Imprisoned, Turner refuses to remain silent
Chuck Turner was convicted of accepting a bribe. His colleagues threw him off the Boston City Council. And voters overwhelmingly elected Tito Jackson to replace him in the district that includes the heart of Roxbury.
But none of that has silenced Turner. From a federal prison in rural West Virginia, Turner has written several dispatches over the last six weeks he calls “Reflections from Behind the Wall.’’
The writings have been posted on his website, published in a weekly Internet magazine, and distributed via e-mail by his former chief of staff, who has since been hired by another member of the City Council.
The lengthy communiqués take direct aim at Jackson, in the first month of his tenure. Turner has promised a weekly posting on key issues that “demand the attention of Councilor Jackson.’’
Turner dictates priorities and gives Jackson orders, in one instance saying who should be invited to a meeting about summer cultural festivals in Franklin Park.
“It is imperative that Councilor Jackson join Councilor [Charles C.] Yancey in this process,’’ Turner wrote in a posting dated April 20.
Another message opined that increasing the percentage of teachers of color must be a “major priority for Councilor Jackson.’’ In upcoming installments, Turner promises to explore community development, implementation of the city’s affirmative action plan, public safety, and more.
“Many have expressed concern regarding how Councilor Jackson’s approach to the issues facing us will [affect] the progress that we have been able to make during the last 11 years,’’ Turner wrote in an April 11 message. “From my perspective, the answer to that question is in the hands of the residents of the District 7, particularly the activists.’’
Jackson, who took office the day after Turner reported to prison on March 25, declined to comment. It could not be determined how many people are reading the notes posted on Turner’s website, supportchuckturner.com.
The website also encourages visitors to donate money to help Turner pay off $180,000 in debt he says he amassed maintaining a district office in Dudley Square. Campaign finance law allows candidates to raise money to retire debt after leaving office. Turner’s most recent campaign finance report shows that he collected $2,600 in April.
Federal prisoners do not have access to the Internet or e-mail, but they can post notes on an internal message board vetted by security officials, according to Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The messages are then sent to approved friends and family. In most cases, online messages from prisoners are posted on websites by someone who is not in prison, Burke said.
Turner’s former chief of staff, Lorraine Fowlkes, has used her city e-mail to send Turner’s dispatches to a neighborhood-watch e-mail list that has roughly 330 members. Fowlkes, who has been hired by Yancey, said she pulled the messages off Turner’s website and e-mailed them to the e-mail list to keep people informed about her former boss.
Yancey said recently that Fowlkes will no longer be circulating Turner’s writings while she is working in his office. At the same time, Yancey said that Turner has the right to express his opinion.
“There’s nothing pernicious about what Councilor Turner may be trying to do,’’ Yancey said. “All he wants to do is serve the people, not himself.’’
In the writings, Turner also goes beyond politics to give a sense of his new life at Hazelton Prison, where he lives in a minimum security work camp in the Allegheny Mountains. He writes about sharing an open dormitory with 130 other men who have access to movies, a library, a pool table, ping pong, a track, and a baseball diamond. At age 70, Turner said he assumes that he is unlikely to be assigned a job, so he plans to spend his days reading, writing, and exercising.
“The camp is very laid back,’’ Turner wrote in a note posted on April 1. “What is most amazing is that we can move freely within the compound.’’
“I even saw three deer eating the apples that the men throw into the yard to feed them when they come at night,’’ Turner continued. “I have even been told that occasionally, they will take the apples out of your hand.’’
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.