That was what I really wanted to say when one of our clients, a defendant in a federal case, came to visit us at the office recently. But, you know, you can’t really say that to people. It’s awkward and unappreciated and weird. But my intentions are good, I swear!
This client is kind of special to us. This was a case that fell in our lap and came to a head really quickly. We were retained on the eve of a detention hearing, and with my boss out of the office that day, I was the one frantically trying to create and e-file a federal appearance through Pacer and get our ducks in a row with the clerk and the AUSA in the time span of, like, an hour.
That was … interesting.
(I hate Pacer. But I love clerks. They are always so sweet and helpful. So shit evens out.)
Once we filed the appearance, I was able to get the courtroom clerk and the AUSA on the line, and they could actually talk to us about the details since the paperwork was in the file. My boss asked for the detention hearing to be pushed out a few days to give us some time to prepare and warm up to the client and his family and everything.
So when the detention hearing rolled around, we showed up in court not all that optimistic about our chances. Our client was brought into the room in his orange jumpsuit and hand/leg shackles, and the hearing was underway. And as you already know, we won and our client was released on bond.
And we walked out of the courtroom like this,
I’m joking, I’m joking.
(But in our minds, we walked out like that.)
At the time, we were aware that it was quite a big deal to win one like that, because federal judges tend to be very cautious and keep defendants in custody rather than fussing about with PreTrial Services and bond conditions and custodians and all of that.
But we didn’t really understand yet just how big a deal it was.
We currently have two federal cases pending in this district. For the other one, I had been talking to one of the Federal Defenders in that district because I needed some help with a discovery letter I was writing. I had a rough draft in hand, but I wanted one that was local so I could get a better feel for the culture there and how the local defenders practiced, what they asked for, what the conventions were, etc.
(That’s one of the things my boss really stresses when he puts me on these projects: the importance of learning the local culture, even if that means something as simple as showing up to the courtroom early and watching the in-room PDs deal with the ASAs.)
So I’d been talking to this FD, and my boss had been as well, because this FD was actually the initial attorney for the client in our newest case. And he mentioned that he’d been there that day for the hearing, and that we were the talk of the courthouse.
This took us a bit by surprise, and the FD explained that the judge in question never let anyone out on bond. Ever. It was just kind of an understood thing there: if you get this judge, your boy is staying in custody. Even when the government and the defense agreed that releasing the defendant on bond would be appropriate, it was always nixed.
And so when we got our client out that day (he wasn’t released officially until two weeks later), it was big, big news. Because it just wasn’t done.
So that was pretty cool. And hearing it from one of the federal defenders was awesome. We were just like,
So, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we’re kind of a big deal in that courthouse now.
But anyway, our client was finally released, and we needed him to come to the office (with his custodians, obviously, as a condition of bond) and sign a waiver of the 30 day period for charging by information or indictment. That pushes the arraignment date out until some point in May, which works better for everyone.
We have some time to breathe, and focus on some other cases that are in trial posture, and the AUSA gets some time to get the forensics back and analyze the case a bit more. Plus, the timing and the procedural stuff that still needs to be done will affect how the case is positioned. So I’m looking forward to working more on that and seeing how it all develops.
But we had the client come in with his family to discuss the case and the waiver and what it meant and give him a chance to figure it all out. It was our first time seeing him out of prison, because our previous meetings with him had either been in the detention center or in the courtroom, where he was dressed in that awful jumpsuit and wearing those awful shackles.
And the first thing I noticed when he walked in was how much … better he looked.
I know that’s kind of a “duh” moment. I know it sounds dumb of me to say that.
But really, that was what I noticed, and what I was just blown away by. He looked alive. He had color. His eyes sparkled. His movements were freer, easier. When he was in prison, he looked … dead.
I don’t mean that to be disrespectful, I swear. Or insensitive. But he looked like a mere shadow of himself, almost to the point that it was unnerving.
He was so pale, basically sickly looking. His eyes were dull. His movements were restrained (obviously) but more than that, listless. When he was seated close to my side in the courtroom in that glaring jumpsuit and cold shackles, he seemed really, really small.
Guys. I’m small. I am. I’m 5’1″. I’m a small person.
But when I was with him, he felt just as small as I am. He looked that small. I thought he was that small, just because it felt that way.
And that, of course, triggered my near-rabid protective instincts. I seriously need to get a grip. But it was kind of funny, the comic alacrity with which both AUSAs turned and stared at me when, as my boss got up to move to the podium for direct, I scooted my chair right next to my client and settled my hand on his armrest. I’d also occasionally lean over to murmur something to him throughout the course of the hearing. \
The judge noticed my Mother Hen tendencies, too, which, hey, we caught all the right edges to get him out, so maybe that was one of them. (The judge actually commented on it in his ruling, too, which I thought was kind of funny.)
But when our client showed up in our office, seriously, it was like a completely different man had walked in. His color was good, he’d looked to have gained a little weight back, he was actually talking and smiling, and holy crap, you guys, the boy is tall.
I don’t think I even come up to his shoulder. He’s tall.
And that’s why it kind of makes me laugh and shake my head when I think back on how small I thought he was. And that’s why I comment on the difference of seeing him in prison and out on bond – because it really is a huge difference! For God’s sake, I could have sworn to you that our client was short and slight, when in reality he’s tall and broad-shouldered.
Man, did that mess with my sense of perception.
Prison is weird, you guys.
It’s like this place where order and reality are suspended.
I just … I don’t know.
Prison is weird.
I’ve been in jails and lock-up and detention centers and prisons and any other name you can think of for places where people are incarcerated and … it’s like it never gets any easier.
It’s not like it’s hard to go there. It’s not like it’s difficult for me to set foot through those doors.
But it’s surreal, almost. Every time I go, it’s just surreal. It’s this place so far removed from my own life and my own experiences, and even the experiences of everyone I know.
I wonder if it’ll ever not be surreal.
Frankly, I doubt it.