Going to Jail

I had a dream the other night I went to jail.  While I hope this was not some "Freudian" way of my subconscious telling me I need to start "living right" to avoid the huskow myself, I think rather it was attributed to how often I deal with clients who are in jail. 

I spend a considerable time at various jails during the course of my work.  It seems like I am always either helping facilitate getting someone out of jail, or I am visiting a client that is in jail about various aspects of their case.  

I think it’s very easy for an attorney to get callous to those spending time in jail.  I have been fortunate enough to have never actually spent time in jail myself.   I would suspect, with a few exceptions, that this is probably the case with most attorneys.  I would estimate that the number of criminal defense attorneys who have spent time in jail is likely higher than the rate of prosecutors and judges who have.   Regardless, my guess is that the vast majority of the attorneys who work in the criminal justice system have never spent any time in jail, not even for a night.

For some reason I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and I know it probably sounds odd.   But I think this should be the reverse.

It is my humble opinion that any attorney who chooses to engage in working in the criminal justice system should have to spend at least one night in jail, whether it be defense attorneys, prosecutors, or judges.  It is the job of all of these parties usually to negotiate a disposition of a criminal case, usually to avoid the burden of spending the time and resources necessary to conduct a trial.  Often these negotiation revolve around the length of time the accused may spend in jail.  This is usually the most true in more serious felonies.  However, it can also be true even in smaller misdemeanor cases, such as thefts, possession of marijuana, and DWI charges.  

I do not think the attorneys who work in a criminal justice system should spend a night in jail as a form of punishment.  Rather, I think it should be a requirement merely to give perspective.  I think it would help all parties involved have a better idea of what they were actually sentencing someone to (or advising someone to take), if they had an idea themselves of the consequences of what this actually required.  Often months, and even years, are bargained and negotiated for without any real regard to what this time actually means.  

I am of the opinion that every lawyer would benefit when assessing the length of a jail sentence if they had some personal experience to draw from when deciding what is appropriate.  Common axioms that we often use, such as "experience is the best teacher" and "people learn best through experience," help illustrate that only by doing something does one fully understand.  I came across this quote which I also has relevance to this: 

"A good teacher must be able to put themselves in the place of those who find learning hard."

- Eliphas Levi

I think it would be beneficial, therefore, to make it a requirement that anyone who either sentences (judges), recommends (prosecutors), or advises someone to take (defense attorneys) any form of a jail sentence to actually have served at least one day in jail before having the authority to do so.  

I can't help but think that in any other profession in life experience is usually a requirement, and it's not optional.  An NFL Football Coach is usually not hired without signficiant professional football experience.  Usually this consists of experience as both a player and as a coach.  I use the football coaching profession as an example, but this is true in almost any industry regardless of the field.  It seems to me that the attorneys who work in the criminal justice field are one of the few, if not only, professionals who are given the authority to make decisions (that can affect the outcome of someone's life) without actually having any experience with what they are asking, advising, or recommending.  

Based on this, I can't help but feel that it would only help those who work in this field make better decisions regarding the future of someone faced with jail time, regardless of whether it is minimal in length or subsantial.  I know this probably sounds unorthodox and probably a bit irrational.  However, I find it more disconcerting that most attorneys have absolutely no experience with what jail is really like before embarking on a career that facilitates how much time is spent there.  

To be fair, having this experience as a background could in some cases enhance the amount of jail sentences thought to be fair.  I'm sure likewise in some scenarios it would cause some sentences to decrease in length.  Most importantly, though, is no doubt it would cause all parties involved to at least reflect on what amount of time is being ordered or requested.  This would surely, at least in my opinion, help ascertain what actually is fair and appropriate.  That to me, at least, should always be the ultimate goal.

I can't help but think of a friend I know who was terminated from his position as a prosecutor after being arrested and serving a night in jail.  I recall asking him what jail was like, and I still vividly remember how he told me that it was "the most awful experience ever."  I gathered from his tone that jail was far worse than he had ever imagined.

I remember reflecting on this, and thinking I thought it was a bit overzealous to ask him to resign his position based on the fact that he had been arrested and spent a night in jail.  I actually thought this would probably make him that much better at his job.  I had never really thought of what jail was actually like before this conversation (even thought I had been there countless times for various reasons), and he probably hadn't either.  I couldn't help but feel that drawing on this experience would only help assist him in making fair and appropriate sentence reccomendations in the future based on whatever factors were involved.

In my dream what I remembered most was the lonely, desolate, and helpless feeling that prevailed over me.  I remember feeling completely desperate because it felt like the world had forgotten about me.  It seemed to me like the entire world on the outside kept spinning as usual, but mine remained stagnant as I stared hopelessly through the bars of my cell.

For some reason I could not remember whether my sentence was for 6 months, or 9 months.  My dream did not provide for details such as whether this was county, state jail, or TDC time (for any attorney reading this and wondering how much "actual" time this would mean).  I think most attorneys would agree that the difference in a sentence of 6 months or 9 months is usually not something that would merit a considerable amount of deliberation if this is the only thing to be negotiated.  After all, it is only 3 months.  However, I remember in my dream the difference in 3 months seemed eternal.

Again, I have never been confined in a jail.  And it is easy for me to offer this advice without having had this feeling myself, and not merely in a dream.  I am far from being moved enough through my dream to try and offer myself to a county jail so I can truly live this experience in reality.  Regardless, I can only imagine how much worse the feeling of hopelessness and desperation is in real life, and not in a dream.

I can't deny that I do feel that an encounter like this would only enhance my ability to be an effective advocate for those I represent.  Even those charged with a first DWI offense usually spend at least one night in jail.  Likewise, I also feel that both judges and prosecutors would also benefit from such an experience, in that I believe it would only lead to sentences that were both fair and just given the circumstances involved.  And this, to me, should always be what we are seeking to achieve as attorneys who take on the responsibility of working in our criminal justice system.