On May 10, Italian Carabinieri responded to a call Telse Terme, Italy (just inland from Naples) from a grocery store owner. Two women had just absconded with two packages of hamburger meat.
The women explained that they stole the meat because they were broke, had four young children, and nothing to eat. The Carabinieri, after listening to the story, paid the grocer for the hamburger and moved on to deal with real crimes. (source)
It is ironic that this story came across my screen today, as just today I was eating a $26 hamburger at lunch (instead of lettuce and onions, it had sea eel and foie gras on it) and told the story of my short career as a prosecutor.
Yes, I worked as a prosecutor.
For one day.
It was a long time ago, in a shithole called Ocala, Florida. It was an externship during my visiting year at the University of Florida, and it was supposed to be the last 6 credits of my law school career. Cruise through four months of this, and then off to the big-salary firm job already waiting for me.
It would be great experience.
Perhaps fun even.
Real live “being a lawyer” experience! You know, like professors often don’t even have.
On the way in to my first day, I was listening to NPR, and a story came on the radio about how juveniles fared in adult prison. As I remember the program, to which I was not listening very intently, 50% of them would die in prison. 100% of them would be raped. I don’t know if the stats are correct. Like I said, I wasn’t listening that carefully. It might have just been about one facility. It doesn’t really matter.
I walked into the office, waved on by men in badges who saw me as a new guy on their team. I sat down at my desk, and was given my very first file. I started to fill in a form. I have forgotten the name of the perpetrator, but I will never forget the name of the “victim.”
The perpetrator had committed the dastardly act of shoplifting. She stole maternity clothes. She was 16 years old. She was pregnant. She had prior arrests, so I couldn’t just let it go. Her priors? I shit you not – stealing medicine from a drug store and stealing food from a supermarket.
All three times she got caught. All three times she got arrested. Who knows, maybe she got away with 100 other crimes. But she had three arrests, and reading the reports made me want to lock someone up, but it sure was not the “perpetrator.”
I sat there staring at the forms. I didn’t want to move. I just sat there and asked myself “what the fuck am I doing here?”
Then my supervisor busted into my office. “Hey, come on down here, there’s a hearing.” This was going to be exciting. “We’re trying to get these two guys put in adult prison. Violent offenders. Real bad guys.”
We went over to the courthouse, and there were two 15 year old boys on a monitor. They were arrested for bashing a guy over the head with a tequila bottle.
They were not sympathetic characters. In fact, they were awful monsters. There was a guy out there with half a tequila bottle buried in his head. They thought it was funny. My supervisor argued to the judge that they should be put in with the adult population, meanwhile the boys looked disinterestedly around while on closed circuit TV. They were either too stupid or too uninformed to have a clue what was happening to them.
Then I started thinking about the NPR story. Was I remembering the details right? Was it really 100% would be sexually abused? Nah, that’ couldn’t be right. Maybe it was 50%. In any event, there I was calculating the odds as to whether something I was involved in would result in one or both of these boys dying, or being turned into someone’s fuck toy.
There was a 100% chance that I felt like a piece of shit right then.
After the hearing, I went back to my office and saw the file staring up at me.
Victim: Wal Mart Corporation.
I sat there until 5:00, staring out the window. Then I went home.
The next morning, I went in to the office and quit. My supervisor was incredulous at first. I told her that I knew that this likely meant that I wouldn’t graduate — at least not that semester. I told her that I just couldn’t do that particular job. I explained to her that I understood that someone had to lock these criminals up. I explained that yeah, society might fall apart if everyone just takes what they want from a store. Yeah, one of those 15 year old tequila-bottle wielding psychopaths might bash my mom over the head at an ATM machine one day. Someone had to be a prosecutor.
But it sure as shit didn’t have to be me.
I walked out of that place, pretty sure that I had just fucked myself pretty hard. But, I had to live with myself. I was not going to be part of that.
Of course, I’m sure they found some willing person to take over. I’m sure that Little Miss “Perpetrator” got prosecuted anyway. So, did I change anything? I guess not.
But maybe if that “Perpetrator” had gotten a little compassion like these Carabinieri gave to the two mothers… maybe if that was the typical reaction. Where is the real “crime” when someone doesn’t have enough to eat? Why the hell didn’t everyone involved stand up and say “no, this is not justice“? You know, like everyone stood up and said “I am Spartacus!” If a bunch of slaves could do it, why the hell can’t an entire office full of prosecutors do it?
When a pregnant 16 year old girl needs fucking maternity clothes and the only way she can get them is by stealing them, where is the real crime?
Call me a socialist if you want, but there is no way in hell that a 16 year old pregnant girl who has to steal maternity clothes from Wal-Mart is a “criminal.” And, when you are in a nice suit and $800 shoes, calculating whether your actions will result in two boys dying or being raped beyond recognition, you’re doing something wrong.
I was proud of myself for quitting. I realized that I probably didn’t change anything, and there was no “Jerry Maguire moment” where anyone followed me out the door. But, if nobody says “I will not” then we certainly can’t ever get to “everybody.”
Of course, I was now screwed.
The next day, I walked into the Dean’s office. I explained the situation. The rules said that I was fucked. No graduation for me this semester. It was February, and there was no way I could graduate until the summer, at best. A year’s worth of income, and a lucrative offer from a law firm went plop, plop, fizz, fizz, flush… right into the crapper.
I was bummed, but I still thought it was worth it.
The Dean and I talked for a bit, and he came up with an idea. There was a class in the business school that counted for law school credit, and since they were on a different calendar, it hadn’t started yet. He could get me into that for three credits. He then volunteered to let me do an independent study paper for him for another three. That way, I could graduate on time.
You see, there were rules. But there was also “justice.” The rules yielded and the right thing happened. At least for me. Not so much for the poor kids in Ocala whose files I left on my desk. No, for them, rules was rules.
I’m way too fucking cynical to let my readers end there though. Happy endings and shit. Happy endings are for Spielberg movies and shady massage parlors.
A few years later, that same Dean wound up getting arrested for some really creepy crimes — he was on some pedophile chat boards, giving guys advice on how to drug their kids before raping them. He also apparently had a stash of child porn. He wound up pleading no contest and got two years house arrest and eight years probation. (source)
I have no idea what ever became of the girl who stole the maternity clothes or the two boys who went to adult prison for bashing the guy’s head in with a tequila bottle.
But it does feel weird that I owe at least part of my career to a pedo, whom I never would have even met, but for that unnamed 16 year old girl who stole maternity clothes. And, who (despite his pedo thing) seemed to have at least some sense of justice.
Grazie a Carlo per l’ispirazione