Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A visit with Rolf Kaestel, Arkansas's addition to Utah prisons

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 1:25 PM

click to enlarge ROLF KAESTEL: 35 years in prison and counting for a $264 robbery in which no one was hurt. - SALT LAKE CITY WEEKLY
  • Salt Lake City Weekly
  • ROLF KAESTEL: 35 years in prison and counting for a $264 robbery in which no one was hurt.

Colby Frazier of the Salt Lake City Weekly has written this week about one of his periodic visits with Rolf Kaestel, an Arkansas prison inmate sent to Utah for never-explained reasons, who's spent 35 years behind bars for robbing $264 from a Fort Smith taco stand in 1981. No one was hurt. His weapon was a water gun.

We've written about the Kaestel case several times before, most recently when Gov. Asa Hutchinson denied a clemency request that would have made Kaestel parole eligible. Kaestel, now 66, must wait until he's in his 70s to apply for clemency from his life-without-parole sentence.

He was shipped to Utah 17 years ago. In that time, his only visitor has been Colby Frazier.

While in prison in Arkansas, Kaestel became a jailhouse lawyer, the story relates.

Once condemned to prison, Kaestel plotted a scholarly path toward a paralegal certificate. He filed scores of lawsuits against the notorious Arkansas prison system, which in the 1970s had been designated by federal courts as being cruel and inhumane. Along with winning some of his suits against the prison, Kaestel advocated for prisoners' rights, quickly becoming a problem child—the kind that manifests itself in articulately written legal briefs—for prison officials.

"Rolf was a very informed prisoner when he was in Arkansas," [Arkansas Times senior editor Mara] Leveritt says. "He studied the law, he helped other inmates, he became a thorn in their side, I think, of the establishment—the prison department in particular."

One of the Arkansas prison system's misdeeds Kaestel witnessed involved a blood-plasma donation program. Kaestel himself donated plasma—a way he and other inmates could make a couple of bucks. But Kaestel noticed health concerns with the blood plasma program, including lack of testing for hepatitis C and HIV. He began collecting documents on the plasma program and even appeared in a documentary film, Factor 8: The Arkansas Prison Blood Scandal, released in 2005.

It begins with Kaestel—already with 18 years of prison under his belt—saying on camera in front of a prison official that the Arkansas prison system is ripe with "graft, corruption and money making."

In 1999, a short time after being interviewed for the film, Kaestel was hauled out of the breakfast line, loaded into a van and moved to Utah.

Beyond "noncompliance with the system," Arkansas officials have never offered a reason for the transfer. He's been recommended for release by seven parole boards, but denied clemency 10 times. Gov. Mike Beebe merely declined to take action. That left the door open for another application. Gov. Asa Hutchinson went a step further with a denial of clemency, which delayed the next application for five years. Hutchinson's office won't talk about the Kaestel case.

Frazier's article is a long and contemplative essay on justice reform, forgiveness and capacity for change and rehabilitation. He talks extensively with Leveritt, a particular expert on life in the Arkansas penal system.

Leveritt says that it is important to ask ourselves whether or not we are capable of forgiveness. When it comes to Kaestel, whom she calls the "walking, talking example of 'You will not be forgiven,'" it is easy to conclude that, collectively, we Americans are not."

Tags: , , , , ,

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments (15)

Showing 1-15 of 15

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-15 of 15

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • In defense of Planned Parenthood and abortion rights

    An op-ed in today's New York Time by Katha Pollitt says what I've been struggling to say about the reaction to the attack on women's reproductive rights launched by means of the undercover videos made by anti-abortion activists.
    • Aug 5, 2015
  • Women's March planned in Arkansas to mark Trump inauguration

    Speaking of Donald Trump and in answer to a reader's question: There will be a women's march in Arkansas on Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, as well as the national march planned in Washington.
    • Dec 30, 2016
  • Transgender electrician may sue employer over her firing

    Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright has ruled that Patricia Dawson, a transgender woman, may pursue her lawsuit that she was wrongfully fired by her employer, H & H Electric, because of her sex.
    • Sep 16, 2015

Most Shared

  • Architecture lecture: Sheila Kennedy on "soft" design

    Sheila Kennedy, a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd., will give the June Freeman lecture tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center, part of the Architecture + Design Network series at the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • Petition calls for Jason Rapert Sewage Tanks in Conway

    A tribute is proposed for Conway's state senator Jason Rapert: naming the city's sewage sludge tanks for him. Petitioners see a similarity.
  • Health agency socked with big verdict, Sen. Hutchinson faulted for legal work

    A former mental health agency director has won a default judgment worth $358,000 over a claim for unpaid retirement pay and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is apparently to blame for failure to respond to pleadings in the case.
  • Religious right group calls for compromise on damage lawsuit amendment

    The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
  • Constituents go Cotton pickin' at Springdale town hall

    Sen. Tom Cotton, cordial to a fault, appeared before a capacity crowd at the 2,200 seat Pat Walker Performing Arts Center at Springdale High tonight to a mixed chorus of clapping and boos. Other than polite applause when he introduced his mom and dad and a still moment as he led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — his night didn't get much better from there.

Visit Arkansas

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation