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“Am I Free to Go?” by Kathryn Cramer: Origins & Bibliography

I live in New York State’s Adirondack Park, an environmentally protected area comprising about 23% of New York State. It is a wonderful place and I love living here. But there is an aspect of the Park that I find very uncomfortable. In 1973, the New York State legislature adopted into law the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan finalizing the boundaries of the Park and putting into effect many of the environmental restrictions. That same year, the legislature passed the Rockafeller Drug Laws, which was the advent of New York State’s policy of mass incarceration. Over the past forty years, many prisons have been built in the Park, and the communities where these prisons are located have tended to become economically dependent on the prison-industrial complex. In an era of severe government cutbacks, these political decisions of the past can have strange and unforeseen consequences.

“Am I Free to Go?” is essentially a monolog. In February of 2011, it began as an exercise in narrative voice when I was working with Edward Cornell, a New York theater director who now lives in the Adirondacks. He assigned me to find a monolog to work on with him. I couldn't find any I liked. 

The dramatic monologs I found bore too little resemblance to the women I know in real life and seemed constricted by gender stereotypes. (If I had found the play Wit by Margaret Edson in early 2011, I probably would have stopped there.)  Next, I tried reading aloud stories I had reprinted in Year’s Best volumes, but found that many of the stories I loved best worked better on the page than out loud.

 And so I wrote something. Ted Cornell listened to me read all or part of it aloud many times through many drafts; his encouragement and comments brought into the form you find it now. This story is as much human rights fiction as it is science fiction. I believe that we live on the knife’s edge of a political cascade in which consequence piles on consequence, leading the United States in directions that most of use don’t want to go. What I intended is a monolog somewhat in the mode of “Swimming to Cambodia” by Spalding Grey and about an extrapolation of the here and now that I inhabit.

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Planned project: Law enforcement map of the Adirondack Park

I am planning a Google Maps project explicating the bewildering array of police jurisdictions within the Adirondack park and would welcome input from people with some expertise in this subject. The Adirondack Park is a state park that occupies roughly 23% of the State of New York.

Most of the towns within the park do not have their own police forces -- exceptions being places with a robust tax base such as Lake Placid.

For the most part, the law enforcement agencies operating in these towns are not answerable to local town government.

NY State Police squad car is running & keys are in the ignition; no troopers are in evidence

In Essex County, where I now live, there are at least four police forces operating. There are the New York State Troopers, seen mostly along the highways, but also acting as the primary law enforcement agency in many areas. 

Then there is the Essex County Sheriff's Department which has just built an enormous jail in a county with almost no crime to speak of (one murder recorded in a five year period). The Sheriff's department administers the jail which apparently makes money for the county by renting out space to other counties with less capacious accommodations. The jail, called the "Essex County Public Safety Building," is at 702 Stowersville Rd. in Lewis, NY just off exit 32 on Interstate 87 (the Northway), so drive carefully near exit 32.

Orwelian name for the county jail: Essex County Public Safety Building

The squad cars of the Essex County Sheriff's Deputies look like this:

Essex Co. NY deputy

And then there are the New York State Forest Rangers:

NY State Forest Ranger


In Westport, I don't see them around much except in the winter when they stop into Ernie's, next door, for some hot food.

And then there is the United States Border Patrol. Who knew that there was an international border through the Adirondack Park? (Perhaps Homeland Security has found a gateway in the park to R'lyeh, the sunken city where the godlike being Cthulhu is buried?)

International border or no, the Border Patrol operates a check point on Interstate 87 in southern Essex County. This is apparently a post 9/11 Homeland Security thing for the purpose of inspecting vehicles for "illegal immigrants, narcotics, terrorists and terrorist weapons." I was hoping the Border Checkpoint 65 miles south of the border was going away when Obama came into office, but it isn't gone yet. (I find this deeply irritating.)

While I doubt they've caught any terrorists there yet, this checkpoint is probably good for providing billable involuntary tourists for the town of Lewis, NY, mentioned above.

In any case, these different police forces have radically different mandates, training, and patterns of behavior. What I would like to do is create a Google Maps Field Guide to law enforcement in the Adirondacks complete with identifying photos and police scanner frequencies.

I will probably start with Essex County, since the Adirondack Park is big. I would appreciate receiving information about publicly available data that might be useful for this project.

What my life in Essex County teaches me is that it is important to know who you are talking to before you talk to a cop around here.

Also, one thing I would like to know about is what, if any, policing is outsourced to private companies within the park. It is my impression that none of it is, but this assumption could be mistaken.

Northway Border Patrol Check

This weekend there was a Border Patrol checkpoint set up on southbound I-87 near North Hudson. While we did stop at the stop-sign, a Border Patrol officer waved us through over his shoulder, since they officers were busy searching the van of people more swarthy than ourselves. We've driven through there a couple of times in the past year when the checkpoint was in operation. At least once, I think I'd mistaken them for cops checking inspection stickers. According to the New York Times, this checkpoint is a post 9/11 innovation.

Being up in the Adirondacks is mostly a relief from the current Paranoia Economy in which being hassled on a daily basis is a bizarre amenity that we are all expected to pay extra and be grateful for. This kind Border Patrol of activity is one of the few signs of it up there.

After going through the check point, David and I had a long discussion of whether the Border Patrol check point was a good thing. He said it was good that they were watching for smugglers. I said border guards belong at borders, not 74 miles south. Last time I checked (and it was a couple of decades ago), border guards have additional powers that regular cops don't.

In the early 1980s, I took a Washington State Ferry to the San Juan Islands with my then-husband, a German citizen. We took a ferry back from Orcas Island that had a previous stop in Canada. When we disembarked at Anacortes, we had to go through customs even though we'd never left the US, which I found disconcerting, especially since the only ID I had on me was a Seattle Public Library card. I don't remember whether my husband had his passport on him, or just his driver's license.

My husband was a heavy smoker and so we had a very full ashtray. I remember looking on with some alarm as the Border Patrol officer leaned into our car and poked her gloved finger through the ashtray; lucky for us, there was nothing there but tobacco ashes and cigarette butts. I remember the cigarette butts recoiling like little springs and she pushed her finger though them; I'd never seen anyone stick their finger into a bunch of cigarette butts before. I also remember my horrified realization that if she weren't a customs officer, she would have needed a warrant for that. It would have been an illegal search except for those extra powers that the INS has.

So I wasn't giving David any ground: Customs should do its work at the border unless carrying out a specific inspection. If there is criminal activity on the Interstate Highways to be dealt with, regular highway patrol cops should be sufficient. You have fewer civil rights when dealing with the border patrol; and of course the Border Patrol have real cops on hand in case they happen across anything outside their jurisdiction.

So this morning, I Googled I-87 and Border Patrol, and I discovered a whole different reason to object to that check point: sometimes people get killed there. Apparently, there were a couple of really bad accidents there in 2004 because the lines got long and big semis weren't getting enough advance notice of the checkpoint, so great big trucks were occasionally rear-ending the line.

Four years ago, Senator Schumer's officer sent out a press release about fatalities at the check-point: SCHUMER: SECOND MAJOR ACCIDENT THIS YEAR WARRANTS FEDERAL INVESTIGATION OF I-87 CHECKPOINT:

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today said that Sunday night's fatal auto accident at the I-87 North Hudson Border Patrol checkpoint, the second major one at the checkpoint in seven months, should warrant a federal investigation to determine whether the checkpoint is safe as currently constituted. With some drivers saying that the checkpoint appears abruptly with too little warning, Schumer urged the federal Bureau of Border and Transportation Security to come to New York and examine the checkpoint.

"When you have not one but two major accidents at the same checkpoint in a span of seven months, it's a tragedy and a wakeup call," Schumer said. "The federal government needs to look at this checkpoint to make sure that it's as safe as it can be - and if there are changes that can be made to prevent future accidents from occurring, they need to be made without delay."

Four people were killed Sunday when a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles waiting at the North Hudson checkpoint. A truck driver was approaching the checkpoint when he ran into a line of cars stopped on I-87 roughly a quarter mile before the stop. On impact, the first vehicle burst into flames and killed the three people inside. The truck then hit a pickup truck whose driver tried to maneuver out of the way and was released from the hospital with a ruptured eardrum. The truck also hit a pickup pulling a camper, which burst into flames and killed its driver.

The Border Patrol incidents make one blogger's list of 10 Deadliest Accidents in the Adirondack Mountain Region. Ouch. Never mind possible violations of our civil right, what I should have maybe been worrying about is that people get killed there. Better Living Through Paranoia. (Who knew that driving down I-87 past North Hudson was one of the most dangerous things one could do in the Adirondacks?)

After mostly not encountering the daily hassles of the Paranoia Economy this summer, going through the check point felt oddly like clearing customs back into my Westchester County life, in which paranoia is something I'm supposed to be thankful for.