As an American, raised in the Mason-Dixon State of Maryland, I was given the belief that our criminal Justice system, while flawed was about truth, Justice and fairness. That Judges, prosecutors and lawyers all believed in this concept and that a guilty man should go free before any innocent man was convicted. Television seemed to reinforce this theory showing far more Justice warrior lawyers and police then could ever exist in reality. It doesn’t work that way, never has and has always been political and socioeconomic.
Another pervasive myth is that police are benevolent, forthright and serve the public trust. Television shows always show the wrongfully accused of being exonerated and the guilty being forced to plea bargain to avoid harsher crimes. The public defenders shown on TV are always competent, smart jurists who are seemingly able to get their clients off when they are innocent, exonerating them. This rarely happens and in many cases they are forced to use a bail bondsman to get out until their trial starts or remain incarcerated.
Mandatory minimums and harsh sentencing often push people in to taking pleas because of the risk of going to court and the resistance their public defender will apply to keep from going to court. Suddenly that myth of innocent until proven guilty and the entire concept of Justice, innocence and guilt are as pure as the fruit flavors in Starburst fruit chews.
After conviction, going to prison is a nightmare experience that I was taught to justify with the idiotic rhetoric of Barrett’s, don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time which is hilarious given the knowledge of how many are forced in to plea agreements versus facing the potential of being wronfully convicted because your public defender has no experience and just barely passed the bar exam or doesn’t want your case and definitely doesn’t want a trial. So let’s say they finally make it through to be released back in to the population after being cultured in this environment.
Then you have the reality that you can have other kinds of violations that can get you sent to jail. See, about four years ago, I was helping my young friend Jose obtain his driver’s license and one night I got a ticket giving another friend a ride to Trader Joe’s. It was from doing a California stop through an intersection with a red light with no traffic and a clear intersection while making a right turn. I can accept the violation but the process is bullshit and intimidating. I didn’t know how to plea, I was guilty but living off financial aid and this was the week before finals.
I could either agree to make payments which I knew I could never pay or do community service. Community service required a cash payment to enroll in the program that I had to pay immediately even when I told them it would mean I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week. Then shit went worse because the sheriff’s involved with the community service wanted a $35 a day fee and I had 40 hours of community service. When I explained that I lived in my car and lived off financial aid, she asked where it went. When I said textbooks, she said I was being uncooperative and stamped me intelligible. Jose had gone with me so he could take my car and pick me up. I went back to the court and prepared to throw myself on the mercy of the court when Jose stopped at a gas station and used the ATM to retrieve the remaining cost of the fine because we were both terrified I was going to go to jail for a few days. I was prepared. That’s bullshit.