So by now you’ve heard, from any of a myriad sources: suspended sentence. Jail time but no jail time, just as long as I paid a relatively small fine ($500), and a somewhat larger bolus of assorted court costs ($1128). And I did pay, promptly if not exactly gladly. If I’d gone to jail I’d have ended up paying more than that anyway: St. Clair County charges its inmates $60/day room and board, which is about what you’d pay for a night at a Motel 6. Except you don’t get wi-fi or cable. And you can’t leave.
Apologies for any moments of incoherence in this post. I am on prescription painkillers for a dental abscess that flared up just a few days ago (and you really gotta wonder how well that would have turned out under the US penal medical system). You’ll find greater coherence over at Dave’s Place, and Madeline Ashby’s posting at Tor.com literally reduced me to tears. (But, like I said: prescription painkillers.)
It would be nice, now, to look up the trolls: Grinder and Oh Really, “Ralph Kramden”, Tonyy over at the Times-Herald site (who’s now directing his incoherent spluttering at the judge who refused to let me rot in jail); that donut-snarfing Jabba-the-Hutt of a security guard who loudly described me as “some Canadian writer who came over here and beat up one of our border guards”; Beaudry’s lackeys, confidently assuring each other at pretrial that I’d be going away for a “two-year sentence, piece of cake.” It would be nice to look them all up and wave my unincarcerated balls in their faces and say fuck you, assholes, and fuck your dream police state and your craven cowering servile masses. You didn’t get me. Not this time. I live in the land of the Free.
But I can’t. Not just because that last ironic barb is untrue (Canada treats a lot of its citizens just as shamefully as the US, and the cop mentality transcends national boundaries), but because the trolls were almost right. They came closer to being right than I would ever have expected in my most paranoid dreams.
Back before the verdict, when Doug Mullkoff was so effortlessly putting the lie to every claim of every hapless border guard, he remarked that one good thing about this case was that even if we lost there was no way I’d be doing time, not for anything so trivial as this. Doug is not a guy given to making promises; I’ve always respected his refusal to predict happy outcomes even when I thought it wouldn’t kill him to show a little more optimism. This was as close as the dude ever got to a guarantee: no way would I do jail time, no matter what.
And then that goddamned presentencing recommendation from Ken Kincaid comes down the pike. “Gainfully employed”, “well-educated”, “Cooperative and compliant during the course of the interview.” Negatives? “One prior misdemeanor … discharged … not used in scoring”.
“6 months incarceration, with 60 days suspended upon payment of court assessments in full.” The maximum allowed in the sentencing grid.
Evidently it scared the shit out of Doug too, athough he didn’t show it at the time. He never saw it coming. The Prosecutor had told us to expect “very mild”. And when Doug buttonholed Kincaid out in the hall, asked him how attached he was to that recommendation, pointed out that the jurors had unanimously opined that jail shouldn’t even be on the table — my understanding is that Kincaid offered no rationale and no explanation. “I stand by my recommendation” was what he said.
I fully expected to leave that courtroom in shackles. I put my life in order, set it to autopilot. Sunday night Caitlin and I went online and read up on what my summer home would be like. One half-hour visit per week. No incoming calls. No hardcover books. No softcover books either, unless sent directly from a publisher. No more than four books allowed at a time. No gifts, no personal effects; the only thing a friend could contribute was money to an inmate account, which could be used to buy paper and pencils and prestamped envelopes. (On the matter of whether that stamp would be enough to carry a letter across an international border, the rules were silent.) Plus I’d already spent a day there back in December: I knew a few other things that weren’t on the website. No pillows, for one thing (inmates might stuff them down the toilets to jam the plumbing). Some of the guys stuffed used books (“The Spanish Bible”; “Dealing With Addiction”; an ARC of a novel called “The Loch” from, believe it or not, Tor) under one end of the mattress to achieve a pillowesque bump in the foam.
I wasn’t exactly ready to go, but I was resigned to. And when Adair called us to the podium, I stood there with my freshly-abscessed tooth throbbing (it had just gotten bad the night before; there hadn’t been time to get it looked at), and wondered if I should take this one last opportunity to show a bit of defiance before they hauled me off, use my right to speak to show that if nothing else, they hadn’t got me to grovel yet. Doug had begged me not to, but I was still wondering. What did I have to lose?
I had people at my back. At my left were a dozen friends who had insisted on coming from as far as Toronto to stand with me. “Chris from MN” (formerly of NY) had shown up unannounced, as he had at the trial itself. The whole damn Puppy Brigade was there. Dee. Caitlin and her folks. Squeak. Dave. And the juror, Proudinjun; finally we met in the flesh.
To my right were Beaudry and Behrendt. Beaudry, as the official “victim” of this crime, had the right to make a statement, but chose not to. I’m guessing he just came by to gloat.
I kind of forgot about them all when Doug started to speak.
He laid out the groundwork, reviewed the facts, cited letters sent on my behalf: from an investment banker, from a University prof, from my brother, from the President of the Toronto Press Gallery. All attesting to my nonviolent and compassionate nature, my rationality, my need to question. He cited a letter from proudinjun, who worried about the way in which 750.81d could be used as a club against the innocent (Adair said that he’d never received a letter from a juror before).
When Doug had finished doing what he does, Adair asked me if I had anything to say. I understand that some official record somewhere reports that I stood mute; I did not. I said something like:
“Doug has advised me to keep my mouth shut, for fear that I’ll put my foot in it. But I have to opine that a jail sentence — for an offence that even the Prosecution admits amounts to not-getting-on-the-ground-fast-enough — is disproportionate at best and downright Kafkaesque at worst. That’s all I have to say.”
And then Adair began to talk. James Adair. Your Honor. Man, but you do like to build the suspense, don’t you?
He seemed to like me. Almost the first thing out of his mouth was that I was the kind of guy he’d like to sit down, have a beer with, shoot the shit. I told him I’d buy the first round. He said I was “a puzzle”. I obviously wasn’t the kind of guy he was used to seeing in front of him. He reminisced about his childhood, the girl of his dreams, his life in Michigan, cops. He talked a lot about cops: how every day they go to work not knowing if they’ll be coming back. How Nine Eleven Changed Everything. How his pappy always told him that you do what the cops say, period, no questions asked. Somewhere in there he opened up the possibility that I might disagree with that, or maybe he just repeated his earlier sentiment that it would be nice to sit down and hash this stuff out over beers. I’m not quite sure how he put it, but I do remember asking “Should I be, er, talking back?” — wondering if maybe he was trying to engage in a dialog rather than deliver a lecture.
He respectfully suggested that I not do that.
In a way, that’s a shame. Because I would have liked to have heard Adair’s take on the distinction between obeying Orders and obeying The Law. I would have asked him about those people who join the force not because they want to protect America from terrorists, but because they want an excuse to throw their weight around; surely he must know that such people exist? I would have pointed out that taxicab drivers suffer three times the homicide rate of any law enforcement category, that being a cabbie is the fifth-most-dangerous job in the US while Law Enforcement doesn’t even make the Top 10. If the risks associated with border patrol can be invoked to excuse the kind of violence I experienced, should we not extend the same immunity to cabbies?
Hey, he said he’d like to share beers and conversation with me. And I would have gladly raised these points over a pint; not to get under his skin, not even to protect my own, but just for the joy of a philosophical debate. Evidently this was not the place for that.
I don’t know how wedded Adair actually was to some of the things he said. Maybe he meant them; maybe he was playing to those two uniforms behind me. But he did it at sufficient length, and with enough of a twinkle in his eye, that I almost thought I might get away with blurting out “Dude, you’re killing me! Just make the bloody call!”
And that’s when he did. I heard a collective gasp at my back then; I didn’t know whether it was a gasp of relief from my supporters, or of shock and dismay from Beaudry and Behrendt. I only know that when I finally turned around, my friends were still there. The guards had vanished like smoke.
And suddenly, the rest of the building seemed, well, friendlier. I’d had a taste of that just before my case was called, when a mustachioed stranger in a suit and tie wished me luck. “I sat in on some of your trial,” he told me. “You want to know my opinion? It was complete bullshit. But you’ve got a good judge in there. If anyone in this building’s going to overturn that recommendation, it’s Adair.”
At the time, I didn’t dare to hope. But afterward, in the elevator going down to the clerk’s office: tough-looking bald-headed dude smiles and remarks that if this had all been a ploy to get more readers, I’d gotten at least one. “Read that story of yours, over on Clarkesworld — The Others? The Things, that was it. Great stuff, man”. He hadn’t seen the Carpenter movie. I recommended it. (And I see he’s posted to this very blog on that very subject.)
And in the Clerk’s office, paying off the Man so that I might go home, the lady taking my money shook her head: “it was looking really bad there for a while. We thought it was outrageous! I mean, people do worse stuff than that all the time and they don’t get…”
Even the Times-Herald seems to have softened its tone. Their coverage of the sentencing started right out of the gate by reporting that the Judge himself had said he’d like to have a beer with me — and maybe for the first time ever the word “assault” did not appear anywhere in the text. (We may never know whether this was due to an honest change of heart, or to the fact that Liz Shepherd had just heard her spurious and repeated use of the a-word cited next to the phrase “libel suit” during a brief and quiet hallway conversation with Dave Nickle.) This is not to say that the Times-Herald story did not contain its share of inaccuracies. It says, for example, that I “refused comment” after the proceedings. In fact, I did reply when asked for my thoughts: I said, “I’m assuming you mean for your own personal interest and edification, given how little of what I actually say ever ends up appearing in the Times-Herald.”
Still. Big improvement.
Afterwards, having adjourned to the Quay Street Brewing Company for a celebration only slightly diminished by the growing pain in my jaw, I finally started to know proudinjun as someone other than a virtual advocate and a face on the jury. (I think we’ll be staying in touch.) Doug and I fought over who would pay for the drinks. (He won. I let him.) Proudinjun — who, by the way, has no objection to me using her real name, but who I continue to alias because there are some real assholes in that town — told me afterwards that I surround myself with wonderful people.
And I do. Anthony. Caitlin. Dave. Dee. Fred. Jane. Pat. Ray. Squeak. I love you all. And even Chris, whom I barely know: you came across state lines to show your support, man. Twice.
To all who’ve posted well-wishes and happy thoughts to the crawl: I thank you. To those who’ve asked me direct questions, or sent me private e-mails: I will answer you. But it will take a bit of time, and a lot more painkillers. Be patient. The sounds you hear are the grinding gears of a life on hold, finally booting back up.
That other, wetter sound is the great tight vacuole of pus bursting from my gums.