Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bull's Day in Court (46)

 Every single word written here is an extraordinary exaggeration of events that have played out in my head... based on the stories I have heard from people I have met in jail or while I was dealing with my own stupidity and carelessness, resulting from my own addiction to alcohol and drugs. This is in no way a glamorization of drug use, but a tool to lend some humanity to a subculture that has been demonized and written off as a hopeless and worthless part of our human family. I do not condone or promote any of the behavior or activities herein.

            When I look back on the many months that have passed since I mailed the NewLife application to Bull, my recollection of the majority of unimportant specific events that transpired during a great deal of that time would be just as difficult to narrate as if I was trying to explain the plot points and storyline of a movie I had never seen before which was being watched primarily in fast-forward.   Sometimes though, life would seem to suddenly and without notice grind to a crawling and painful pace.  Sometimes it was like watching the most ridiculous, pointless, and forgettable movie in frame-by-frame mode. 
            I do remember calling Rhonda just as soon as I had exhaled the last, futile hit I could muster out of the baggie she had given me during our chance encounter at the liquor store it Ft. Justice right after the farm was raided and shortly before my wife’s accident. 
            “Aw, hell youngster…”  Rhonda had said after I asked her to pick me up, “I was kind of worried when you didn’t call me any sooner.”  Her voice became careful and thick with sadness.  “I’m real sorry about what happened to your wife.”
            “Yeah…” I paused.
            “You don’t wanna talk about it yet, do you?”
            “No… please??  Let’s not…”
            “Ok then.”  She stalled.
            “Are you gonna make me ask again?  Would it serve me better if I told you I was on my knees with my hands folded, raised in the air and begging you to come get me out of this house?”  I probably would have done it if I thought it would make her move any faster.  I smiled at the thought of me acting so dramatically.  Rhonda finally snorted a laugh that ended up as a coughing fit.  I held the phone away from my ear until her wheezing had subsided.
            “Gerd Damn… you nearly joked me to death youngin’.”  Rhonda was catching her breath.  “Hell yes I’ll come get you!  Shit… pack a bag and stay here for awhile… I need a fresh face to keep me company anyways.  All of my people around here just bore me to death most times.”
            “Honest?”  I felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders.
            “I’m grabbing my purse right now…  I’ll be in your driveway in fifteen minutes.”
            “I’ll be waiting…”
            “Hey… grab my bolt, will ya?  I miss that thing….”
            “You bet.”  I hung up the phone and threw some clothes into a dusty duffle bag and scavenged the bolt from the mess that had been congregating on the computer desk.  When I saw her headlights turn into my driveway, I thought of the case of beer in the fridge and booze in the freezer and grabbed those as well.  I locked the house on my way out, and didn’t look back. 
I only went back to the house a few times over the course of the following months.  The first time my electricity had been shut off, and the second time my water service was disconnected as well.  After that I only returned home to pilfer things from my belongings that would earn me some cash at the pawn shop, or that I could sell or trade to somebody who offered me enough cash or dope.  After about six months or so, the only rooms I hadn’t emptied of everything worth a buck were Lil’ Step’s bedroom and the bedroom I had shared with my wife.  We never had a mortgage on the house, because I had paid cash for it during the successful times my wife and I had enjoyed while we owned a finer dining restaurant in Ft. Justice, and shortly before my life began to slip out of focus.  I never worried about foreclosure, which frequently allowed me to entertain thoughts of selling the house altogether.  I figured that even if I got half of what I paid for it… that would more than likely take the issue of money out of my daily struggles for at least a year, maybe longer.  I wasn’t concerned about anything more than making sure I could survive at least another year, and sometimes I couldn’t even imagine my life continuing out that far. 
Within the first couple of days that I spent at Rhonda’s apartment I remember that I had foresight enough to send Bull a letter explaining that if he needed to contact me anytime in the near future he might have the best luck calling Rhonda.   A few days after that letter went into the mail, Rhonda’s phone rang in the afternoon while we were occupying ourselves by getting spun-out.  Neither of us had slept since I had gotten here.  I listened as Rhonda exchanged uncomfortable, forced pleasantries with Bull, while she assured him of my well-being and her own ability to keep me safe.  When they finally finished, she handed her phone to me without looking me in the eyes.  I took the phone anxiously from her hand and held it to my ear.
“Hey boss!  You got my letter, huh?”  Without waiting for him to respond I continued, “Did you get the letter that I sent before that?  The one with the application to NewLife that you asked me to find?”  My mouth was drying up, as nervous, guilty energy exploded throughout my body.
“Brother… what the fuck are you doing over there?”  Bull was speaking firmly and quietly.
“Well… I don’t know.  Hanging out… you know…”  I felt like I was being scolded.
“Why did you go there?”  Bull asked quickly.
“Shit boss, my house is empty now… and it’s morbid…”  My voice, which had been warbling and high-pitched suddenly softened and steadied.  “Boss, I needed to get out of there… with you stuck in jail and my wife… is… well…  I just don’t have anybody else to call a friend right now, okay?  I guess I just needed to get out of there, and more importantly… out of my head.”
“Yeah…”  Bull’s tone began to soften, “I get that, brother… honestly I do.  I’m just worried about this because the last time I sent you over there, you came back with beat-up, junkie arms and you were all sorts of useless drunk for a minute.  I know that you’re going to drink, and I can’t make you feel too bad about that until I get out of here… But don’t let anybody talk you into doing anything else that you wouldn’t do if I was there to kick your ass.” 
“It’s not like that boss, I promise.”
“That’s all I need to hear.”  He paused and then continued, “I filled out that application and talked to the people at NewLife.  If my application checks out, then I guess I’m in.”
“You did, huh?  Did you read my letter?”
“Yeah dipshit… Consider yourself lucky that I didn't have to ask the jailer to translate a couple of those bigger words for me though… you can get really wordy, motherfucker.”  Bull laughed.  I felt like he was trying to pay me a compliment, but couldn’t find the right way to do it without sounding like he was.  “Anyways, you were probably right about a lot of that shit, okay?  Are you too fucked up to talk to me right now?”
“No…” I was stunned, “Hell no…” I paused, “what did you say before that?”
“Yeah, I know right?” He laughed softly, “When was the last time I admitted that you were even remotely close to being right about something?”  He laughed again.
“Fuck you… That’s not what I meant and you know it.”  I laughed with him.  “What was I probably right about, boss?”
“I dunno… all of it.  I think it might finally be time for me to change a couple of things about my life.” I felt the conviction in his voice, and I could almost see the familiar fire fading from his eyes.  “If I don’t get it right with NewLife, then the chances are real good that I’m going to die in prison… and honestly, I don’t wanna die in prison.”
“Then I won’t let you,” I assured him.  “What do you need me to do to help?”
“Just make sure I get from here to there.  I’ll do the rest.  My next court date is in ten days, and by then I should have gotten an answer from the admitting staff at NewLife.  I wrote you down as my sponsor for this.”
“What does that mean?  Like a recovery sponsor?  Boss, those people will see right through my veil of bullshit, and they’ll send you off to prison before you even walk through the doors if that’s the case.”
“No… not a sponsor in that sense.  Hell no… I’m not stupid.”  He laughed briefly.  “To them a sponsor is my secure ride between here and there.  If I don’t make it by check-in time, then we’re both going to spend time someplace we don’t want to be.”
“Okay… sure.  Is that it?”
“Well, you’ll also be responsible for getting me the things that I need to get started with them… Clothes, soap… that kind of shit.  You’ll also have to get me back and forth to court for my status hearings and all that shit while I’m there...  which could be a while.”
“Sure.  I’ll work that out.”
“I figured you would… but,” he paused.
“…but what?” I asked.
“Listen, I know how fucked up your life must seem right now.  I have a feeling that when I get to a place in my own life where I can reflect on all of the loss and damage that we’ve both caused to others and ourselves…” he seemed to be struggling to find the right words.  “Well I guess when I get to that point I will probably discover my own feelings of responsibility for some of what you’re going through and I’ll have my own bad feelings about it then.  I know that right now you’ve probably got some things you really feel like beating yourself up over… but I need you to be straight and solid on the days that I ask you to be there for me.”
“Well… of course Bull…”  I drew a deep breath, “Brother, if you tell me that something has to be… then I will go down swinging if that’s what it takes to make it so.  Being straight to deal with this for you is not an issue to me.”
“Good.  I gotta get off of here pretty quick.  Remember… court is at 9 a.m. in ten days.  It’s a Tuesday.  I’ll be in touch when I hear back from NewLife… if not before then.  Try to get some sleep before I see you in court, asshole.”
“Yeah, boss.”  He hung up the phone on his end.  I handed the phone back to Rhonda and then did my best to give her the important details about the conversation.  This was done as we shared several bowls of dope, continuing the activity that was in progress before Bull’s phone call.  Somewhere after the second pipe had been loaded Rhonda lost interest in what Bull and I had talked about… and for the moment that was just fine with me.
After I had scrawled the details of my responsibilities to Bull in a used notebook that Rhonda pulled out from behind the couch I began to phase in and out of reality again until the following Sunday morning when Bull called to remind me about court on Tuesday.  That afternoon I quit smoking dope with the Rhonda and anybody who came and went in the meantime.  I scored a couple of Xanax from one of the random visitors (whose names I rarely learned, and most of whom I had indiscriminately taken to calling “Rando” if they were male and “Randa” if they were female) and excused myself to retreat to Rhonda’s bedroom where I ate Xanax and drank hard alcohol until I passed out.
When I woke up next, it was six a.m. on Tuesday morning.  I was shaky and hungry, but after a long shower and a handful of M&M’s I felt as normal as I figured I was going to feel for a long time.  I dressed myself in a clean pair of jeans and a long-sleeved, black, cotton shirt.  When I had finished managing my long, unruly, shoulder length hair and had shaved the stubble from my face I examined myself in the mirror.  I was basically satisfied with my appearance and justified the stubborn, dark circles under my eyes by attributing their persistence to the recent death of my wife… should anybody care to mention them.  I brushed my teeth, scraped my tongue, and then asked for Rhonda’s car keys and excused myself from the apartment for the morning.
I zoned out on the journey to Littleton County Courthouse, listening to the syndicated morning disc-jockeys who told too many scripted jokes and played far too little music.  When I finally pulled into a parking spot outside of the courthouse the music was beginning for only the second time since I had started the car outside of Ft. Justice about 25 minutes earlier.  I was kind of disappointed too, because it was actually one of the few songs on the radio that I knew these days.  I escaped the vehicle and headed into the courthouse.  The main courtroom was on the third floor of this ancient building, and the elevator was closed to the public on Tuesday mornings as it was used to bring inmates to and from the basement loading dock as they arrived from the jail and were escorted by a deputy to the third floor courtroom.  Tuesday was also criminal felony day at the courthouse.  Felony Offenders and the General Public are kept pretty well segregated, so I started my climb up the staircase.
When I finally reached the third floor, I was just in time to hear the elevator bell ding and watch as the doors slid open with a hiss and squeak.  A deputy in full uniform stood rigidly at attention, officiously holding the elbow of a cuffed and shackled Bull Gunville who appeared to be examining his feet.  My friend was dressed in a standard issue, blaze orange county jumpsuit and dirty orange flip-flops.  His ankles were cuffed and chained, while another length of heavy looking chain ran from his ankles to his waist where it wrapped around him like a belt and then attached to the handcuffs in front of him.  The deputy let go of Bull’s elbow in order to push his open palm and extended fingers in my direction.  I halted my strides towards the courtroom steps, wordlessly obeying his silent command.  Bull finally looked up and saw me standing in front of him.
“Hey… Look at you…” he sneered, “…all on time and shit!” He smiled as he addressed me.
I smiled widely back at him.
“You look pretty good for what you’ve been through,”  he offered while examining me closely as the deputy repositioned his hand on Bull’s elbow and nudged him forward.
I looked into the sparsely populated courtroom and back towards Bull as he and the deputy navigated the narrow hallway we now shared.  I finally found my nerve to speak.
“So… are you that much of a bad mother fucker that you get the courtroom all to yourself this morning?”  I laughed briefly.
The deputy stopped walking and halted Bull’s motion while turning to face me.
“Do NOT talk to the inmate unless you are expressly instructed to do so by the judge during Mr. Gunville’s hearing or it will be my distinct pleasure to secure you a bunk right above his for the evening… then you boys can talk all you want.”
“My humble apologies, officer.  It won’t happen again.”  I hung my head, still grinning and waited for them to enter the courtroom before I made any further forward progress. 
As Bull was being led to the jury box where the inmates are seated during court proceedings he turned towards where I was taking my seat on the far side of the courtroom and mouthed the words:  I GUESS SO!
I shook my head and grinned.
I was the only spectator in the courtroom today.  The front of the courtroom was occupied by an anorexic looking stenographer in thick, retro-framed glasses and also a fat court clerk behind a computer desk, eating the last bites of a jelly donut.  Each was seated on opposite sides of the judge’s bench.  In front of the bench sat the opposing counselors.  To my right sat the stern-yet-regrettable looking State’s Attorney.  She looked to me like she only wore the attire she was in because it was an obligation of her position.  She took little to no pride in the appearance of her clothes or herself.  Directly in front of me was a man I could only assume was here to act as Bull’s attorney.  He was a wiry-haired, awkward looking man with wire-rimmed bifocals dressed in a corduroy sport coat, complete with elbow patches.
Moments after Bull’s chains had stopped making noise the deputy called the courtroom to order.
“All Rise!”  All six of us stood as the judge appeared from behind the deputy.  The deputy glared at Bull, whose chains created more noise as he rose from his seat.  “The honorable Judge Alfred Stevens presiding.”
“Thank you everybody,” the Judge offered to the courtroom as he approached the bench and took his seat.  “You may all be seated... Good morning everyone...”  The fat court clerk stood up to deliver Judge Stevens a manila folder that I presumed held Bull’s case file.  Judge Stevens opened the folder and briefly scanned the documents it held.  “Calling the State of Illinois versus Lewis Gunville Jr.”  This caught my attention and I looked immediately at Bull who was shaking his head and looking into his lap.  “Let the record show that this is case number CF0112- 12, 13, 14, and 15.  Mr. Gunville is being charged with the following felony offenses:   manufacture of methamphetamine, possession of methamphetamine in excess of five grams but less than fifteen grams, intent to deliver methamphetamine, and lastly… maintaining a public nuisance.  I will offer for the record that Mr. Gunville appears in court today and remains in the custody of Littleton County Sheriff, Donald Doyle.  Bond has been previously set at $250,000 or $25,000 cash.  Madam State’s Attorney, how does the state wish to proceed?”
The State’s Attorney remained seated in her chair while she spoke.  “Your honor, this is a pre-trial hearing in the case.  The state wishes to proceed to trial at this time with respect for Mr. Gunville’s entry of a not-guilty plea.”

“How does the defense wish to proceed?”  Judge Stevens inquired vacantly.

Bull’s attorney stood to address the court.  “Your Honor… Mr. Gunville, of his own free-will and without seeking a plea agreement from the State, and most importantly… with the knowledge that there is little to no hope of changing the State’s current position of pursuing another lengthy incarceration if he is convicted of the charges being brought against him… Keeping all of that in mind, Mr. Gunville has sought out the means to apply to and has already  been accepted by one of our country’s most successful rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders of his disposition…”

“Your Honor… Counselor…let me interrupt,” the State’s Attorney stood in front of her chair and stared at Bull's lawyer as she said, “You do realize that if Mr. Gunville is convicted of these charges it will not be his first conviction stemming from similar offenses relating to the illicit manufacture and trafficking of methamphetamine in Littleton County.  If he is convicted when this goes to trial it will be his third drug-related felony in the last twenty years.  Mr. Gunville has been repeatedly punished for offenses related to methamphetamine.  Counselor, can you please explain to me why the defendant is seeking treatment at this late stage of the game?”

“Your Honor… and Madam State’s Attorney," he said looking at her directly now. "With all due respect and a great reverence for the seriousness of the charges that Mr. Gunville is facing, please allow me to restate for the record and anybody who couldn't hear me the first time I said this: Mr. Gunville is not asking that the State abandons it’s pursuit of these charges in lieu of his successful completion of the program that he has been accepted into already. Mr. Gunville appears before the court today humbly asking for a continuance in these matters so that he may pursue a precious opportunity in which he will learn how approach the remaining years of his life without continuing to participate in what appears to me to have been a tragically prolonged exercise in futility. An exercise in futility being fueled by spiritual malnutrition, and several misguided attempts by the state to correct a non-violent offender with a spiritual malady by giving them lengthy incarcerations comparable to those of murderers and rapists. Not even pedophiles serve the kind of time that Mr. Gunville has already served. I will remind the court again that Mr. Gunville has expressed no desire to alter the State’s current position regarding his alleged offenses.  Madam State’s Attorney, we all listened respectfully a few moments ago as you interrupted me to infer to all of us that Mr. Gunville has clearly learned nothing from his previous incarcerations for strikingly similar offenses.  I couldn’t agree with you more!  Indeed! Mr. Gunville has already been convicted twice for similar offenses stemming from his addiction to methamphetamine and now faces frighteningly similar charges yet again after the State has already punished him very nearly to the fullest extent of the law twice already! And for what? Only to yield the same frustrating result!  Recidivism!  Not once, but twice!  Mr. Gunville's story is not unique… he is not some anomaly… He is an addict in desperate pursuit of his addiction.  There are scores of men and women just like him circulating within our prison system already!  He admits that he is an addict and now wants to pursue a life outside of the reach of drugs... even with the realization thatafter he hopefully finds a solution to his spiritual  ailment -- that our system of crime and punishment has failed to provide for him twice already --  that you will very likely choose to send him back there."
"Your Honor, Madam State's Attorney... All we are asking for is a continuance of this case until he completes the indocrinization program to which he has already applied for and been accepted.  Additionally, this is a privately funded facility that Mr. Gunville wishes to attend, and he would very likely spend the better part of two years with them… on their dime. Is the State really in such a big hurry to spend taxpayer's dollars to incarcerate him?”

Bull’s lawyer sat heavily in his seat and drank deeply from a bottle of water in front of him.  The courtroom was silent.

“Okay then, I’ll ask again…” Judge Stevens broke the silence, “How does the State wish to proceed?”

“Okay Counselor, I’ll bite… Where is it that Mr. Gunville hopes to seek treatment?”  The State’s Attorney sounded exasperated.

“Well, I was beginning to fear that you’d never ask.  The program is fairly well known.  It is called NewLife Recovery System.”  I watched as the State's Attorney buried her forehead in the palms of her hands.  Bull’s lawyer continued, “And it's a common misconception Madam States Attorney that this is a drug treatment facility, We do not rehabilitate drug addicts. We provide them with the structure of a new life which is available only to those who have been reborn of spirit in the truth of Christ the Redeemer."

"NewLive Recovery systems boast an 86% success rate with only 14% recidivism after 10 years. I’m sure we are all well aware of just how staggering these figures are when compared to the success rates of other facilities operating on funds provided to them by the State. Facilities which shamefully offer little more reprieve from addiction than the sanitariums and nervous hospitals of the late 19th century.  NewLife success rates have shown growth every year of operation since they opened in 1972.  Mr. Gunville has already been approved and accepted into their facility located just 3 hours north of here, and I believe his sponsor for the intake program is seated towards the back of the courtroom today.”  He held his hand out towards where I was seated.  As all eyes turned their focus towards me I became numb with discomfort.  Bull was smiling from his distant chair.

The State’s Attorney returned her focus to the Judge’s bench.  “Well Your Honor, I’m certainly familiar with the program.  I’ve also been made familiar with their success rates as well. I can’t help but also assume that Mr. Gunville’s sponsor back there is also responsible for the parade of letters being written on Mr. Gunville’s behalf to community churches. Letters which are currently being read feverishly during weekly community prayer time in all the area churches, including my own.  It all makes sense now.  That being said…the State moves to continue this matter for 90 days. That should give the defendant ample opportunity to become further acquainted with the NewLife program.”  She flopped into her chair and tossed the case folder she had been referencing into a basket near the corner of her desk.

“Well then, that was painless… continuance granted,” Judge Stevens gave the gavel in front of him a tap.  “Mr. Gunville, you are ordered to appear before this court on the date agreed upon by counsel at 9 a.m.”

“Thank you, Your Honor.” Bull spoke for the first time in court.

“Good luck, Mr. Gunville…  Court is in recess.”  Judge Stevens handed the manila folder back to the court clerk and began to descend from the bench.

“All rise!”

Bull stood and turned his attention to me and silently mouthed the words:  Go now...  I’ll call you.  
I stood up and exited the courtroom.  For those few brief moments I felt something strangely similar to hope.  It appeared that Bull was going to get his opportunity to avoid prison and potentially turn his life around... or completely upside down.      

This work is the intellectual property of Jerome J. Panozzo

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