Sunday, May 25, 2008

Let's not go to prison

Most of my clients are in custody. If I want to see them, discuss important case strategy, or get their signatures on paperwork, I have to go to them. The thing is, I really don't like going to jail or prison. I know, I know, no one likes to. It's a hassle. They stamp you with that invisible stamp that, secretly, you worry must possess carcinogenic chemicals. You have to go through the security, get an escort to the visiting room, which is never as confidential as it should be. You have to see your client in ugly scrubs and slippers, usually in shackles. And there's usually some sort of power play by the prison officials. They tell you you can only stay for half an hour or you can't bring certain papers in or try to get a guard to stay in the room or make up some ridiculously arbitrary rule that serves no purpose but to remind you exactly who's in charge.

I don't enjoy any of that, but my main problem with going to visit my clients is that I just can't stand being behind bars. I hate driving up and seeing the barbed-wire fence with the sniper tower. I silently cringe each time I go through that first metal door. When it clangs shut behind me and I'm in the sally port, all I want to do is bang on the door and beg them to let me out.

The last time I went to prison, they took me to the cell house where I get to meet with my client in a private room. In this room, they insist on putting my client into a cage, so we can't have any sense of normalcy during the meeting. I find this infuriating, because I resent the idea that I should have anything to fear from my clients. I assure you, I am not afraid of any of them. Naturally, I want the door shut so the nosy guards can't hear what we're talking about. As the door shut this last time, I realized there was no door knob on the inside! There used to be, but they'd removed it! (Side note: why? Are they seriously afraid that someone would remove that doorknob and turn it in to a weapon? Has this actually happened or are they just that paranoid? If they're seriously worried about this, can't they just check to make sure the doorknob is still there when they come back into the room to take the inmate away?)

Without a doorknob, how was I going to open the door to get back out? I scanned the walls and discovered that there was no panic button! Now, I have never felt the need for a panic button. In all my client visits in all my years, I have never felt threatened by a client. But when a prison door closes with me on the wrong side of it and there is on apparent way for me to open that door, I want a panic button!

The whole time I was meeting with my client, I couldn't stop thinking about that damn doorknob. I kept half an eye on the guard station to make sure there were still guards around. Someone needed to be around to let me out! My mind went through all sorts of wild scenarios that would get me stuck in the prison overnight. Irrational, obviously, but I was getting a bit panicked.

What I worried about the most, though, was that my client could see my tension. I was freaking out because I might have to stay behind that door 2 minutes longer than I wanted to. He has to stay there probably for the rest of his life. How selfish am I? I don't ever want any of my clients to see how very uncomfortable I am with being behind bars. I hate myself every time for being too eager to end the meeting and get the hell out of there. I overcompensate and tell them I've got all day and am in no rush, but surely they can see through that. I try not to run too fast from the room when we are done, but I know they must be able to see an urgency in my movements.

On this last visit, it turned out that all my worries about that missing doorknob were for naught. The door proved quite easy to pull open without a knob. I bolted out of the room and tapped my foot impatiently while waiting for my escort back to the front door. I walked briskly back towards that front sally port, feeling relief with every step. I went through that last sally port with a bunch of guards at shift change. I practically knocked one of them over in my rush to put my wrist out under the uv light so the guy at the door control could see my stamp. Then I ran out to the parking lot and reveled in my freedom. And all the while, I hated myself for it.

I hate taking such joy in leaving my clients behind. I hate thinking I could never survive in a place like that while all of my clients face decades. I hate knowing that they probably know how much I hate being there. I hate even more that they would all probably tell me that it's all right for me to feel this way.


Woman in Black said...

My prison once locked me between two sets of doors, unaccompanied, with about thirty inmates. That's a true story. Fortunately, two of them were clients, and almost all my clients like me, and I did not die that day. I always get a headache when I go to prison.

S said...

Yikes! I really do feel safe around my clients, but the 28 other guys might make me a bit nervous. I would want to make sure they all knew I was a good guy (meaning a defense attorney).

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