Friday, March 30, 2007

People in Jail

I love my job, but some days it just makes my head hurt. In some way, I can’t wait to be out there doing transactional work (nothing like drafting a commercial lease agreement to make the day fly by) and to not be here carefully spotting and researching every tricky little issue, especially when I don’t get any help from the attorneys representing their clients. It’s hard when you work for the government and have to be impartial and can’t pull one of them aside and say, “look, buddy, you’ve got a good case here, but you’re screwing it all up.” I really just want someone else to spot all the issues and do all the research for me on every case. But then I guess if everyone did that then I wouldn’t have a job, because then what would they need me for? If everyone was honest in their research, then there wouldn’t be a need for people like me to go along behind them and check that they aren’t lying or at least stretching the truth.
But at least this makes me a better lawyer, right? Because it forces me to look at the details, when I’d rather just focus on the big picture.
Speaking of dishonesty, we toured the county jail yesterday. That was truly an odd experience. I had been warned before hand that it would smell just awful, and it did. Like a combination of sweat, fear, and disinfectant. Fortunately we did not tour the old jail that is no longer used, because that’s where the really bad smell is (before we left for the tour, our bailiff, who used to work there, warned me, “don’t lean up against anything”). But I gotta say, the new jail isn’t all that pleasant-smelling, either.
The old jail is supposedly what you would expect a jail to look like. The new jail really wasn’t. In some areas, the inmates were free to move from their individual cells to the common area, they had lots of time to play basketball or workout in the gym, could watch television just about whenever they wanted, had some relative privacy in their cells thanks to the solid doors (with small windows on them), etc. That area is for the inmates who get along with others and can behave themselves. If I had to be in jail, that’s where I’d want to be. I would not want to be in the other areas, where you have virtually no privacy and spend most of your time in your cell. But I feel certain that I’d behave pretty well. Anyway, that area wasn’t so bad, other than the generally over-powering smell of disinfectant and the fact that you are locked up in jail. For the inmates that are in there, jail isn’t so bad. Not fun, and not where you’d most want to be, but not like the movies.
But nevertheless, when we toured the booking area, I felt really, really sad. The people in the holding cells looked totally devoid of hope. We stood within a few feet of someone getting his fingerprints taken, which I thought was a little harsh–give the guy some personal space for these last few minutes before he has none at all. Everyone down there had this look of fright and hopelessness. It was really, really sad.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some bad people out there, and what they do to get put in jail makes me not feel too bad for them, but there are a lot of people who just make very stupid decisions. I’m not saying that they don’t deserve to face the consequences of their actions–they do–but it also doesn’t mean that I can’t feel sympathy and compassion for them for what they are now facing. Anyone who thinks it isn’t a big deal, go down to your local county jail and look in the face of someone who’s getting booked for the first time, then see if you’d want to trade places with him (or her).
I wish we could do more as a society to help keep those people out who really don’t belong there. I think some people out there are just wired wrong, they just won’t follow the law no matter what we do, and those people you really do need to lock up. But there are others who just never learned to make good choices, never learned to see the probable consequences of their actions, never learned that they might have better options than crime. Is it society’s fault? No, not necessarily. But we’d all benefit if we could step in before their lives become lives of crime. I wish there was a way we could reach all those people before they start down that road, but there just isn’t a way to reach them all. It’s kind of heartbreaking.

1 comment:

Lia said...

Interesting subject here. In an ideal world, I'd agree with you. People could be trained to make better choices, and then they wouldn't stoop to lives of crime.

But I just spent a couple of days listening to a murder trial. A young man, hungry and homeless, wanted to steal an old man's wallet. So he killed this lovely, generous, friendly man, who smiled and held the elevator door for his killer. If he had only said, "I'm hungry - please feed me", this man would have. Even if he'd said, "Gimme your wallet," the old gentleman would have done so. Why did he have to die for the lousy hundred dollars? And the killer, from his confession, sounds like he was raised in a normal enough family.

People make bad decisions and hurt other people. Those people deserve to be punished.