Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Belles Behind Bars

I enjoy being a criminal defense attorney.  I get to see situations that I couldn't make up in my wildest dreams and I occasionally get to feel like I helped someone out. 

That being said, there is one particular chore that I don't look forward to with gusto:  Jail visits. 

When I was little, my Dad would occasionally take certain kids standing at the precipice of either ruining their lives or making something of themselves on jail tours.  To the best of my knowledge, the Culbreth School of Reality had a 99.999% success rate.  Back in the day, a quick meeting with the guards beforehand could tailor the tour to the specific youthful offender's needs.  They could either get a gentle prod in the right direction or they could come out shaking from head to toe and begging for sanctuary in the Tibetan Priesthood.  I think Dad still gets a yearly Christmas card from one former tourist.

Back when the jail was at 4th and Princess, the tours could be really exciting.  The jail was on the fourth floor of that weird pile of bricks/ode to modern architecture/Jenga column thingy that they called the New Hanover Country Sheriff's Department.  It was old and it was nasty and I strongly suspect it looked that way even when it was brand spanking new.  It was really close quarters with the guards and the inmates and the kitchen all shoved in there.  The atmosphere was so intense that it always felt like a tick about to pop.

The old jail was also loads of fun for an attorney meeting with their client.  The visiting room looked pretty much like what you see in the movies.  Thick glass separated the inmates from their visitors and there were phones that were practically useless for communication.  It was a result of the crap telephones and the need for confidentiality that attorneys were taken into the inmate side of the glass and locked in for the duration of their visit.

Truth be told, I really didn't mind going in and meeting the clients face to face.  You get a different impression of a person when you are able to speak with them civilly and not holler and mouth words through the glass.  The problem came when an attorney was ready to leave.  We were supposed to press a button by the door and a guard would come get us and take us out in to the lobby. 

Bless their hearts, those guards were so overworked.  Sometimes they were right on the money about getting you out in short order, but most times...most times it took a while.  I want to be clear that I was never once worried about my safety when I met with clients.

I guess you could say that my problem was more of a Miss Manners issue.  For one thing, I am completely abhorrent at small talk and I only get worse as the situation gets more awkward.  I am crap at parties, but I can at least leave parties when I feel like it.  Oh yeah, and that whole not being able to leave when I feel like it thing?  We call that crushing and insane claustrophobia and the air in that little room wasn't exactly free flowing.  Of course, trying to look cool when you are spazzing out only makes you look like more of a doofus (and "doofus" is a technical term, by the way). 

Ashley Council, Doofus at Law.

The new jail is out in the middle of a swamp, but I don't mind battling an alligator here and there if it means that I don't have to get locked in an airless little room.  It's a bigger facility and it is a long walk to the attorney rooms, but I need the exercise.  I don't know all of the guards as well as I used to, but it has to be more comfortable for all involved.

In my worthless opinion, the only thing they didn't fix was keeping the smell of whatever they were cooking in the kitchen area confined to the kitchen area.  The guards swear that they only make peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, but I have never in my life smelled peanut butter like that.  I know one female attorney who, when experiencing morning sickness, had to take an airplane barf bag with her when she went to visit clients around lunchtime.  Yeek.

A quick tip for any prospective inmates:  The deputies are rightfully proud of their new home and they don't take kindly to its abuse.  I had a charming gentleman become frustrated with me (imagine!) and throw his chair.  Fortunately for me, the glass between us was of a magnitude suitable for the windows of Obama's limo--although he still managed to crack it--the guards were pissed, but seriously amazed at his strength.

I can tell you one thing that hasn't changed:  The Youth Perspective Refocusing Program.  I sent a young lady for an attitude readjustment after her second school altercation as the result of aspersions cast upon her handbag.  To the best of my recollection, she took on about three other people when they questioned whether or not her bag was actually Louis Vuitton.  After her little tour, she came back with her eyes as wide as saucers and--I swear on a stack of Jimmy Buffett albums--she said, "Ms. Council, I want to be a debutante!"

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