bar & Grill. Impatient to get started, he went ahead with renovations on the facility.
He did not wait for the closing and property insurance. After all, within a week or two, everything would be finalized.

ON AUGUST 24,1992, HURRICANE ANDREW BLEW RICHARD'S DREAM AWAY.
Later, Richard was talking to a girl friend on the phone (This was during what he calls his"Pity Party" period.) He told her how hard he had worked and saved for his dream. Now all was gone with the wind. She told Richard that she knew how he could get back all his money—and then some. She had a cousin who'd buy all you could get. Right here in Miami, she explained, if you know the right people, it's a breeze to buy one ounce of crack for $350. Then turn around, sell it to her cousin for about $1,300. A day or two later, Richard and the girl friend drove to a section of Miami. In a matter of minutes, she made a buy with Richard's $350. Later, her cousin paid her $1,350. The process was repeated several times. Richard says he never did get any of his money back. Fast forward to the Franklin Store in Bishopville, SC: Richard arrives with his girl friend to get his money Inside the store, the cousin says he has to go off somewhere and get the money. He'd be back shortly. Wait for him. Oh, one other thing: Would Richard hold his money dope for him, until he gets back? The cousin explained how he'd been robbed once,
and didn't want that to happen again. A short time later, Richard pocketed the money, stuffed packets of crack into his boots, and walked outside to sit under a nearby tree.Within minutes, state and local police, along with drug federal enforcement officers, surrounded the store . Richard was relieved of 20.8 grams of crack, $350, and his 25-cal. handgun. His 45-cal hand gun was also taken from his rented car. Richard said the police were jubilant. They thought they had nabbed a Miami "drug kingpin." It turns out, the cousin had promised, as part of a deal,
to deliver a "big fish". The cousin, a previously convicted drug felon, walked.
The girl friend, also a previously convicted felon, got a light sentence in a South Carolina state court.

At Richard's hearing, in what would take on the appearance of something out of a Franz Kafka novel, Richard was about to skewered. This would be accomplished through a number of maneuvers and machinations. It all began when his public defender told Richard it would be smart for him to forego a trial by jury,
in favor of a judicial hearing. Otherwise, his public defender warned: he could find himself in prison for a very long time. On the other hand, if Richard would make a plea bargain, and agree to and pass a polygraph test, his sentence would likely not exceed five years. After taking the polygraph test, his lawyer told him he hadn't done well, imploring Richard to tell the "truth."

At one point in the hearing, the assistant federal prosecutor told the judge that Richard's plea bargain was null and void, because he had lied on the polygraph test, that Richard had failed to pass the polygraph test. The hearing transcript shows that Richard counsel did object though not vigorously. Neither the defense nor the judge asked to see proof that the defendant had lied.

RICHARD WAS TO SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS! Under provisions of the federal "mandatary minimum" sentencing requirement, this meant Richard had no hope of getting out of prison in less than 12 years, regardless of how exemplary his prison record might be. Having had more than eight years to think about his lie-detector test, he says he remembers clearly all seven of the questions put to him.
His requests for copies of his polygraph report from both his attorney
and the U.S. Department of Justice were met with failure. No answer came from the Justice Department. His public defender said he'd been unable to find
the report; that it had been lost or misplaced. The public defender must have felt no obligation, obviously, to get a copy from the Justice Department Following are the seven questions Richard says he was asked. It's noteworthy that there were no questions about Richard's alleged involvement as a drug kingpin.

A DID YOU HAVE DRUGS IN YOUR BOOT?
2. WERE THE DRUGS IN YOUR BOOT FOR SALE?
3. DID YOU HAVE A 25-CAL HANDGUN IN YOUR POCKET?
4. DID YOU OWN A 25-CAL HANDGUN?
5. DID YOU HAVE A 45-CAL IN THE CAR ?
6. DID THE 45-CAL GUN BELONG TO YOU?
7. DID YOU ANSWER ALL THESE QUESTIONS TRUTHFULLY?

It's must left to the reader to fathom why Richard could ever answer "no" to any of these questions. And if he did, by what logical gymnastics could any "no" answer could be judged to be truthful?. Anyone with a fondness for conundrums should get a real kick out of playing around with this one. What is indisputable this: If the list of questions are what Richard Vanderbilte Hamilton, III says, then there can be no doubt he has been denied—and continues to be denied—information that
could result in making him a free man.

Something else Richard continues to wonder about. ...
Is there any lawyer "out there," someone willing to take his case? Or at the least,
to aid him to petition the government for a copy of his polygraph report? He is passionate when he says that "Freedom is not enough. I want justice, too."

POSTSCRIPT: Almost a year ago, the writer of this account requested a copy of Richard's polygraph report, assured under provisions of the "Freedom of Information Act." Nothing. Appeals for help from his two U.S. Senators (one being the legendary Jesse Helms) were fruitless.

Readers are invited to write or launch an e-mail campaign to the Justice Department
requesting copies of Richard's polygraph report. Richard, who is the most optimistic person I have ever known, remains unshakable in this belief: "No one will see a copy of my report. They know that once the polygraph report is out, the game's over, and heads will roll." " Heads rolling," now there's a thought to warm the cockles of the heart