Updated: Feb 11
What caught my eye about the person CNN Newsroom anchor Brooke Baldwin interviewed on February 18, 2014 was not the shaved dome of his head. Nor was it the bushy goatee or the gruff, semi-articulate manner in which he spoke. What caught my eye was the sunglasses.
I immediately flashed back to my days as a rookie patrol officer listening intently as my training officer imparted a gem of wisdom that has remained with me for more than three decades. “Never trust a man who wears sunglasses indoors.”
The man in the sunglasses was Larry Levine, also known as Lawrence Jay Levine, Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate number 11742-112. Since his release from federal prison in 2007, Levine has become a “prison consultant.” Baldwin’s interview with Levine was about the recent Michael Dunn convictions, specifically what Dunn could expect upon entering prison.
I found the interview to be irresponsible and Levine’s “advice” appalling. More appalling than the jailhouse advice being spewed was CNN’s position that what Dunn could expect in prison was somehow newsworthy. Dunn was arrested and tried for shooting to death an African-American teenager following a dispute over loud music. That arrest was newsworthy. While Dunn was convicted on four counts of attempted murder, the jury deadlocked on the most serious count, first-degree murder. Also newsworthy. Will Dunn be tried again on the first-degree murder charge? Newsworthy as well. What is not newsworthy is what Michael Dunn can expect upon entering prison.
Baldwin’s opening question to Levine was whether prisoners would even know who Michael Dunn is and whether or not they follow the news. Levine assured viewers that inmates do indeed follow the news. He specifically mentioned them watching CNN. Levine then says that Dunn is going to have a hard time when he gets to prison because black gang members (specifically the Black Guerilla Gang and the Black Gangster Disciples) will be waiting for him and Levine further asserts that the gang members can get to Dunn. Was the purpose of Baldwin’s interview to report the news or to predict an imminent crime? I suspect more the latter.
Baldwin prefaced her follow-up question with, “Now, given the target that will likely be placed on Dunn’s back…” Again, predicting a crime rather than reporting on one. If Levine was correct and the inmates where Dunn is incarcerated WERE watching the interview, if they weren’t already planning something, Baldwin certainly planted the seed by asserting that Dunn will have a target on his back. Her actual question was, “I know you’re betting he’ll ultimately be put in PC, in protected custody, but how protected will he actually be from the general prison population?"
The words Levine uses to answer are telling. He refers to the prison administrators in Florida and says, "…they’ll assess the threat against him because they’ve got rats throughout the prisons (emphasis added), the management that administration, and determine if there’s any chatter going on." Larry Levine professes to be a professional businessman now. He charges large sums of money to teach people how to “survive in prison.” Does the language he used sound like that of a professional businessman? Or does it sound more like someone still operating in a criminal mindset? Clearly, Levine feels that inmates who are willing to talk to prison officials about planned criminal acts by other prisoners are rats. Even if those acts include a potentially deadly assault.
Levine continued his assessment of Dunn’s chances by saying, “Eventually, they may move him to restrictive custody, but he’s going to have a target, crosshairs on his back while he’s there because you’re going to have some of the younger gang members that want to make a name for themselves, and you know, they’ll take this guy out.”
But Levine doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe the various prison methods of inflicting violence. He says, “They’ll stick a knife…you can take a toothbrush, turn it into a knife, stick it into his throat, slit his throat open. You can take a pencil, a pen, make a paper-mache knife out of newspaper and kill this guy. So, he’s going to have rough time ahead of him, really.”
Instead of taking a commercial break after the lesson on how to kill someone with a toothbrush and moving on to the next topic, Baldwin asks Levine how Dunn survives that. Levine answers, “He could ally himself, potentially, with maybe the Aryan Brotherhood or one of the white gangs. If I was him right now, what I’d be doing is having somebody send in a book perhaps on self-defense…But who knows, the White Supremacists, they may view this guy as some kind of hero for killing the black teenager or something. So, he really—that’s really his only option, to ally himself up or live in protected custody the rest of his term…”
So CNN’s expert consultant, when asked what Michael Dunn can expect in prison, says he can expect to get shanked in the throat with the sharp end of a toothbrush and his only hope is to join a white supremacist gang. Is this the same kind of advice Larry Levine gives his clients at a thousand dollars a pop for his FEDTIME101 Survival Program?
Do acts of violence occur in prison? Every day. Are there gangs in existence solely to offer protection? Absolutely. Larry Levine’s appearance and vocabulary may go a long way in establishing street cred with convicted criminals, but neither plays well in the professional environment of news reporting. The bigger questions are whether Michael Dunn’s expectations upon entering prison are newsworthy to begin with and whether this was responsible journalism on CNN’s part. I believe the answer is no on both counts.