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2008: Floyd Caldwell Paroled

The Floyd Caldwell Story

The story of a black man wrongly condemned to life in prison

Floyd Caldwell

inJusticebusters highlight the Floyd Caldwell story not because it is unusual but because it is all too common.

Thousands of such stories can be found in the United States and hundreds in Canada.The victims of these injustices may have been victimized because of a particular feature, such as race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. But the common thread in all of them is a corrupt justice system.

The corruption begins with sloppy investigation. It moves to vigorous prosecution despite questionable evidence. When challenged by defense lawyers, the accused or fair-minded citizens, it moves to cover-up. Malice doesn't even enter into it, usually. If these injustices were products of malice, we'd know we were dealing with something human. The justice system machine can pile an amazing amount of earth over the truth. And when a shred of truth manages to crawl into the light of day, the system calls in its faithful slaves: the media.

By and large the media operates as the PR machine of the system. It takes press releases from the police and prosecution and runs them as fact without independent investigation. When the shred of truth is brought to their attention, they give it an obligatory five minutes of light and go back to business as usual. The public mistakenly gets the idea that because the truth has been told, justice will follow. Wrong again.

We are a nation of cynics. There is the garden variety cynic who says, "Where there's smoke, there's fire," or "Well he may not be guilty of that but he's guilty of something" or "I keep my nose clean so it won't affect me." Then there are the cynics who believe that injustice goes on but that it is just so widespread that there's nothing can be done about it. "Human nature," they say. "It's the way it's always been and always will be." Even "God's will."

Then there are the cynics who work in the system. Decent folks themselves, they turn a blind eye to incompetence around them either because they are overworked themselves or for some other reason can't be bothered. They don't want to risk their jobs. To these people, we say: get some courage. Ask questions. Do the right thing. And if you need help, contact injusticebusters!

The thread of inevitablity which is fostered by those who are stupid or careless or greedy of downright mean is seen clearly in the story of Floyd Caldwell who, despite the valiant efforts of his wife, Synthia Caldwell, and others working for his release has not seen any justice. As Canada moves towards more "tough justice" with the passing of new and tighter legislation against young people, we can only hope that more people will wise up to what is going on and insist that tough justice is rarely justice at all. Victims seeking revenge might try seeking something else. The much touted concept of closure does not come with harsh punishment of an offender. More likely an innocent person will be caught up in the system and bear the brunt of the brutality, as is the case with Floyd Caldwell.

When we first launched this website in June, 1998, we couldn't find enough local injustice stories to "pad" the site so we cribbed a lot of material from other places. Sadly there are now so many injustices that it is impossible to keep track of them all, never mind post them!

We hope that there are still teachers in highschools and universities (and journalism schools?) who are encouraging their students to actually research and write thoughtful justice and injustice stories and that this website will provide material for thought. Go deeply into these stories! Find new material. Get to know the background!

President George W. Bush makes the claim that he grew up in a family where he was encouraged to read and write. He is living testimony that reading and writing are not enough! You have to learn to think critically, to check your facts, to shine your light on the truth and never to shade it. It would be helpful if you even took five minutes to meditate upon what that sentence means.

Floyd Caldwell paroled

DETROIT - After 33 years behind bars essentially for possession of a stolen ring, Floyd Caldwell has finally seen his "light come shining." He was paroled Aug. 14, after two hearings, and returned to his hometown of Benton Harbor to begin his life anew.

Caldwell, who is now 59, spoke out for those he left behind.

"I think it's a tragedy that there are a lot of lifers in prison, some for much longer periods than I was"

"It's a tragedy because we don't have a system that would closely evaluate these guys. I know many who would be productive citizens. The recidivism rate is very low for long-timers. There are pretty good members on the parole board now, especially the chairperson, Ms. Barbara Sampson, who have insight and intuition and I think it shows."

Caldwell was imprisoned in 1975 after retired Berrien County District Judge Harry Laity and his wife, both now deceased, said that two men took cash and jewelry from them as they pulled into their garage adjacent to their Colfax Avenue home.

Caldwell has always maintained his innocence.

Berrien County Circuit Court Judge Chester Byrns, a personal friend of the Laitys who is also deceased, sentenced Caldwell to two life terms. For many years, Caldwell's wife Cynthia, who lives in Muskegon, conducted an intensive campaign to free him, setting up Web sites and becoming involved in prisoner support activities.

Caldwell was one of several lifers from Berrien County, which has a record of imprisoning Blacks at high levels, who was featured in a series on parolable lifers in The Michigan Citizen in 2002.

Regarding plans for his future, Caldwell said, "I feel great being out. When I came out, I went directly to the Presbyterian Church in Benton Harbor, and got to deal with the God-oriented, good people there. I'm looking forward to working and involving myself in the community."

Caldwell is in an employment program with Michigan Works!, is volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and helping to paint Bard School in Benton Harbor. The city had planned to close the historic school until residents proposed that they would refurbish it. He said he also wants to help to mentor youth.

Regarding the miscarriage of justice in his case, he said he isn't bitter.

"We know that there are injustices in this system," he said. "I wasn't exempt, although there are some who are fortunate to be exempt."

Caldwell has a number of restrictions on his four-year parole, including being confined to his residence in Benton Harbor and an 11 PM curfew. However, he said, he doesn't think he will have a problem with the restrictions.

Caldwell's parole hopefully portends a change in the state parole board's restrictive policies, which since former Gov. John Engler's administration have caused the prison system budget to bloat to nearly one-third of state expenses.