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Life Arts    H2'ed 7/27/09

Collateral Damage: Interview with Dana Siegelman

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Typically, I interview people because of something they did, wrote, or believe. Today's guest, Dana Siegelman, is here because of who she is: the daughter of the former Governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman. He was the most visible target of the politicized Department of Justice during the last administration, although literally hundreds of less visible Democrats were likewise targeted for prosecution. A bipartisan group of 75 former state attorneys general have asked for an investigation into the Siegelman case. Dana currently lives in California where she attended college. She has agreed to share her personal story with our readers. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dana.

Where were you and what were you doing when your world fell apart?

I was 19 when the case was introduced to me [2004]. The way it was introduced is especially interesting. I was asleep at home in Birmingham. I had started school at California State University in Long Beach and was home for the summer interning at a company and saving money before I moved back for my sophomore year.

Both Mom and Dad were out of town, so I was baby-sitter on duty for my younger brother. The doorbell rings, It's around 8 a.m. I roll out of bed; my curly hair had become an Afro, no make-up, boxer shorts, and t-shirt. All I can see is a young man through the art glass window on the door. I open the door and surrounding the entrance there are suddenly cameras snapping and approximately 5-8 video crews that are filming.

At this realization, I shut the door but a crack and ask the young man what is going on. He sticks a mike in my face and says "Your father has been indicted, what do you think about it?" I glare at him and the others and say, "My dad is most definitely not a criminal, and I don't appreciate you bombarding us in this way." Then I shut the door on him, woke up my brother, warned him not to go outside, and called my folks.

Dad assured me everything was going to be fine and he was on his way home. My mom was shocked beyond belief and had no clue this was going on. When Joseph and I climbed into the car to take him to summer camp and opened the garage to leave, they were still there...almost an hour later. I guess they thought my parents might be home! Needless to say, the public who saw the "interview" on TV were very upset at the networks and called to complain. I received several apologies from the local ABC, FOX, and other networks that had come. Almost a year later, I ran into the young man who had been at the front door. We were in court at the time and he forced himself to apologize to me in person.

How did your life change after that morning?

I was going into my sophomore year and was home for the summer. I knew my dad was a good person, yet, I also know how important knowing the facts are. I did my own research on his case so I would understand it and see for myself whether or not he seemed guilty. I came to the conclusion that our government is full of s***! No one ever believed he would be convicted. Even people who didn't vote for him were surprised when the second indictment brought a conviction.

Not only that, but most people thought it suspicious that the second indictment came when Dad announced he was running again. If he had stayed out of the race, then they would have saved taxpayers' money.

How have your dad's legal troubles affected your family?

This has by far been the most challenging experience of my life, and also the most rewarding. Even though it's broken our family financially, and, at first, spiritually, our relationships with one another have grown. We have had each other to lean on. All of us stepped out of our comfort zones to help with my dad. We never thought we'd be visiting this incredible man in prison, but it only proved that he continued to deserve the respect and admiration we'd always had for him.

You mention visiting your dad in prison. What was that like?

When I came back to Alabama, my dad had finally been situated in the Oakdale penitentiary in Louisiana. Before that, he was moved from Georgia, to Oklahoma, to Texas, and finally, to Louisiana. Because he was moved around so many times, I was unable to speak to him or even write him for two and a half months! Once I was in Alabama, I visited him often, which was a difficult feat considering it was an eight-hour drive each way. Visitations were on Saturday and Sunday from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Then, we would head back home.

Yikes, that's a lot of driving.

Yes, it was. We would spend the night at a local motel.

What did you talk about with your mom and brother on those endless drives?

Faith, God, political conspiracies, blessings, and injustice everywhere.

That must have kept you pretty busy. And how did you cheer your dad up when your own hearts were so heavy?

Dad was always the most positive. Seeing him would cheer us up and give us hope. He never let on that he was miserable. He would just crack jokes and assure us that everything would be fine.

You have been outspoken in your defense of your father. In fact, you wrote 1,000 letters on his behalf in December, 2007. Yet, at the same time, you have worked hard to maintain your privacy. It must have been so hard going to college while all this was going on. Were you able to behave normally, have friends, do ordinary things?

All four years in college, no one knew anything about my dad's case. In fact, my friends only knew him to be a lawyer. It was not until he was actually sentenced and taken away abruptly in handcuffs and shackles that I reached out to everyone I knew for help.

I don't know anyone who could have handled that experience with as much confidence, positiveness, and grace. It was a testimony to his character and we have learned from it. In fact, if it were not for Dad going to prison, I don't know if the government or the American people would have paid nearly as much attention to other politically motivated cases.

You just might be right, Dana. It was a pleasure getting to know you a little better. Thank you for sharing your story with our readers. I wish you all the best in your graduate work in International Relations. Let us know how you're doing. And, of course, good luck with your dad's case.

Don Siegelman was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and obstruction and has already served eight months of a seven-year term. He is currently out on bail, and has requested a new trial.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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