Our Town Square Page editor has a Graterford Prison pen pal.
Reporters and columnists at The Morning Call occasionally get letters from inmates in the county prisons, complaining about one thing or another. I've received some myself.
But I've never heard from anyone at Graterford, which has a fearsome reputation as a repository for more hardened criminals. So I'm somewhat envious of the editor, who is fielding a steady stream of letters from a guy I used to correspond with pretty regularly:
Jim Gregory, former Bethlehem council president, your write-in candidate for mayor of Bethlehem.
I'll start with that, because I don't want to bury the lead any further. Graterford inmate Gregory's latest letter included a side note to one of our female reporters who covers Bethlehem. It said: "Nicole, I'm not dropping write-in bid I'll run from here. She's free to forward questions!!"
I guess debates are out.
I've backed off on writing about Gregory, beyond one blog post about his brief but astounding career as a radio host, but since he's so eager to keep the readers and Bethlehem voters in the loop about his observations from the big house, I decided to oblige him today.
The episode that ultimately landed Bethlehem's next mayor in prison last month began with some kind of physical confrontation last spring between him and his then-girlfriend. She filed a Protection From Abuse order in which she alleged that he choked her, put his fingers in her eye sockets, hit her and bit her, among other things. His version, offered in court and repeated in his recent letters to the paper, is that she was jealous and jumped on him, so he restrained her. He has argued that he didn't leave a mark on her.
Judge Leonard Zito, who presided over the case, found his ex-girlfriend's account to be credible.
Beyond that, I won't get into all the terrible, even despicable, things Gregory and especially his ill-chosen sidekick, incendiary West Easton blogger Tricia Mezzacappa, have had to say about her and her family. I don't know who was telling the truth about their original altercation, but I do know that it has become immaterial to the real issue in this case, a point that many of his friends, Zito and others repeatedly have tried to make with him.
It was simple, really. Gregory needed to leave it alone. Whatever happened, she was done with him. He needed to shut up, stay away from her in every possible way, and move on.
He wouldn't — and he was incredibly over the top about refusing to stop. That's why he was cited for several counts of contempt and shipped off to Graterford.
It was bad enough that he kept writing about her on Facebook and other online venues, long after she had obtained her PFA and he had been warned to cease even indirect contact. His persistence led to a brief stint in Northampton County Prison, and after his release, he actually intensified his campaign by buying airtime on local radio station WPGA and railing about her and her family, blogger Bernie O'Hare and pretty much anyone who defended them — including me — in terms that in the case of O'Hare struck me as potentially defamatory and in the case of his ex-girlfriend just plain ugly and stupid.
I listened one morning, and I counted close to 20 people who were mentioned either as ex-friends who stabbed him in the back or other categories of his and Mezzacappa's enemies.
Throw in allegations that, according to court testimony, Gregory was repeatedly calling his ex-girlfriend's number and that he had county prison inmates smuggle love letters to her, among other violations, and he ended up back before Judge Zito. The fed-up judge sentenced him to an astounding 15 to 30 months in state prison for contempt because of all his violations of the PFA. He's still there.
Gregory's take on this, expressed in long letters that he wants the paper to publish, is that Zito is wacky, the sentence is draconian, O'Hare was the instigator and Jim is being railroaded.
"The PFA law is dangerous and I doubt I'm its first victim, only the most high profile," he wrote in his latest attempt to speak directly to Morning Call readers. "The law must be changed before any more victims have to endure what I endure now."
He concluded, "The judge here has disregarded continuance request after continuance request and his sentencing far exceeded guidelines! Historically, unheard of, considering the allegations. That aside, the allegations themselves were outlandish and without merit and will be crushed on appeal … You guys continually printed (White) her PFA allegations. Please print … my statement."
Well, I've printed much of it here. And I'll agree that it's extremely unusual, if not unprecedented, for someone to get a state prison sentence for violating a PFA. Court officials said they couldn't recall any such previous cases.
So it seems fair to say that for this to happen, the offender would have to exhibit some of the stupidest, most defiant, most self-destructive behavior imaginable.
Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.