I have some people in this virtual world that I am most pleased to be associated with. Some I’ve met in real life, and they’ve brought me a great deal of courage and insight as I make my way through this world. Others I interact with just through this here computer. I wish I could say that all of the folks I’ve met at school or at my jobs mean more to me than those who’ve found me through the blog or twitter, but that would just be a lie. And, while it would be a lie to say I am against lying, I want to be honest in this post (as I try to be in most) and tell you that it simply is not true. If I know you in real life, I may like you less than the person about whom I am writing today.
So, what was I saying? Oh yes, real life. Right. As I was saying. The folks I’ve come to ‘know’ (and I use the quotes simply to separate what convention calls knowing versus ‘knowing’ in the sense of gleaming what I can through conversations that take place online) are remarkable. Truly they are. They are soldiers (literally) and fighters (figuratively) artists and thinkers. Some are comedians and comediennes. It is, as I’ve said, Ernest Hemingway’s Paris for shut ins.
I’ve had the good fortune to run into some people who like to write. Writers. Not people who dabble in it the way I do, but who do it and mean it. And, I’ve been lucky enough to get to read the stuff they write. One young buck, Keith Lee, who writes a blog called Associate’s Mind, was kind enough (brave enough?) to send me an advanced copy of Â his book, The Marble and the Sculptor. Â Now, when you click on the link to his website you will see Keith isn’t a dumb shit. His blog isn’t a tumblr full of gifs and pithy quotes. It is a wellspring of information that new attorneys can and should read and incorporate into their daily lives. Keith is doing this thing that we do. And he is trying to do it well and set an example for the rest of you toddlers out there. He makes the profession proud.
I wanted to write some things about his book. And of course, I wanted to be complimentary and ooze and gush over it. I wanted to say things like “WELL WRITTEN!” “Every new lawyer needs to read this book and sleep with it under her pillow.” or whatever. But see, I’m not really a book critic. I wouldn’t even know how to begin writing a review of any such kind. I don’t even like book reviews. I mean, let me read it and figure it out for myself, I say. But here’s the thing abut this book. It made me think. It made me feel things. I wanted to sit with some of the thoughts and ideas, mull them over and pull them back out later and see how they fit with practice. Because, see, no matter what, I’ve been doing this longer. I may not do it better, but I think I’ve got some insight into which of the tidbits in the book are practical and which are just really nice ideas but, you know, fuck it.
Let me start by saying this – Rodin is my absolute favorite artist (well, him and Gaugin.) I love the Rodin museum in Philadelphia, and truly my ideal specimen of a man is the Thinker. As a girl, we had a replica in my father’s library (at that time the library was some 2×4′s on some bricks) and I would stare at it. Maybe I even had some fantasies about it but now my dad reads this blog so we will let that go. I think, though, that the idea that we are both the marble and the sculptor is spot on. In everything we do this is truth. It is not easy to cut and chisel and hack away in order to get to the thing underneath it all. It is a painful process and requires we let go of many beliefs and assumptions that we’ve held onto for so long. Not just us lawyers, but all humankind. When we think of ourselves as static instead of dynamic, we never get past just being a lump of clay.
(Oh, but notguilty, this is just part one, why is that?
Look, there’s a lot of stuff in this book. I mean, this guy is trying to tell you how to be a good lawyer, and I like to write about how I feel and think, so a review of the whole book would be very long, so just deal with it. I’ll get to the rest when I get to it.)
There is an arrogance in the book, a sense of knowing better than everyone else. But it’s a self-help book, right? I mean, who would write it but a guy with moxie who believes he has insight into things that others don’t. Â And, I get it – the idea being that young lawyers will listen to other young lawyers since they clearly won’t listen to us. There is so much in here that is worthwhile and good – for example, making sure you start building your reputation in law school; make sure you become a good writer; and realizing that this lawyer thing is really fucking hard work. So, if you think law school is stressful, you are in for a rude awakening, my friends. But then there are things that gave me pause. In one part of the book, Keith says if you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t thinking. And says that if you aren’t writing, you are just going through things in a routine way because you are lazy. I don’t know that this is true. I don’t write every day, and I certainly think more than the average bear. Maybe there are statistics or studies that support his hypothesis, but I don’t buy it. Writing is what writers do. It is not what everyone does. Â I don’t know if it is something everyone can do well, but that doesn’t mean a lot of people can’t create cohesive and rational arguments, or that they can’t be persuasive in a courtroom. The skills to write in a lawyerly way and in a writer’s way are just different. Keith has a gift. He can write, and it shows in every line of this book.
You know what else shows in every line of the book – that Keith is different from his peers. Sorry, not sorry. There is advice to be found in this book in droves. This, I think, is a book I would have written just a few years out of school. It is hopeful and powerful and tells you exactly what to do in order to be the best you can be in this profession. Â Hey old fart, this book isn’t for you. It’s not going to teach you how to fix things once you’ve been in practice for 15 years. That you need to find somewhere else. But, if you are just out of school and are just at a loss on how to get to where you’d like to be, get this book. Just realize that while Keith can lead you to the water, you still have to drink.
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The hardest part of this job is the humanity. You know, when you become a human being everyone else around you starts to look that way too. It is easier to kill, dig a hole and bury when people have no value and no meaning. When my life is worth more than yours or yours or yours. The burnout is real. When the people are real.
In Baltimore so far this year there have been 179 homicides.
In Chicago so far this year there have been 342 homicides.
In New Orleans so far this year there have been 116 homicides.
In Detroit so far this year there have been 197 homicides.
I’m not good at math. I don’t know if this equals 800 or less or more. But I know that each one of these people was a life that was not any more or less valuable than mine or yours. Or yours.
Or your son’s.
Or your mother’s.
Oh boohoo, notguilty. All you’ve done these days is blah blah about all of your stupid feelings about life and people and your kids. What about the LAW. You know, this thing you claim to be doing all the time. Aren’t there cases that have come up that are changing the way we view this system you have immersed yourself in? Aren’t there judges or prosecutors or public defenders wearing the wrong shoes? Oh yes, dear friends. There have been scores of cases that have changed the landscape of our briefs and memos. The ranks of horribly dressed individuals has not diminished to any great degree. But, I need to ask you something. Seriously. Let me ask you this:
Does it matter? And, more importantly, do you care?
I am glad to entertain you or inform you about the latest news coming down the pipeline from the Fourth Circuit (Maryland Assault 2nd is never an aggravated felony. Ever. I know I wrote about that stupid crime many moons ago but never had the chance to actually argue it. I am glad they figured it out, finally) And while that is a huge win for us and changes the lives of so many people, so many are still in prison for far too many years. Too many are dying. Just way, way, way too many.
You know what else happened? Eric Holder, our dearly beloved Attorney General said people who have never been convicted of a crime before and who meet certain other requirements shouldn’t be subject (automatically) to the federal mandatory minimums.Â Â I took a wait and see approach to this before I cast any judgement on it, but I’ve had it work in my clients’ favor thus far. Kudos to those prosecutors who know how and when to do the right thing. Or, now have the blessing of their king to do so.
Nothing changes until people make them change. It is the law until it isn’t anymore but it requires a great deal of patience and really, just some fucking guts to make it happen. The federal sentencing guidelines were mandatory until some brave souls stepped up and the Supreme Court said no, it can’t be. People could be convicted on hearsay – and we have this great confrontation clause in the constitution, but we most of us were willing to look the other way cause that was just how it was done. Until some lawyer somewhere said no. No. It can’t be. And it wasn’t.
Here, listen you should know this: Â There are people behind each of these cases. There are people behind Brady. Gideon. Booker. Human beings. Like you. Â The lawyers, the defendants. They have families who miss them when they work all night or are locked up for decades upon decades.
Don’t you have someone who misses you? Do you follow this up with “But I would never do X so I don’t have to worry about it.” If so, may you always carry that peace. Forevermore.
Have you ever been in a jail? Even for an hour? Have you visited someone you love and looked at them through glass or across a table with guards all around? I have not. Not yet. I have not. I have not known what that feels like. I go with a clear goal in mind. It is my job. I don’t leave my heart behind.
You know what I hate? I hate visiting on family visiting days. I hate the kids seeing their dads. I hate what it makes me feel and I am not sure what I hate. Do I hate the people who are in jail for doing this to their kids (wait, I’m not supposed to think that because I am on their side) or do I hate the system that got them in this situation? All I know is that these children don’t deserve this.
I don’t know what it is like to lose someone to violence on a street. To have them be called “unidentified male” in a log of lost souls. At the end of the day none of this matters to any great degree because we all just keep marching on. I am defense lawyer. You are judge. You are prosecutor. You are ordinary Joe and Jill citizen. We all just keep on keeping on.
You know what happens when the death penalty is repealed in a state? Death penalty lawyers hired by the state don’t have a job any more. And they celebrate the end of the barbarism while scrambling for a way to make ends meet. Because the good of it, well, it was what they were getting a paycheck for, isn’t it? To keep people from getting killed? Imagine? Advocating yourself out of work. That is what I hope for, my friends.
There will always be evil in this world. And less than that, people will make mistakes and break the law and there will be a need for people like me and those on the other side to get to the root of the root and the bud of the bud but my hope is that it won’t be like it is now. Sisyphus. Forever?
I want to ask you ‘law and order’ types, the throw away the key types. How do you sleep at night? Have you convinced yourself that this is not your problem? If people did the right thing bad things wouldn’t happen to them. How will you convince yourself of that if it happens to you and how – here is the real question – how are you so sure it won’t happen to you? Seriously. I want to know. How? Â And the truth is we can’t end this current system without you without you looking at those who are in the system in a different light. Until you can look at them like you look at yourself we are hopelessly stuck.
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My boys are now six years old and their little brains are not so little anymore. They are learning to read – although a little behind their friends they are most motivated to learn to do it so they can read menus and the words on their video games. They are immensely interested in pretend play, drawing and generally being six year old boys. And, along the way we try to teach them things like oh, you know ‘stranger danger’ and ‘private zones’ and generally how to fear people jumping out of bushes or trying to steal them from the strip mall or whatever. You know, typical parenting things. That stuff is easy and we have plenty of help from the world in teaching our kids to be afraid of other people and to make sure that others get the blame when stuff gets screwed up.
The hard part is teaching consequences. Simple unadulterated consequences. You do this, that thing will happen. When the sign says ‘push’ if you pull it won’t open. If your teacher says do your homework if you don’t you will get in trouble, etc. etc. You know, we wonder about the state of the world, our justice system, the general malaise of generation W, X, or Y. But I wonder if it is as simple as people not knowing that if you do fucked up shit, some fucked up shit might happen as a result.
Now, lest you think I am saying if you are a do gooder good karma follows, I want to be clear. People don’t always get what they deserve. There are some very good people who have bad shit happen to them through no fault of their own. The truth, though, is that generally isn’t the case. I mean, it is the case for cancer (sometimes) or being mugged or raped or you know, bad shit like that, but other times it probably is sort of your fault and you probably sort of did something to assist in the consequences that follow.
Most of us are not victims.
Again, in case you didn’t understand that: MOST OF US ARE NOT VICTIMS.
Our criminal justice system is horribly unfair. Not because people are innocent, but because the punishments frequently don’t fit the crime. If you are convicted of murder you do not go on a list somewhere for the rest of your life. If you are convicted of a sex offense, no matter how minor, your name will be on a list with the generic crime you committed for at least fifteen years. I’m sorry, but this isn’t fair. Is it fair that both get punished? Sure, I am not going to say people who commit crimes should not be punished. Even a crazy liberal like me doesn’t think that, but when you make the punishments so incongruous that they absolutely don’t make sense – well, that’s when you start losing people. If I have to shake my head at a sentence and want to stand up and scream “but my other client did something so much worse and he/she got less time!” well, then there is a problem.
And so it is with us in general, in life. Â And by ‘us’ I mean those of us who do not yet have criminal convictions (but who have probably committed a great many crimes without knowing it, or maybe even knowingly) we have a hard time actually being able to establish consequences that fit the actions. So, if my kid lies to me and what I want is the truth, do I punish him for the lie after he gives me the truth? And if I do that, how does that encourage truth telling in the future? Do I punish my child for not doing his best in something he doesn’t really like, for being mean to his brother (won’t he then look at his brother as a thorn in his side?) How do we do it? How do we let our kids know when something is wrong and to do right when the consequences of the doing wrong are made up by us. We are their justice system.
Look, people do all sorts of bad things and there are direct consequences that we can foresee (those you can file post conviction petitions for; those that we just shrug our shoulders and swallow – the “make your bed” type) and those we just never see coming. For a lot of us we think well getting arrested and going to prison for committing a crime are very obvious consequences like DUH. But I think for our client, frequently, they just didn’t see it coming. The world is so insular and insulated that this just seems like business as usual. And while this isn’t meant to belittle or make light of anything, it probably helps to see why it happens, and why it is so hard to keep people from making the same mistakes over and over again.
You take a drink. You can’t stop. You get drunk. You break things. You drive. You get arrested. You swear you won’t do it again.
You take a drink. You can’t stop. You get drunk. You break things. You drive. You get arrested. You swear you won’t do it again.
You know, we think about civil litigators and the clients they have that are repeat customers – the banks or the corporations big and small. We criminal defense lawyers, we know that ours are one offs – we can’t bank on these guys coming back with repeat business. But really, that’s the hope, isn’t it? That they will learn from their mistakes and we will never read about them or see them or defend them again? But if the lesson is just don’t get caught or the punishment will be disproportionate to what you have done, then what?
I’ve been thinking about his really in the context of parenting and just being a human being. I’ve written recently about wandering the earth thinking we’ve done good, but without taking the time to really see the impact we’ve had on the world around us. I didn’t even realize people thought about me when I left the room until I was planning my twentieth high school reunion. That shows how much insight I had into my impact on others. But in trying to figure out how to save my kids some money on therapy in the future, I’ve been thinking this is the thing to teach – that if you do good maybe good will come but if you do wrong much more wrongness will follow. Things you don’t anticipate or expect, a terrifying rippling effect that you may not ever be able to stop or control. The extra snowflake or tiny scream that causes the avalanche.
I know it’s been done before and most of us have fared halfway decently. Sure we fall down and get dusted up and maybe have a run in here or there with the law, with our friends or with those we love, but we manage to see another day. And fortunately we see it not behind bars. But how do we make sure? Because really, for my boys all I want is a little certainty. Is that too much to ask?Share on Facebook
I’ve written before about being brown in a black and white world. It really is, I think an advantageous yet unfair position because I can sift in and out of both worlds, all worlds. No one knows what I am and more importantly, what side I’m on. I sit on the fence watching all those around me engage in these race battles and I take snippets of this and snippets of that and I can continue to straddle the line. Folks think I am: Greek, Italian, Pakistani, Indian, Sephardic, Iranian. Once on an Air France flight I had to ask for the customs form twice and the stewardess said “What do you mean, aren’t you French?” They hardly ever say “Are you American?” and I’ve not ever once heard someone say “you look Afghan” although after I tell them where I am from they immediately say I remind them of this girl:
She doesn’t look like that now, and really neither do I. Years of war have changed her both outside and in, and years of figuring out how to live life have done the same to me. It’s the luxury of not looking Afghan, of living in America, it’s the luxury of the luck that I was born to the people I was born to.
These really are circumstances of luck. I mean, you didn’t pick being born white or black or brown or asian. You didn’t pick your station in life (but we’ve done away with those in American, haven’t we?) As the saying goes, we play the hand we are dealt. But what a stupid saying. It doesn’t even mention the game we are supposed to be playing – is it poker, blackjack? And in all of those games you have the option of getting new cards if the ones you hold really suck. Or, if you just want to try your luck with others. It is just a lie and created to make you feel as if you are trapped and that somehow you can still win even with a shitty hand. You can, but only if the other player’s hands are shittier. And they might be. But what a risk. And I’m not much of a gambler.
What a dangerous topic race is. No one wants to own their own inner racist. No one wants to believe that they see color or act on color or make decisions based on anything but the true inner workings of a person’s soul. But you lie to yourself. You see color you just ignore it when it suits you. I don’t know what it is like to be white even though I thought for the longest time I was. I don’t know what it’s like to be black, having almost never felt exposed to overt racism. But I see where these things crop up, I see people trying to convince themselves they are good people even though they have never broken bread with someone of a different race, “Well, there just aren’t that many of them around here” or “It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t have much in common with them.”
I’m not saying this is an attitude attributable only to whites. Hell, I have a friend who said she didn’t have any white friends except me. Wait – huh? Black are allowed to not be friends with whites too? Whoa.
So, see, this is a problem. You cannot actually know how to not be racist simply by searching your soul for the part of you who doesn’t hate the ‘other’. Â Fuck, it is easy to not be racist if there are no people of other races around. I mean, you don’t actually have to go out of your way to avoid them and you don’t know enough about them to hate them as a group. I’ am fairly certain that Asians and blacks don’t hate each other in Vietnam and Africa. It’s not an inherent ingrained thing. We are not born to hate or to distrust, we learn it. By being color blind. Because really, if you never see another color other than your own what’s there to look at in confusion?
I have a challenge for you, dear reader. And this may seem contrived but hey, humor me. If you don’t have a friend of another race, make one. Yes, go out and make one on purpose. Because you do not know until you know, you don’t know what your heart will bear and how you feel about people and things until you sit down and ask and learn and know. You don’t need to convince me of anything, but if you don’t have friends of different races and backgrounds I am going to assume that somewhere in your inner mechanism of humanity, you are holding onto a shred of fear.
As for me, well, I leave you with this thought. My whole life I thought I was a one and then I began to feel like an other. I always believed I could blend and change and adapt like a chameleon and, it turns out, I too was lying to myself. I cannot say it better than Marissa Tomei in one of the greatest trial movies of all time, My Cousin Vinnie:
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I have been a practicing lawyer for a whole bunch of years. Like really a good number of Â years – more than five but less than 20. Â I graduated from law school in 1997 so you do the math. Well, I did take some years off to be with the kids, then I did contract work which I guess is ‘lawyering-ish” but this is what I do. This is what I’ve always done and will probably continue to do as long as someone doesn’t realize how great my skills are and hire me away to do something fantastic for them paying me a lot of money yet not requiring me to come into the office with any regularity. And generally not telling me what to do. But seeing as how that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon I will continue to truck along doing this thing that I do. I wish I could tell you I was born to do this. I mean, of course people would tell me I should be a lawyer because “I like to argue” (maybe if you weren’t such a dumbass I wouldn’t have to argue. Maybe it has nothing to do with what vocation I should choose. Of course, this thought come way too late after many years of contemplation and therapy) and while I had a fleeting thought of getting my PhD in philosophy – I think, therefore why not – I didn’t do it. And thus, you lucky folks you, you have notguiltynoway.
But see, like I said, I wasn’t born this way. I wasn’t born knowing I could try cases or write appeals or really do much of anything except, I guess, argue. Which, at the end of the day isn’t how we do this lawyer thing really. When I went to law school I would read cases and I would think “WHAT THE HOLY FUCK??!!! Is this even english? This doesn’t even mean anything!” I truly did not get it. It seemed like up was down and down was up and the things you think are rational and true might not be at all. I was a philosophy major. I did symbolic logic. If A then B, if B then C equals A then C. Not so in the law. If A then B, if B then C equals go fuck yourself.
Think about this sweet readers: In the law the facts aren’t what they are, they are what twelve or so people decide they are.
Again. Facts are what someone else decides. They aren’t real things like the earth revolves around the sun or the makeup of water. I say the sun revolves around the earth and the prosecution says the earth revolves around the sun and then other people with no specialized knowledge of these things – people without telescopes with any range or power and people who may never have heard of Galileo they decide which is true and we have to let them.
I ask you who is born to this? To whom can this craziness come naturally? Maybe to some of us it makes more sense than to others or we have simply chosen to accept it as part of the system within which we operate. We don’t have much option, do we? Â So, in order to make ourselves we look to others who have already been on this wild ride a bit longer than we have. When I was a wee baby lawyer I had mentors in the District Attorney’s office where I started. I thought these people were excellent lawyers and wonderful human beings. They wore white hats and sat on noble steeds and they always did right. Ah, youth. When I jumped ship and came to the side of goodness and light I was fortunate to meet up with other lawyers who would guide me when I went astray, or just didn’t know what I was doing. I know, I know, you guys who have been here a while have heard much about Terry Kindlon and his impact on me in this law thing. But, lest you think I’ve stopped learning you should know that even now, with these years of doing this thing, I look to those who know more in order to guide me. Â Look, the truth is the more you know the more you know you don’t know. There are points in cases where I am so convinced I know all there is to know and when I ask I realize there are other things to know as well. And what is the harm is seeking help? My ego? Sure, it may get bruised and battered, but this thing isn’t about my ego anymore.
And so I leave you with this. I referred to it as a letter to a Young-ish lawyer.
Mirriamâ€“You need to develop a thicker skin if you want to do criminal law.Â This is a tough business. When itâ€™s done right it is difficult, draining, challenging and, ultimately, very rewarding. When itâ€™s done poorly, itâ€™s pathetic. Almost everybody I know who does this type of work well is frequently at the edge of his or her personal envelope, ready to pop. This is why we take vacations, fly airplanes, drink ourselves to death, runÂ marathons, gamble, go to the gym and always come back for more.
You have the brains and talent to do this work, however, and this is a big however, youâ€™ve got to stuff your ego into a wall locker and leave it there permanently if you expect to get anywhere important in the practice of criminal law. This is not about you and you simply cannot waste your time, effort or energy worrying about what people think of you as a person or how people are reacting to you as a personality. Develop your abilities and you wonâ€™t give a shit about what people think. This is not a popularityÂ contest.
This is about the clients, the judges, the prosecutors and the law. We defense lawyers are here to do the very best we can for our clients, but we are not here to worry too much about whether people like us or not, or whether they approve of us or whether theyâ€™re â€śmeanâ€ť to us, or whether theyâ€™re disrespectful to us.
I donâ€™t know how exactly to get hold of this one, Iâ€™m not exactly certain that Iâ€™m expressing the idea that Iâ€™m trying to get across to you clearly or not, but, one last try, here goesâ€“Whatâ€™s important about your performance as a lawyer is how effective you are, how persuasive. Whatâ€™s not important is whether or not you feel you are being properly admired, loved and respected.
Thatâ€™s just not the point. We yell in this business. It happens. It usually happens for a reason,Â even if itâ€™s not always a good reason. The yelling, however, is not the predicatefor a fight, or a counterattack, and I must emphasize that, if you want to fight with me every time I yell, then I am calling this off. I need a helper, not a sparring partner. I donâ€™t need somebody who wants to fight with me whenever she feels sheâ€™s being dissed. Iâ€™m too old, and too far along in my career, to spend my very precious time fighting withÂ somebody approximately half my age.
If you will help me, and talk to me about law and clients and cases, then I will benefit from the assistance and you will benefit from sharing the knowledge Iâ€™ve managed to accumulate over the past 33 years. If you want to fight with me, I donâ€™t want to fight with you.I also do not want to have any more discussions with you about this aspect of our professional relationship. I will go to the ends of the earth to help you develop as a lawyer. I will do everything in my power to assist you in becoming competent, effective, perceptive and successful, but I decline to get involved in any more hassles with you because you feel youâ€™ve been insulted. Itâ€™s just not what I do.
Thanks for listening.
We are all getting old. Terry told me recently that he has been in practice long enough now that the folks that he had early on that were sentenced to 25-life are out and living decent lives. This is something that has stuck with me, the idea that when we let go of our clients they continue to move on just like we do. And we continue on this path as lawyers, litigators, adversaries, counselors. We all need a little help now and then. Suck up your ego. Shoot someone an email and get it for the good of your clients and yourselves.
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On facebook today I saw a post on a story called Kafka and the doll. The story goes that Kafka, when he moves to Berlin, meets a young girl who is desolate over the loss of a beloved doll. Kafka helps the girl look for the doll and when he can’t find it, he tells her the doll has gone on a journey. Over a period of weeks, he writes letters to the girl detailing the doll’s travels. At the end, Kafka sends the girl a doll – of course it is different from the original one, but tells the girl that the travel has changed her. That love always returns but in different forms.
This resonated very deeply within me and I tried to figure out why. I think folks have a visceral reaction to the idea of loss and grief but we don’t spend a lot of time exploring why it is, what is it about this story in particular that hits us at that far back place in our brains and our hearts. I thought and thought and I think it simply is because it is true. All that we do, each day, each minute of each day changes us and if it does not then there is a real problem we must address.
Here is my secret – I am not the same person I was last year. I am not the same as I was yesterday although my basic belief system has not been terribly altered in these twenty-four hours. A series of 24 hour events though can lead to a crack in the earth, it can lead to water rushing in and lands leveling out. If I let it. So much of the time we have labeled ourselves as who we are and have determined that we shall not behave in X manner because it would not be in line with who we perceive ourselves to be. You notice I did not say WHO WE REALLY ARE, but with our perception of ourselves. I envy those people who have perceptions of themselves and who seem keen on who they are “Don’t you know me?” they ask as if I should expect that their human nature is what they show me and to expect it to change because of life events or realizations they may have along the way is just absurd.
When I sit with a client who needs to make a decision about a plea or going to trial, I stand with them on the brink of a phenomenal cliff. Â (One that I get to step back from after a time) The only thing that will truly keep the status quo with none of the dirt of the ‘justice’ system touching them is an outright acquittal – not guilty, dismissed, go away, expunge, you are back to who you were before the state tried to turn you into someone else. This, however, is not a realistic proposition for a lot of people in the path of the system. They must decide how much of themselves they are going to change whether it means they will be convicted felons or sex offenders or folks who spent five days in jail on a minor misdemeanor. The idea is that these are actual THINGS that happen that change the course of your life as opposed to ephemera and ideals that can pass through without any real consequences. As if the loss of love, or of peace or of the notion of safety won’t change you to the same extent that a felony conviction will. And, please please please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that this thing that happens to our clients isn’t life altering. It is – but we who don’t yet have criminal convictions – we should take our journeys as seriously as those of our clients. We are almost always standing on the edge of a phenomenal cliff. Choose. Choose. Choose. Figure out which thing won’t have the effect of changing who you are. But maybe changing who you think you are.
This shit changes you. It changes your idea of who you are as a human being, it changes what you view as worthwhile endeavors and what the things are that can get your insides jostled. You aren’t going to jail? Well, then I think you are having a pretty good day. Yeah, that’s how I view the troubles of the rest of the world. Your water-cooler talk and the fact that your boss is a meanine is insignificant when my clients face such intense consequences that will alter everything they do for all of the days of their lives. But yet, but yet what I hope in the center of my being is that it leads them to come back in a different form. That the travel changes them.
I am horribly naive still. I believe in redemption, I believe that people deserve a second, third, thirtieth chance.
My kid asked me about whether I help bad guys get out of jail and I said not bad guys, good people who do bad things. He said “mama, when they go to jail they make a promise they won’t do it again and that’s when they come out, right?” I said right because it is a difficult concept to explain to a six year old, this idea of rehabilitation and recidivism, this idea that the goal is to give everyone another chance to make it right, that this isn’t a story about good versus evil and that my clients are not like the Joker – just bad people all around. That all of us are on just a trip, that’s all and nothing else.
I started with Kafka and a doll and took a few turns that I didn’t even know were coming. My mind wanders in all sorts of paths. I make connections where others might not, but I am certain that you, my friend, do the same you are just more cautious in the editing process that you don’t show me the flaws in your logic and reason. But see, this is my journey. And things are changing. And I want you to see it and I want you to share it with me and I will share it with you.
Here is the thing that has not changed for me, my desire to be this ridiculous champion for the cause. What cause? Oh, this one. This one where we acknowledge that none of us are truly walk between the raindrops types and that at some point the shit hits the fan for each of us. If you believe you will remain untouched by the things that touch my clients, you know “those people” well, I hope you are right. Â I hope no one ever comes knocking at your door saying you or your child or your brother has done this thing that you never imagined them doing. I hope that you never experience loss Â and that your journey brings nothing but good tidings. But those things change you too. Let it change you. When you let it you will see that me and you aren’t that different. That you and those guys who promise not to do bad things again aren’t that different either. Scary, huh?Share on Facebook
I have a very nicely paved road to hell.
Immigrants, before they come to America, they imagine the roads are lined with gold, the buildings gleam with their inlaid silver, and that the cars exhaust is filled with perfume. They are not prepared for the reality of what they face. My roads, mine that I have built for myself are lined with gold.
My good intentions have been many. I am the queen of new year’s resolutions, yom kippur resolutions, Monday resolutions and new school year resolutions. I build towers in the sky with my ideas and ideals and think I can accomplish much more than I actually can in a day or a week or fuck, give me an hour and I can cure your cancer. It turns out that things actually take time and energy and effort and discipline.
I have never gone for ritual. I always equated it with religiosity or some other form of hocus pocus. Why do the same thing every day whether or not you feel like it? Why not follow your passion, your whim, your fancy? What am I? A 19th century British gentleman? It has taken me all of these years to figure out that my passion, my whim and my fancy has been good to me so far but at some point it would fail me and my lack of discipline would kick in.
See, I am a pretty well self motivated sort. I get up without an alarm clock, but not as early as I would like. I manage to do my job, be home for my kids and really not much else. Why is that? Well, it turns out because I have not carved out time to do the things that need to be done. And yes, then I end up complaining about it. And not because I am busy doing things, but because I just haven’t figured out how to get the things done. Â The other day I was reading something I don’t really remember what it was. Maybe it was about meditation or getting things done or checklists or some other thing on how to be more efficient and it said something we all know and take for granted. That in fact, in this day and age, we have more time than we have ever had before. We get more done than we ever have in the past. Let me give you an example. In the olden days, when we would get discovery on a big case, it would be paper. Loads and loads of paper. We would have to go through all of it to find the thing that we needed. It sucked. BIG TIME. And it took a shit ton of time. I used to get to work at 3 am to dig through stuff and not get done until midnight then do it all over again. And guess what? Back then I had time to hang out with friends and exercise and be a human being. Maybe because I was so busy? Now, I have a service I use that actually sorts all the CD’s I get of discovery. Sorts them and makes them searchable and all I have to do is look at search terms. Â Uh huh, that’s right, that’s what it does. And you know what? I am still so busy. Right? Am I right?
Greenfield is right. This is a lie I tell myself and I will not speak for you and you and you but you know you waste your time. I am not saying looking at pictures of kittahs is a waste of time and is totally unneeded. Good for the old coot to never need a break from his toils and troubles. I mean that seriously. Â But there are real wastes of time – those that live in your brain that say do this instead of that. Do this other thing instead of the thing you are afraid to do. Just do it. Do it despite your fear despite the dread despite the idea that you think you don’t have five minutes to spare. Do it. Do it. Do it.
And to hell with thinking rituals are lame. Sure, I may think your religious crap is crap. But kudos to you for doing a dumb thing every day with serious discipline. I mean that in the kindest way. It makes you whole it makes you better it makes you aware of your failing in that you cannot rely on your passion and whim and fancy to get this stuff done.
I am busy but not with the things that matter. I have busied my mind to avoid those things precisely. Tell the truth, my dear reader, don’t you do the same? We are all guilty of it.
But thankfully, we are all not guilty of something.Share on Facebook