25 November, 2012

The Ways Justice Fails

They come for you when you’re sleeping, bursting into your inner sanctum and surrounding your bed with their black presence. They paralyze you first with terror, then with bonds of steel, and ferry you away to an inquisition where they work their every scheme to break you.

Or they come for you in the settling dusk of a long day, as you depart cheerfully from dinner with an old friend. They set upon you in the restaurant parking lot, forcing the flesh of your cheek into grit and coagulated motor oil. You cry out in alarm, involuntarily, but it only enhances the spectacle for passersby.

Or they do not come for you at all but bring you, instead, to them. An unexpected stop. License and registration, please. In a few moments, another car. Pistols in your face. Shouting. You have the right to remain silent. Your spouse in the car, frantic to know what’s going on. Anything you say can be used against you. Everything recedes through the rear window — everything bathed in red and blue light — as the cruiser pulls away, toward uncertainty.

Either you know or you don’t know. Whichever, they do not believe you. Even though it’s the advice of everyone you’ve ever heard discuss the matter, your asking for a lawyer only invites suspicion. Your not asking for one lets them corral you into statements that will later be misconstrued. Later comes slowly.

Once they have you, even if only by a shirttail, the gears of the system, turning punishingly slow, pull you further in, bit by bit, like a wood chipper the size of a courtroom. You will lose dear things: money, time, reputation. This is an inevitability. You will learn that guilt and innocence play small parts in this theater of strategy and social standing. How much justice are you able to afford?

The sleepless nights, the interminable days of jailhouse existence. You shake; though, it is not cold. Your lawyer, when you have occasion to see each other, seems concerned. Still, you wonder how much of that is merely professional courtesy. Is your innocence believed by this person entrusted with your life? Oh, but how could it not be, since you’ve only been truthful? Then again… (and again, and again, and again).

Everything is uncertain, and this makes you feel like you’re clinging to a pendulum, swinging back and forth ad nauseam, and moving unmistakably in a third direction: down. You try to remain strong, resolute in the face of more opposition than you have ever known.

The trial. He didn’t cry, the jurors say. Or, He cried too much. Cold as ice or emotionally exaggerated. Either way, you’re sunk. The jury sees what it’s told to, facts being immaterial when there are gut feelings at play.

So it’s guilty even when it’s not, and you’re led out in shackles as some cry and others stoke the fires of their anger with the sight of you abased in chains. Inside, your own fire gutters. How did this happen? you think, as well as the opposite: This can’t be happening! But it did and is, and there is nothing to be done about that now.

In prison you box yourself in to survive. A piece of yourself hidden away, safe, you become an automaton that performs its tasks because tasks are what it does. You downplay hope for fear of failure (hope not being hope until all grounds for hope are gone), but it’s irrepressible and so still there as appeals go out and denials come in. Each time the courts deny you, you look ahead to next time, like a runner crashing through hurdles, failing but determined. You write brave letters full of bromides like, Better luck next time; justice must prevail!

You watch loved ones age. Some fall away. You wonder where the time has gone. You’re a leaking hourglass, weeping dry nothing. It would be easier if you had a crime to regret committing.

When will it end? you wonder. When it ends.


  1. we all pay for our actions .... in some way.

  2. The American legal system hard at work earning its 60 or so dollars an hour stealing away the once naïve but forever innocent ! It seems to me that truly remarkable people all to often come to light this way. Keep your chin up Mate !

    mark carson


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