The Meg 2 is a thing. Three years after the release of the original The Meg, which swallowed up an astonishing $530 million worldwide at the box office, director Ben Wheatley — fresh off his eerie new horror film In The Earth — is deep in pre-production on a sequel to the 2018 thriller that pitted puny humans against a couple of oversized prehistoric sharks.
“I’m storyboarding at the moment on Meg 2,” Wheatley says when we catch up with him for the release of In The Earth. “It’s been going on for four months, five months. It’s my happy place, I love storyboarding. So yeah, I’m cutting storyboards and watching animatics, and slowly constructing the movie. It’s really exciting. It’s just action on a massive, massive scale.”
The first film, based on the popular 1997 novel Meg by Steve Alten, reached the screen in 2018 after more than two decades of development. The property bounced from Disney to New Line Cinema, to Warner Bros., with directors like Jan de Bont (Speed) and Eli Roth (Hostel) attached at various points. Cameras finally rolled in 2016 with Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) directing from a script by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber.
The latter pair have apparently returned to pen the sequel, which Wheatley says he has had no hand in writing: “No, the script is by the Hoeber brothers that wrote the first script, so it’s kind of a continuation on from that story.”
As for whether the cast members who survived the first film — which included British action star Jason Statham, Chinese actress Li Bingbing and a handful of others — will also encore in the follow-up, Wheatley is somewhat cagier, although he does drop a tantalizing hint about the title menace. “I don’t think I can say at the moment what’s going on, the ins and outs of it,” he intones. “But guaranteed, there will be a Megalodon — maybe more than one.”
While the prospect of even more Megalodons wreaking havoc in the sequel, which is provisionally called The Meg 2: The Trench, is an exciting one, it’s all but guaranteed that Statham, who is said to be “creatively involved” with the project, will be there punching them as well.
Alten’s novel was altered significantly for the screen, becoming less of a grisly horror shocker and more of a Statham action joint. It’s worth noting that Alten’s own sequel to his novel Meg was also called The Trench, although we don’t expect a faithful adaptation this time either.
The first film’s self-awareness and somewhat jokey tone, coupled with Statham’s own dryly humorous charisma, turned The Meg into a relative rarity: a monster movie that was both fun and not afraid to poke fun at itself. That was enough to lure in those massive audiences and set the wheels of a sequel in motion.
Although Wheatley’s last outing was Netflix’s glossy adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel Rebecca — a bold choice since it was previously filmed by Alfred Hitchcock — he’s perhaps best known for his razor-sharp combinations of horror, crime and satire in films like Kill List, Sightseers and Free Fire. If he manages to retain the tone set by the first Meg while adding his personal touch to the proceedings, this could end up being a sequel with, dare we say it, real teeth.
As for going from the high-end esthetics of Rebecca to the guerilla filmmaking of In The Earth (more on that to come) to the presumably explosive, effects-driven action of The Meg 2, Wheatley puts it simply: “I think that’s always the hope, that they’re different [from each other]. You don’t want to end up making the same thing again and again.”
Don Kaye | @donkaye
Don Kaye is an entertainment journalist by trade and geek by natural design. Born in New York City, currently ensconced in Los Angeles, his earliest childhood memory is…
Managing your work doesn't work for a simple reason: Work is infinite. Good work only creates more work; in fact, bad work creates more work too. So the more you work the more work you will have. It's basic common sense that you can't manage an infinite commodity.
What can you manage? Time. You not only can, but must, manage your time because time is all too finite.
They say, "If you want to get something done, find a busy person." The busy person succeeds in getting things done because he knows how to manage his time. We all have the exact same amount of time at our disposal, 60 minutes each hour, 24 hours each day, 168 hours each week, 8,736 hours each year. If you put one hour into a project each day for a year, you'd have worked on it for 365 hours -- more than enough time to write a book, build a house, launch a new product, plan and execute a new campaign. "If you put a little upon a little," said the ancient Greek almanac writer Hesiod, "soon it becomes a lot."
One memorable day in Manhattan I was delivering a broken antique wall clock to my favorite repair shop. As I completed my drop off and turned to leave, I noticed an ultra-modern stand-up clock constructed of shiny pendulums, a different metal each for hours, minutes, and seconds, all enclosed in a sleek glass case. It was simply the most beautiful timepiece I'd ever seen.
Then I realized: it had no hands. At first I thought, No wonder it's in the shop. It's broken. Then I studied the clock more closely.
No. It was designed that way. It was a timepiece that Salvador Dali would have been as thrilled with as I was.
And it reminded me that time is a free force. It just happens, whether you do anything about it or not. It's up for grabs.
It doesn't belong to your employer, or to the government, or to anyone but you!
The trick is where do you find that free time? -- a question busy people are asked regularly. Here's their secret: busy people make time, for the activities they decide to prioritize. One good way to wrestle with that question is to ask yourself, "Where do I lose it?" You'd be surprised.
Make a chart of your weekly hours and use it to determine how many hours you devote to each activity in your cluttered life. Maybe you'd be surprised, or maybe not, that most people have no idea where the time goes. They come up with a grand total of 182, or 199, or 82 hours of activity -- until they remember that they, like every other human, have only 168 hours each week to spend.
Then we get serious and analyze exactly where they're lying to themselves about the time: forgetting about the endless phone calls with friends, or the true amount of time in front of the television, or the accurate time devoted to the daily commute, or the time doing absolutely nothing but staring out the window. When we get the time inventory accurate most people are surprised at the truth. But the truth is the first step to freedom, and managing your time effectively is the greatest freedom of all.
I call it "making the clock of life your clock." I believe in this philosophy so much I haven't worn a chronograph for nearly thirty years, despite owning a vintage wrist watch that belonged to my father and an even older pocket watch that belonged to my grandfather. The only chronograph I carry around with me is one that allows me to make life's clock mine: a stopwatch. It makes the Spanish proverb, la vida es corta pero ancha ("life is short but wide") come true. You can get an app on your cell phone!
The stopwatch method of time management is simple. You use it to make sure that your Priority Project is getting the amount of attention you want to give it to move it -- and your personal success -- ahead with certainty. You know that the wall clock, or the one on your wrist or displayed on your cell phone, has a way of running away with your day. You say you'll work on Priority Project from 7 to 8 a.m. and something is certain to come along to disrupt that hour almost as though life were conspiring against you. What's really happening is that you're letting life interfere with your personal time management. Of course when the interference occurs, you tell yourself "I'll catch up later," or "I'll start again tomorrow and this time protect myself from interruptions," but over the years we discover that life runs rampant over any such resolutions.
The stopwatch method works best in a life jam-packed with stimuli and distraction. It allows you to "steal time." While clocks on wrists and walls record public time, your private prime time happens only when your stopwatch is running. The stopwatch allows you to call "time out" from the game everyone else is engaged in.
Simply promise yourself you won't go to sleep at night until, by hook or by crook, you've clocked one hour (60 minutes) of working on Priority Project on your stopwatch. Turn the stopwatch ON when you're working on it, and OFF when you get interrupted. Your stopwatch minutes may be gleaned over a six-hour period, or over a twenty-four-hour period. You "steal" them when you can: waiting at the dentist's, community on public transportation, when an appointment hasn't shown up yet, when your cell phone dies and no one can reach you until you've replaced or recharged the battery, when your date for the evening calls in sick. It takes a few days to get used to this process, but once you do you'll recognize the power it gives you over time.
Isn't it hard to work in fits and starts? You might very well ask that very good question. The answer is that it's actually easier to work that way than it is to work without stopping if you employ the time-management technique of linkage.
Here's how linkage works. The phone rings, so you have to turn off your stopwatch. But you let it ring one or two more times, taking that time to make a mental decision about what you'll do when your stopwatch is running again -- that is, in your next Priority Project session. And here's a useful secret: it doesn't matter what decision you make. The minute you make it, as you answer the phone and go on from one activity to the next, your mind starts thinking of better decisions than the one you made; in fact, your mind becomes increasingly motivated to get back to that Priority Project because it knows exactly what it will do when the next session begins. You've created an automatic linkage, that makes restarting when your stopwatch is next running, no longer an occasion for blockage. Instead, you're fully ready to jump in and get as much out of that next session as possible before it's interrupted by life's next distraction.
And, yes, have a desk drawer filled with stopwatches so you can employ a different colored chronograph for each major activity you're engaged with.
The stopwatch method can truly make the clock of life your clock.
Dr. Kenneth Atchity has been consulting on time management for decades. His 20 books include Write Time: A Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision; and How to Quit Your Day Job and Live out Your Dreams.
Follow Ken Atchity on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kennja
The wish-fulfillment archetype —the dream become flesh—finds perennially poignant expression in stories based on the Pygmalion myth.
A Cyprian sculptor-priest-king who had no use for his island’s women, Pygmalion dedicated his energies to his art. From a flawless piece of ivory, he carved a maiden, and found her so beautiful that he robed her and adorned her with jewels, calling her Galatea (“sleeping love”). His became obsessed with the statue, praying to Aphrodite to bring him a wife as perfect as his image. Sparked by his earnestness, the goddess visited Pygmalion’s studio and was so pleasantly surprised to find Galatea almost a mirror of herself she brought the statue to life. When Pygmalion returned home, he prostrated himself at the living Galatea’s feet. The two were wed in Aphrodite’s temple, and lived happily ever after under her protection.
Though it was never absent from western literature, this transformation myth resoundingly entered modern consciousness with Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which enlisted it to explore the complexity of human relationships in a stratified society. My Fair Lady, based on Shaw’s retelling, took the myth to another level of audience awareness.
The obligatory beats of the Pygmalion myth: the protagonist has a dream inspired by encounter with an unformed object (“Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter!”), uses his skills and/or prayers to shape it into a reality; falls in love with the embodiment of his dream, and lives happily ever after, or not.
Essential to the pattern is that the dreamer-protagonist is rewarded for doing something about his dream, for turning it from dream to reality with or without a dea ex machina. Thanks to the infinite creativity of producers, directors, and writers, Pygmalion has generated countless wonderful movie story variations: Inventor Gepetto, in Pinocchio (1940--with numerous remakes), wishes that the wooden puppet he’s created could become the son he never had; a department store window dresser (Robert Walker), in One Touch of Venus (1948, based on the Ogden Nash/S. J. Perelman musical), kisses a statue of Venus (Ava Gardner) into life— trouble begins when she falls in love with him. In 1983’s thenEducating Rita (from Willy Russell’s play), a young hairdresser (Julie Walters), wishing to improve herself by continuing her education, finds a tutor in jaded professor (Michael Caine), who’s reinvigorated by her. In a reverse of the pattern, as quickly as she changes under his tutelage he resents the “educated” Rita and wants her, selfishly, to stay as she was.
Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon), in 2003’s Love Don’t Cost a Thing, a remake of Can’t Buy Me Love (1987), comes to the rescue of Paris (Christina Milian) when she wrecks her mother’s Cadillac and can’t pay the $1,500 for the repair. Alvin fronts the cash with his savings and, in return, Paris has to pretend to be his girlfriend for two weeks; Alvin becomes “cool” for the first time in his life, but learns that the price of popularity is higher than he bargained for. In She’s All That (1999), the pattern is reversed as Freddie Prinze, Jr., is a high school hotttie who bets a classmate he can turn nerdy Rachel Leigh Cook into a prom queen but, of course, runs into trouble when he falls in love with his creation. In The Princess Diaries (2001), Mia (Anne Hathaway), a gawky Bay Area teen, learns her father was the prince of Genovia; the queen (Julie Andrews) hopes her granddaughter will take her father’s rightful place as heir, and transforms her from a social misfit into a regal lady but discover their growing love for each other is more important than the throne.
Pretty Woman (1990) is my second favorite example of the tirelessness of the Pygmalion myth. Taking the flower-girl motif of My Fair Lady to the extreme, Vivian (Julia Roberts) is a prostitute (albeit idealized) and Edward (Richard Gere) a ruthless businessman with no time for real love. As he opens his credit cards on a Rodeo Drive shopping spree, we experience a telescoped transformation-by-money accompanied with the upbeat music that reminds us that we love this highly escapist part of the Pygmalion story, the actual process of turning ugly duckling into princess swan.
My favorite example is La Femme Nikita (remade as Point of No Return, 1993, with Bridget Fonda), because it shows the versatility of mythic structure, taking Pygmalion to the darkest place imaginable as it fashions of street druggie Nikita (Anne Parillaud), under Bob’s merciless tutelage (Tcheky Karyo), a chameleon-like lethal sophisticate whose heart of gold allows her to escape both her unformed past and her darkly re-formed present.
So popular is the Pygmalion myth with audiences that it crops up in the most unlikely places. In Pao zhi nu peng you (My Dream Girl, 2003), Shanghai slum-dweller Cheung Ling (Vicki Zhao) is thrust into high society when she encounters her long-lost father, who hires Joe Lam to makeover his daughter to fit her new status. In Million-Dollar Baby (2004), the unformed matter (Hilary Swank) reports for duty and demands to be transformed. Instead of falling in love, the boxing instructor (Clint Eastwood) is reborn, reinvigorated, re-inspired, learns to feel again—thereby revealing the underlying emotion that drives the Pygmalion myth for both protagonist and the character he reshapes: rebirth into a more ideal state of being.
First published in Produced By, the official magazine of the Producers Guild of America
Luck of the Irish
Leads to Hollywood Deal
Vicki FitzGerald, a former regional journalist, and PR company director followed her dreams to become a published author in 2017, with her debut crime thriller, Briguella.
Two years later, the mum-of-two flew to the Dublin Writers Conference to pitch her second draft manuscript, Kill List, for a novel adaption into a movie or TV series.
Vicki was selected from 50 people for the final ten to pitch again to Ken and Binnur Karaevli, writer and producer.
Ken, who has produced more than 30 Hollywood movies, including sci-fi shark blockbuster, The Meg, loved the concept and published Kill List via Story Merchant Books.
Vicki said: “When the conference organizer approached me and said my name was the only one given to him by Ken for a film treatment, I was stunned.
“I prepared the plot breakdown and several months later, while recuperating in hospital from multiple leg fractures, my dreams come true. Ken offered to publish Kill List.
“Good things come to those who wait and are brave enough to chase their dreams.”
Kill List has already attracted five-star reviews since publication on March 24, 2021. The pair are finalizing the film treatment to pitch to Hollywood agents.
Ken said: “Kill List is an extremely high concept idea, and those do not come around often. I believe it has the potential to make a fantastic series adaption, possibly spanning several seasons.”
Kill List, Briguella, and Vicki’s memoir, Still Standing, are all set in Weston and feature landmarks and locations across North Somerset.
About Vicki FitzGerald
After a decade as a journalist, Vicki founded the South West public relations firm, Paramount PR, which focused on tourism and the hospitality industries before committing to writing full-time. She has now published three novels and is working on the forth.
Just before Thomas Hogge went into his hot tub where he prays and meditates on The Lord an uncertain object fell from sky right in front of his house and started a fire.
His neighbor caught a strange moving object on video before it landed near Thomas' house. Some residents reported that it looked like a meteorite.
On the video you can actually see that one chunk of it fell off, and you can see roughly that it landed about 200 meters away from Thomas' house.
The fire and rescue came so fast and saved the house from being destroyed.
The fire chief said "We did look around to see if we could find anything. We obviously put a lot of water on the fire so if anything was there, it’s no longer there. It will go down as undetermined in this case as I would need physical evidence to make a determination on (the) cause."
For Thomas it was sign from God He is listening to my prayers to bring hope into this world.
"This woman is clearly REALLY twisted, and frankly scares me."
Bestselling author, ADAM CROFT.
Walls we don’t see are often stronger than walls we see. Election after election, the blue-red map clearly shows these United States of America are united by fable only, and in nearly every other way really are two Americas.
Rejiggering the Electoral College won’t alleviate the situation because (a) the Electors actually serve an important purpose, as long as the country is configured the way it currently is; and (b) neither Party can achieve the reconfiguration: the Party in power will not allow it, and the opposing Party won’t have the votes to make it happen. Anyway it won’t solve the deep schizophrenia manifest in the concept of a single America, one perhaps so endemic that the founding fathers were also struggling with it.
Today the walls are pretty well-defined. “Conservative America” is by far the bulk of the American land mass. It extends from Florida north to North Carolina and west to the border of California (with the quirky up jutting of New Mexico and Colorado). It includes the entire South and Midwest, and Alaska.
Conservative America is the land of apple pie, of lawn and porch flags, picnics in the park, Christian churches disseminating not only platitudes but also attitudes that hold society together focused firmly on the past and therefore worshiping old-fashioned conservative values, homogeneity —and fierce nostalgia for the way things were and are supposed to remain. Hospitality yes, tolerance not so much. Feminism is viewed with alarm, and the “right to life” outweighs a woman’s right to choose and control her body and her future. Though diversity has made fiscal inroads in nearly every state of Conservative America, it has not found a permanent place in the minds and hearts of the folks, mostly white, in control. Conservative America is the birthplace and habitat of the Tea Party and of the right to bear arms at all times.
I was born in one Conservative American state, Louisiana, and raised through high school in another, Missouri. The population of the thirty states that comprise Conservative America is around 100,000,000, or 1/3 of the whole. Conservative America, because it occupies more States, has more Electors.
Since I drove away to college at Georgetown in D.C. at the age of seventeen I’ve lived in Progressive America ever since: Connecticut, California, and New York. Progressive America occupies the entire Pacific coast from California, with Hawaii by extension—to Washington, and the blue islands of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico surrounded by the red sea; on the northern border, Illinois and Minnesota; and, on the Atlantic, north from Virginia to Maine and west through Pennsylvania. You might argue that Progressive American is synonymous with urban America, and Conservative America with rural America. But it’s not quite that simple.
If Conservative America is the land of hard-headed practicality, Progressive America welcomes dreamers, many of them immigrants from Conservative America, and many of whose dreams seem to come true—and shape the world’s future. It’s La La Land vs. Hell or High Water.
Progressive America salutes the American flag and truly loves the idea of America; but it can also applaud turning that flag into panties, bras, and protest banners. The Progressive idea of America embraces the future, which it honors with hope and belief in the genius of the individual; diversity. It’s the land of civil rights most widely defined; of gun control; of visionary education, its leading universities including UCLA, Berkeley, and Stanford, Northwestern not to mention Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton; and of people who worry about global warming and try to do something about it.
Progressive America isn’t afraid of the word socialism because it’s understood to mean people showing their gratitude for abundance and their respect for others by making sure all citizens have an acceptable and meaningful life. While Conservative America fears immigration as a threat to its conservatism, Progressive America embraces immigrants as the defining reality of its concept of America, “land of immigrants.” The statue of liberty guards its coast and its citizens still adhere to Emma Lazarus’ verse:
…From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Roughly two-thirds of the United States’ population, around 200 million people, live within Progressive America—2/3 of the whole.
The Dangers of Division
In each America live citizens whose hearts yearn, secretly or not, for the other America. Their exile is allowed, if they can bear it. If they can’t, they’re still free to cross from one America to the other.
Loquacious citizens of both Americas have hearts and minds that feel and think their views are superior to those of the other America. But most would agree there’s room on the continent for both Americas. Each is free to visit the other, as though we were the American Common Market.
Should we formalize the reality we all recognize and restructure things a bit so that Californians and New Yorkers, the leading states of Progressive America, can elect their own President to push their liberal, even socialist, agendas? Elections held in Conservative America would allow their President to maintain the conservative standard. Between the two Americas, trade would be arranged to advance the fraternal needs of both citizenries. Respect and civility would grow from the integrity of each America, to replace the hatred now streaming between them because of the deeply-held and media-reinforced belief on both parts that the “other America” is either evil or insane—or both. We could talk to each other instead of imitating the shouting mode of
I, for one, love both Americas, and would hate to lose either, or see violence between them extend from words to bullets.
Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps. at Barnes & Noble.
Through the expanding influence of the Internet and the corporatization of both publishing and entertainment, the process of getting your book to the big screen has gotten more complicated, more eccentric, and more exciting.
This little book aims to help you figure out how to get your story told on big screens or small.
It is now (1949) sixteen years since my first book was published, and about twenty-one years since I started publishing articles in the magazines. Throughout that time there has literally been not one day in which I did not feel that I was idling, that I was behind with the current job, and that my total output was miserably small. Even at the periods when I was working ten hours a day on a book, or turning out four or five articles a week, I have never been able to get away from this neurotic feeling that I was wasting time. I can never get any sense of achievement out of the work that is actually in progress, because it always goes slower than I intend, and in any case I feel that a book or even an article does not exist until it is finished. But as soon as a book is finished, I begin, actually from the next day, worrying because the next one is not begun.
~ George Orwell
Much to our astonishment we immediately received dream reports from an impressive array of filmmakers (including Federico Fellini, Orson Welles, Stan Brakhage, Dusan Makavejev, Paul Sharits, Ed Emshwiller, Pat O’Neill, Chick Strand, Bruce Connor), novelists (John Rechy, John Fowles, Ursula K. LeGuin, D.M. Thomas, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Joyce Carol Oates,), and poets (Denise Levertov, W.S. Merwin, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Howard Nemerov, Gary Snyder)—just to name a few.
How do you know he is a killer?
He is the one sitting beside me. The only person in the courtroom who is being accused of murder, who says I did it, the killings.
I first met Dennis in West Valley Detention Center, Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Would you come into the jail with me?
The setting is surrounded by thick concrete from the moment you enter the institution. The smell is like no other. Thirty-five hundred men and nine hundred women, their bodily excretions, their inability to engage in routine hygiene—clothing exchange is once a week, and showering perhaps twice—inadequate ventilation, even their breath from the low-grade, poor-quality food adds to the stink that is so oppressive that first time visitors are shocked by the impact of it upon their senses. I am reminded of it at once, and I unconsciously adapt, forgetting it for the moment.
The lobby is large: two sets of glass doors, two restrooms, and a multi-windowed counter, with “Official Visiting” over one window. I have called in advance and I check in at the counter, showing my driver’s license and bar card. From behind two-inch-thick glass, the Custody Assistant accepts my cards and pushes a yellow form under the metal plated drawer under the window, which I fill out and return to her. She calls the unit where I will visit, advising: “One official on the way.” Then she slides a small yellow pass along with my ID and bar card under the window to me.
I take the pass and cards and I thank her. I walk to a steel door with thick glass and waive my yellow paper pass at the deputy sitting in a room to the left of a metal detector. There is a visitors’ window to the left of the door where civilian visitors check in, give their ID and wait for the deputies to run them before they are allowed to enter. It is not uncommon for someone to be cuffed and arrested before their visit, upon a deputy discovering they have an outstanding warrant.
The deputy pushes a switch to the right, and I hear a hissing, then the door opens into the wall, slamming in place. I walk in and pass through a metal detector. I always beep. Most deputies who know me don’t bother with a wand scan of my body. The uniformed deputy is no-nonsense, but over time and routine contact with him he has become civil. He takes my visiting slip, my ID and bar card and begins writing information on his daily log—who I am, my client and his booking number and then hands me a key on a long dirty lanyard with an oxidized brass circle-shaped piece with a hole through it, all held in place on a soldered-closed two inch ring, kept in an old hotel-type squared key box, where he puts my ID and Bar Card.
I thank him and walk out of his office into the room with the metal detector. I stand in front of another steel door, waiting for the vacuum release to engage the hydraulics so it pulls itself into the wall with another loud banging. I step into the hallway. When the door closes behind me it slams and clangs and echoes down the walls and reminds me that I am now locked inside the jail.
I pivot left, and walk down a long polished concrete hallway. The walls are drab yellow, a low energy color. The lighting is bright fluorescent. There is a blue line with arrows pointing toward me every twenty feet directing people coming out of the institution back to another locked exit fifteen feet from the room I just left.
Arrows on the walls with large black letters point ahead, listing units 1-15, one on top of the other. When I reach a doorway, I make my way to the right around a bubble, named by inmates, which is a room with limousine black tinted glass shaped in a semi-circle. I’ve never known what goes on in there. To my right are hallways to units 11 and 12, then a bit further to units 13-15. They are long hallways, painted drab yellow with polished concrete floors.
I continue around the bubble to the left until another hallway comes into view into which I turn right. On the wall in thick black paint are arrows pointing the way to UNITS 1-10. I continue walking until I reach another doorway with another bubble. The arrows point me around the bubble to the right and the first hallway has the bold lettering: UNITS 9-10, the second hallway hold units 7 & 8. I turn down that hallway and walk 200 steps, finally reaching unit 7 on the right, unit 8 on the left. By now, I have forgotten the stench of the place.
I enter a visiting area with one wall full of glass windows and steel circular seats welded to a metal post coming out of the wall in front of each window, and telephones beside each seat with cords six inches too short so visitors have to lean down to their left to speak while visiting. The visitor must sit in the seat and wait for their friend or loved one to make it up the stairs from the room below.
The room is empty today. I can see the bubble behind the doorway into the room with the stairs. I see a man wearing orange standing outside a door the top half of which is probably unbreakable plexiglass, waiting for the door to buzz so he can open it and make his way to the stairs and up to the visiting area. To my immediate left is a wall speaker with a button. I press the button, and moments later a male voice is heard: “Yes.”
“Good morning, Official Visit for Dennis _________.”
“He’s on his way.”
“Thank you, sir.”
On the left there is a locked door. It is a steel door with a see-through window that is very thick. I insert the key and pull open the door, which is very heavy. I step in and there are two doors of the same kind on my right, behind which are visiting rooms for lawyers and other professionals.
The door I have just entered slams, the noise deafening. It is shocking to the senses each time, but I’ve become familiar with it. I enter the second room after inserting the same key, turning the lock the opposite direction of the other door. That one slams shut also as I step into the room.
The horrible stench of the unit hits me. It is much more powerful than in the lobby. It is an overpowering stench. This day it is so strong I am repulsed, wanting to walk out and away.
This room is painted a drab yellow, with unpolished concrete flooring, a pile of trash in one corner of the floor including Kleenex, visiting slips, wadded paper, even gum wrappers. There is a black mesh screen dividing my side from the inmate side. There is a concrete counter that runs under the mesh to the other side so that we can lay our documents, and elbows on it.
Through the window on the door on the inmate side, I watch Dennis climb the stairs slowly. It is obvious he is in pain as he chugs his way up. When he finally reaches the door, he waits for a deputy to press a button buzzing him into the room. He looks at me and smiles. He has a nice face. His hair is sandy brown and shaggy.
The door buzzes and he pulls it open, holding it so it doesn’t slam behind him. When he steps in, I am still standing. I tell him my name and offer my knuckles on the grating that divides us. We bump knuckles. We both sit. Trying to see his eyes I move and adjust my vision through the half inch diamond shaped openings in the mesh. We work together to get a clear view of one another.
I can smell him—his breath, his days-old perspiration clinging to his clothing that is wrinkled and frayed with the letters 3X on the thigh and front of the short-sleeved top. I silently process this sensory information.
He is weary, his eyes with deep crow’s feet, somewhat red, seemingly blurry as he arranges his body on the steel plate upon which he must sit. I know how uncomfortable it is, as I am on the same type seat. I also know that he has had spinal fusion. He is overweight by at least thirty pounds, looking bloated.
I know about the food in WVDC from personal experiences. The menu hasn’t changed in years: Frozen waffles for breakfast, frozen mystery meat sandwiches for lunch, which has an orange dye in in the meat that stains your fingers if you are able to get to the hot water dispenser to try to thaw it; and dinner might be any combination of stuff presented as food, including shriveled corn, some kind of material passed off as meat, and perhaps on a good day a squashed slice of bread.
Supplements of starch and sugar are available through commissary, including Top Ramen, ten cents in the store, a dollar twenty in jail. Milky Way bars are a dollar fifty, and coffee prices change weekly.
There are no hygiene products given, so you are either required to buy your own, or if on welfare, i.e. no money on your books, others in your car—your race—will help you out. Everyone has to shower when allowed lest they begin to stink. A resounding beating is in order for the intentionally unhygienic.
Dennis asks me if I knew Joe, an old friend, one of the Berdoo Hells Angels. I told him I did, and tears poured from him. He said he had been praying I would somehow find my way to him. Joe had spoken of me with praise. Dennis had lived next door to him during his teen years, Joe teaching him how to use a wrench. They had remained friends, but Joe had died, and Dennis did not know who to call to get my name.
I cried with him, already believing we were meant to be together in this thing, the multiple homicide case. He heart-shot three people in his driveway in the desert in the nighttime in the middle of nowhere. He had been sitting in jail for fourteen months, his prior counsel leaving him to wait after only one visit, suggesting he could get him life, plus fifty, instead of 3 lives, plus one hundred fifty, or maybe death.
He had no hope. I felt that, too. He had been alone, unable to mourn, now crazy. Each day spent in conflict with his belief that what he had done was right, but nonetheless being caged and put on show, the accused.
He told me what happened that night, and I knew it was true. I saw it with him as he experienced it, once again, slowly padding his way across the 8 x 10 visiting cell behind the mesh that separated us.
I could go with him because I have been taught to develop my ability to feel with others—to mirror their feelings, to change seats with them and become them, to stand behind them and express what I feel, hoping they repeat my words, confirming that I heard them. I have listened and I have felt, and often their pain is so intense I never leave them, they never leave me.
We would re-visit that night many times before trial.
I believe TLC training has opened psychic abilities to see and understand those with whom I engage, even more so when we are put together on a journey toward trial. Listening, hearing and intuition are all central to TLC training, and I use it constantly.
There are limitations on how we can work in the jail. Dennis could not leave; he could not afford to post the three and one half million dollars bail. I could not stand behind him, but I could mirror what he said, using his gestures, asking him how he was feeling, trying to express what I believe he was feeling, waiting for his confirmation.
It was much more difficult when our close-up vision was blurred by the mesh. It required greater focus, something I have developed over my many years of jail visits. I have been in our various custodial institutions literally thousands of times over the past forty-one years.
Some of what I have learned through Trial Lawyers College must be modified to fit the circumstances, and the person with whom I am working. Dennis was suffering from deep depression and sorrow. For him, life was over. I had to find my way into his world and develop trust so I might be able to explain my idea of how we will present our defense—that he killed those three people in self-defense. Part of the way in is to be able to love my clients. With Dennis, that was not difficult.
Dennis and I shared who we were for seven months while our experts did their work. I grew to love him more each visit. Every week we met and discussed how he felt. Often, he was depressed, and we spent the first hour chatting about things bothering him, working our way into his private hell.
He spoke of the ghosts that visited each night, still tormenting him. How he wished he had died that night so he would never have to think about it again. Recalling his dreams in which I would magically appear and save him. A color emerging in those dreams finally becoming a blue shirt he wore as we walked out of the courtroom together to his freedom beyond the door.
While he spoke, I listened, often mirroring his body language, when appropriate, repeating what he expressed with my body and words. In time, he began to believe that I saw him, felt him, understood him, and would not abandon him.
Before me, he had told his parents to let him go, it was over, because the first lawyer assured him he could get him that deal: fifty to life instead of three life sentences plus one hundred fifty year, maybe death.
Most frequently, we went through that night of the killings, step by step, remembering how he had felt while it was happening.
It was slow motion, a sensation I had experienced a couple of times before—once when a friend was killed as we raced down the street, him on his motorcycle, me in my Trans Am, and a car turned in front of his motorcycle. The other time I was thrown off my dirt bike.
When he spoke of the attack, I asked him to move through it slowly. I did the same, mirroring his motions on my side of the mesh. He heard the dogs barking and went out to see if it might be a coyote. I heard them also.
He walked to the corner of the driveway where the chain link fence ended before it turned the corner. I stood there with him. I saw the horror on his face when the giant with a clown mask came out of the dark and grabbed him by the shoulder.
My face filled with that fear, I felt it, the terror, the adrenaline rush as we blocked the arm and began stumbling backward across the driveway, drawing from our front left pocket our snub nose .357 five shot Smith & Wesson handgun we had been carrying day and night for the past eighteen months.
We drew the gun slowly with our left hand and were grabbed by the hair on the back of our heads. We felt the pull toward the ground and brought our gun across our chest and aimed at the body beside us and fired. The explosion deafened us, and the flash of light blinded us.
The hand let go of our hair and we watched a shadow shuffle off with a strange movement of short steps, into the darkness. We turned and two more shadows were charging us. We fired and their eyes lit up like demons. We fired again, both times the gun recoiling, the flash again blinding us, the sound more a thudding. We watched both shadows turn and shuffle off, that same strange way of moving with measured steps, into the black of the night. We saw them no more.
We stayed still, waiting, wondering whether that really happened, and if so, where had they gone? We heard our hearts beating, but no other sounds.
I asked Dennis to tell me where he was, what he was feeling. He froze in place. I froze with him and waited. Several minutes passed before he tried to leave the cell. When he tried to pull it open, I knew he was going into his house to call 911. I asked again. “Dennis, where are you?” He slowly turned and looked at me.
He said: “I’m here now.”
“I went there with you,” I told him.
We knew we were ready for trial when we had been through it all several times.
We worked on the terror he felt as each day began. They were asleep, finally, having thrown trash into his yard the night before. They stayed up into the wee hours, talking loudly, several of them, leaning on the fence each night, calling his name, waking him. So, he built the wall.
It took months of digging holes large enough to put railroad ties in, tamping the sand to keep them in place. Each day ended in physical agony. He showed me how hard he worked, digging, bending, lifting, shoveling, and tamping. Finishing by mid-morning before the creatures came out and started with their threats.
The first threat came before the wall. Adam walked to the fence while Dennis worked on the ground beneath it. He leaned on the fence, Dennis’ fence, his huge arms bulging, and said: “I’m here to evict some people.”
Dennis tensed. He had seen Adam. He was an unusually large man, and now Dennis knew he was mean and had ill will toward him.
“How did you feel?”
“Scared. I asked him ‘oh really, who?’ and he said I’d find out. I told him I was a Boy Scout.”
“What did you mean?”
“I’d be ready.”
Several months passed before Dennis made it out of the desolation of despair and was ready to communicate, to share, to be challenged in front of a jury.
* * * * *
We set the case for trial.
I have spent a good deal of time training in voir dire. Selecting a jury to hear a triple homicide case was exciting.
I begin with the presumption of innocence. I share that most people, myself included, don’t really presume people innocent, that we always think the worst, that when I see a person sitting where the defendant sits and I wonder what they did. “Who else feels that way?”
It always gets a good conversation going, and that is what I want, a conversation. Just a bunch of good folks having a talk about the law, and the idea of killing and how they felt about those things, I show them mine, they show me theirs. It works.
Few of us admit to a willingness to let others take our lives. I’ve spoken with a couple of people who said they would never kill, not even for loved ones. I thanked them for their honesty. It takes days to pick a jury in a murder trial, and judges usually don’t rush the process.
We have to be comfortable in our own skin to stand and engage people about their beliefs, embracing each word they offer, thanking them as we go, speaking directly to them as though there were no one else in the room.
Cross-examination is probably my favorite activity in life. The state of ecstasy lasts longer than any other—it goes on and on. The lead detective, a Sergeant by the time of trial, wrote a report that was vague, but between the lines I knew he was trying to tell the truth. When he entered the courtroom that first day after Opening Statements, in uniform, ready to testify, I approached him.
“Sergeant, I’m Gary Smith. I represent Dennis. I’ve spoken with a lot of people about you.”
“You investigated me?”
“Yes, and they all said the same thing. Do you want to know what they said?”
“I don’t know.”
“They all said you are an honest man, and I’m counting on it.”
Most cops are good witnesses. They show up in uniform. When called they stroll to the stand, smiling at the jury. They are sworn, sit and face the jury, some offer a greeting.
Our Sergeant was subdued. He did not look at the jury during direct. On cross, he engaged me, and I took him back to that night, what he saw when he arrived. The jury could see and feel there was something between us.
The Sergeant answered all my questions truthfully, which did not help the prosecution, including that it was obvious the shootings took place on Dennis’ driveway.
The allegation was that Dennis had laid in wait—ambushing the three deceased, them dropping to the ground where they were shot, in the dirt road in front of his house—was slowly dispelled by the prosecution witness, the case agent.
I knew a lot about the only eyewitness. Part of my belief system is that I should always know more than the opposition. Some of that comes from knowing my clients. I had a good investigator, too.
Everyone lies at some point in their lives, and in criminal cases witnesses on both sides lie. Some lie because of their fears of being part of the accused. Some lie because they want the accused to be convicted, others are protecting the accused.
I knew that the eyewitness, Whitney, was a speed user. I know a lot about that drug and what it does to people. I heard it in her voice when she was being interviewed that night by one of the detectives.
I instructed my investigator how to proceed with her: bring her in, encourage her to be open, assure her you want to hear her story, thank her when she shares.
I knew she wanted to talk, and that she would be under the influence when interviewed. Speed users are not occasional users.
I knew that once she started telling, she would not be able to stop. She came back for a second video interview. Rick, my investigator, knew where to take her and she told it all.
The physical and forensic evidence confirmed Dennis’ story in every detail. I needed Whitney to give it up, confirm what I knew. At first, she was combative. A witness can only remain that way if you join them.
When I took Whitney on a journey, I did my best to show the world from her eyes, and help the jury see it, to know how she felt, to understand why she lied, engaging her with a discussion about the events of that night.
I took her to her lies. She had forgotten that my investigator had her on video, admitting her lies, telling the truth.
I understood why she lied, and so did the jury. She went with the deceased to “fuck him up,” to “kick his ass.” They were all wigged on speed, or alcohol, Fentanyl and some pot. They were two huge men and a large woman, and Whitney was with them.
She was in the midst of the killings, and she wanted out. She knew she might be criminally liable—we all did.
She set herself anywhere from eighteen to thirty-five feet from the shootings, yet she saw it all.
It took repetitive cross to end the days of her testimony with the same story: they went there to get Dennis and he got them.
The prosecutor repeatedly took her back on re-direct to her lies, only emphasizing the magnitude of them, and I walked her through the truth, again and again.
It was somewhat cathartic for her, although her addiction did not allow much room for introspection.
I showed my empathy by repeating her words with enthusiasm. I did not mock her but pushed her to embrace the truth each time.
The prosecutor lost all respect from the jury by getting her to repeat her lies, only to be reminded of the truth.
Dennis and I never broke faith with the jury.
The trial ran Monday through Thursday for three weeks. I presented Dennis as a witness on the final day.
It was late evening at the jail, and the place was noisy, even upstairs in our visiting room. Men drank coffee and ate candy and other supplements purchased through commissary each week. They were jacked up and restless with nowhere to go. I could feel the tension, the edge of violence ever-present in custodial settings.
Dennis was scared about testifying. I could smell his fear, taste it. He hadn’t been allowed to shower all week because he had been transported from West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga to Victorville each morning, eating only cold cereal, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch—squashed flat and mushy, returning late at night, fed a sandwich of ice-cold mystery meat, then left to his own devices.
The smell is unique to him, but I know the sensation it invokes in me. I know the smell of fear and it is a reminder to be direct about what I am seeing, what I feel, how I know it.
We are intimate, and our relationship is based upon trust at the very core of our beings. If I were less than fully engaged, it would be a breach of trust. I was tired, but so was Dennis. His days were so much longer than mine.
We discussed his fear and went deeper to the source. We walked through that night again. I felt the terror they had instilled in him over those many months before he killed them.
I felt the agony, the depression, the relentless anxiety, the remorse, the betrayal of the government, but there was light in the hope and trust he placed in me.
Again, we practiced his time on the stand telling the story, the truth that would set him free. Moving my arm toward the jury box we have created in his cell, I asked him: “Please tell the jury, did you shoot those people?”
We had a reminder, me using my arm to direct his attention to the jury should he begin to look at me. The number one rule: the jurors are the most important people in his life.
That night, Dennis was also tired and on edge. He was angry about what the deceased made him do. He was angry that he was being prosecuted, and that people had lied about him. He resented the prosecutor promoting Whitney’s lies over and over. I let him vent.
While he did, I mirrored his body language. He knew what I was doing.
Finally, he agreed that if he showed his anger, the jury would not understand. If he showed his feelings beneath the anger—the pain he felt, they would love him. That had been our mantra throughout our work. If you bond with the jury by opening yourself to them, letting them see you in your pain, they will not hurt you.
When Dennis turned to the jury and, with each question I posed, told them what he did, he was talking to old friends, just like we had spoken together, telling the story of the case. When I asked him if he shot Adam, Angela and Robert, he said he had, and he told them why. He spoke of the endless days of threats and torment, sleeping with the gun, keeping it in his pocket, the dreams of them killing him. The attack in the dark with high winds screaming, as though the devil himself was director of the scene unfolding. He told them it was his worst nightmare. He wept, and they did too.
When I closed, we all wanted to be able to defend our lives like Dennis did, and still have a life in the world. Dennis spoke for all of us. We all wanted to free him of his burden. We felt his pain. He was a killer, but it was necessary.
* * * * *
They sent us out that courtroom door, Dennis in his blue shirt.
The jury loved Dennis, and they knew I loved him.
It all comes from this emotion.