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This CT resident spent 25 years in prison. He’s all about liberty now, with a political party that says he’s changed.

After serving 25 years in prison in connection with a violent attack, Michael Liebowitz is all about liberty.

As the new spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, he’s taking every opportunity to promote personal freedom for all, with as little governmental interference as possible.

“What I do is I get the message out anywhere I can,” he said. “I have a podcast. I go on the Todd Feinburg show (on WTIC-AM radio) on a regular basis. I’ve been on with Tom Shattuck, Brian Shactman. I’m with Larry Sharpe from New York. So I just basically try to get the message out to anybody that will listen.”

Michael Liebowitz, spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut

Courtesy of Michael Liebowitz

Michael Liebowitz, spokesman for the Libertarian Party of Connecticut

Liebowitz, 46, of South Windsor, started on Feinburg’s show while he was in prison, and he’s written a book, with Brent McCall: “Down the Rabbit Hole: How the Culture of Corrections Encourages Crime.”

Once he was released, he and Feinburg thought about starting their own political party “because nobody is representing the liberty view, the idea that people ought to be free to do whatever they want, so long as they aren’t violating the rights of others to do the same.”

But then he decided the Libertarians were putting out the message. “So I approached them and told them my thoughts on the subject and they ultimately interviewed me and agreed to take me on as their spokesperson,” he said.

So, from being incarcerated at age 21 on a charge of first-degree conspiracy and accessory to burglary in connection to a violent assault, Liebowitz became a voice of individual liberty in Connecticut. The political party sees him as changed from the person he was in 1997.

Liebowitz said he learned a lot in prison about how government isn’t meeting its citizens’ needs.

“My time in prison taught me two things: to appreciate my liberty and that government is horrible at doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” he said. “And what I mean by that is the task of corrections is to incapacitate, punish, deter, rehabilitate. All they really do is incapacitate.”

A large part of the problem is the corrections personnel, Liebowitz said. 

“When you have government workers who are unionized, protected, there’s no incentive for them to do the job that they’re being paid to do and it ends up to be an abysmal failure,” he said. “And I witnessed that on a day-to-day basis for a quarter of a century.”

While in prison, Liebowitz said, “I’ve seen officers sleeping on the job, fraternizing with inmates in inappropriate ways, inconsistent rule enforcement, inappropriate conversation about female staff members, abuse of authority. … Their COVID response was horrible. They passed rules and didn’t abide by them themselves.”

Liebowitz would reform the system by not incarcerating people for victimless crimes. Also, “I think that the prisons ought to reimburse their employees based on results rather than just give them paychecks for showing up. What I mean by results are simply: You keep down escapes. You keep violence down in prison and you reduce recidivism.”

That’s a personal view, not the party view, he said, “I certainly will be arguing for it with the party,” he said. 

A state Correction Department spokesman issued a statement, saying the department “was faced with the extremely difficult task of containing a never before seen virus within a congregate setting. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOC initiated numerous protocols to combat the spread of the virus.”

Those steps included regular testing, temperature checks on entering and leaving a prison, quarantining, testing new inmates and using state-of-the-art disinfecting equipment, the spokesman said.

“These are just a few of the many steps the DOC took, to actively work to minimize the spread of the virus,” the statement continued. “As proof that the DOC’s efforts were, and continue to be affective, throughout the pandemic the positivity rate of the incarcerated individuals tested for the virus is consistently significantly lower than the positivity rate of the general population.”

Liebowitz said he was able to rehabilitate himself in prison. “I ultimately took it upon myself to study a lot of books,” he said. “And I had a best friend that I met in prison who was in the same housing unit with me for about 16 years, and we were soulmates for 11, and we worked on self-help together. And that ultimately is how I did it.”

‘He has served his time, has changed’

Steve Dincher, state Libertarian chairman, said he knows hiring Liebowitz will raise questions, but that it didn’t feel like a risk to bring him on board.

Steve Dincher, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Connecticut

Courtesy of Steve Dincher

Steve Dincher, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Connecticut

“We had multiple conversations with him as a State Central Committee and he has the access and the know-how to go get media appearances,” Dincher said. “He is on the Todd Feinburg show. And he was able to explain the principles of liberty exceedingly well. He was able to answer all the questions that we had regarding his past. And he was articulate in regards to explaining to the people who need to know that this actually exists.”

It wasn’t difficult to look past Liebowitz’s record, Dincher said. “We genuinely believe that he has served his time, has changed, is not the same person he was in 1997. Very few of us are, actually, but he certainly seems to be very different from someone who would have done what he did and he owns up to it. He takes full responsibility.”

Liebowitz had three friends break into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, where they beat her up and stabbed her boyfriend. The victim in the case could not be reached for comment.

“Obviously what he did is very anti-libertarian,” Dincher said. “Our very philosophy is based on not aggressing upon other people, even if we’re a government agent, and so he clearly was the aggressor, and he admits as much. The prison system gives him a unique insight into that area of the state and how they mismanage that a lot.

“We are a party of second chances for sure,” he said. “You admit you did wrong, you paid the price, and you’re going to change your life and be different now. We’re not going to hold what you did 25 years ago against you.”

He said Liebowitz and Feinburg, who is not a member of the party, are setting up an event to get the word out.

“We’re starting from essentially the ground up over the last few years,” Dincher said. “We’ve seen a lot of growth due to COVID opening people’s eyes. … We’re looking forward to continuing that growth until we can start to make waves and get people to see that the two major parties aren’t very different.”

The party’s main goal now is to find candidates to run in local races: municipal seats this fall and the state House in 2024.

“The way our voting system is structured it really lends itself to two parties,” Dincher said. “Local races are a little bit easier to break into, especially if you have fewer resources. Fewer doors to knock on. And you can still make a really good impact on your neighbors’ lives for liberty at the local level.  

“There’s a lot of people out there that have libertarian sympathies,” Liebowitz said. “The entire history of the country is one of libertarian ideas. And I think people just aren’t aware that there’s a party out there that actually represents their views.”

He disputed the idea that voting Libertarian would take away from the Republicans and be a wasted vote.

“I think voting for Republicans is a waste of a vote in Connecticut for two reasons,” he said. “One, they can’t win, and even when they do, what have they actually accomplished? Nothing.”

As for the Democrats, “they’re beholden now to their left wing,” he said. “I think that they favor far too many entitlements. They do nothing about debt. In the state they do nothing about the spending problems that we have; they do nothing to deal with the state pensions. And I don’t really see them as a viable party for anybody that’s concerned with individual liberty.”

Government space

Libertarians can broadly be considered conservative economically and liberal socially, but it’s not that easy to pigeonhole them, Liebowitz said.

“There’s nobody actually advocating for capitalism,” he said. “And what I mean by capitalism is free enterprise. So, for instance, you have two parties that argue about how big the minimum wage should be, rather than making the case that there should be no minimum wage at all because the government has no business in that space.”

People ought to be able to take a job at less than minimum wage if they choose, he said.

Other views include “that we ought to be actually going by the Constitution and not by judicial interpretations of it, or that we ought not to be putting people in prison for consensual or victimless crimes. So those are just a few of the things that I think are being woefully missed,” he said.

And while the Second Amendment is a federal issue, Liebowitz said, he stands behind it.

Ed Stannard can be reached at [email protected].

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