Thursday, November 30, 2006

Where's Jack?

My client was arrested in Fresno and taken to San Jose so first I must find him before I can help. The cop who answers the phone at the jail is friendly enough. He calls me "guy." He tells me my client has been "transported" (his word) to the Santa Clara County jail; I call there. Transfered from one automated phone message to another. Finally, miraculously, I get a deputy, who tells me my client just arrived.

I think about the drive from SF to San Jose which has the fifth largest jail in the US. It's a dreary hour on the road to get there but go I must. The county complex in San Jose consists of three tall buildings: county administration, the main jail, and the courthouse (criminal cases only). You can see it from 101 but you have to take some twists and turns to land in the right spot.

It's not so easy to get inside the jail although the deputies are more helpful with attorneys than the public generally. If you know the prisoner's birthdate they can tell you which part of the jail he's in. I didn't know. Never thought to bring it with me. Prisoners also have a booking number eight digits long. That'll call up his case and location. He or she will also have a number assigned by the district attorney and finally a docket number which is the number of their case. After some gruff complaining the deputy looks up my client's name and is able to place him in the system.

"Shit," he says. "He's in the old jail."

"Where's that?"

"Follow the corridor to the elevators. Take the elevator to the basement. No buttons. Use hand signals in front of camera to indicate floor." He gives me a few signals. "When you get to the basement each time the corridor turns ask someone which way to go."

So you have to walk under the main jail to get to the old jail. It's strange following this endless twisting corridor. At one point I try to open a door and a voice over the loud speaker shouts "Wrong way, you are going the wrong way." Eventually I get to the old jail where I have to take an elevator up to my client's dormitory. When I finally get to see him he is a droopy sad looking fellow, smaller than I expected, not at all dangerous looking. There are handcuffs attached to chains embedded in the floor but the guards don't use them.We talk. Jack mainly wants out. They all do at first. Fear of incarceration. After a few days they settle down, make a friend or two, get used to it. They still want out but they don't display the panic fear of the first 2 or 3 days.

I try to figure out when he's being arraigned so I can be there. No one knows or no one's saying. Finally a deputy tells me there's a transportation order for my client tomorrow at noon. That's cop talk for he's being moved to a court room for his hearing. There's a lot of cop talk in the jail. The prisoners are called the in custodies, not prisoners. There are more rules than you'll find in Kafka. In the courtroom the in custodies sit in the jury box. You can't speak to an in custody if you're a friend or relative. That includes signals, any signs of recognition. The in custodies are a droll sight in the jury box in their orange jail uniforms and chains. They sit as if they are putting the system on trial--that's the visual anyway.

As a lawyer I can talk to my client. The deputy puts 2 chairs by the custodies, unchains my client and calls him down to sit by me. The deputy says to me "Watch your back," and I guess he's right but the custodies act as if they'd been drugged or just waked up from sleep.Each case gets a few moments. At arraignment the judge reads the custody his rights and takes a plea. If he can't make bail he stays in custody. My man can't. When we are done he looks at me wistfully from the jury box as I leave the courtroom. I get to go home; he doesn't. What a world of difference.


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