Voices from the Streets: A Hidden Violation (Conclusion)

Read part one here.

(I had just gone into the courtroom, attempting to take care of a matter that was more serious than I had presumed: a felony possession of heroin with a suspended sentence.)

I placed my hands on the rail so Judge Luby wouldn’t see them shaking. My public defender explained that I was an addict in recovery and had been advised to clear up a warrant that I was unaware of so I could speak in the drug unit at Dedham Correctional Prison.

The lawyer made a point that I had come in myself and was not there as a result of being picked up by the police. I saw my probation officer and the judge huddle together and then the judge addressed me.

He said, “If this was my case, I would automatically remand you into the custody of the Worcester House of Correction for two years. However, this is not my case and your judge will be here in two weeks. I’m scheduling you on her docket and I expect that you will be here.

“Take care of your affairs and be prepared to go to prison. However, if you have any people to speak for you and write letters as to your changes in behavior, I highly recommend it. I would also bring people to speak in your behalf, should there be any. Your probation officer, Mr. Dow, has said that you look very different from the last time he saw you.

“He claims you were a ‘real piece of work’ at that time but you look like a different man. Show up on time or you will be picked up and locked up. Dismissed for now.”

Shaken by the near hit, I went back to friendly territory and began to gather letters of praise and comment on my good conduct. I had no idea what was going to occur when I went back to Worcester, but I wanted to plug every gap and put the ‘good boy’ notches on my guns.

By the time the eventful day came, I had a pile of commendation letters three inches thick, and three people had committed to come on the fateful trip and vouch for me.

Was I frightened? Well, yes, but I was confident that no matter what happened, even if I went back to prison, I was going to go clean and sober. I knew that nothing could make matters worse than using drugs.

I also knew that, one way or another, ironically, I was going to carry the message of recovery into prison. The two weeks flew by, completely unlike the time I spent in prison—which always slowed right down. Prison is a time machine; an hour feels like a day, a day feels like a week, and a month feels like a year. I never wanted to go back but I knew that it was possible.

Did I think of going on the run and becoming a fugitive? To be honest, it crossed my mind, but because of my experience of being a fugitive for two years, the thought, when it came, kept going and left.

The day of judgment finally arrived and we drove the all-too-familiar route to my old stomping grounds, the home of Great Brook Valley Projects in Worcester. From what I hear, the valley is still going strong.

We walked into the courtroom and the cast of characters were all there—the judge—I forget her name actually—Bernie Dow, my probation officer and my three friends who were willing to speak for me if necessary.

The court was fairly empty except for us, and the court clerk called my name. This was a smaller courtroom and I walked up to the bar, placed one hand carefully on the railing and held the stack of letters, quite visible, in my other hand. The judge—we’ll call her Judge Judy—spoke up.

“Well, Mr. Goldfinger, it has been many years since you have graced my court room. I see your friends here and the stack of letters which I am sure are full of glowing remarks as to your change in character. I’m also quite familiar with what you have been doing recently.

“What I want to know is, right from your lips, why I should not lock you up to serve the time on your suspended sentence? I’m more interested in what you have to say than what anyone else will say.” I breathed deeply and began to speak.

“Your honour,” I said, “I realize that the reason I am here is because of what I have done in the past. The true facts of the case are that I am guilty of all the charges made and I have no excuse that I can speak of for not showing up as I was supposed to do.

“It’s true that my life has changed. It is also true that my activities have changed dramatically and I am more of an asset to society than a wrecking ball shattering the tenets of the law. You may very well decide to lock me up to serve the time.

“As I have told my friends, if you lock me up and send me to serve the time I have earned, I will bring my recovery in with me. I have had two weeks to reflect on my activities in the past, when I was in the grip of my active addiction.

“During those two weeks, if I was what I once was, I would have gone out on a spree like I formerly did when I knew I was going to be locked up. But I am either in recovery or not. My illness of addiction is either in remission or not.

“I am not going to destroy the trust that my friends have in me today and the respect that I have for my actions in recovery over the last few years because of a setback that I earned. If you send me to prison, I will go in drug-free and I know that it is not you that has sent me to prison but my previous acts of disrespect for the law of the land because of my addiction.

“Of course, I would like to go free. I worked diligently and gathered statements as to my current nature and brought friends with me to testify on the changes of my actions. But this decision is yours and I stand at this crossroads, not because of you, but because of what I once was.

“I pray I can go free but all I stand on are the facts that face us today. I invite my probation officer, Bernie Dow, to make any statement he chooses and that is all I have to say. Thank you, your honour.”

Needless to say, I was set free and after the proceedings were completed. Mr. Dow came up to me and said, “The next time you come to Worcester, come for the Chinese food. We have some great restaurants here.” The judge spoke as well and then we all laughed and shook hands and went on our own ways.

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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