30 June 2003

Going into a prison / jail:

This article about how the Innocence Project is growing like a vine in Kentucky struck a cord with me when it talked about going into a prison / jail:
[The client] was incarcerated at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville, a maximum-security prison that visitors describe as dark and foreboding.

"It was probably the most nerve-racking occasion in my fledgeling legal career," said Turner, now a 27-year-old attorney in Lexington.

The guards were not exactly welcoming, he said, and performed a pat down, which involved removing his shoes and socks and an inspection of his mouth.

"I almost felt like I was being interned in prison," said Turner, a suburban Cincinnati native.

. . .

There were times, [another student] said, when she would have "felt safer with a gun."

One of those times was when the former teacher walked through a yard filled with hundreds of unrestrained prisoners with only a single guard to protect her. Another was when she went to Eddyville and found herself ushered into a room filled with death row inmates visiting with their families. Aside from their shackles and handcuffs, the inmates were free to move around the room, a scene that scared Albright Louis.
I usually find that the first visit to a prison or jail is a little touch and go but after they get to know you things get better. Still, I understand the feelings.

One of the first things you realize (and have to get over) while visiting your clients at large jails or prisons is that the prisoners can almost certainly take over any area of the prison they want to, including the one you are in. It doesn't happen because they understand that if they do they can't get out of the area, they cannot win the confrontation to follow, and they will be punished (and, I'm convinced, a lot of them like the structured existence of prison and don't want to rebel). Still, last Saturday morning as I stood in a hallway in Richmond jail and 30 prisoners walked down the hall passing within a foot or two of me - with no guard - I remembered the feelings I had when I first began to visit jails. Of course, hearing a couple of them say something to the effect of "that's what I need - a paid attorney" kinda took the edge off the situation.

Another weird thing about visiting prisons occurs when you go to the female section. First, let me premise this by saying that I am short and round; I've never been skinny and over the years I've not made any progress in that direction. But every time I walk into the the female section in my lawyer suit eyes swivel and suddenly I feel as though I have metamorphosed into Tom Cruise. It's like being dumped into a pool with a group of hungry female sharks. And you have to be very, very careful during the meetings with your client in the private rooms. I had one client start trying to tell me stories about her and another girl in the shower (In response to: And what were you doing when the police raided the place?). She got about ten seconds into it - all the while watching me very closely - before I realized it had absolutely nothing to do with the case and stopped her. Another time a woman leaned forward to thank me for helping her and put her hand upon my knee. As I start to say "no problem," I suddenly realize the hand is migrating up my leg. I popped out of my seat over to the call box for the deputy in about .0000097 seconds. "Gotta go, got clients over on the mens' side to see." One other thing happens on the womens' side which is really kind of annoying is the crying. I've asked female colleagues if this happens to them and they tell me it is rare. But I'd estimate at least 50% of my female clients cry during the initial interview. And they watch me to see how I react to the crying. And they stop when they realize I am just sitting there waiting for them to quit. And then they just go on with the interview as though nothing happened.

I will say one thing, women prisoners show a scary ability to size you up better than men do1. I've had women tell me that I'm single, that I came from another State, that I'm Catholic, etc. The one who told me I was Catholic really threw me. I could see she was sizing me up but then she just said "You're Catholic aren't you?" To this day I do not know what gave it away. I know there had to be some sort of tell but I never could figure it out. Of course, then she tried to manipulate me with the information and all the wonderment just drained away.

1 I think this is because men do not try to size you up in the initial interview for who you are but for your willingness and ability to fight.


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