Let’s say that you were a somewhat unsavory kind of character and flirted on the outskirts of society. In due time, the authorities caught up with and you were looking at doing a long stretch behind bars. Let’s also say that you were privy to certain information that could lead to the capture, arrest and imprisonment of some folks who were a lot more unsavory than you and would scatter your body parts or come after your family in order to prevent you from testifying against them. Would you cut a deal?
If you would, well then welcome to the Witness Protection Program!
The Witness Protection Program has its roots going back to the early 1960’s under the auspices of the U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. At the time they were investigating so called “organized crime” figures and in order to provide some members of the crime families with an incentive to testify they pledged to guaranty their safety.
Since its formal inception in 1970 the program claims to have entered over 7,500 actual witnesses along with 9,500 of their family members. The task of protecting and re-locating potential witnesses fall under the authority of the United States Marshals Service. They claim that no one in the program that has followed their guidelines has ever been identified and been the target of retribution.
Sounds good, how do I apply?
First of all you need to be willing to drop a dime on your former cohorts involving a criminal case. Your testimony must be considered credible and deemed life threatening to either you or members of your family. In the end it’s the U.S Attorney General’s office that makes the call on whether you qualify or not. You’ll then undergo a series of interviews with members of the Marshals Service regarding the ABC’s of the program and what’s expected of you
Falling off the face of the earth
Once you’ve agreed that you’re all in and the program is for you, you and your family will be immediately whisked away from wherever you’re currently staying and taken to a temporary holding area to await your testimony. While there you can be expect to be guarded 24 X 7 during any pretrial proceedings until the time has come for you to bear witness.
Behind the scenes, the Marshals Service is coordinating with various other government agencies in creating a new identity and finding a suitable city for you to live in. Local authorities are made aware of your new presence and are also told about any past criminal behavior on your part. They may also require you to take periodic drug and alcohol tests to ensure that you’re sticking to the straight and narrow. In return the Marshals Service is charged with the following:
1) Getting you one and only one reasonable job opportunity.
2) Helping you find suitable housing in your new location
3) Until you find a job, they’ll cough up about $60,000.00 a year in subsidence payments. That doesn’t mean you can live on that forever. I think it’s only good for about a year and then your on your own.
4) Providing you with all new identity documents such as social security
cards, driver’s license, passport , etc.
They will let you choose your own new name but have certain recommendations such as keeping your first name and your new last name should start with the same letter as your old one. This makes it easier for you to assimilate in your new community.
I want my day in court
The moment has now arrived for you to bare your soul and flip on your former colleagues. Many precautions are taken in order for you to get to the courthouse safely and not get offed in transit. Decoys, disguises and convoluted routes to the courthouse are just some of the ruses used to throw those who want to do you harm off your trail. Just to be on the safe side you’ll probably be wearing a bulletproof vest for the entire time while you’re testifying.
As an aside, the Marshals Service claims that since its inception. The Witness Protection Program has about a 90% conviction rate and is responsible for over 10,000 people being put behind bars.
Living the dream
The journey to your new home is not an easy one. You’ll be escorted through a series of random flights to nowhere on the road to freedom. Again, this is to throw off anybody who might be tailing you with the intention of doing you harm. Once you arrive at your new destination you’ll check in with the local authorities.
The number one and probably hardest rule to follow is that you are to have no contact whatsoever with any past associates or non threatened family members. By no contact, they mean no contact. No phone calls, letters, e-mails or tweets.
Once you get settled you’re only required to check in with the Feds once a year unless you’re thinking of moving. Then you have to advise them of your intentions and you’re on your own.
If you’re thinking of going back to the good old days and living a life of crime you should probably forget about it. It’s a good way to ensure that you’ll be kicked out of the program and left to your own devices.
The Marshals Service claims that the recidivism rate for the program averages about 17%. This is in comparison to about the 40% recidivism rate for those criminals out on parole.
I dunno. I hope I never have to consider entering such a program but if I did
I’d probably spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder worrying about every Tom, Dick and Harry that I didn’t know and wondering when the moment will come when I’m either gunned down in a hail of bullets or kidnapped and chopped to pieces.
In my minds eye, that’s no way to live.