Tod | 25.07.2002 17:52
The scheme of making the administration of justice subservient to the purposes of revenue, could scarce fail to be productive of very gross abuses. - Adam Smith, from the Wealth of Nations
Recently, the sheriff walked down my block, showing a mug shot of me to the various business owners. "Have you seen this man?" Doubtless they imagined I was getting picked up over some truly, felonious act. A merchant, downstairs in the cafe, directed him to my office, where I live and work.
I finished breakfast early, at the Tarpon Diner. I sat on my stool, trying to write another chapter for my book, titled, Undue Process. Uninspired, I left early and as I began to cross the street, a patrol car rolled up, alongside me. "You're Tod Zänkert, aren't you?"
"I've been looking for you," the tall, clean-cut officer said.
A few moments later, as the people I work among, gathered and watched, I was handcuffed and placed into the backseat of the squad car. "You know what this is about?" asked the sheriff.
"Yes," I said. "Must be for violating probation."
"But you didn't pick up any new charges," he said, offhand.
"No. The judge told me if I didn't have the money for my court costs, I'd go to jail at the next hearing, over a suspended license. I didn't have the money, so...I didn't see the point in showing up, just to go to jail. I already did ten days over it, but now? My landlord is out of town, and I should be watching the building for him."
"I wouldn't worry about it, somebody else will pick it up for you."
"Yeah, the restaurant owner, Nick."
I sat back in the seat, and the cuff twisted into my left wrist. I winced in pain, and leaned forward to ease the pressure of the hand cuffs. The sheriff talked about catching a record number of people. How many 'heads' he could snag in one day.
And I asked, "But why misdemeanors? Why send people to jail over traffic violations?"
"Hey, it's business, nothing personal" he replied.
"Isn't that what the Mafia says?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah."
I recalled trying to explain to the judge what happened. Three years ago, I drove into a construction zone. In order to avoid a dump truck turning onto the highway, I ended up hydroplaning into the next car.
The officer showed up, and seeing there were no signs for the construction site, decided not to give me a ticket. My insurance covered the old guy's dent. But then, the next year I learned he was suing me for over twenty grand for his pain and suffering, the psychological damage he claimed he received for the dent to his rear quarter panel.
I lost the case in civil court. When I could not pay the judgment? The civil judge took my license away, and with it, my means to work and to pay off the judgment.
But now, explaining it to the judge in misdemeanor court? He looked me in the eye, and said, "I don't want to hear your life's history. When you come back into my court, you pay or I'll put you back in jail."
I didn't show up for his court, my probation was violated, and now - two weeks later, I sat in jail. I was strip searched, and fingerprinted. "We got 15 head here," the guard said to the lady, at processing.
I was taken to the old felony wing, now - for Misdemeanors. Men were stacked on bunks like the baloney between the bread of our sandwiches.
Within the hour, a frustrated inmate fisted the glass. For punishment, the TV was turned off. Fine for me, but as over 100 men were punished for one man's act, the docile mood turned into loud, reactionary accusations, and fights. The TV was turned on, and the inmates became quiet as if they'd been given a collective pacifier.
Two guards entered, and said that any violence would be dealt with harshly, with an added 30 days plus solitary. They picked out a skinny boy, looking scared in the midst of the population, and called him forward. "DO YOU KNOW WHY YOU ARE FUCKING HERE?"
The kid said, "Yeah."
"Because you're a loser, that's why - because boy, you're NOTHING." And I'm thinking, What is this? We are here over driving citations for God's sake!"
As if hearing my thoughts, an aging hippy beside me, reflected, "And we're all poor. Those who have money? They pay their tickets, their court costs, if any, and if they do end up in jail? They just lay down their Visa card and bond themselves out at the door."
"Unfair," I said.
"The Judicial system is what most clearly shows the true state of democracy in the US," he continued. "When there is no equity of justice for all, guess what? You know that an elite few are using the poor to remain in power."
"Woahh! Sounds like you've got it down."
"That's just how it is, man."
Later, I laid on the hard bed as the rest of the men, alone in my grief. Seldom do men cry in jail, and I am no exception. First, we become angry, and after talking to whoever will listen about the unfairness of our sentences, we cry within, where no one can see the extent of the sadness; that we who are men, are treated like mere cattle herded this way, or that. A dull sadness, mixed with a sense of powerlessness, slowly takes over. I looked across the room, and my eye caught a line of graffiti scratched into the steel wall, beside the bunk. It read: A KING IS A KING NO MATTER WHERE HE IS.
One could easily sneer at the phrase, and call it severely out of touch with reality. What, I am a king as I sit in a cell without recourse to due process, or say, due process as a king would have it?
After all, were one to read the circuits of King Henry II, the judges had no real concern for justice. According to Adam Smith, judges were used for the "purpose of levying certain branches of the king's revenue...and that revenue appears to be one of the principle advantages which he proposed to obtain by the administration of justice."
Kings, as judges, level the revenue against the poor, in our day as in the days of the English monarchy. In the old days, the rich brought large presents to the court, to placate the state. And those lacking the ability to pay off those in power? Innocent or guilty, they were punished. Today we call this "pleading no contest."
Few dare to face the facts. Justice anymore, does not relate to right or wrong. Rather, it is equated to whether or not you can pay, whether it is fine, court costs, or if the crime is serious enough - a high-priced lawyer. The US justice system is a racket, for which Adam Smith, exemplar of Capitalism wrote, "the administration of justice is subservient to the purposes of revenue."
After my mother bonded me out of jail, I returned to my block. I walked leisurely through the cafe, below my office. I thanked the restaurant owner for keeping up my job, maintaining the building while I was away.
Nick stepped in front of me, before the merchants, booming, "Why were you in jail? Tell me, right now! Why were you in jail?"
"That's not any of your business," I said, as the population of the town looked on.
And I realized: He should have been a guard at the jail. But me? I am a king, no matter where I am.
ps Please consider sponsoring my work, or donating something! Otherwise I'm off to jail again, and really, I am not of much use there. What do I need to raise? Dennis Kappas, the landlord, is asking (just!) $750.000.00 for this building, The Taylor Arcade. This is what I need to raise. This way, I'll have enough to support InterNation, and add a staff - through the rent or leases people pay for their shops. Think about it! The merchants who saw me handcuffed this month, will be paying me the rent next month! Would this be poetic justice, or what? Please...support a king!