Sunday, January 31, 2010

View from the Porch

No, not that porch, my porch. Well, actually from by back deck, but you get the idea :)

As you can see, we've had a bit of winter weather here at Casa de Casey. It started Friday afternoon, on the way home from work. About five miles or so North of town, I started seeing snow falling, and the farther I went, the more obvious it became that snow had been falling for a while. I called Goose, to let him know what he faced when he finally got shut of the office, and then called my wife to make sure she and the kids were getting home ok.

I do that, because as I've pointed out here before, winter weather in the South, is not at all like what our neighbors to the North think of when they imagine snowfall.

This started off benignly enough. It'd been warm the days before, so the snow wasn't sticking to any of the pavement, but was accumulating nicely on anything that didn't have vehicles traveling over it. The snow itself was a bit unusual, at least at my house. Normal snow here is large wet flakes, that clump together and make a mess of everything. This snow on the other hand, was fine and dry. I remarked on it to my wife, because it was glittering in the light as it fell, which is what marked it as unusual. We ended up with about four inches of snow, which isn't bad at all, until Saturday morning came around. That's when the sleet started. What you see on the railing there is about four inches of snow, compressed down to about three inches thickness by the weight of the full inch of sleet on top of it.

This makes for dangerous conditions outside. The roads were wet, from where the snow melted on them Friday afternoon, and then froze solid as temperatures dipped below freezing overnight. Snow piled up on top of the frozen roadway, and was then compressed by the sleet falling on top of it. Couple that with the fact that temperatures hovered right around freezing all day yesterday, which means it was not warm enough to melt the sleet away, but just enough to make it stick together, and you have quite the ice sandwich to attempt to drive on.

Needless to say, we decided to stay home this weekend. I got a fire going in the woodstove, and the wife got a pot of beef stew going. The kids had fun playing in the snow and sleet, and a generally good day was had by all.

Of course, today, the temps are well above freezing, pushing close to 40 degrees, and everything is melting fast, just as it should be here in the South. :) A nice snowy weekend, but clearing off in time that the morning commute tomorrow should be difficult at all, aside from the odd patch of black ice on the road where trees have shaded it from getting sunlight today.

The picture above was taken this morning, about an hour or so after sunrise, before the temperature started rising. That low hanging cloud off to the South is obscuring a view of the nearest small town, about ten miles away or so. You can see it easily on a clear day.

The bird feeder is a gift from my In-Laws. It holds black sunflower seeds, and, so far, has not been given over to the predations of the local squirrel population. We normally see a variety of birds at it, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Tufted Titmice, Goldfinches, Carolina Wrens, House Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Purple Finches, and the odd Nuthatch or two.

The reason it's so free of snow accumulation in this picture, is that we've recently had a new visitor to the feeder, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Now we have a number of woodpeckers in our area, the Pileated, the Downy, the Flicker, and the Yellow-Bellied SapSucker, however, this is the first time I've ever seen a Red-Bellied, and the first time I've ever seen a woodpecker at the feeder. We see them all the time on the trees around the yard, but never on the feeder itself. A first time for everything I guess.

Hope you're all having an enjoyable weekend, I think I'm going to take a nap now :)


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Simple Cooking

I'm sure most people have heard of this, but for those who haven't, here's a quick and easy dinner, and my own twist on it.

Get your oven warming up to about 400 degrees or so, and then start getting your meal together. We used bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. Rubbed them down with a little salt and pepper, and slipped a couple of thin lemon slices underneath the skin. Then laid then out on a wire cooling rack, like used for cookies or other baked goods. Then took a casserole dish, about 8x12 I think, and put Green Beans in that, spread in a thin layer on the bottom. Then set the wire rack on top of the dish. This way, as the chicken cooks, fats and juices drip down onto the beans as they cook, keeping them moist, and adding a nice flavor. The juice from the lemon slices keeps the chicken breasts themselves moist, while allowing the skin to become nice and crisp :)

Now, as I side dish, I prefer root vegetables. We used potatoes, and rutabagas, but you could use whatever you have on hand. Dice those up into about 1" chunks, and toss them into a bowl. I like onions, so I sliced some, and added them to the mix. Then sprinkled a little salt and pepper, and whatever herb you prefer, we usually use Rosemary, and toss the contents of the bowl to spread the spices out. Then add in a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and toss it all again until everything is coated, spread it out on a baking pan, and add it to the oven as well.

It's been my experience, that the chicken breasts, if of a good size, take about 45 minutes or so to cook all the way through. The root vegetables take about 10 minutes less to become nicely cooked, and crisp on the outside, while caramelizing the onions. This works out well as you can prepare the chicken and get it in the oven, then do the root vegetables and get them in the oven, and it all comes out at about the same time.

There's never any beans or roots left, but we always throw on an extra chicken breast. The flavors in the breast translate really well when using the leftover chicken to make chicken salad a day or two later.

There you have it. Simple, easy, and very much a comfort meal.



Saturday, January 23, 2010

A peek into the Justice System, post-conviction...

Here's a story for you, about an incident that occurred recently in which I was involved. Names, of course, have been changed, not to protect the innocent, because let's face it, they're convicts, not a whole lot of innocence there, but mostly to protect my job. This closely involves Partner, mainly because this chucklehead is on his caseload, I was just along for the ride. Now, Goose will likely make a post about this himself at some point, but he's still a bit hot under the collar about it, and it will probably be a while before he cools off enough to write about it.

This case did not originally belong to Goose, but to another Agent who has left our dreary environs to join the Feds. More power to her, however, it leaves people like Goose and myself to pick up in the middle of cases that are in violation, and pending a hearing.

This particular case is a Parole case. The Parolee in question, let's call him 'Bobby', got mixed up in various and sundry things back in the 80's, which culminated in a Burglary conviction, which resulted in a Life sentence. Now, we all know that Life in prison, only means incarceration until you reach the point where you become eligible for Parole. This occurred for Bobby(hehe, I typed Booby there and had to fix it :p ) in the early to mid 90's. Bobby was Paroled, and out in the world for less than a year if I remember correctly. At which point he got involved in some more drama, drug related I believe, had his Parole revoked, and was sent back to prison.

Fast forward another decade or so, and Bobby becomes eligible for Parole again, and is again granted Parole. See, granted Parole, even though he's already been given a shot at it once, and screwed it up. Anyway, Bobby gets out, and starts off ok for the first year or so. He has trouble securing gainful employment, and hence falls behind on his monies. As an aside, anyone under supervision in the state of South Carolina is required to pay a monthly Supervision Fee. Usually in the amount of $50, though I've seen it both higher and lower. That Supervision Fee is in addition to any other fines, court costs, or Restitution ordered by the court, or the Parole Board. So, when an offender gets a certain number of payments behind on his monies, our policy requires us to issue a citation. It's just like it sounds, though it may not be blue like the ticket a patrol officer writes, it alleges violations, and directs the offender to appear for a hearing at a given place and time.

Anyway, Bobby gets himself a citation for monies, and I believe a failed drug test and a missed report. After this, Bobby decides he'd be better off if he just stopped reporting to his Agent all together, and falls off the face of the map. After a couple of months of being unable to locate him, a warrant is issued for his arrest for Absconding Supervision, and placed on file with the local Sheriff's Office, and NCIC. A while after that, Bobby gets stopped for something innocuous, has his name run for wants and warrants, and wins the big prize. Silver Jewelry and an all expenses paid trip to the local extended stay Graybar Hotel. While incarcerated at the Graybar, Bobby goes through a preliminary hearing, in which the hearing officer decides his case should be forwarded to the Parole Board, with a recommendation to Revoke his Parole, and place him as a ward of the State once again.

Bobby is served with a Notice to Appear at the hearing, though we will personally transport him if he is incarcerated at the time of the hearing. Bobby makes bond, and decides he really doesn't want to go to a hearing where he believes he will get tossed back in prison again, so he takes off, again. Once he misses the hearing, a Failure to Appear warrant is issued for his arrest. He is picked up fairly quickly, incarcerated at the local Graybar once again, and a new hearing is scheduled for him.

Now, I don't know how they do things in your state, but here in Carolina, the Parole Board is located in the state capitol, and they certainly aren't going to sully themselves by actually entering a prison, so they hold hearings via video conference, at certain satellite facilities located across the state, all of which are secured within state run penal institutions. Since there are a large number of cases to be heard by the board, both applications for Parole, and hearings for Revocations, they break the board up into 3-member panels for most of the Hearings, and the full board usually only hears cases regarding Parole for violent offenders.

Bobby's case goes in front of a panel board. Goose and I are involved at this point, Goose because Bobby has been reassigned to his caseload, and myself because we're partners, and it takes two to transport. So we head over to the Graybar, hook Bobby up in waist chains and shackles, and transport him to the nearest facility that acts as a satellite for Parole hearings. Well good Lord, you'd have thought it was old home week when we walked in with Bobby. He'd apparently spent his most recent decade of incarceration at this particular facility, and was well liked by the majority of staff there. Everyone was smiling, and telling him they had a spot already reserved for him if he wanted his old job back. Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, depending on your perspective, the 3-member panel couldn't come to an agreement regarding Bobby's fate, and so his case was forwarded to a hearing of the full board.

We transport Bobby back to the Graybar in our county, drop him off, and chalk it up as a day wasted. Days later, Bobby makes bond and is out again. Wait, perhaps you didn't catch that, Bobby made Bond, on a Failure to Appear warrant. Wrap you mind around that one if you can. Anyway, Bobby gets to spend Christmas and New Years with his family. His hearing in front of the full board is scheduled for this past Wednesday.

Now, Bobby has been doing pretty ok since he made bond, it's only a few weeks, but he's reporting to us on a weekly basis, and doesn't seem inclined to take off and run again. As his hearing date approaches, we go to check to see if he's going to able to arrange his own transportation to the hearing, or if he would like to ride with us. Wonder of wonders, Bobby is back in jail. The Saturday before his hearing in front of the full Parole Board, Bobby gets picked up on new charges of Burglary and Larceny. So once again, we will be picking him up at the Graybar, and transporting him to the hearing.

The fateful day arrives, and we take Bobby down for what we feel will be a one-way trip to prison. I mean, come on, the guy is a convicted felon, for Burglary, has a citation, a warrant for Absconding Supervision, and a warrant for Failure to Appear, as well as pending charges that include a Burglary!! The very crime he is out on Parole for!! Several of Bobby's relatives show up for his hearing, to speak on his behalf to the board. One of them is his brother, a Pastor of a small, Protestant church located in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. Interestingly enough, Bobby's brother, the Pastor, is also on speaking terms with each and every member of the current Parole Board. Now, whether or not those relationships had any effect on the outcome, I don't know, one can only conjecture. I do know that the 'discussion', where the board members discuss the merits of the case amongst themselves, went on for an abnormally long time, and became quite heated, with voices raised to an uncivil level. Suffice it to say that about 30 minutes later, the Parole Examiner exits the room with his jaw somewhere South of his toes, to inform us that the Board had reached it's decision. That decision being to allow Bobby to remain out in the community, on Parole, and with no punitive action taken for either his violations listed on the citation and warrants, or the pending charges, other than the money he spent on bond, and the time he spent in the Graybar prior to making bond..

We transport Bobby back to the local Graybar, where he will still have to make bond on his pending charges, and once again, consider our day wasted. I will admit though, that the whole time we were transporting Bobby back to the Graybar, I was considering taking off with him to Vegas, cause that kind of luck just shouldn't be wasted.

So there you have it, a peek into one instance of our criminal justice system, after someone has been convicted. Is it any wonder that alcoholism rates are so high among law enforcement officers? You play by all the rules, make an airtight case, and someone else comes along, throws that case out the window, and pulls a judgment out Lord knows where. It's like a big old slap in the face. Not only to us, and the other officers involved, but to each and every person out on Parole or Probation, who struggles to obey the rules so that they can stay out in the community, and then has someone who does the exact opposite, and still gets to stay out in the community. It makes them wonder why they work so hard to stay straight.

Till next time, stay safe...