The clang of the closing steel door vibrated to my bones. My heart stopped. I looked around at the grim surroundings. Talk about a chilling effect. I was on the other side of justice. Me, the former gung-ho New York prosecutor, was behind bars. A prisoner. Talk about a reversal of fortune.
After the body search with my La Perlas on the cold cement floor, I experience a moment of reprieve, compassion from the rubber-gloved guard about to do a cavity search. She looked around, made sure no one could see, motioned that I dress quickly, my cavities unexplored. Our secret, sealed with a wary smile.
Another guard escorts me to the holding pens, a maelstrom of noise, activity, chaos dominated by a woman "singing," à la Eddie Murphy's "Roxanne." Well, the movie got that right. Kudos for authenticity. The guard avoided that cell. I breathed a sigh of relief. No room with a view, but I was alone and grateful.
This former Assistant District Attorney behind bars. Really. Not like the time I was on trial with a defendant who deserved to walk, and I was the prosecutor, but the judge was on a new-age high about some guru and a weekend spread out on a cold floor in Manhattan alongside a famous actress. What that had to do with this poor man's plight was beyond me. This space cadet was no Solomon. We need to look into how judges are selected, elected and chosen, but that's for another column.
He got me so frustrated. You can imagine the defendant, his life hanging in the balance. Well, he couldn't do a thing, so I threw my file at the judge. Snap out of it, for chrissake; someone's life is at stake here. Thank God it didn't hit him. He bellowed that he would hold me in contempt. Did I know what that meant? I went to law school. Passed the bar. Yes, I knew.
Court officers escorted me to the holding pen to show me where I would go if he chose to carry out this threat. These were the same court officers who brought me a Papal Blessing from Rome. I didn't think they would lock me up. Or would they? I looked around at the medieval surroundings, and, all bravado, I thought, "The hell with him." This isn't so bad. Wrong.
Sitting in that cell many years later, listening to the "singing," I was beginning to see what a learning experience my incarceration was. I obviously had empathy for defendants. As a prosecutor I thought I was supposed to serve justice, but all that aside, when I heard that clang, I realized that I had no clue how any of the defendants felt when that door slammed shut behind them. Now I knew.
Locked up. At the mercy of the guards, the system, a system I knew was far from perfect. No more freedom to choose. Choice was not an option anymore. A wave of realization hit me. This is where I sent people. This is how they felt. How I felt. And how many were innocent? I was. Not only would I not hurt the proverbial fly, but at 4'11" (OK, 4'10.5"), I literally couldn't. Had I attacked this 5'10" man, I possibly wouldn't be amongst the living and definitely would have had my looks altered, but he said I injured him so.
Here I was. Locked in a tiny cell. Sitting on the cold, hard bench, looking out at my surroundings, I asked, "What did I do to get myself here?" No one else. Me. To hell with the liar. I had a $50,000 bail on my head for a felony charge, and no, I didn't want to press charges against him. Continue this funny farm? No, thank you.
So maybe this wasn't a reversal of fortune. Maybe this hard lesson was enlightenment. No retribution. No revenge. No leverage. Leave him alone. Stop this idiocy. Was I learning something? Yes, what was happening was a travesty of justice, but I wasn't throwing files. I was humbled. Handling it differently despite the fear. How do we learn, grow from our mistakes, turn them into learning tools? Growth. What was I learning in that cell?
I changed after that day. I learned that my combat tools as a lawyer possibly don't serve me, or anyone else well, all or most of the time. I learned that surrender might be the wisest choice. Time is lost for good, can't be regained. How much time did I want to spend proving that I was right, within the law? What was I willing to give up for peace of mind? For freedom from anger? For me? But most of all I learned not to blame anyone else for wherever I might find myself, because no matter what someone did to me, I let it happen, I caused it, I gave it room to grow.
I create, promote or allow everything in my life.
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