A Rose by Any Other Name
“I will help you,” I told the young man. “I promise.” I am not a lawyer, I’m an insomniac, and by chance, I had seen the court response to his appeal online at 5 am, but I knew he wouldn’t get a copy of it for days. I wanted to soften the blow, so I read the words over and over again carefully so I could explain what they said and put my own spin on them when I went with his father to visit him a few hours later.
A clean-shaven soft-spoken slight of build hispanic American man sat across from me. He’s in his mid-30’s but to me he seems like a child who’s been made to sit in the corner, who hasn’t seen sunlight in exactly 7 years. (“Mom, is my time-out over yet? can I go out to play now?”)
“When did you first see the face of the man they said you killed?” I asked him.
“They handed me a snapshot of him at the trial,” he said.
“Did you know the man?” I asked him.
The holidays are about family, and this was the second year we spent Thanksgiving in prison with my friend’s son. On Thanksgiving in 2004, he was arrested in Reading, PA for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He went to catch up on old times with a childhood friend, a young man he hadn’t seen in years, and ended up being framed for a murder.
Details of the original trial were hidden from even his own father until just days ago. Testimony of credible witnesses disregarded. A surveillance tape of the murder given by a private investigator to his public defender that was destroyed before it was viewed. Every new detail that emerges connects with those near and dear to him like a punch to the stomach.
None hit harder than responses to this young man’s attempt to file legal documents to reopen his case from inside, waiting months and years for the churning of the courts. I speak from personal experience when I say that all the little people end up fighting the system pro se, after high-profile attorneys like Nancy Pelosi’s sister go scrambling away after their next yacht payment, but not until these litigators make promises that waste years of the inmates’ lives, only to be broken. And the wording of the response to this young man’s recent attempts to prove his innocence was so extraordinarily insulting, I had to promise him something so he would not end his life.
He told us a story of how a male voice answered the phone the last time he called his wife, and he asked the man to put her on the phone, addressing her by her first name.
“It’s me, Dad, don’t you recognize me?” The story was funny and we laughed, but it was also really sad.
I promised him I would do something. This is all I know how to do. Words are the only weapon I have to make things right, and I vowed to fix this horrible American legal system which promises justice and delivers dogpile consensus. If you read this post, please prove it. Leave a comment, even if it’s only one or two words.
My best to you Dear Reader. Enjoy your family for the holidays. Walk outside and feel the sun on your face, and think of my rose under glass and many like him buried alive by the system who cannot.