“…my five cents worth is that you should write a book about your time in prison.” – Tony Horwitz
“Captivity tales fascinate us because they challenge our fantasy of self-determination … what we would do or become in such circumstances.” ~ Dana Spiotta
“Unfairness in the Justice System is a major theme of our age … ” ~ Ted Conover
A lawyer sucked into a Kafkaesque financial debacle is arrested, held without bail for over a year, pleads out, shuffles off to ten prisons in five states over four and a half years until he sues for release and is evicted from prison by emergency court order.
Two jails, eight prisons, five states, 30 cells, 7 dorms, 8 weeks in the hole, 1,682 days. ‘Lawyer guy’, ‘Bird’, ‘Ro-dog’, ‘Hate Monger’, ‘Red’, ‘Professor’, a half-dozen more nicknames. Six fights (5-0-1), a dozen confrontations, thousands of jump-shots, eight hundred students, tens of thousands of meals cooked, and hundreds of unsolicited clients – inmate and staff alike.
I’m the lawyer. I went from a somewhat successful solo practice, baseball coach, rugby/soccer player, husband and father of three, to broke, busted, and forced to fend for myself in the ‘backstairs justice system.’ That’s the system for everyone who can’t post bail; waits for court hearings chained in courthouse basements; marinates in pre-trial detention under lockdown conditions; endures fourteen-hour court trips packed like cattle for thirty second hearings; are forced to calculate the archaic mathematics of plea deals.
You know, the opposite of the current parade of immaculately dressed politicians jumping out of limos to run into courthouses for ten minutes before they’re off to lunch.
After pre-trial, prison. No camps, no Club Fed, real prison, or, as so eloquently put in Office Space, ‘federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison(s)’.
I survived because I have an innate ability to shoot a basketball (it explains the ‘Bird’ nickname, Larry forgive me), played 16 seasons of First Division Rugby that inured me to violence, and was willing to listen to everyone’s stories. At least enough to count.
Scandalous & Impertinent is not a memoir. I agree with Calvin Trillin that “memoir in America is an atrocity arms race” and see no need to escalate it. Scandalous & Impertinent is a travelogue, a chronicle of an unwilling journey, the places I saw, the people I met, the system.
It’s tiny bit of my story and a lot of the Pacing Kurd, drugs, The Underwear Bandit, bureaucrats, Booblehead, sex in America, mental illness, What if Bo Where One of Us, popular culture, Santa and the Count, the Sentient Zombie Space Pig, power, Gay Lex Luther, conspiracy theories, The George Costanzia Paradox, racism, Hillbilly Yentas, food, religion, education, The World’s Most Interesting Felon, solitary, the Saint, The ‘Blow’ Guy, Alex Jones, among others.
This is not a ‘how to survive in prison’ manual; ‘hey, look at all the colorful/terrifying characters’ study; ‘fish out of water’ tale; ‘I went to prison and found God/Allah/Christ/Buddha/Odin/Capitalism’ tome of redemption; tirade against the prison industrial complex.
Scandalous & Impertinent is a journey into, through, and out of ‘the system’; an almost Pyrrhic court victory; and people.
In June, 2016, I told a very taken aback managing editor of Harpers that Trump would probably win. Great guy, brilliant guy, (the editor, not …) but he hadn’t spent years listening to Coast to Coast AM and Alex Jones while hobnobbing with people of all classes from around the country. He hadn’t read case after criminal case (and appeal) and despaired at the betrayal of due process, heard every self-aggrandizing excuse, every eye-brow raising entitlement claim, the most all-inclusive racist rants this side of The French Connection, everyday injustices, every entrenched conspiracy theory uttered with the reverence of any half-way decent Sunday sermon.
I doubt if he had ever known a bully, never mind dealt with a succession of them or experienced the casual cruelty of people with absolute power over other men . . . or random acts of kindness. Certainly, he had never heard ingrained racism casually tossed around a lunch room, witnessed fights over Maury Povich v. Jerry Springer, heard – daily – the nuances of ingrained beliefs that were as unshakable as they were wrong.
That’s the system.