Cait Boyce is a finisher

It was a career highlight to have been asked by friend and author Vince Font to edit the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. It was a wild ride through a story told by three distinct voices that covered over 30 years of Christopher Boyce’s and Cait Boyce’s lives. While we know a great deal of Cait’s experiences from the book, there are aspects of her life work that deserve closer attention. I’ve been very fortunate to get to know Cait since the book and below she shares thoughts about that work as we near her 60th birthday.

N.L.: On the eve of your 60th birthday, it’s astounding that you spent a third of your life fighting for the release of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee from prison! As you reflect on this milestone life marker, what drove you to keep going in light of so many obstacles?

C.B.: I’ve always been taught that we are more than the sum of our choices and decisions. When I involved myself in these cases, I had no clue what I was doing! Quite literally, everything I know about federal parole I learned on these two cases. As I became more involved with Daulton’s, then Chris’s cases, and with the parole system, I felt a deepening sense of distrust for the legal system and the way we incarcerate people. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in the “system” as a framework for justice—but what struck me was we lock people up with no view to the end of the sentence. I made a promise to them, but also made a promise to myself that I would see this through to the end—and the end wouldn’t happen until the last one walked free.

A lot of things have been said about me—some of which are not very pleasant to hear. But the one thing that even my biggest detractors seem to agree on is the fact that I am tenacious and immovable when my mind is made up. While not a compliment, it’s that level of tenacity that makes me keep my promises—no matter how far-fetched they seem to be. Freedom for Boyce and Lee, really? Is there a more improbable notion from someone in their 20s? Yeah, right. Here we are, 33 years later, and Chris is at home laying bricks for a new patio…

N.L.: Over the years, you’ve gained expertise in the field of prison reform. Would you talk about that?

C.B.: I’m not sure that I have an expertise, per se, but prison reform became a huge issue for me when I saw how prisoners were treated.

I hear a lot of people complain that “the system molly-coddles inmates.” The constant refrain of “if you can’t do the time…” and that’s been the mentality of the people running the prisons as well. But every man or woman who is sent to prison, for whatever the reason, must be guaranteed that they will survive it. A case in point is the State Prison at Corcoran, California, where guards shot and killed seven inmates in the first 10 years of operation, and within the first nine months of operation guards shot and wounded three inmates in eight weeks. The shootings were ruled justified on the claim of the guards that they were protecting an inmate or another guard, but during the subsequent Department of Justice inquiry, they locked down and there was a “code of silence.” Physical restraint and non‑lethal weapons (gas or rubber bullets) were not used to stop fights and in 2000, eight Corcoran guards were indicted for arranging prison gladiator fights for recreation.

In the case of Boyce and many other inmates, solitary confinement and no human contact were used rather than physical violence. Many prisoners who are put in solitary confinement will try to take control of their environment by engaging in self-destructive behaviors like beating themselves or refusing to eat. Depression, schizophrenia and paranoia are a few of the side effects. And to what end? Mental illness among inmates is raging out of control. A study done in 2006 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness. The current 2014 projection is that people with mental illness are over-represented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. These are some pretty depressing statistics for the richest nation in the free world and they get worse with each passing year.

With the onset of mandatory minimum sentencing after the passage of the Crime Control Act, we also saw 18-year-old kids and old people serving inordinate amounts of time for first-time convictions. Many of the drug possession charges carried MMs of 20 to 25 years even for the young first-time offender. This means simply that a lot of first-time offenders, who weren’t really ‘criminals’ by definition, will eventually be released to a society who doesn’t want them and can’t support them. They will receive no mental health help, no counseling or training, and nothing that will prepare them for ultimate release. Believe me—if that 18-year-old could have been saved all those years ago, he’s lost now. And he’s angry, uneducated, unemployed, and once he hits the streets he’s going to go back to the only thing he knew. Now we’ve really criminalized him.

N.L.: Do you see any positive or encouraging changes in the prison system to address some of these issues?

C.B.: Last week, the Department of Justice announced a change after years of demands. Clemency Project 2014, a working group composed of the Federal Defenders, the ACLU, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has all moved forward to support change in the federal sentencing regulations and the Justice Department agrees on the plan to restore the integrity of the clemency process.

This is a terrific leg up for the men and women who have been locked down for years for non-violent offenses. It helps the aging prisoners and those that have already done more time than is humane. I’m testing this new-found vision by filing a clemency petition for one of my clients who has been locked down since 1983 for one count of espionage. He is now 80 years old and is routinely overlooked for parole. Let’s hope that now, at age 60, I’m still as tenacious as I was 33 years ago!

Writer/editor Nancy LaFever has been writing professionally for 10 years, crafting magazine articles, blogs, magazine profiles and copywriting for a diverse array of clients. In addition to her work on American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman, LaFever recently edited the sci-fi/young adult book, Madolix.

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Autographed paperback giveaway contest

A couple of months ago, we created the above image and put the word out to our Facebook followers to see who could come up with the coolest, most visually arresting (no pun intended) promotional image for American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman.

The competition was so stiff that we wound up choosing three winners: Paul Weston, Randy Meredith, and Frederick Wahl. All three received an autographed copy of American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Check out their submissions below.

The first came to us all the way from Down Under, courtesy the considerably creative grey matter of one Paul Weston (whose name was actually featured in the book dedication).

Randy Meredith’s promotional image below expertly blended photographs of the real Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee with the iconic movie imagery. Spot on.

Frederick Wahl deftly anticipated the use of the photograph below for the redesigned second edition book cover, and created a compelling tag-line that summed up the overall theme of the book quite nicely.

Congratulations to all three gents on a job well done.

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The Falcon and the mountain lion

Written by Christopher Boyce

Like my long-dead ancestors beyond living memory, I enjoy an innate fear of lions. I love the terror they invoke in me. I suppose it is in my genes. The sight of mountain lions out in the wild lands causes my pulse to spike. Still, I treasure every encounter. To me, they are the ancient ones who made their way in this country long before humans took over. They are mostly hidden from us, but still dangerous and significant.

One morning last autumn, I bundled up and went walking down the Crooked River. It had been hot and dusty, but the previous night’s rain had made the trail damp, soft, and silent. There was no breeze and thus no man-scent to swirl about in the juniper woods.

Wearing sneakers, I stepped soundlessly down the trail, stopping often to look and listen. Above me, ravens caw-cawed from the great canyon cliffs. The river gurgled by in its pools and eddies. And then, abruptly, anxious deer barked not far ahead in a close meadow.

I froze so as not to spook them. The half-dozen bucks seemed ready to bolt. But as I studied them, I sensed I was not the cause of their alarm. They were not looking at me. Their eyes seemed unfocused, but their ears and nostrils twitched, all intent on listening and smelling. And so I did as they did. I unfocused my eyes and listened.

Seconds passed. Nothing moved. The ravens above me fell silent. All were watching. Something else was here.

From the corner of my eye, I awakened to the flicking of two small black triangles thirty feet beyond me in the brush. I looked intently, barely breathing. The black, flicking triangles became the fur on the back of two ears attached to the great head of a mountain lion.

He was enormous. He had been stalking the deer ahead and was now peering at them over the sage. He had not noticed my silent approach from behind, but there I was. Way too close. Breathless.

For several minutes, I watched him watching them. Every little while, the tip of his tail would tremble, causing my heart to quietly pound. I dared not move as I watched the mountain lion begin to inch slowly toward the bucks. Now I could see his entire body, stretched out from the jaws of his skull to the end of his long tail. This was a fully grown male lion, as big as they get.

He crossed over the trail in front of me in a crouch and crept up into the escarpment above without a sound. Like a ghost, he worked his way around the herd of deer to come upon them from the other side.

He had never seen me. I turned and walked quickly out of the canyon.

When I reached the top of the cliffs, I sat upon a stone seat fashioned by the ages. I marveled at all I had just witnessed and counted myself among the most fortunate of men. I had truly become free. I know now that freedom in this modern world is, at best, a fleeting thing. But at that moment, I felt what I believe is the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to be left alone.

There was a time when I was locked away for a quarter century in a hell on earth. Ten years of that was in solitary confinement. It was the longest of journeys, but somehow I survived the isolation and the chains. Today, I search for mountain lions in the granite cathedrals of the Crooked River Gorge. And I am free.

Christopher Boyce, the subject of the 1985 movie The Falcon and the Snowman, spent 25 years in prison for espionage. He is the co-author of the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman.

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