Friday, June 24, 2005

Crime and Sentencing

After his conviction, my client's sentencing occurred during the summer. His sentencing hearing was a quite the community event. The hearing lasted the better part of a day, and the judge ruled that he would spend less than half of the years in prison than the maximum sentence called for; in the lawyer game, this was quite a victory for him.

In the "human being" game, however, he was still going to spend at least 40 years behind bars. Of course, his victim would spend the rest of his life being dead, but that is not a perspective that comes easy on the day of sentencing.

After the hearing, he was led away in handcuffs, and a crowd had gathered forming a courthouse version of the "red carpet" lines you see in connection with those asinine Hollywood events. Many of the people involved had known my client since he was a boy. His mother and sisters were in the line, out of control and crying without restraint, knowing that they would not see him again for a very long time.

This courthouse was within 300 yards of the Pacific Ocean. That afternoon, the breezes brought the strong smell of the sea to the courthouse, the smell you catch if you take a charter boat fishing, and the sun seemed especially bright. As the troopers led my handcuffed client from the courthouse to the police van, I heard a mixture of jeers, the high-pitched cries of his family, and the bellowing of sea walruses in the background. He was loaded into the van and, as it began to pull away, his mother and sisters ran alongside it, pounding its side with their helpless hands, eventually falling to the ground, their heads in those helpless hands, their cries and their pain drowning out even the walruses.

After hugging his family and decamping from the courthouse, I went down to the water's edge to see the walruses some fifty feet below, lounging in the sun. I tried to get my breath and my wits back. The walruses didn't seem to care about the drama up above, and I couldn't help but wonder if God cared about the drama down below.

I heard the vague sounds of a plane overhead, the plane carrying my client to the state penitentiary, and I thought about how interesting it is to be alive on this earth.