Eavesdropping on Michael Jackson

by Jamison Koehler on September 12, 2019
Marijuana conviction in DC - graffiti on wall

Be careful what you say on the phone when you are in prison.  They record the calls.  Sometimes they also listen to them.

I know this from personal experience.  A colleague and I were assigned to listen to prison tapes when we interned at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.  It was during the summer after our first year in law school.  

It is amazing all the incriminating things people will say, despite the recorded reminder that the calls are being monitored.  

Our favorite inmate was a guy I will call Michael Jackson because he had the same name as a famous singer.  Mr. Jackson was facing a gun charge, and the prosecutors were looking for anything to use as leverage against him.  They wanted him to cooperate.  They wanted him to take a plea.

Mr. Jackson spoke with three separate women, and he was a different person depending on which of the women he was on the phone with.  

He had phone sex with one girlfriend.  

He was pious with another girlfriend, who was Muslim.  It was “inshallah” this and “inshallah” that.  

With the mother of his children, he was all business.  They argued about the details of life.  He was angry with her for not bringing the kids out to see him more often.

Then the kids would get on the phone.  They were happy to speak with him, their voices achingly pure.  But eventually their attention would begin to waver– they had other things to do while he had nothing but time — and he had to struggle to keep them on the phone.  This is when he would begin to cry.  

Mr. Jackson ultimately cut a deal with the government.  Doesn’t that always happen with federal cases?  The prosecutor’s office was able to use something my colleague found on the tapes.  I don’t remember exactly what that was.  

Years later, I saw Mr. Jackson’s name on the lockup list when I was a public defender in Philadelphia. I had switched sides:  I wanted to get to know the people I had been listening to.

For all his talk from prison about having learned his lesson, he had apparently gotten himself into trouble once again, this time with local authorities.  I almost went down to see him in the central cellblock in the basement of the Criminal Justice Center.  I wanted to introduce myself to him.  I wanted to find out how life had been treating him.  

One Comment on “Eavesdropping on Michael Jackson

  1. Very moving. I like the different view points, quite literally, as expressed in the article by having “switched sides.” One of the common denominators of criminals is the inability to learn, resulting in “repeat offenders.” I would support any effort that could rehabilitate rather than punish, and help them learn so they can be more able. Punishment (only my opinion from years in teaching) may result in someone saying they learned their lesson, but those words only go so far.

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