Underneath the signatures for "Arrested By" and "Booked and Searched By" is a line simply titled: "Prisoner's Complete Signature." It's there that you have to sign your name. You must acknowledge, in writing, that you are a prisoner.
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"One of our most gifted novelists." MICHAEL CONNELLY, author of the Harry Bosch series

Hello Everyone,

Of late, I've been having a lot of private conversations with folks I respect about what exactly toughness is. How we define it as Americans. What it means. How we laud it, and how we model it & teach it, especially to young men.

As it happens, I'm lucky to be able to speak to a lot of folks that society deems conventionally tough: former gangsters, cops, & members of the armed forces. Almost to a person, they are blusterless. They speak sparingly & considerately. And these days, I find it troubling that certain types of behavior are widely described as tough, when they clearly are not.

The folks I speak to come from all backgrounds and all political affiliations. Amongst these seemingly disparate groups, nearly all of them agree on one thing: being loud, rude, or disrespectful to others is not tough. In fact, acting as such frequently means the opposite.

"Barking is not biting," as one person put it. "When you yap just to yap, you show me who you are and what you fear. You load me up with ammunition."


CrimeReads Most Anticipated Books of Fall/Winter 2020

I'm grateful to see that The System topped
CrimeReads' December list, & they had this to say about it:

"Ryan Gattis has written another spectacular, multi-POV stunner, this time interweaving the stories of two young men, one innocent, one guilty, and the cop who sent them both to prison. Gattis is one of the 21st century’s greatest disciples of classic noir, and The System promises to be as world-weary and lyrical as any crime fiction lover could ask for."

I'm grateful for those words, & I hope to live up to that classic noir disciple mantle, that's for sure. Ross Macdonald & Raymond Chandler always have been guiding lights for me.

Appearance on History of the 90s Podcast: Ep. 28, The L.A. Riots

It's a fairly even-handed take on the six days, but more importantly, what led up to them, & what happened afterward. I speak briefly--around the 37 minute mark--about the local TV obsession with looting, as well as the point of this specific type of civil unrest: it is a reaction to an acute lack of justice. The whole episode is worth it if you're not familiar with the time, or could use a refresher. You can listen here.

For the newsletter this month, I decided to take a slight turn. I wanted to address the question of what happens when you get arrested within this ongoing series only available to newsletter subscribers, I’ve been sharing stories from my 6 years of research on The System. This is the latest installment…

What Really Happens When You Get Arrested

It's a question I get a lot these days. Of course, it's only folks who've never been arrested asking me this. For the record, I've never been arrested, but for the last decade I've spent a significant amount of time with folks who not only have been arrested, but held for months, been tried, & in some cases, sentenced. I've also spent time with the people doing the arresting, too.

The vast majority of people I speak to outside of these research zones have little to no idea what happens when you get arrested in the United States. When pressed, they mention something remembered from film or television. Fingerprinting is mentioned. Mug shots. Holding cells. But what else happens?

Firstly, custody officially begins with being bound in some capacity: whether by handcuffs, zip-cuffs, or by an officer laying hands upon you and conveying you to a vehicle in order to be locked within it. Your liberty has now been taken from you.

This law enforcement officer has either: 1) directly witnessed your commission of a crime, 2) has probable cause to believe you have committed one (this may be due to a witness statement at the scene, or visual evidence at the scene), or 3) has been dispatched with a warrant signed by a judge who deemed it worthy. Often, your Miranda Rights will be read to you while this occurs, & you may even be Miranda'd again later.

Arrest does not mean you will be charged. It is possible to be taken into custody, questioned, and released without criminal charge. However, in the cases of #1 or #3 above, this is more unlikely. #2 will depend on the veracity of the witness statement & how compelling the potential evidence is.

[Speaking of, I have to add a quick note about the factual nature of
circumstantial evidence. Within film & TV, this term has maddeningly become shorthand for 'evidence that does not matter.' This is categorically untrue. Circumstantial evidence is just that: germane to the circumstances of the event. It can, and absolutely will, convict you. Here is how the judge explains it to a prospective juror in The System:

"Direct evidence would be that it is raining outside and you are standing outside while it is happening. You see it, and you feel it; therefore, it is raining." And she provides an example of circumstantial evidence: "You are standing downstairs in the lobby of this building, near the elevators. You cannot see windows where you are standing, but you see people come in who are wet. Their shoes are wet. They’re carrying umbrellas, which are also wet. You can conclude it is raining from the circumstances surrounding you, even though you did not directly see it raining. Do you understand this difference?”]

Now then, an arrest has occurred upon your person, & you have been transported to a local lockup. This is likely the nearest jail, often in a police station, depending on the body that has performed the arrest. This could be city, county, or even federal.

Upon arrival, it's time for documentation. An awful lot of it. Forms will be filled out, often in triplicate. Or, if not, copies must be made. This is because a record must be made of your incarceration. The state must account for itself, how you're being held, where, when, & why. Fingerprinting is undertaken now. Mugshots, too. Depending on jurisdiction & criminal charges, DNA may be taken as well. The property on your person is also taken, catalogued, & stored. You can claim it back later with more paperwork. In Los Angeles County, when this process is completed, you are presented with a form to sign, to acknowledge that you understand you have been arrested, you have been booked and searched, & your property has been taken.

Underneath the signatures for "Arrested By" and "Booked and Searched By" is a line simply titled: "Prisoner's Complete Signature." It's there that y
ou have to sign your name. You must acknowledge, in writing, that you are a prisoner.

This was the moment most often described as a breaking point amongst those I spoke to.

Why? Because writing makes things real. Because being forced to acknowledge that one is now a prisoner is a very real psychological barrier, and once broken through, it changes how you view your life, your situation, & your future.

This paper is, essentially, a contract.

This is not by accident.

The soul of mass custody & incarceration is paperwork. Without it, there is no filing and transportation. Except in this case, people exist behind that paper.

It is people being filed, moved, put back, and—when warranted—released. (It's worth noting that if charged, you must be arraigned within a mandated period [often, 2-3 days, or longer, if you're arrested on a Friday & must sit through the weekend]; at the arraignment, you must stand in front of a judge for the reading of the charges against you, before bail can be set. And if you cannot afford bail, or are denied it due to the severity of your offense, you will be moved to a longer-term custody facility; often, a county jail to wait for your pre-trial hearing, or to meet with your lawyer & weigh a potential plea offer.)

This is one of the truest meanings of the criminal justice system in the United States of America: it is the storage of human beings.

Jails & prisons are filing cabinets large enough to hold people against their will. Filing cabinets with cages. Filing cabinets with toilets, showers, and mess halls. Filing cabinets with visiting hours.

If you find this characterization to be dehumanizing or even off-putting, that's understandable. Trust me, there are worse, & in many cases, just as apt metaphors. It doesn't make it any less true, however. (In fact, if you're interested in learning more about the history of jailing in Los Angeles & its connection to some troubling policies, I suggest Kelly Lytle Hernández's eye-opening City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and The Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles 1771-1965.)

To be clear, a criminal justice system is a foundational element in a civilized society. And yet, the question of what type of society we want to be, especially in relation to how best we achieve justice (whether criminal, economic, or racial) is one of the foremost questions of our times. Yet, it's one that can only be truly engaged with when we understand the structure, as well as the human costs of the apparatus.

Research Story Next Month: The Parole Agent

Advanced Reading Copies for The System Are Available in the USA & UK

Ready to read it? For those who wish to read The System right now, & review on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere, you can get a digital proof copy of the novel via NetGalley USA or NetGalley UK. If you've never reviewed before, fear not. My understanding is you can qualify so long as you promise to review honestly.

See you next month. In the meantime, please do stay safe & well.

All best wishes,


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