I have spent the better part of a week lying back and letting the stress hormones leach slowly out of my system. I have been taking my friends off hold one by one, and avoiding deadlines, and growing plump. I’ve been looking at the sky, and marvelling that I’ll be able to look at it again tomorrow, and the next day. I can look at a tree now, without thinking That could be the last tree I see until autumn.
I can start taking things for granted again.
Tomorrow my life reboots: the early morning runs, the deliverables, the contract negotiations, the routines and the writing. At long fucking last, I get back to the writing.
Squidgate isn’t completely over yet. I still have bills to pay, logistics to arrange, a DNA sample to get across the border. But tomorrow, all that shit will be just one irritating splinter in my life; the days of it consuming my life are over.
And now, as I prepare to put it all to bed, a few moments stick with me (in no particular order):
- Four border guards testifying one after the other that we’d been stopped for a “random search” because the car wore “out-of-state license plates”; Doug studiously ignoring my whispered suggestion that he ask each of them if they knew what the word “random” even meant.
- Doug remarking, in slightly awestruck tones, that I was the first person he’d ever heard use the word “shit” on the stand.
- A teleconference between my lawyer and a member of The Jury Project, in which they worried at length about how to take the hit our case would inevitably suffer when the Prosecutor referred to me as Dr. Watts. It took a few moments for me to realize something they assumed went without saying: US juries don’t trust the highly-educated, and are more likely to convict someone already guilty of holding an advanced degree.
- Judge Adair, musing aloud on the definition of justice; concluding, with refreshing bluntness, that “Justice is what I say it is”, his eyes fixed on some party behind me. I like to think he was looking at those two people in uniform; I like to think he was talking about a presentencing report whose contents were at complete odds with its conclusions. But I’ll never know.
- The sheer delight in learning from the local citizenry that Officer Beaudry has the unpopular habit of patrolling his local street, knocking on neighbor’s doors, and demanding that they roll up their garden hoses or mow their lawns. Not much of a surprise, but it still forced a smile past the toothache.
- Ken “Never Say Die” Kincaid, still trying to slip “Assault Officer – Habitual Offender” onto the post-trial paperwork, even though his own presentencing report had admitted the charge was groundless. I don’t really blame the dude; I suspect the only way he can be right about anything is to make as many contradictory statements as possible in a short period of time, counting on random chance to ensure that at least one of them happens to be true. Call it the herring-egg r-selector strategy of Michigan justice.
Over the past five months I’ve spent over sixty thousand dollars of other people’s money to defend against a law which is, to all intents and purposes, impossible to defend against. Once a badge claims that you’ve “obstructed” his performance or failed to follow her “lawful command” — even though the statute itself never defines what a “lawful command” is, or what its limits might be — you’re basically screwed. (As I wrote in the “Offender’s statement” I was required to submit to Kincaid: if a border guard had ordered me to get down on all fours and bark like a dog, what — if anything — would make that command “unlawful”?) Caught in that trap, I was luckier than almost anyone else would have been. I had one of the best lawyers in the state (he won a prestigious award for kick-ass lawyering while the case was going down; he never even told me). I had friends to boost the signal all over the goddamned internet; no matter how many newspapers simply cut-and-paste whatever pap appeared in the Times-Herald, no matter how many times the word “choked” and “assaulted” appeared in print, so many other good people helped set the record straight. Two jurors spoke out in public, one repeatedly and at personal cost. Fans of my books, fellow victims of the Border Patrol, folks I’d just shared a pint with in years gone by all chipped in.
I lost anyway, of course. I’m a felon now; there’s a significant chunk of the planet I can’t travel through. But I am free. Beaudry and Behrendt and Kincaid and Kelly, whoever pulls their strings and circles their wagons, didn’t get everything they were after. And the only reason they didn’t is because I had an army on my side.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: what about all those poor bastards who fall victim to the Beaudrys of the world, and have no army to call on? What about the people in Arizona who can now be assumed guilty of illegal residence until they prove themselves innocent? What about the disabled kids and grandmothers who get tasered and beaten without a convenient cell phone camera running line-of-sight?
Not so great a cost perhaps, to be banned from such a place. If travel restrictions hadn’t been imposed, I might have demanded them.
Which brings us to a couple of questions I’ve seen repeated in recent comment threads. To the first — am I forever banned from the US? — I can answer, Maybe not forever. I won’t be visiting any of my stateside friends in their own backyards any time soon. Apparently, though, the conviction can be expunged after five years if I expend the effort. Of course, even if that happens, my name won’t disappear from all the lists that matter. I’ll still have to add an extra six hours to any cross-border trip just to account for the inevitable “random” search. But it will be possible, if unpleasant. And at the very least, it probably won’t be as bad as the last time.
The other question some of you have asked: Is the kibble fund holding out? Do I need more in the way of donations? The answer to that one is, I’m not quite sure yet. The fund was dropping into the red a few weeks back, yes. But then it got a healthy injection from a beast I’d always assumed to be purely mythical: an investment-banker/derivatives-trader-with-a-conscience. (Which probably explains why he’s actually a retired investment banker, who these days spends his time assisting worthy environmental causes.) Current reserves are low but stable; I still have some bills to pay off, and I don’t yet know how much the tying off of other loose ends will cost. I could be okay. I should be okay. But in the event that I might not be, remember that any contributions surplus to need — except for those explicitly authorized for redirection to cat maintenance or the purchase of alcohol1 — will end up donated to some worthy civil-rights cause yet to be decided (the ACLU, the EFF, and The Jury Project are all candidates at the moment). Whatever happens, I won’t be trading solidarity in on Porsches.
Early day tomorrow. I’m going to pop an antibiotic, climb into bed with a pen and a highlighter, and read Squeak‘s kick-ass Von Neumann Sisters until I fall asleep. You can expect subsequent posts to this crawl to veer sharply back into the intertwined worlds of science and fiction. Kafka’s more than had his day.
Sleep tight, mammals. Talk soon.
1Yes, there’ve been quite a few of those.