Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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Trapped in Alcatraz

I frequently see metaphor in real life. Last week, I had a trial set in a semi-rural place which brought home to me yet again the problem of the unsolvable dilemma. I'm a civil attorney, who does not do criminal work. But in less populated areas, one frequently deals with courts which handle criminal, civil, traffic, family and anything else that comes to hand.

My legal matter on this particular day had been assigned to a judge whose main docket was vehicular misdemeanors and major traffic matters. These are fairly routine things, in which many people have to appear without attorneys, and in which the consequences for first-time offenders are frequently not that severe. In some instances, repeat offenders for the wrongs alleged could be sentenced to light jail time, but overall, the problems there are problems, but solvable problems.

For reasons not worth repeating here, my civil matter required me to wait out several dozen routine hearings in which a judge dealt with numerous "accused" violators about the consequences of their major tickets and minor misdemeanors. The judge approached these cases simply and fairly. First time offenders could often plead to relatively innocuous charges, and take steps to work through the problem. Repeat offenders received a firmer but by no means heavy hand, and a little jail time could even be in the offing here and there, but only when it was pretty richly merited. Contrary to the usual stereotype of the power-mad misdemeanor judge, this court was both judicial and judicious, as are most such courts.

Towards the end of the morning, though, one case was called in which I found an illustration of a concept I might otherwise find elusive to explain. A twentysomething man had been arrested for driving on a license suspended due to a medical condition. It's not important what his medical condition might be. It's only important to note that it was one of those conditions that can get one's license suspended unless one gets a doctor's pass certifying one as safe to drive.

The judge called the case and asked the man if he had taken the steps to get the medical certification he would need in order to drive. The poor fellow replied that he had not. The judge offered him more time to get this certification. The man replied that he lacked medical insurance. The judge then bent over backward. The judge offered to telephone her personal physician and see if she could get the man the physical examination he needed in order to get the certification he needed so that he could drive again. The accused did not appreciate what the judge was offering him. The accused instead launched into a tirade that he had been in the court waiting from 7:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. and was in need of medicine. The judge promptly offered to allow the man to take a break, get his medicine, compose himself, and return to court, whereupon she could get him the help he needed. The accused launched into another tirade, said no matter what, he wanted to finish his legal matter and not come back, and would plead to anything to get out of court. The judge again offered to get him the time he needed to feel better, and again offered to get him the help he needed to get through his license suspension problem.

Here perspective is so individual. As an attorney, I could see that this judge was actually working to help this man, in an act that I can only describe as compassionate. In the accused's mind, though, the judge was Satan herself, hell-bent on keeping him in court when he desperately wanted to leave. Every suggestion the judge made was greeted with criticism.
When the judge allowed him to achieve his goal, pleading to a
charge to "get out of court", the man then read the papers and balked that he would have to pay the fines the charge involved.
The accused railed that he had seen others "walk from court" with nothing on their record, ignoring the fact that the judge had worked hard to try to find ways for this accused man to do the same.

The accused finally signed the papers to plead guilty to something he arguably could have avoided altogether, whereupon the judge had to remind him he still could not drive himself home. The accused railed about how he lived in one town, and worked twenty five miles away, and could not help but drive. The accused explained his difficult work situation, and inadequate hours and inadequate income. When the judge offered that the court would advance him the bus fare so that he could get home legally, the accused stated that he would not take charity in any circumstances.

When I finished my matter a short time later, and headed out to the parking lot, I saw paramedics trying to help the man, who apparently was in need of help. The accused stood defiantly in the parking lot, trying to get them to leave him alone.

In "real life", there are tons of ways to understand how illness and mistrust could make the man literally bite the hand that was trying, in the face of hostility, to feed him. I sympathize with the fellow, and don't wish him any ill. I do wonder if he realizes that the obscenity he used in court is usually not tolerated (I personally assume I would still be in that county in jail had I used similar language). I also am convinced that he believes that the judge put him through the wringer, when in fact, if anything, she was trying to help him drip dry.

But leaving aside the sad literal story, which is so unfortunate, I am back to my notion of metaphor. How often do we build constructs in which our problems can't be solved? How much of impossible situations are a matter of how we define the problem?

As you might guess, it is my own belief that over and over it is a matter of the way we view our problems that adds to their unsolveability. It's like life is a prison, but guess who is the jailer?
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