Low Down Freedom

I spent about 15 hours pleading for a man’s freedom the other day. Almost certainly my efforts will be in vain.

His history is nearly stereotypical of a man branded an unreformable career criminal.  His father was an addict and a criminal who fathered at least 4 childrent hat my client never knew. He started drinking and smoking pot regularly at 13 and was “jumped” in to a street gang the next year.  The real seed to his perpetual incarceration began at 17 when he met the love of his life–heroin. His other mistress, methamphetamine, joined him shortly thereafter.

He went down for the first time at 21 for robbing a couple of stuff worth about $50. He was with a group of dumb gangsters who surrounded a young couple parked in their car and forced them to get out and empty their pockets. He spent less than a year in jail before he was back on the street looking for a fix.  The facts were hazy, but it seems less than six months later he was the driver in what must have been a desperately ill-conceived “strong arm” robbery.  It ended in a high-speed chase and a 9 year prison term.

Eight years later he picked his fourth “strike” — assault by a prisoner with a deadly weapon. The details here are also cloudy.  A fight over drugs brought him four more years in prison, a nasty scar on his arm, and a lifetime of regret.  I assume that the judge had mercy and not giving him a third-strike life sentence because his crime was most likely too common in prison to infer that he was a danger to society.  He was paroled four and a half years later.

Six months later my client has two other junkies in his car passing a meth pipe– minding their own business–parked on an Orange County street on what must have been a lovely day. Two bored SWAT officers rolled through the neighborhood–undoubtedly looking for some action.  Tragicomedy ensued.

The two junkies stumbled from the care, likely tweaking in an obvious manner. My client shut the door and carefully drove away, not unnoticed by the affable SWAT officers.  After what must have been a very tense attempt at keeping all traffic laws, the explosion of police lights confirmed my clients worst fears. He bolted.

After ten minutes of veering through busy streets at 45 miles an hour, driving on the wrong side of the road to avoid stopped traffic, and ignoring lights, signs, and all common sense– my client spun out behind an army of wailing police cars.

The SWAT officers drew down and ran up on the immobilized car yelling. My client threw open the door and flung a empty Czechoslovakian pistol  wrapped in a blue shirt and bandana into the median, and sat motionless in the car for fear of gunfire. After several hundred thousand volts were pulsed through his body he was handcuffed and arrested. 

For this last imbroglio our friend was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison.  He is just about my age a few months older than 39 at sentencing. Much was made at trial of the gang tattoos from his youth at trial.  He was accused of gangsterism as well as recklessly evading police and felon in possession of a handgun. He beat those charges but it only reduced his potential incarceration from 40-to-life years to 25-to-life, a small consolation for someone who will most certainly die in prison.

Its nearly unfathomable for me to imagine spending 25 years locked in an insane, brutal, cold complex filled with guards and criminals– I get creeped out in Target.  Society is going to lock this guy away for that long for running from the police– and being an extremely stupid drug addict– but this is unquestionably the case.

The judge agonized over whether he should reduce the sentence “in the interests of justice”. Ultimately he made the decision to lock my client away for what will likely be the rest of his life. What was nearly heartbreaking was his last plea for a sane life.   He plead for mercy, for some help with his addiction, and asked what he could do.   He offered to save money to have the tattoos on his back removed because of the offense to the authorities that they seemed to cause.  This statement was what got me, reflecting a deep confusion about society and what was going on.  He clearly understood that his car chase would get him locked away as a “third strike”  he simply didn’t understand why he was being locked away for so long, without hope of redemption.  It was somewhat Kafkaesque.  I am not going to excuse his behavior, but his ignorance– not sure where to lay the blame for that. The world is very confusing for those without judgment and direction. 

Low down freedom,you’ve done cost me
Everything i’ll ever lose
Your as empty as my pockets
From the top of where you start down to the bottom of my shoes

– Billy Joe Shaver

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2 responses to “Low Down Freedom

  1. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the best albums ever.

  2. Looks like this guy may get out early with the passing of the new law which eliminates a lot of the injustices of the Three Strikes System. http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Prop-36-Three-strikes-changes-approved-4014677.php

    This change will certain aspects of my job easier to stomach. It sticks in my craw when I have to watch people go down for life for relatively petty crimes.

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