Sal's Story Approaches Sorrowful End: the Removal of His Freedom

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Is there a reason to believe that former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has a chance of successfully appealing his conviction on corruption charges?

If Sal DiMasi's lawyer cannot convince a judge there is, the former Speaker will be in a jail cell very soon.

It all comes to a head this Thursday in the federal district courthouse in Boston, where Sal will be sentenced for his conviction on charges of steering two big software contracts to Cognos Corp. for illegal cash payments.

The prosecutors are recommending that Sal be given a sentence of 12 years and seven months; his lawyer is arguing that no more than a three years is warranted.

No matter the case or the defendant, and no matter the level of interest one has in either, it is chilling to watch a heretofore free man taken into custody at the conclusion of a sentencing hearing.

At the brusque command of a court officer, the defendant has to step forward, extend his arms and hands, and be clamped into steel handcuffs. Two or three court officers then march him out of the room by a side door as the muffled cries and sobs of his closest relatives fill the air. The next time these folks see the defendant, he'll be behind glass, wearing a prison-issue jumpsuit, and they will converse by phone under the watchful eyes and ears of the guards. That conversation will most likely be taped. Legally.

Free-man-to-convict is a painful physical, psychological and spiritual transition, regardless of the new convict's age, gender or station in life. For Sal DiMasi, who is 66 years old, a skilled attorney, and once one of the most powerful men in our Commonwealth, it will be especially painful.

I have spoken to a few people who have served 30 or 60 days in the house of correction, and I have heard the recollections of one man who served seven years in a federal penitentiary. Each has said how torturously long and fearful those times behind bars were.

Only someone who has never thought seriously about what it means to be incarcerated could regard a three-year sentence as getting off lightly.

The way things happened in my life, Sal DiMasi was a friend of friends of mine, but never my friend, although I certainly liked him on the few, passing occasions we met. Those who are his longtime friends have always spoken highly of him, always said what a good guy he is, what a big heart he has, etc.

Whenever I happened to glimpse him in action at the State House or at a fundraiser for a member of the House, he looked for all the world like a genuinely good guy, a person who enjoyed being with people, didn't take himself too seriously, and was a natural at "working the room."

Unquestionably, he was beloved in his North-End-centered Boston district, which he represented for more than 30 consecutive years. Sal is a big man in the North End -- and rightly so -- yet he never got too big for his old neighborhood.

I will not try to defend him or explain away the charges against Speaker DiMasi. I will not cite all the good things Sal did during his many years in office, even though they were so numerous as to defy tabulation, because that is beside the point. The jury was not asked to decide if he did more good than bad.

Sooner or later, Sal will be clamped in cuffs, confined against his will, and ordered around day and night. If someone addresses him there as Mr. Speaker, it will probably be as a taunt, a prelude to an insult, or worse.

That's hard to think about. I can't imagine how hard it will be to live it.

Hope to God he survives.

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