Tuesday, May 27, 2014


After publishing Smith’s Guide to Habeas Corpus Relief for State Prisoners, I started receiving fan mail. (See letters below.) I felt a strong sense of accomplishment, that I set my aim on a target and hit a bull’s-eye.

This year I’ve taken aim at two more targets. Like Prometheus, taking fire from the gods and giving it to mortals, I’m taking knowledge and giving it to prisoners.

Friday, March 28, 2014


I promised my niece that I’d write her a story once my typewriter was repaired and returned to me. At first I didn’t realize how difficult it can be to come up with a fiction story. After a few frustrating attempts, I managed to write the short story below. I don’t usually write fiction, but I wanted to give it a try. Feel free to make a comment—be gentle.

by Zachary A. Smith

She awoke suddenly, afraid and soaked in sweat. Her bed was warm but there was a cold, soulless presence in her room, a presence that gave her an eerie feeling that she was being watched by a presence of pure evil, an evil that now chilled her from head to toe, despite being soaked in sweat just seconds before.

Sitting up quickly, wide-eyed, looking around the room she saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was pitch dark, her bedroom walls and ceiling were deep-sea blue. A strange color to paint a fourteen-year-old girl’s bedroom. But Destiny was no average, ordinary, Hello Kitty, “Pretty in Pink” kind of teenage girl. She wore black clothes every day and painted her fingernails black. She wanted to dye her blond hair black too, but her dad drew the line, permitting her to only dye the tips. With her pale white skin and brilliant-blue eyes, she looked like she had been bitten by a vampire and was halfway through her metamorphosis. Which explains why there was a bloodsucker in her bedroom, lurking in the closet.

He had been watching to see if any other vampire had made a claim on her. Yet he grew impatient of waiting and came out of the closet to watch her sleep. However, he was so mesmerized by her innocence, her beauty, he carelessly caressed her face with his ice-cold fingers, waking her instantly.

He continued watching her from his peripheral while shielding his eyes, which glowed like a eat’s in the dark, he couldn’t let her see him. Especially now, he would be forced to suck the life out of her before she could scream. That would most definitely draw unwanted attention, and result in a search for her and a manhunt for him. But it was going to be light soon, and he had to make his escape before sunrise.

Destiny covered her head and shuddered, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. Calming herself, slowing her breathing, she uncovered her head and looked around the room It was still too dark to see anything.

The wretched, bloodsucking fiend made his move. While shielding his eyes from the girl’s detection, he stealthy levitated across the room, exiting faster than Destiny could blink her eyes.

A bone-shivering breeze hit Destiny in the face, taking her breath as if she had stepped into the Arctic in the dead of winter. But within seconds the temperature in her room returned to normal; the dark presence Destiny felt was gone. She sighed relief and fell fast asleep.

Outside, watching his pupil from a distance, Damien saw Hector exit the girl’s house. He wondered whether the fool sampled. If he had, it would raise suspicions, attracting unwanted attention to the others. However, Hector had been a good student and listened well. If he sampled, he would have drained her and disposed of her appropriately. To make sure, he would inquire further. But for now, he had to get back before sunrise. He wondered whether the girl gave any consideration to the kind of attention she was attracting by her looks. If it wasn’t for that, she wouldn’t have drawn Hector’s interest.

Destiny awoke, still anxious and alert from her midnight fright, looked around her room and, seeing nothing, relaxed. She got out of bed, walked over to the window, and looked out The sun was rising. The sky was an ambient red and dark purple. It was going to be a long, rainy day.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


The black cloud of debt has departed, on October 16, 2013, the State of Missouri filed its Satisfaction of Judgment motion with the Cole County Circuit Court. All liens against my account were removed. 

And to answer the question from my last post, starting February 1, 2014, Missouri offenders will be required to pay state sales tax on the purchase of items from the prison canteen. This move will generate a million or more dollars a year in revenue for the state. Not bad coming from offenders. It’ll be more money than the state made from the Missouri Incarceration Act. 

There is a lot of bellyaching among the offender population, but for me, 7 cents on the dollar is cheaper than 90% of everything deposited into my account.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


I have planned to write a post about the Missouri Incarceration Reimbursement Act (MIRA) for some time now. But my continued battle with the Attorney General’s office has prevented me—until recently when the Missouri Court of Appeals delivered a one-two punch, leaving the AG’s office dazed and confused, scrambling for a foothold.

Under MIRA, the AG’s office is entitled to seek reimbursement from a prisoner for past, present, and future costs of incarceration if the AG believes a prisoner has “sufficient assets to recover not less than ten percent of the estimated cost of care of [the prisoner] or ten percent of the estimated cost of care of [the prisoner] for two years, whichever is less, or has a stream of income sufficient to pay such amounts within a five year period.” The cost of care for a prisoner is about $14,000 per year.

In 2006, the AG’s office filed a MIRA action against Ruby Worthy, a woman prisoner who was receiving hundreds of dollars a month in financial gifts from her male admirers, and using the money to support her children on the outside. However, the circuit court ruled that Worthy never had $2,800 in her possession at one time, and that future gifts deposited into her account could not constitute a “stream of income,” because an expectation of future gifts, or even a promise to make a gift, is a transaction without consideration and unenforceable. Therefore an expectation or hope of future gifts could never be an “asset” under the MIRA statute because MIRA defines an “asset” as property “belonging to or due a prisoner.”

Of course, the AG’s office retaliated—with the help of then Governor Blunt—by instructing the Department of Corrections to immediately prohibit all prisoners from soliciting pen pals via mail or Internet. Prisoners were given a directive to remove ads and profiles from social networking sites as well as the kind of sites that help prisoners make connections with the outside world, such as Write a Prisoner, Friends Beyond the Wall , Meet an Inmate, Craigslist, Prison Official, Cold Crib, Ashley Madison, and Plenty of Fish.

The Department of Corrections maintains that prisoners are not prohibited from receiving letters, cards, pictures, etc., from anyone who wishes to write to them. They are only prohibited from soliciting pen pals through ads or the Internet. Forty-seven other states allow prisoners to post ads without a problem. But because of the Ruby Worthy case, Missouri does not. I find the reasoning appalling.

Prisoners who refused to remove their ads were issued conduct violations, and others who exercised their First Amendment right via blogs were continuously harassed. See The Pariah’s Syntax, a blog maintained by another Missouri prisoner.

A few prisoners challenged these restrictions, citing a violation of the First Amendment—but lost. The lower federal courts upheld DOC’s safety-and-security argument, which claimed that the regulation prevents fraud and outweighs the benefits of prisoners exercising their First Amendment rights, despite a prior decision by the United States Supreme Court recognizing that “the weight of professional opinion seems to be that inmates’ freedom to correspond with outsiders advances rather than retards the goal of rehabilitation.”

This is true for most prisoners, all have an insatiable need to make a connection with someone in this big—often cold and uncaring—world; someone to help lift their spirit when their self-esteem is in the toilet, and their future looks dark and desolate.

And the confined are not alone, the need to feel a connection with another human being is universal, applying with equal force to those on the outside. For example, you see people on Catfish The TV Show make fake profiles, allowing them to hook people into online relationships, while hiding who they truly are, motivated by the fear of being rejected.

In two recent cases, State ex rel. Koster v. Cowin and State ex rel. Koster v. Wadlow, the Court held that the AG’s office may not be reimbursed with assets that are unidentified and unknown at the time of the MIRA hearing—meaning the AG may not impose future costs for incarceration against a prisoner unless the money is shown to come from a current stream of income.

Before these two cases, the AG was allowed to take 90% of any money a prisoner received for future incarceration costs, including gifts sent from friends and family, for the duration of his or her incarceration, regardless whether the prisoner had remaining assets or not. These two judgments sent the State reeling, and put an end to an injustice.

Now on the eve of justice for myself, I have a hearing set for August 26, 2013, to resolve the MIRA action filed against me six years ago. My battle with MIRA has been a long, drawn-out process—three appeals and one chapter 7 proceeding. The nightmare started after my dad died, leaving a small estate. This is the usual situation for most MIRA victims. The only remaining question I have is “How will the AG’s office retaliate this time?”

Monday, May 20, 2013


The world is what it is: Men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it A Bend in the River
—V.S. Naipaal
I recently had a conversation with another prisoner while waiting to see the doctor. With a look of dejection, he asked me if I’d heard anything about the house bill for first-time offenders serving life without the possibility of probation or parole. I said no, but added that I believe a prisoner has better odds at being granted executive clemency—or struck by lightning—than the Missouri State Senate passing the first-time offenders bill.

Having served twenty years on a life without parole sentence, the guy expressed his frustration with the judicial system, enduring three jury trials—one hung jury and two retrials—and completely exhausting all legal remedies in state and federal court. Now the only remedy left available to him is executive clemency.

Something occurred to me as I listened: although he and I have had similar experiences with the criminal justice system, we were molded by the juggernaut differently. Time in the system left him broken, bitter, and without hope or direction, whereas it left me strong as an oak tree after a torrential downpour, and resolute as a young lion eyeing a gazelle.

As human beings, we have become not just survivors but conquerors over the adversities of life, through the formation of societies. Society labels winners “winners,” losers “losers,” the weak “weak,” and the strong “strong.” But how does it label the incarcerated? We are labeled the losers, the weak, the ones with the genes that did not evolve to become productive members of our communities. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene writes
All of us are born unique. This uniqueness is marked genetically in our DNA. We are a one-time phenomenon in the universe—our exact genetic makeup has never occurred before nor will it ever be repeated. For all of us, this uniqueness first expresses itself in childhood through certain primal inclinations.
The misconception is that we, the incarcerated, are of low intelligence and of little value to humanity because, instead of evolving, we acted out primitive instincts of survival, and, by doing so, violated socially acceptable norms, and destroyed the trust of the people who make up society.

That which doesn’t conform must be eradicated. Over time men die, and their genes die with them. Only replication—sex—allows the genes any hope to escape death. The men who are less capable of surviving or having sex will be weeded out of the gene pool. A cost-efficient way to accomplish this goal is by mass incarceration.

Wittingly or unwittingly, public officials subtly went to work, constructing a genocide through tough-on-crime laws and the imposition of extreme prison sentences, sentences so long that the primitive genes of those who did not evolve will eventually become extinct.

For our genes to survive, we must evolve, attentively cultivating our primitive instincts into a creative force for the betterment of ourselves and mankind, developing communication skills for conflict resolution and effective communication, raising our self-worth through setting and accomplishing goals, revolutionizing the criminal justice system from within, and regaining the trust of the people. But without society’s encouragement and support, a prisoner’s effort to change is futile.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Aphrodite loves forevermore,
the prisoner of war, nevermore,
by choice or design of the divine
Clotho, Lachesis, and Atopos.

Locked away in dreary, eerie darkness,
Pandora’s curse leering and lurking,
Proverty shadowing past and present,
Contrivance reckoning, beckoning Charon.

Prometheus unbound, makes haste,
torch in left hand, key in right,
no mind for Sisyphus,
as they pass, ascending toward dawn.

Friday, March 22, 2013


Twice-convicted murderer Mark Woodworth recently won a postconviction appeal. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the county prosecutor withheld favorable evidence from Woodworth prior to his trial, undermining confidence in the jury’s verdict.

At trial, the State alleged that, at midnight on November 13, 1990, Woodworth, sixteen years old at the time, sneaked into the home of Lyndel and Catherine Robertson, shooting Catherine once in the neck and once in the chest. Lyndel was shot three times in the face and once in the shoulder while he and his wife laid sleeping in their bed. Although evidence of this wasn’t offered at trial, it is rumored that Mark’s dad, Claude Woodworth, and Lyndel Robertson, Claude’s business partner, each held million-dollar life insurance policies on the other. It is further rumored that Claude complained about Lyndel in Mark’s presence, prior to the shooting.

The State did offer evidence suggesting that the Robertsons’ did not want Mark planting and harvesting soybeans as part of their business dealings with Claude. Mark’s fingerprint was found on a box of .22 caliber ammunition in the Robertsons’ shed. When asked about it, Mark denied ever seeing the shells or touching them.

Ironically, Lyndel was not killed as planned, his wife was. No million dollars for Claude Woodworth, no shiny new Ford Mustang for socially awkward Mark to impress kids at school or the teenage girl of his musings with. Instead, nearly two years after shooting, Mark was charged, tried, and convicted of second-degree murder, even though the facts supported a first-degree murder charge under Section 565.020, RSMo.

Passing Mark on his way to the administration building, where police officers waited to take him into custody and transport him back to the local county jail for retrial or bail, I was reminded that I once took the same walk, feeling cocky and optimistic about being free, only to be reconvicted and returned to prison two years later.

Fortunately, Mark’s dad has money to throw at the problem, posting a $50,000 cash bond within days, freeing his son, the half-witted man-child, for the first time in almost seventeen years. The event was covered intensely by all local media, catapulting Mark to instant celebrity status, nearly as recognizable as his peers—to name a few: Dale Helming, Casey Anthony, and the West Memphis Three, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelly.

These well-known killers are free, cashing in on society’s gullibility and ignorance of how the media were manipulated to turn murderers into instant celebrities.

The notorious West Memphis Three molested, mutilated, and murdered three innocent eight-year-old boys—Michael Moore, Christopher Byer, and Steve Branch—during a bizarre satanic ritual. The penile mutilation inflicted on each of the boys indicated oral sex had been performed on them. The skin of Byer’s penis had been removed: his scrotal sac and testes were missing. The boys anuses were also dilated. One boy bled to death. The other two were killed by drowning.

When Detective Bryn Ridge questioned the cult leader, Damien Echols, he asked him how he thought the three boys died. Echols stated that the boys probably died of mutilation, that some guy had cut the bodies up. He claimed he had heard that they were in the water and may have drowned. Echols said one boy was cut up more than the others, that the purpose of the killings may have been to scare someone. He believed it was only one person for fear of squealing by another involved.

Although Echols wanted to appear innocent by being cooperative, he actually revealed his personal knowledge of the crimes. At the time Echols made the statement, there was no public knowledge that one of the boys had been mutilated more severely than the others.

Echols told Dr. James Moneypenny, a psychologist, that he obtains his powers by drinking the blood of others. Echols stated that it makes him feel like a god. Echols further said, “I want to go where the monsters go. Pretty much hate the human race. People are in two classes, sheep and wolves. Wolves eat sheep.”

Echols’s loyal follower, Jason Baldwin, also made incriminating statements, stating that Echols, Misskelly, and he sucked the blood from the boys’ penises and scrotums, and that he, Baldwin, put Ryer’s testicles in his mouth. Other incriminating evidence was found in the bedrooms of Echols and Baldwin, specifically, journals containing morbid images, references to dead children, photos of young white males and knives, as well as other cult or satanic materials, books etc.

Despite the evidence against Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelly, they were set free due to a single hair entwined in a shoestring or rope of some kind used to tie one of the boys up. Although the hair’s DNA didn’t match the killers, this does not conclusively prove their innocence. Rather than retry the case, the State offered them each a plea in exchange for time served. The West Memphis Three all accepted the deal.

It’s telling that none of these “falsely accused” murderers are using their new status and resources to bring to justice whoever they claim is truly responsible for these horrible crimes.

One of the things I find troubling is that society welcomes these murderers with open arms. Having personally watched prisoners come and go, I know the majority make little effort toward rehabilitation or personal growth. Here in Missouri, Mark Woodworth spent his time working in the prison’s maintenance department, working out in the gym, and walking circles on the yard, complaining about his case and talking about going home.

What does “going home” actually mean for Mark Woodworth or others set free after many years in prison? Does it mean getting a second chance to live out the life once lived, prior to incarceration? Does “going home” mean being free to nurture selfish and destructive habits again, on the outside, without the restrictions of confinement? Does it mean a celebration, a time to eat steak and fried chicken, get inebriated, get high on illegal drugs, and have unprotected sex with strangers?

If a man is incarcerated for over a decade, during which time he made no efforts toward rehabilitation or personal growth, spent his time watching Jerry Springer, attained no communication skills, no education, no money or resources, and let himself be consumed with thoughts of all the things incarceration deprived him of, wouldn’t his focus be fixed on gratification, his motivation be trained on fulfilling his urges as soon as he is released from prison? Might this explain why the recidivism rate is so high?

To me the proposition “going home” means nothing, I don’t want to go home to the neighborhood or house I grew up in—I want a life, a life I work on building daily, by reading, writing, and studying the problems around me, looking to improve my life as well as the lives of others. I work on personal growth, setting goals and accomplishing them with few or no free-world resources. And I commend every other prisoner who is doing the same thing, who spends his or her time working toward building a life, building a better self with all the energy that can be mustered, despite the cold, dark, lonely cement cell entombing them day and night, draining their creative life force. These are the prisoners deserving of society’s embrace.