Voices from the Street: A Hidden Violation, Part One

I had been in recovery for approximately four years and was extremely active in what my support groups called H & I, which stands for hospitals and institutions. A few of us would go to speak at various hospitals and detox centers to people who were trying to kick their drug habits and alcohol addictions.

I had not yet had the opportunity to speak at a prison, although I spent a few years in prison, and the members of my group always asked me to come with them. The group had a monthly session at one of the local prisons; they would speak in the special drug unit.

Prisoners had to apply to get into the drug units and once they were in, their entire day was spent in recovery-related activities, in the hope that they would stay abstinent when they were released. I finally said I would do this and I had to fill out a form that the group sent to the prison to make sure I had no outstanding warrants that I was unaware of.

Things like that happen when a person indulges in junk every day. Sometimes the arrests for possession of heroin just seem to pile up on each other, and I had more arrests than I could count. As far as I knew, all my cases had closed and I was ready.

Little did I know.

I was home when I received a phone call from the prison and the man was very polite but to the point. He advised me not to come because I had an outstanding warrant in Worcester, Massachusetts, that hadn’t been taken care of. It was from 1989 and this was 1997. I had been in recovery for three and half years. He told me that if I did show up, they would have no choice but to hold me, and I’m not talking about in their loving arms.

So, without consulting a lawyer, which I would recommend anyone do if they were in my shoes, I headed out to Worcester by myself to close the warrant. Coffee in hand, I pulled into the parking lot of the courthouse, which I knew well from having been there so often. I walked into the Court Clerk’s office and stood at the counter.

The Court Clerk approached me and asked if she could help me and I told her that I was there to clear up an old warrant because I was getting ready to speak at a prison for my recovery group and the prison had called and advised me to take care of this matter before I went there.

She walked over to a row of giant file cabinets after asking my name and date of birth. She pulled out the drawer and retracted a file from the cabinet. When she opened up the file, she took a step back as if she was startled and I asked her what was the matter.

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just go into the court room with Judge Luby’s name on it and sit and wait to be called.” Which I did.

I sat for about two hours and actually saw people I had done time with being pulled out of what they call “the holding pen” with cuffs and shackles. Many of them had been arrested on outstanding warrants and Judge Luby was sending them to do their time on what they called a “suspended sentence.”

Briefly, a suspended sentence is what you get after you’ve been arrested a few times and placed on probation. If you violate the terms of your probation, you have to serve the time on the suspended sentence, which is often one or two years, sometimes more.

Court broke for a brief recess and I started walking outside for a cigarette. I hadn’t yet kicked that habit. A man with a suit on walked up to me and asked if I was Marc Goldfinger and I said yes. He told me that he was a public defender and asked if I knew the nature of the warrant I had come to clear up.

“No, I don’t,” I said. I explained to him the situation that had brought me there—that I was going to speak with my recovery group at Dedham prison and they had called me and told me I had a warrant to clear up in Worcester and advised me not to come until that was done.

He smiled at me, but his eyes didn’t look happy at all, and he told me that in 1989, I was arrested for possession of heroin, and because it was one of a succession of heroin arrests, I was placed on a two-year probation with a two-year suspended sentence. I must have been extremely high that day in court because I didn’t remember to show up for probation, and I’d been what they call “Violated,” which meant that I was to serve the two years when I was picked up.

Well folks, I freaked out at that point and asked the lawyer what I should do. He told me not to go anywhere; eyes were on me already. The only thing that was in my favor was that I had come in myself without being arrested for the Violation. It also helped that I had come in because I was in recovery and the purpose of my visit was to enable me to do community service by speaking to people, like myself, in the prisons.

The lawyer walked outside with me and we smoked a cigarette together and then we walked back into Judge Luby’s courtroom. The lawyer told me he was going to defend me and hope for the best, but he frankly told me that it didn’t look great. Then again, I had walked in myself.

The court clerk stood up and called my name. As I walked to the rail where the people stood who were going up in front of the judge, I saw my lawyer talking to my old probation officer, a gentleman named Bernie Dow, with whom I had some tragic history. All non-violent of course.

And so the hearing began. (To Be Concluded Next Issue).

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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