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» Courts, Prosecutors » Real Change

Real Change

For the first time in a little while, I left court this morning feeling like everything turned out okay. The whole experience was quite surprising, honestly. A lot of things could have gone wrong, but they didn’t. In most cases, even a positive result has some major downside. Not today.

My client had absconded from probation long ago. He left the state and started a new life. There was nothing for him in Arizona but bad memories and worse influences. The new life he created for himself, on the other hand, was filled with stability, good people, and direction. He had been sober for a long time. He had a job and a support network. He finally knew what he wanted to do with his life, and he was on track to do it. Quashing his years-old warrant and putting his probation violation behind him was the final step in his remarkable transformation.

Walking into court today, I thought about all the things that were up in the air and how I would address each of them. I had advised my client about the best and worst case scenarios as well as everything in between. Having spent so much time focusing on the worst, the situation where my preparation and assistance would be most important, I worried for my client. He flew across the country to face uncertainty. He had figured out a way to pay off the huge amount of delinquent restitution in his case. He had proof he was different now. Hopefully all of that would count for something.

Had it been in any one of a number of other courts around here, my client would be sitting in a jail cell as I write this. A prosecutor would’ve shown up an hour or more late and refused to look at what I brought. He or she would’ve made some insensitive quip expressing skepticism about my client’s lifestyle changes then demanded he be held without bond. The judge would’ve nodded in agreement as the state made its recommendations then browsed Facebook and Twitter while I made an impassioned plea for release or even a bond. Deputies would’ve slapped cuffs on my client, and the court would’ve set it out for another hearing.

At the next hearing, the state still probably wouldn’t have been prepared to do anything else but demand my client remain in custody. Sure, the matter would eventually proceed to disposition, but my client would end up getting the state’s likely recommendation of a ton of jail or a half-ton of jail then more probation. My client would’ve lost his job and found himself surrounded by bad influences while in custody. Those would be the only people he’d know upon his release. If he got jail then probation, he would have no stable place to stay and none of the support he so carefully built for himself elsewhere, the only thing that actually made a difference in his life.

Knowing how things work all too often, I was surprised when the prosecutor seemed genuinely pleased about what my client had done. The judge was no different. Without any disagreement from anyone, my client never went into custody, the matter was finally resolved, and the victim has now received restitution in full. The best result for every single person involved was the one that involved the justice system the least. In my experience, that’s usually how it works.

The system can’t make people change. It can do bad things to them or make good things available to them, but my client needed something the system couldn’t provide. Because he found that, he was far luckier than most people in his situation. He was luckier still to avoid the courts undoing all of his hard work.

Most of the time, the system isn’t satisfied when its objectives are achieved far more effectively without its help. The people inside the system insist on imposing heavy-handed solutions, like caging people and micro-managing them like naughty children, whether they are necessary or not. It isn’t justice when someone does everything probation could’ve made them do and then some on their own. It magically becomes justice when they do it through the adult probation office.

Every once in a while, I read about someone who fled prosecution in their youth only to be discovered living an astonishingly benevolent existence in some far-off place. The person is inevitably jailed and brought to what people pretend to be justice. Pretend justice dictated a life sentence or a death sentence or years removed from society, so a lifetime of good deeds and selfless service to others be damned; the system’s justice requires the formal imposition of one of a very short list of ineffective punishments created by committees comprised of corrupt liars elected by hypocrites.

It never ceases to amaze me that a purportedly Christian nation would have these seemingly-converted souls jailed or killed. Christianity would be quite different had Saul of Tarsus‘s supposed participation in the death of Saint Stephen occurred in Arizona. I can just imagine the zit-faced prosecutor demanding he be held without bond while making obtuse comments about his new “alias” of “Paul the Apostle.” There would be tactless comments calling into question the sincerity of his conversion and calls for justice the judge would have no choice but to obey. The Bible most Americans pretend to follow sure would look different had poor Paul been stuck doing all of his writings and missionary work while trying to survive in the super-max unit of an Arizona State Prison Complex.

As sad as the big picture might be, however, something good happened this morning. I don’t want to forget that. Things ended up right for one person in one case. As a result, things ended up right for the victim. It’s a baby step in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a step nonetheless. With enough steps, maybe someday people will see that brute force isn’t nearly as powerful as compassion and encouragement. A government-based solution isn’t the only solution, and rarely is it the best. Today certainly drove that point home for me.

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2 Responses to "Real Change"

  1. Kristen Rowley says:

    You really are a great blog writer and have created here a well perceived description of the criminal justice system in Arizona. I wish more cases turned out this way.

  2. Mark Bennett says:

    Paul is arguably the single worst thing that happened to the revolutionary teachings of Jesus. I find plausible the theory that he was a Roman spy.

    “The Bible most Americans pretend to follow sure would look different had poor Paul been stuck doing all of his writings and missionary work while trying to survive in the super-max unit of an Arizona State Prison Complex.”

    Romans 13 would probably be a bit less right-wing authoritarian.

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