Kelly Davis is Lucille Frank. That’s how I described this case to a friend earlier today, but this reference to the musical Parade may be lost on you. It’s beautiful and lovely and powerful and poignant and sad, and despite being nominated for 9 Tonys and winning for Best Score and Best Book (music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, book by Alfred Uhry), its Broadway run in 1998-9 was only a few months. But maybe you have learned about the case of Leo Frank, the protagonist of said musical, who is Lucille’s husband. It’s impossible to delve into the full history here, but I’d encourage you to read the Wikipedia I linked. At the time I was in Parade, I was taking a variety of statistics and science courses and literally acting out this wrongful conviction on the stage with a slew of brilliant friends of varying races and religions. And it wasn’t lost on me then that as even the best scientific tests routinely have false positives and false negatives… well, so must the criminal justice system. Meaning not only do so many crimes go unsolved, but so many people get wrongfully convicted as well.
This blog/site/book has been in the work for years. Previous working titles including the Meowmorphosis, a reference to my transformation into a catman a la Gregor Samsa of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - a work I’ve read several times in both English and German. Another was Doctor the World. Doctors have been too overworked for years to be effective political advocates, though that may be starting to change. But for my own professional and legal reasons that will soon be apparent, it was impossible to undertake such a project until now. So, I used the Squarespace code on the podcast and accrued a lot of half-written posts inspired by podcasts, medicine, and pop culture.
This week, in the midst of writing a book and coming out to my parents as bisexual, the Undisclosed podcast decided that it was the perfect time to drop a brand new case into my newsfeed - that of Keith Davis, Jr. In this week’s Addendum, there is a discussion of how wrongful convictions have always been a feminist cause. In this case, Keith’s wife Kelly is the one who had no reason to know about the criminal justice system until it didn’t work properly, and it’s ruined her husband’s life and her own as a result. It’s always the wife who has to go to bat. In Parade, the scene plays out during “Pretty Music”. Lucille’s literally screaming at the top of her lungs at the Governor of Georgia to stop playing pretty music that covers up the injustice of her husband’s wrongful conviction. She pleads with him to commute her husband’s sentence. I’m not going to ruin the historically accurate ending, but that’s what Kelly has been forced to do, in essence. Just like Rabia Chaudry, Madeleine Baran, Kathleen Zellner, and so many others, host Amelia McDonnell-Parry has picked up the torch.
My other connection to the case? Well, criminal justice and medicine are actually pretty intertwined. It’s impossible to ignore how the criminal justice system treats patients’ health concerns. Like, say, not treating their hepatitis C because it’s too expensive. Or, take lethal injections and the Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm” and the drug cocktails that fail to kill people; now, even pharmaceutical companies don’t want to be associated with the death penalty. And I actually have a random personal connection to Freddie Gray’s sister. They happened to cross paths in a hospital in Baltimore. That’s how the world works.
I mention Freddie Gray because this case is Freddie Gray Part 2. So yeah, it may be a little tough to keep up without the broader context of what happened after the police officers involved in the killing of Freddie Gray had their charges dropped, but the Addendum this week did a good job of filling in the gaps to the new listener. Still, I don’t envy the job of McDonnell-Parry in attempting to explain this case to the listeners. They’re using audio content and pissing off the State of Maryland in its attempts to stifle 1st amendment rights. It’s an attempt to promote the State’s counter-narrative that has dominated the media narrative of the previous trials and colored the opinion of the jury pool of his “peers”. Oh yeah, that’s right. Did I mention he is facing his FIFTH trial for this in July 2019? I can’t help but be stoked about the possibility that the podcast will increase awareness and lead to verdict in Keith’s favor.
Why is it Freddie Gray Part 2? Well, Keith Hall has been described as Freddie Gray if Freddie Gray had lived. By which people mean that if Freddie Gray had lived, the Baltimore Police Department would have planted a gun on him, as the Gun Trace Task Force had found they had been doing. You see, Keith was shot 3 times by police and was in the hospital. While he thought he was going home, The State instead sent him to prison pending trial for various charges related to another man’s murder by planting a gun on him.
Want to know where I was when the Freddie Gray video went viral? Downtown Cleveland, Ohio. I’d gone to a Cleveland Indians game with friends, literally watching the protests in the streets below from a warehouse building that had been turned into lofted apartments overlooking Lake Erie. After the game, my friends wanted to swing by the bar across the street. But the bouncer wouldn’t let me in because it was an annoyingly pretentious bar and I was wearing my Chief Wahoo hat from the game. (Yep, they still call themselves the Indians and have a red-faced mascot. I’m sure you’ll have all sorts of feelings about that.) My friends went into the bar while I went to drop off the hat, and I had to use the callbox to get into the building. It would call to my friend’s phone to let me in, so no one needed to go with me physically. He just needed to hit 9.
The whole scene was chaotic. It was after the game let out, and people were emptying out from the game into bars and into public transit to go home as police clashed with protesters. I was swept up in the crowd and couldn’t tell which was the correct entryway. The one I chose turned out to be the entryway to the public transit station. And so, as I realized my error, I found myself with this police officer telling me I needed to be on my way and arguing with him about whether this huge building full of lofts was an apartment building or not. He menacingly clacked handcuffs in front of me and implicitly threatened to arrest me if I wanted to argue about it. I scurried along to the next entryway and dropped off the hat. You give this agro power-tripping dude a gun and sure, he’d probably shoot someone for driving while black or mistakenly going into a public transit stop while white and reaching for one’s wallet or cell phone. Clearly does not know how to de-escalate a situation as effectively as I do when I have a psychotic patient in front of me who may or may not have a gun.
While I admittedly haven’t had the time to revisit the Freddie Gray series that McDonnell-Parry co-hosted with Justine Barron, probably the most shocking part of the story for me was that apparently there is software out there designed so that police departments can edit a gun into videos, in essence planting a visual gun on someone. This… disturbed me, to put it mildly. And, yeah, understanding the physics of cervical spine injuries as a former aspiring sports medicine doctor, making the medical decisions of who needs a CT after taking a bad hit in a college football game… no way he got those injuries from banging his head against the van or whatever other nonsense story the state was pushing.
Finally, there’s one little detail that sticks out to me. Kelly tells Amelia that few people realize Keith’s friend was wearing an ankle monitor and that Keith was often the only one to hang out with said friend. So when no one knows where Keith is, the friend with the ankle monitor was one of the first people contacted. The reality of the matter is that many people reading this will not know someone who has ever had to wear an ankle monitor. Well, I have. Yes, the white privileged doctor who went to Princeton. It was for 3 months after I got a DUI, burnt out at an old job, thinking I was invincible from having nearly fallen asleep driving home from the hospital for years because someone always stole the call room that was supposed to be reserved. Technically it was a SCRAM bracelet. While this isn’t a monitoring device like those on house arrest and I could go anywhere I wanted, it did confine me literally and figuratively, limit social opportunities, and disrupted my life significantly. It was also expensive. Made me steer clear of any situation that involves beer (aka the entire social scene of San Diego.) Can’t rent a car without having an Interlock Ignition Device - you know, the thing you have to blow into. It would go off every single day for a year as I merged into traffic with crazy SoCal drivers, which causes one to be paranoid about driving anywhere. Gotta buy longer baggier pants to cover up the SCRAM. Gotta sync it every day; I had an anxiety attack when their servers went down and I had 24 hours to get to an office in the middle of a city with bad public transportation and take a sick day in doing so. Et cetera.
Thank goodness I had a friend to drive me to work and the income to support Ubering anywhere. Many people with DUIs keep driving without a license, and those who make less money than I did are the ones who really have no other choice when they lose their license. I made healthier choices, vowed it’d never happen again. Suffered through the horrible 3 month program in which the instructor told us that cocaine used to be his Uber before ending up in jail. He once pulled up a Snopes article in a serious attempt to warn us about Marlboro starting to make marijuana cigarettes that we may mistake for regular cigarettes. The fact that it was fake news was lost on everyone but me. When I finally went to the DMV for the last time, I’d already determined that the City of San Diego prosecutes all DUIs to the max based on conversations with my lawyer. I had multiple letters from colleagues, my own doctor, my own therapist, voluntary urine tests - none of it was enough for the Assistant District Attorney. The white lady giving me my license had a son my age who was caught speeding a few miles over the speed limit with a relatively low blood alcohol level, and they were pushing for a year in prison. But what if he couldn’t have afforded a lawyer and had an overworked, underpaid public defender? No one was injured in either of our arrests, but I was manhandled, and my shirt was ripped. DUIs are serious, but there’s a conversation to be had about incarcerating every single person for their first DUI.
But I trained for a half marathon with the SCRAM and ran it in under 2 hours. Actually did 2 more half marathons in under 2 hours in the same year despite, unbeknownst to me at the time, having a rare breathing disorder. I Uber if I’m gonna have a beer. I’m not an alcoholic. I have to disclose this to every job I have until it goes away. All the fallout and meetings with the Medical Board of California led to me leaving my job. Don’t drink and drive folks. The life you save may be your own, as Flannery O’Connor named her short story, referencing a billboard on a highway with this message.
If you like what you read, please subscribe or follow me on social media. The 9th chapter of the book I’m writing is called “Parade,” and it delves into this part of my life more. My plan is to try to blog about topics that come up on this and other podcasts I enjoy and finish up the old posts while finishing up the book. See the Links page if you’d like to get a sense of the topics I plan to cover.