The other day, my boss, Raymond Wigell, and I made the trip out to the detention center in Baked Potato Soup county to visit three of our federal inmates that, as luck of would have it, are all together there now. They used to be spread out pretty far, with one actually in Amsterdam until he was extradited a little over a week ago.
This jail visit was kind of spontaneous. We had it planned for the next day since it was an office day and we could spare the long drive and the several hours there that it would take. But with a bad snow storm coming, we decided we’d work almost a full day at the office and head out at 3PM to the jail. We didn’t leave until past dark, so that was an experience. My boss and I were both yawning on the way back and struggling to discuss the trip.
Oh! I found a picture on my phone from the visit! This is what I looked like that day. It was just an office day, so I wasn’t in a suit. I was just wearing a green top, a black skirt, these awesome green heels, and basically the slouchiest, scratchiest gray sweater I own that I keep at the office because the temperature swings wildly there throughout the day.
So without further ado, here is my face.
…My hair looks so damn blue sometimes. Doesn’t it? Black-blue, that is. Not blue-blue.
We do occasional jail visits with our clients in custody, even if there isn’t anything immediately pressing to report or discuss, just because we want to touch base fairly regularly and communicate with them. This meeting was the first in a series of meetings that we’re going to have because each case is starting to move out of a holding pattern. We’ll be preparing for sentencing in two of the cases, and the other one is actually going to trial in the summer, which is very exciting because trials at the federal level are rather rare.
I can’t really show that I’m too excited about it, because these are very serious charges, and a very disturbing factual basis, and a man’s freedom hangs in the balance, and this is all super serious business and I am a super serious professional, you guys, obviously.
…But on the inside, I’m basically like,
You guys! A federal trial! A federal trial, you guys!
(Ugh, I have no idea why WordPress/BlueHost is messing up my gifs. Blergh.)
Do you know how RARE it is for a criminal case to go to trial at the federal level? Approximately 97% of federal criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas. ALSO. I have been a criminal defense attorney for, like, four months. According to my boss, I’ve done an excellent job and I have great lawyerly instincts and I’m an amazing writer, but still. Four months. And I’m going to be second chair in a federal criminal trial. Most criminal lawyers don’t see this kind of action until, like, 5-10 years into their practice.
I’m just so, so excited.
So that was what we discussed with our first client. We just touched base with him and let him know where we all were procedurally and what was coming up.
Our next client for the day was … quite interesting. I mean, he’s suspected of being the kingpin of an international drug ring, and suspected of running the largest heroin operation into the United States. The government has been after him for fifteen years. I was a mere 10 years old when they first started formally investigating him.
The charge against him is money laundering, because that’s usually how they try to get people that they suspect of these kinds of activities, so that’s what we’re working on.
This case isn’t going to trial. It’s a plea agreement, and since he was actually initially convicted of money laundering in the Netherlands and extradited from there after he tried a crapload of appeals, the procedural aspect is really, really interesting. In the course of looking at his case, I’ve learned all sorts of crazy things and enjoyed every minute of it.
Our last client, OMG.
OMG, you guys. You guys, OMG.
This was a case that originally started out as a death penalty. My boss worked with his BFF Andrea Lyon, one of the women who inspired me to want to be a criminal defense attorney, and got it “de-deathed.” We are now in the sentencing phase and just got back a copy of the PSIR (Pre-Sentencing Investigative Report, usually called a PSI on the state level).
We had a good meeting with the client, who was recently moved over from another facility, and he’s an intensely charismatic man. I just love him to bits. He’s very charming and very warm and friendly and personable, and just brilliant. A brilliant, brilliant man. He’s also suspected of being the second commander of one of Chicago’s most notorious gangs, so there’s that.
At the end of our visit, he mentioned that he was working on a bunch of songs, and he wasn’t writing them down, but just keeping them in his head and he’d be happy to perform one for us.
Now obviously, I was REALLY excited about this.
That was basically my face.
So since there was no music, obviously, he performed it as spoken word, and it was amazing. It was the length of a normal track of its kind, and the structure was tight, the rhymes were sharp, the message was pointed. They were the words of a smart, tortured, disenfranchised, brilliant man with bad memories. It was a great song.
And do you know what it reminded me of?
It TOTALLY reminded me of ‘Ye’s College Dropout album.
And if you jerks would shut up for just one minute and think about it, you’d start to get what I mean.
Who was Kanye when he wrote College Dropout?
He was a young Black man in Chicago, growing up as the son of a single mother, a man without a lot of resources, but a fierce drive and a world of ambition. He was a Black man in Chicago. Really, that says it all right there. He saw personal and institutional racism all around him every single day and he channeled that and his struggles into his music and wrote College Dropout.
That’s why I kind of want to just slap his critics who whine about how 808s and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy were phony and faux-artistics and too far removed from his roots and too complex in theory and execution and how they wish he’d just write a College Dropout 2.0.
No. Shut up. If you honestly think that about 808s and MBDTF, it’s not because they’re ‘faux-artistic’ or ‘too far removed.’ It’s because you don’t *get* them. And I’m not trying to be an ass about this – I didn’t get 808s at first, either. I was like, what is this crap? Give me more Graduation!
(I also really loved Late Registration. Who am I kidding? I love EVERY album! He could probably say something in his sleep and I’d record it and then go hunt down each and every Grammy voter and sit outside their houses with a torch and a pitchfork until they agreed to reward him for those slurred, sleepy words. I’m kind of unhinged, you guys.)
It took me a few listens to understand 808s, to see how it fit together and how it flowed and to start to grasp what it meant. And then I loved it to bits, start to finish. When MBDTF came out, I was prepared to ‘not get it’ until I listened to it a few times, so I was really excited to have my mind blown by Yeezus. And I was not disappointed.
The Kanye that wrote College Dropout no longer exists. He will never again exist. That Kanye that struggled as a young Black man in Chicago is gone. That is not at all to say that he doesn’t still struggle as a young Black man. He absolutely does. But he’s different now. His experiences are different.
Our client, though, is similarly situated to the College-Dropout-Yeezy in many important ways. And when he let loose with that awesome performance in a freezing contact room at a detention center, I definitely heard Kanye West. I heard the voice and the words of a young Kanye West who is a native son, who survived on the streets because he’s fucking brilliant, who is locked up away from his family and his children and his friends, and won’t be out for many years.
Seriously, it was wonderful.
It was one of those experiences that doesn’t sound really impressive, and part of that is my failure to describe it in a particularly moving way. Also I would have LOVED to have a text version of it for myself, not to share here or anything, but to have. I think I’ll ask him to write it down for me the next time we talk.
So I know that it doesn’t sound like a whole lot. Huma sat in a freezing cold visitation room right next to a prisoner and he sang a song.
But it’s one of those things I will remember for a long, long time. His words, the way he looked, the way it sounded and flowed, and how it felt. I’ll remember that for a very long time.