After 16 months execution free, Virginia is scheduled to kill Robert Gleason, Jr. tomorrow. Â Mr. Gleason was sentenced to life in prison for the 2008 shooting death of a man in Amherst County, Virginia, in order to cover up a meth ring. While in prison, he killed two inmates, strangling both of them to death. Mr. Gleason said “I murdered that man cold-bloodedly. I planned it and I’m gonna do it again. Someone needs to stop it. The only way to stop me is put me on death row.”
Mr. Gleason fired his lawyers because they were trying to work out a deal to avoid the death penalty.
He didn’t want any appeal.
He wants to die.
So, why not let him die? I mean, he killed two guys in prison on purpose in order to get the death penalty. If we don’t kill him, like he said, he would keep killing. Isn’t this exactly what the death penalty is for?
I wish I had an answer for you folks on this one. It is a case that tests one’s abolitionist faith. But although Mr. Gleason wishes to die, although he wanted it so badly he was willing to keep killing for it (and it seems, unfortunately, Mr. Gleason just had a thing for killing people) I cannot accept that even in that circumstance a government that I do not trust to regulate my ability to text in my car should be the same government to kill.
Virginia will kill him at 9:00 pm on January 16, 2013. And he will get what he wanted. And really, since when is our system set up to give people convicted of heinous crimes what they want?
I guess like they say, death is different. He wants it. And we are going to oblige.
So I started last year with the best intentions, write more eat better drink more water. I failed on every count. Every single one. The only thing I did not fail to do is – no, strike that, I sucked at that too. So yeah, no. I did not accomplish any of the higher than high truer than true ideals I set out for myself at the start of 2012.
It seemed like it couldn’t go wrong. I mean, we had 12/12/12. We had 10/11/12. All the number were aligned. The Mayans were wrong. We survived.
Well, luckily for us we are still here. And while last year was a horrifyingly frightening mess I am still intending to write more, eat better, drink more water. If I stop intending to do these things the number on the calender will have won. And that can’t happen. I can’t let that happen.
I spent a good portion of the close of the year with some serious introspection. Not the ‘how deep is your love’ kind, but the kind where you say to yourself I really am good at X and I am really bad at Y and how do I fix that? The kind where you say what were the things I could have done better this year, where did it get out of hand, and what were the things that I blamed myself for that were simply out of my control.
I wrote lots of posts about losing my ability to write. I felt I had to write something and what I should have done is simply just write. Not for you, my friends, but for myself. Just a jumbled mess of words that maybe made no sense and were not fit for human consumption. But, I didn’t even do that. I am going to do that now.
I have lived a life that is a platitude – I have not ever cared what anyone thought about me. But you know what happens when you do that? You do Â not spend much time thinking about how what you do affects other people. So committed to the act of ‘being yourself’ and ‘speaking your mind’ that you cannot fathom that yourself and your mind might be harmful to others. Â This is the stuff that can leave you breathless when you finally wake up from your long winter’s nap and realize it.
This post is personal and yet vague at the same time. Years ago I wrote about the conception of my children, the struggle that was and the pain I felt. I don’t regret it but now I don’t feel that being that vulnerable in public is a good thing. And yet, dear readers, I want to try to be honest with you again because it was the fear of the honesty that kept me at bay. For the first time in my life I cared what you thought about me and I was not able to reconcile that with the notguilty you all had come to expect.
I have had a good amount of time now to find some sort of balance, to care about what impact my words, ideas and thoughts have while still saying them and being honest and true. I am 41 years old and I am just now figuring these things out.
So, I make no promises of weekly posts. I will write more (but maybe you won’t get to read it) eat better and drink more water.
Happy New Year, folks.
I’ve not been keeping up with the trends these days. Apparently people are talking about what a waste of time and money it is to go to law school and law professors are having a field day writing all sorts of crap they get paid to think about. I am not gonna lie, I think it would be nice to sit around and get paid to think and then write articles on it. As you can see, I can barely get around to doing it for the love of the game. This blog has been sorely neglected and writing, in general, has taken a back seat to this process of living Â life and being a mom and a lawyer and not the shittiest friend, daughter, and general human being around.
So far, so good. I’ve had some hits and misses but that’s how it goes, right?
I’ve written and said this a million times but I will say it again. I have not ever wanted to do anything but be a lawyer. Well, there was that short stint when I thought about getting my PhD in philosophy, but aside from that this was it for me. The alpha and the omega – the beginning and the end. I had no desire to go into corporate law or have a bunch of minions or sit in an office all day responding to discovery demands. I wanted to be in court, I wanted to talk to people. Dammit I will say it as naive as it sounds, I wanted to make a difference. And back then, I wanted to save the world.
I started as a prosecutor. This isn’t something I advertise and it doesn’t make me a better defense attorney. The thing that makes me a good defense attorney? You really want to know? It’s my humanity. I am a fallible, sentient, sometimes crazy human being. And, you know what? All those across the aisle are just like me.
Law school didn’t teach me this. I went to a third tier law school which had a fantastic bar pass rate. We didn’t learn theory or Â pie in the sky ideals. I think we had a class called law and theory and that was it. We learned black letter law. We learned how to look shit up and write it down. We learned how to write persuasively and to think rationally and logically. We used the Socratic method and were graded on one test a year. I passed the bar the first go around. So did almost all of my friends. We just wanted to be lawyers.
The thinking part came later. It came with a fuckload of life experience. I was one of those prosecutors who said “I’m not doing this to your client, your client made a choice to commit a crime” and my life has taught me how terribly wrong headed it was to say that. As if choices were really based on free will. As if we are all blank canvases every time we decide to go left or right. Silly me.
And now, now I know better. I know we are the sum of all of our experiences – taste, touch, sight, sound, feelings and sometimes just being bombarded on all sides by just plain old life – things we can’t control. And some things that were never about us but affect us so profoundly that they change us for good. Â And you, young person contemplating whether it’s worth it ask yourself what is worth it to you? Do you think you will graduate from a school with a piece of paper to hang on your wall and you can walk into court with your excellently thought out argument and know the theory behind it all and win? Maybe. But remember, those people you are talking to have lived a life. Find out what motivates them. Find out why they do what they do and how you can make them realize that at the end of the day they are just like you. They are just like that person that stands next to you at counsel’s table. We are all just the addition and subtraction of luck and coincidence.
Law school was worth it to me. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to get my hands dirty and get into the mix with judges and opposing counsel. I wanted to wear a suit and heels and carry a briefcase and say “Beg the court’s indulgence”. It’s true. I had fancy notions and fantasies and I can tell you this too – this isn’t how I thought it would be but it is so much better than I could ever even imagine.
If you want to save the world I say Go Forth! But realize that at the end of time if you save just one person, one day, one time from one thing, it will have been worth it.
This evening’s substantive post (and by substance I simply mean not writing about my writer’s block. Don’t expect to actually learn anything tonight) is inspired by one of my all time favorite books, Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where -”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
It’s sort of like trial work, right? When you prep for trial you start at the end – go to your jury instructions and figure out what needs to be proved and work your way back. Since you know where you want to go (not guilty no way!) you can figure out how to get there. If only all the rest of this law stuff was that simple.
In federal court you have a few options in trying to get out from under congress’s penalties called mandatory minimums. What this means is that if a person is convicted of a particular crime that carries one of these mandatory minimums the court HAS to sentence them to at least that much time even if they don’t think the person should get that much time. In those cases, the judge has no discretion except in two instances. A person who has no criminal history can go to the government, confess their sins, and get out from under these mandatory minimums and the judge can sentence him or her as he sees fit. A person who cooperates with the government (to their satisfaction, of course) can hope the prosecution will make a motion that will get them under these mandatory minimums. The problem in both of these cases is that while you know what your goal sort of is (lessen your client’s exposure) you are stuck playing both sides of the fence and feeling your way around. The direction you need to go is so much less clear since the end result is just as blurred.
Here’s the thing, our system right now is designed for pleas. We don’t try cases because the risk to our clients is so severe. We plead people out not because WE are afraid to try cases but because we are afraid for our clients. Lord, who doesn’t love the client who says fuck it, let’s roll this thing and can then take their licks at the end? But it’s simply not feasible. Sure, we have dreams of let’s all band together and take every one of these cases to trial and then THEY WILL REALLY BE FUCKED. But which of you is willing to let your client be the test case in this brave new world? I’m not. I don’t think any of you are either.
So here’s what happens. Our clients end up turning and cooperating or safety valve cooperating (is there really that much of a difference?) or just doing what needs to be done to stop the onslaught and crush of time that is staring them in the face. We lawyers move this way and that way with no real direction since we aren’t really sure which way to go. There is so much bobbing and weaving and compensating and just plain old everyday ass kissing that goes along with this. And it is soul crushing for lawyers who have faith in their ability to protect and advocate for their clients when they are simply unable to do so because the only thing they know is that they don’t want their client to go to jail for too long. Â This is not what we went to law school for, is it?
Our system is broken, hopelessly so. We cannot expect prosecutors or judges or anyone else to fix it and we take huge risks when we try to fight the battle ourselves. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know where I want to go. I just wish I could find a way to get us there.
Oh Mirriam, we are so tired of you talking about your writer’s block. It’s so boring – enough already. Can you not move on and, you know, bitch about the government or the death penalty or how poorly people are raising their children? Â Well, sure I feel like someday soon I will be able to do that but let me tell you some things you might not know.
When you are used to always having words, not having them is one of the most traumatizing things you can go through. I sit up at night thinking about where these words that used to come so free and easy, where did they go? Did they just give up on me and decide I was unworthy. Because, you see, my words are my lifeline to myself. I have been told that I don’t talk like everyone else, and this is true. Most of the time I really don’t know what people mean when they say things because I think, more often than not, people say things just to say things and don’t think about what they mean. Talking because that’s what people do.
I am not much for small talk. But I can get you to tell me your deepest darkest secrets without much fanfare. Why? Because I have words. They are my shield and my sword. And losing them has been the loss of such a sacred part of me. So I have to write about it because it’s when I write about it that the words are coming back.
I’ve been in therapy for a while trying to figure a lot of stuff out, primarily so I can be sure that my kids will have to spend less time in therapy. I see a Jungian, which is really far out. We talk about my dreams and I have to tell you I have given up on dream interpretation because holy shit I am so far off the mark most of the time. But here’s the crazy thing- your dreams really are talking to you. I had a dream the other night about my Yonas (who has just started kindergarten, by the way) he was dead in my dream. I was in a public bathroom and he was lying there, lifeless. I picked up the towel I had him wrapped in and I was crying hysterically, begging him to wake up for just one more hug, one more kiss. I woke up in tears.
When I was asked what Yonas was doing, what’s he like I said “He has words, amazing incredible words. He can express himself like no other 5 year old I know. He told me the other day that when I use my loud voice it is my stern voice. He can tell me how he feels and what he is afraid of or what makes him happy. He understands the poetry we read and he loves it.”
She looked at me and said, when was the last time you wrote some words?
I cannot describe how painful this writer’s block has been. It is a mental illness like depression or, I don’t know, name some other illness. And, in order to overcome it I must learn to use my words. Whatever they might be. Today, they are about the pain of losing my words. I don’t wish it upon any of my blogging brothers or sisters. I miss the days of gentle name calling and the back and forth. I miss being able to sit down and say I think X and having it flow from my fingertips onto this page. And the thing is I still feel all of the things I’ve always felt, I just physically and mentally have not been able to share them with you. So, I am using my stern voice with myself and with all of you. Please bear with me while I get my sea legs back.
A few weeks back I had the privilege of attending the 11th annual State Criminal Justice NetworkÂ Conference in San Fransisco. For those who donâ€™t know, SCJN is under the umbrella of the NationalÂ Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers which is the organization for, well, criminal defense lawyers.Â They put on conferences and have listservs and books and well, just a general network for criminalÂ defense lawyers to make sure they are up to date on the current law (because it changes every day) andÂ to make sure we have other folks to talk to on days when we feel no one understands us (oh boohooÂ woe is us and all that other crap.)
NACDL is also responsible for filing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court of the United States. So, basically the lawyers put together a brief to the Supreme Court saying here is this entire network of criminal defense lawyers who think you should rule X way. We Â donâ€™t each sign off on it, but itâ€™s generally known that we are pro-defendant, pro expanding civil liberties and well, anti- government. So, NACDL can draft a brief that coincides with what the defendant says and you can pretty much guarantee that about 92%Â of us will say yeah, thatâ€™s what we think too. The other 8% are not true believers and probably couldnâ€™tÂ get a real job so thatâ€™s why they do this and could not give a shit. And, you know what, good for them.Â Or not.
The SCJN does even more than that, their goal is to actually reform our criminal justice system. And, IÂ have to tell you that of all the CLEâ€™s Iâ€™ve attended in my life, save the National Criminal Defense College, this one was the most inspiring.
Think about it, my friends â€“ I am in a room with other people who want nothing more than to see theÂ end of the death penalty. I got to hear from the folks who are fighting against the three-strikes lawÂ in California (Proposition 36 on this yearâ€™s ballot) and who have defeated the death penalty in otherÂ states. We spoke about the penal system as a method of disenfranchising minorities, and juveniles goingÂ directly from the schoolhouse to the jailhouse. There were people who taught us how to use socialÂ media to expound our causes, and the public defenders who taught us to do things they say canâ€™t beÂ done. Oh, and did I tell you I was seated at Barry Scheckâ€™s table during the Gideon Gala dinner?
I was eager, am eager, am anxious to keep going back for more. To keep writing about ending the deathÂ penalty and changing our system of justice. But, you know what? I canâ€™t do it alone. Each and every oneÂ of you has to take part in this cause and you must do it by talking and talking and talking and talking.Â Talk in church and to your neighbors. I had deactivated my dumb facebook but then realized I couldnâ€™tÂ keep doing my death penalty page (www.facebook/nvadp) without a personal page, so now I use it toÂ share information on the death penalty (and post pics of my super cute kids). This shit is real, folks. This isnâ€™t made for tv stuff. There are real people being sent to jail and prison for relatively minor crimes (did you know it was a federal crime to send Â cigarettes in the mail? I didnâ€™t until yesterday). And people are being put to death for major crimes they might not have committed.
Itâ€™s time folks. It really is just time.
Some days this gig is just a job, but most days it feels like a compulsion. It’s still easy, after all these years, to feel self-righteous and view this thing we do as a calling, but today I wanted to see what others had to say about just that.Â I mean, is there scholarship about criminal defense lawyers feeling closer to god than, say, tax lawyers? Are there articles chronicling criminal lawyer’s disavowing their religion because of what they’ve seen in their careers? In order to answer these questions,Â I undertook a very rigorous study -Â I googled “god and the criminal defense lawyer.”Â Â Instead of finding out that, indeed, I am somehow wired to uncover the mysteries of the universe here in my office in Takoma Park, I unearthed some clever marketing by folks whose intention it was to “fight and pray hard” for their clients (not a terrible thing if you believe that sort of stuff, but motions are probably more the way to go) to another who viewed the prosecution of a client as an opportunity to convert them to the ways of Jesus Christ, which strikes me as something the grievance committee should address. I didn’t go to page 87 of google, so my study is probably not terribly scientifically reliable, but it’s what I got. No one has yet to say that criminal defense lawyers are more likely or less likely to believe in god. Oh, and lest I forget, one defense lawyer said Jesus was HIS defense lawyer.
So, you wonder, why am I asking these questions? Have I been MIA because I have been on a spiritual journey, an awakening of my inner self? Have I been readjusting my Chi or whatever. Sort of. I kind of have and at the same time I’ve actually just been really busy in this business of being a real big girl lawyer and taking care of my family. My dad went back to Afghanistan in March and I’ve been neck deep in discovery and have not had time to think about the issues of the day. I’ve also been involved in the local chapter of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and trying to figure out a way to get Virginia to stop killing people. So there’s been that.Â And all of that leads me to think about things like god and more than that, what I think about the idea of god and the notion of my soul.
Let me say this in case you cared – I don’t believe there is a hell. There is no place after this where the clients will get punished if our criminal justice system doesn’t get to them. I don’t think there is a heaven either, but I am not so quick to give up that thought because, well, it’s just nice to think I’ll be with all my friends and family and Sappho and Mocha Java once all of this is said and done. But I don’t know. And, to be honest I rarely think about it. Does it make a difference if I believe in gravity or oxygen or unicorns? No. They either exist or they don’t despite my useless belief in any or all of them. God, heaven and hell either are or aren’t and it doesn’t matter one bit what I say about it. Can I convince you that Great Falls, Virginia is as perfect a place to find god as a church sanctuary? Can I make you see that a five lane highway during rush hour with no fender benders is a miracle? If I tell you I’m not saved or don’t believe Mohammad is his messenger then I probably will not get very far in convincing you that the fact that we get up every day and continue the struggle is nothing short of spectacular.
But Mirriam, really? This is supposed to be a blog about the law. Where is the law?
Here – Jerry Sandusky was convicted a few weeks ago of terrible crimes. Lest anyone say we criminal lawyers are unfeeling bastards and want everyone to go free (well it’s mostly true) let me say that theoretically I believe that if he committed the crimes and they were proven beyond a reasonable doubt he should be convicted and a fitting punishment should be imposed. I say if only because I did not follow any of the trial and I’m not sure what the evidence was. But the jury spoke their verdict and guilty it was. So that’s where we start. On that day, the day of the dreaded TV verdict, people rejoiced in this thing called ‘justice’ being served. There were statements made by people who consider themselves ‘good’Â that they hoped he would be raped in jail. They hoped he would be murdered. They hoped he would suffer in every circle of Dante’s inferno. Ok, no one ever said that because the people calling for his rape and death have never read the Inferno. But that’s beside the point. The point is that I mentioned on that day, that there should be no celebration, no joy over the conviction because the children he molested were victims forever. That his wife and children would be left holding the bag, as they say. His kids would forever have to say “my father is a convicted child molester” and that instead of cheering, there should be sadness and grief for the destruction Sandusky caused.Â Needless to say, this was not received well by my audience. It turns out, as a criminal defense lawyer we are only allowed to say what we believe to other criminal defense lawyers. Other people are offended by the idea of compassion.
And I ask you, does it matter you, defense lawyer, if you believe in god? Your compassion is proof of humankind’s essential goodness. Compassion to those that these ‘good’ people feel should get none.
Today, Texas is scheduled to execute Yokamon Hearn. There is no doubt as to his guilt, they say. There is ample proof that he is mentally retarded. And tomorrow he will cease to exist on this earth. They will laud this event and take pride in it. Justice is being served, they say. May god be with they. Since they need it most.