Monday, June 10, 2013

Vertical Horizons: A medical student's battle with Heroin.


The solitude of evening has finally arrived. The staff has left for the evening. The phones are switched over to the answering service. And, for a while, my world has paused. The lights in my office are off. I am staring at the lights that flicker from here to the end of the horizon. Life seems at times suspended here, on the twenty second floor. As the CD changer flips back and forth between Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen and Kitaro, I come back to reality only to drift away again. I am tired and my soul hurts. Sometimes, I wish I could take an enormous brush and paint the world with peace and calm.

You see, the life of a criminal defense attorney is saturated with unhappy stories and frequently tragic endings. My client was just raped in a California state prison. We both knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. We just hoped it would be later. Fate wasn't kind to him. He was no kinder to himself than fate.

He is, or I should say, he used to be gorgeous. Salt and pepper hair, tall, handsome, and well-spoken. He used to be a medical student at one of the nation's most prestigious medical schools. He was popular, friendly, warm and sunny, with a smile that could win you over.

He was a creature of the night. He'd done the scene, the clubs, the raves, the underground. He'd smoked a joint here and there, popped a "lude", done some "shrooms" and "mesc". By his own definition, he'd sucked the juice out of life. Then, one fateful night he met the cleanest high of them all. He met his true love: Heroin. And little by little, it sucked the life out of him.

Soon, he was kicked out of school. With no job, no qualifications and student loans in repayment, he started liquidating assets. So he says. I think he started liquidating because he had an expensive lover. The condo, the BMW, the trinkets, stereo, etc. Little by little, there was nothing left. When you run out of money, you beg. When you're a junkie, stealing becomes easy.

Sometimes, when you are too impatient to beg and too tired to steal, you'll even sell your body.
His friend called me. He'd been caught for burglary and grand theft. His friend had bailed him out. He had to go back to court and kept begging me to keep him out. Said he'd die on the inside. I told him if he kept it up he'd die on the outside. I fought with the district attorney, used every procedural and substantive tactic that I knew, begged and pleaded for my client. Finally, the charges were reduced, and he got off lightly.

It wasn't long after that when my answering service paged me at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, and said Jimmy (not his true name) had called from the West Valley jail. It was raining and cold. I was tired. My client needed me. I slipped my jeans on, threw on a jacket and drove down the deserted path which had become so familiar to my car. More often than not, the cops let you visit your client immediately. Sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, when they see you are a woman attorney, they harass you a little bit. And when they feel they have proven their manhood, they allow you to see your client.

Jimmy sat waiting behind the glass partition. His head and hands were weakly resting against the glass which separated us. As I walked in, he gently lifted his head. His hands slid slowly down the glass leaving a wet trail behind. Sweat rolled down his eyebrows. His throat and neck were damp with perspiration. He was wearing a T-shirt also damp with perspiration. The tracks on the inside of this arms were more marked than ever. This time, I could clearly see the brand new tracks on the back of his hands.

The brown circles under his eyes had grown larger, and the sparkle of life dimmer. A grin, maybe even a smirk took shape on his trembling lips. As he slowly nodded up and down to acknowledge my presence, he closed his eyes. He spoke slowly, faintly. "They picked me up ... I don't know why... I told them everything. I want to come out... Please, Ms. Kamran, please bring me out ... Call your bail bondsman ... Get me out ... Get me out ... Please help me. I promise I'll clean up. I promise I'll do what the judge orders. I gotta smoke ... Get me out. Can you get me out."

The list of charges filed against him included no less than three felonies and several misdemeanors. He'd confessed. There had been witnesses. He was even on video tape. He couldn't afford to go to trial and lose. The jury is not very sympathetic and understanding around Los Angeles. They are even less sympathetic to foreigners who have "invaded" their land and are committing crimes in their communities. Remember, to them, we are not Whites. We are camel jockeys who practice terrorism as a hobby. If convicted of the charges, the judge could have sent him to state prison where he'd be kissing "Bubba" for a long time to come. I got him a deal: less than one year in county jail and by the time the case was done, he was practically out on time served.

I met him by Men's Central Jail on Bauchet Street when he was released. I told him to stay in touch with me on a weekly basis. I asked him to call me if he got in trouble. I warned him about the consequences of his habit. I said "Jimmy, I can't call your parents in Iran telling them to send me money to bury you. If you insist on killing yourself, please make the arrangements and save me the difficult task of telling your parents why you had to die."

He's learned his lesson and served his time, I thought naively. He knows the consequences of a probation violation. He has had time to clean up. His system is clean. He's not going to go back.
Life went on as it usually does. Winter had melted into spring and the trees were in full bloom. I dropped him off wishing never to see him again. Unlike other attorneys, a criminal defense attorney hopes she'll never see her client again. My hopes were in vain. Before long, I got a collect call from San Diego. He'd been picked up on new drug charges. With a probation violation and a brand new case, the judge shipped him off to state prison for nine years.

Sitting here on a calm and quiet evening, I can see the Santa Monica Bay on my horizon. And I wonder how far Jimmy's horizon stretches beyond those barbed wires and the grey skies. He told me once, if he laid flat on his back and stared at the sky, he could see the end of the universe. 

And that is his horizon. 
I guess, in the world of the convicted, the horizon spreads vertically.



Alaleh Kamran
Century City
April 7, 1999