Sworn to Silence

The public defender who hired me warned that most of our attempts to help our clients will fail, despite our very best efforts. But she went on to say that even when all of our efforts fall short, a defendant’s public defender can and must always be the client’s voice in the courtroom; even as all the grinding parts of the machine line up against the accused, his or her public defender will always stand beside them and insist, with intelligence and passion, that the person on the receiving end has wants, needs, and interests that must be heard.

This is a story of how I may have failed to be a voice for a uniquely vulnerable client. Let’s call her Letty.

Letty ran away from her parents’ home in Dingy Suburb two weeks after her 18th birthday. Unfortunately, Letty had a less-than chivalrous boyfriend with a pitiful attempt at a moustache (let’s call him Dirt Lip). Dirt Lip promised Letty that they would “make it” on their own with the help of an older friend who lived two-hours away in Big City.

Dirt Lip’s “older friend” was a heavily-tattooed East Coast gang member who had decided to seek his fortune –and meth– out West. Older Friend explained to the young couple that he “looked after” three other girls. By “looked after,” he meant that he kept them stocked with crystal meth, reminded them of the number of Johns they had to service to pay him back for the dope, and handled their money for them to ensure that he was compensated for the hotel rooms, the drugs, and his time as their “security.” Dirt Lip assured Letty that this was nothing at all like pimping, and pointed out that unless they could find some way to pay the older friend back for the hotel room that he had booked for them –without asking first– Letty might have to follow the girls’ lead and make some quick cash.

Thankfully for Letty, Older Friend’s taillight failed to come on as he drove her and Dirt Lip back to their hotel. Before the highway patrolman could even begin to open his book of tickets, Letty blurted out as much of her story as he could to the surprised officer before he told everyone to be quiet and get out of the car. The officer quickly noticed that everyone was high, arrested them, and found Older Friend’s half-ounce of crystal behind the driver’s seat.

Per local custom, our district attorney decided to accuse everyone in the car of possessing the meth with intent to sell or distribute. Dirt Lip was a juvenile, so he never found his way into my courtroom; Older Friend hired a real lawyer, and Letty came to me.

The courtroom stood mostly empty when I arrived for our pre-trial hearing; I was the first lawyer there. Letty sat handcuffed in the jury box, swimming in her ill-fitting orange jail uniform. I began with my well-rehearsed “Trust Me Quickly” routine: handshake, business card, assurances that I am, in fact, a real lawyer, explanations of the charges, and our reasons for being in court that day. Letty responses ranged from “yeahs” to nods without eye-contact; I wasn’t entirely sure that she understood everything or cared about the parts that she did understand.

The DA and Older Friend’s lawyer came in together  before I could begin discussing her options for going forward. Older Friend’s lawyer was laughing at his own joke and he was wearing a tie with golf balls on it. The DA looked to me from across the room, pointed his thumb out the courtroom door, and mouthed something that I took to be “can we talk outside?”

I winced. Even if I included the squirrels fighting over dropped french fries on the sidewalk outside the courthouse, this DA was not my favorite mammal in the area. I promised my client that I would let her know everything that happened outside upon my return. I followed the DA outside.

“So I’ve decided to add pimping and human trafficking charges against the codefendant.”

“I can certainly see why,” I replied. Normally at this point in the conversation, this DA would have threatened to add extra charges against my client if she decided not to plea guilty to something. So I waited to hear what was coming next.

“I’d like your client to testify against him.”

“That can’t happen so long as you’re accusing her of possessing her pimp’s crystal meth,” I said in the blandest tone possible. Despite my attempt to balance diplomacy with candor, the DA still sucked in his lip like he had done whenever a defense lawyer offended him.

“If she testifies today, I won’t object to her being released from custody without bail before her next court date.”

“And…?”

“And I’ll ask my supervisor whether we can reduce her charge to simple possession.”

I’ll ask my supervisor is easily my least favorite phrase that prosecutors give me. The ABA’s model ethics rules assure us that the individual prosecutor is the one who wields the power to decide what charges the state levies at a person; this allows the individual prosecutor to  tailor a just outcome. But individual DAs work for an elected District Attorney, and that elected District Attorney has tough-on-crime campaigns to run. To ensure that no individual prosecutor does something to undermine this stance, he or she must get approval from their supervisors to ensure that their individual actions harmonize with the administration’s marching orders.

“So…you want my client to waive her 5th Amendment rights and testify without any actual promises in return?”

The DA sucked his lip again. “Well, if she doesn’t I’m going to add misdemeanor prostitution charges against her after the hearing.” Here was the threat I was waiting for! On a side note, I have met many men who manage to have successful careers despite a complete lack of people skills, obliviousness to the norms of common courtesy, and deafness to the human consequences that their seemingly-mundane decisions have on others; many titans of the tech world thrive despite and because of these deficits. But during this conversation, I felt a pang of rage at the fact that a person can miss the sick irony of charging someone you believe to be a victim of human trafficking with prostitution and still thrive as a prosecutor. I assured the DA, in my blandest Swiss diplomat tone, that I would convey his “offer” to my client.

I sat beside my client again and resisted my urge to tell her which part of the human body best exemplified our prosecutor. Her eyes widened with fear at the prospect of testifying against her codefendant, but they shone when I mentioned the pre-trial release. “I get to go home today?”

“Hold on, please. It’s not that simple,” I warned, but I feared that I was too late. Her hungry look reminded me of a talk that I had attended some months before, where a doctor told me that the brain chemistry of a person withdrawing from methamphetamine is nearly identical to that of a person who has become delirious from starvation. The DA isn’t actually promising you anything, I told her, and that since the evidence against her was so weak, she should continue to fight the charges against her. If her cooperation is so valuable to the prosecution, she should not give up any of her rights without something equally valuable in return; a promise by the DA to “talk to his supervisor” did not strike me as equally valuable.

I tried so, so hard to persuade without bullying. But I did insist, multiple times, that going along with the DA was not actually in her best interest. When she finally agreed to go forward with the day’s hearing and fight the charges, her shoulders slumped in seeming defeat….and I feared that at that moment, I had become the bully that I thought I was protecting her from.

But I had no time to backtrack; the judge was going to take the bench any minute and I could not afford to have her rescind what I thought was the wiser decision, even if she made it for the wrong reasons. The DA flushed when I told him that my client had decided not to help him.

“All rise.”

Today’s judge left his chambers and took the bench. He called our case and asked whether all three of the lawyers were ready to proceed. The DA then called his first witness.

My client. He called my client as his first witness.

“You honor,” the DA intoned with as much solemnity as he could muster, “We will be asking the court to grant her immunity for the testimony that she is about to give today.” Normally, immunity is a gift; in exchange for testimony, the defendant is granted immunity from having any of that testimony used against her. She would also be immune to any new evidence that law enforcement discovered thanks to her testimony. However, it did not feel like a gift; the DA couldn’t get what he wanted by persuasion or bargaining, so he was going to take it from her.

My client turned to me as though someone had asked her in classical Arabic to perform surgery. “What am I supposed to do?!”

“Nothing bad is going to happen to you,” I whispered, just loudly enough for the other lawyers to hear. “The DA’s deciding he’s going to steal what he wants from you since you’re not willing to just give it to him for free. We’ll go up together, and all you have to do is answer the questions honestly.” I then leaned in closer and lowered my voice to an actual whisper. “Just don’t blurt out anything about anything illegal you did beyond this case.”

I kept pace with my client as she shuffled up to the witness stand. I pulled her chair out for her and sat next to her. I had never sat in a witness stand before; the courtroom looked less like a solemn chamber of justice and more like a big, cluttered, dreary office cubicle. The judge had too many windows open on his computer screen and struggled to find the one that would show him the court reporter’s transcript in real time. The court clerk had bins of paper clips, a half dozen family photos, and a carpet of post-it notes across the surface of her desk; her potted vine seemed oddly perky given its steady diet of fluorescent light. The codefendant’s Real Lawyer scratched his chin very seriously and wrote illegible things on his legal pad even when no one was saying anything. The DA shuffled some things at his desk and began.

Stone by stone, the DA elicited the walkway of sorrows that had brought my client into her current circumstance. However, the DA seemed utterly incapable of asking a non-leading question. “And so Mr. [Older Friend] brought you drugs?” “And later that day your boyfriend made an ad for you on Craigslist?” Being in the witness stand, I was a mere advisor and spectator and could not object to his line of questioning. As my client muttered “yes” to each question, I found myself wondering why exactly his questions angered me so. Was it the sloppy in-court technique? Was I feeling a hyper-competitive urge to shut down my opponent with objections? Was I just irrationally angry at the way the DA’s eyes narrowed at the end of every question, as though he was trying to spot lies in my client’s one-word answers?

Though I would have answered “yes” to all of these questions, the biggest reason came together during our closing arguments after the hearing. “Your honor, I question whether Mr. DeGuerre’s client is telling us the whole truth,” the DA mused as he began to argue why the judge should use her testimony to believe that codefendant was a pimp, but to disbelieve that she had no power or control over the Older Friend’s dope. My client had spent the past hour-and-a-half agreeing to all of the words that the DA had put into her mouth, and he had the unfiltered gall to challenge whether she had told the truth?!

What I realized hit me hard; at no time that morning did my client have her story or wishes spoken out loud. I had assumed that Letty’s first desire was to do whatever it took to free herself from pre-trial custody and blaze another pipe full of crystal, and I had insisted that her rights (in the abstract) were more valuable than the chance to get high sooner. She grudgingly adopted this view long enough for me to it repeat for the DA as my client’s stated position. I don’t necessarily regret having done this, but to this day I do not feel good about it. And then when she did get the chance to testify, she spent her entire time on the witness stand agreeing out loud to another man’s words.

Thankfully, the judge found that the DA did not have enough evidence against my client and set her free; my advice was thankfully in her short-term best interest as well. But if he had decided that the state had presented enough evidence to warrant a jury trial, my client would have sat in custody for months. If I knew with a clean conscience that this is what my client preferred, I wouldn’t waste a second thought. But to this day, no one really knows what Letty wanted because she never really got to tell anybody. From her history of drug use and evident desperation, I assumed that she would have said, “I’ll do whatever lets me open my own jail cell as quickly as possible.” Past experience tells me that when clients with drug histories do whatever gets them them out of jail faster, they inevitably return; they often relapse and either miss court dates or violate the terms of their probation. They end up picking up new charges and, in their renewed desperation, take even worse deals to get out faster. In order to talk someone out of this, I have to assume that the abstract notion of “rights” have actual value, and that this abstraction is more valid than the actual, tangible need to get free and make the withdrawals go away. But is this true? What am I supposed to do when my client’s voice is at odds with her best interest? If that day’s hearing had turned out differently, the abstract notion of “rights” would have meant very little to the real person fighting the shakes in a real jail cell.

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

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A Tourist’s View of County Lock-Up

Burnt hot dog water.

That’s the first thing I smell when I enter any of our county’s jails and the last thing I remember as I walk out. White paint did nothing to prevent the old bricks from absorbing the fetor of thousands upon thousands of high-sodium meals, wheeled through the jail hallways over the course of decades. The stench escapes from the walls and creeps into my suit.

Spring turns to summer, but seasons have no effect on the stale air inside the county’s high-security jail facility.  Since its construction, no breeze has ever entered. Footsteps are the only force to disturb the vapor of poached Spam.

This particular jail site sits 20 minutes or so outside of the city, a trip that can (and frequently does) take up to 40 minutes in heavy traffic. I arrive on a warm morning in mid-May to visit a client who will be starting his trial in less than 48 hours.

I notice the stench even before I notice the harsh surroundings. The walls are white, or were at some point. The floor tile is white, or was at some point. The fluorescent lights above are white, save for a faint hue of blue. For these inmates, every open-eyed moment feels like the middle of graveyard shift at the world’s dustiest hospital.

Each cell block here is separated by an outdoor asphalt path; its vicious heat releases up through my shoes as the sun beats down on my head. It is especially uncomfortable in a suit and tie. However, finding shade comes with the boiled bologna miasma that permeates every enclosed area in the jail.

This is my third attempt at a pre-trial visit. My client will be testifying on his own behalf so I must prepare him for the DA’s cross-examination, and time is running out. My first attempt was with a colleague who would play the role of the DA in the cross, to get him used to a stranger asking him tough questions. But there “were no available interview rooms” so we were turned away. This happened a second time.

I ask the nearest of three lounging correctional officers to see my client, hoping they are not on lockdown and thereby making my trip in vain. I repeat my client’s name three times. The CO shows me to one of the empty interview rooms. The plastic chairs look like grown up Fisher Price furniture, but with bolt loops in the floor with several sets of leg shackles held to it. A maximum security client would have these around his feet for the entirety of my meeting with him. I semi-anxiously bat the chains around with the toe of my shoe until I see my client coming down the hallway; his chains clink heavily but do not echo against the walls.

The meeting with my client goes well. The kid does a good job. He sticks to his story, which fortunately makes sense. I throw myself thoroughly into doing my best DA impression (“So are you saying that YOU’RE the victim here?!”) and temporarily forget the habitat to which my client will return after I leave. When we’re done, I stand, shake his hand as I say goodbye, and turn to leave as quickly as I can hoping my client won’t take my haste the wrong way.

I take deep breaths of fresh air as I walk back to my car, which has been parked uncovered in the afternoon sun. When it’s all over and as I prepare to be slapped by the oven-hot heat when I open the door, I always thank the universe for the good fortune that at least I get to go home.

Respectfully Submitted,
Norm DeGuerre

On the Twelfth Day of Rehab, My P.O. Gave To Me…

The United States has long since lost the “War on Drugs,” and no drug demonstrates the futility of fighting addiction with cops and courts better than crystal meth does. Crystal meth floods the brain with the pleasure chemicals – primarily dopamine – that most of us receive only in the tiniest doses (a six-second orgasm, petting a kitten, etc). Once a person experiences physical withdrawal symptoms, their brain activity will have undergone a permanent change that cannot be “undone.” Brain scans of serious addicts in withdrawal show that meth addicts have the same brain chemistry as someone delirious from starvation. Long term users sometimes lose the ability to produce their own dopamine without the aid of crystal meth.

This means that a serious addict can become chemically unable to feel joy. That is, unless they can get one more hit.

Cops, courts, and prisons cannot frighten people out of using crystal meth. You cannot expect someone who is thinking like a delirious starving person, to rationally weigh the pros and cons of meth vs. prison time before scoring their next hit. For the addict, feeling pleasure for at least a little while is preferable to the dull, gray drone of sober existence.

And let us not forget the many thousands who use narcotics to “self-medicate” for undiagnosed mental illness. Drug addiction must be treated as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue. It is so treated in more civilized parts of the world.

To California’s credit, a half-way solution is becoming increasingly popular. Many jurisdictions are experimenting with specialty drug-treatment courts. Combined with California’s Proposition 36, which allows drug offenders to participate in outpatient drug treatment in lieu of jail time, drug-treatment courts (DTCs) are a well-meaning attempt at treating the root of most of my clients’ criminal behavior. However, criminal sanctions (including jail time or state prison sentences) will follow failure to comply with treatment, which includes relapse. Little accounting is made of the fact that relapse is almost universal, even for those who eventually overcome their addictions. The vast majority of those participating in Prop. 36 in my jurisdiction are doing so because of crystal meth.

Is half-way better than no-way at all? People more informed than I may have statistics. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.

Despite the eerie resemblance that this whole dance bears to a regular-old-adversarial process, the judges like to say that DTC is “collaborative.” Everyone has the defendant’s best interests at heart, and everyone wants the defendant to succeed. The adversarial justice system is calling an armistice! Isn’t that great? We’re all working together to help these poor folks overcome the disease of addiction.

Today, a client of mine is being remanded into custody. She missed two scheduled drug tests. This gave the judge an opportunity to spout some of the other things that the DTC judges like to say:

“So, counsel, don’t you see how you’re undermining that goal by telling your client to remain silent when I ask her why her last urine test came up dirty? To make matters worse, she missed her previous two urine tests. Lack of funds is no excuse: Maybe she would have been able to afford them if she got a part-time job at Chipotle like the lady whose case we just called. Doesn’t she want a part-time job too?”

After all, urine tests only cost five-hours worth of minimum wage labor. Does that sound like a reasonable slice of the pie graph for you, judge? Is it possible that the dreariness of laboring at a fast food restaurant for five hours to pay for urine tests is a big part of why she uses in the first place? Also, don’t tell me with a straight face (“your Honor”) that the Fifth Amendment undermines your goals.

When this particular client is remanded for her malfeasance on probation, she walks past the “inspirational” posters that somebody thinks are mandatory in every DTC courtroom. At some point, the administrative office of courts must have walked through the building and said “You know what will help the repeat-molest victim not to take drugs every time she feels her uncle’s hands on her? A picture of some guy staring at a sunset from a sailboat with the word “POSSIBILITIES” emblazoned underneath it.” As my client is lead away, I can only gawk as I watch a judge try to fight a mental/public health epidemic by shaming and handcuffing the patients in a forum that eerily resembles an optometrist’s waiting room.

I regret to inform her that I can’t get her out by Christmas. Yes, she should have known better. But what is our excuse?

Respectfully Submitted,

Norm DeGuerre

Defense ex Machina

“For the benefit of the uninitiated, “dump truck” is a term commonly used by criminal defendants when complaining about the public defender. The origins of the phrase are somewhat obscure. However, it probably means that in the eyes of the defendant the public defender is simply trying to dump him rather than afford him a vigorous defense. It is an odd phenomenon familiar to all trial judges who handle arraignment calendars that some criminal defendants have a deep distrust for the public defender. This erupts from time to time in savage abuse to these long-suffering but dedicated lawyers. It is almost a truism that a criminal defendant would rather have the most inept private counsel than the most skilled and capable public defender. Often the arraigning judge appoints the public defender only to watch in silent horror as the defendant’s family, having hocked the family jewels, hire a lawyer for him, sometimes a marginal misfit who is allowed to represent him only because of some ghastly mistake on the part of the Bar Examiners[.]”

People v. Huffman

71 Cal.App.3d 63

Although I love what I do, there are days when it feels like the most utterly thankless post that a lawyer can hold.

I can’t possibly hold this against the clients. Our clients have any number of personal, psychological, medical, and economic problems. Often, we are merely the nearest target when they get the urge to rage against some part of the machine. The client themselves have many, many reasons to distrust their public defender. Here are a few, in order of most ridiculous to the most understandable.

1) The client has been trading stories with a “jailhouse lawyer.” The jailhouse lawyer flatters himself a person of great legal knowledge because he has had three or four “legal inquiries” answered from the staff attorneys at the jail’s in-house legal library. Granted, his legal acumen was not sharp enough to keep him from fellating a 9-year-old, or fracturing a rival gang-member’s skull before stealing his bicycle. However, he knows that all of his misfortunes were due to the fact that his “public pretender” was screwing him. That is why he asserted his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself. Also, representing yourself gives one a sweet supply of postage stamps, which can be traded with other inmates for $3.00 bags of Cheez-its from the jail commissary.

Because, you know, fuck his baby’s mamma for not putting more money on his books.

2) The public defender always tells him that he should plead guilty. Granted, constantly receiving bad news from the one person who is Constitutionally-obligated to be on “your side” is very, very troubling. However, let us not forget that the public defender can (and must) represent everybody who cannot afford a lawyer. This includes the person who confessed to everything on tape (free legal advice: don’t tell your lawyer that “I didn’t do shit” after confessing everything to the police…you need to reverse the order of things). This includes the people who stab a rival gang member in broad daylight, masturbate in front of a bus full of school children, and/or commit a robbery in front of every single one of Best Buy’s many-dozen high-definition security cameras. In short, we don’t have the luxury of dumping the dogshit cases. Private lawyers get to pick-and-choose their clients. We don’t get to decline representation simply because we are tired of giving bad news.

However, this perspective is often not welcome to the individual client. Go figure.

3) The public defender is always so busy, and sometimes doesn’t even talk to me before I see him in court.

This is truly a regrettable state of affairs. Too many public defenders take it for granted that the vast majority of misdemeanor and felony cases are boilerplate. They tend to have the same issues and the same sorts of defenses.

How many different ways can you steal a car? How many different ways can you beat someone up after drinking too much? How many different ways can you be found with meth in your pocket?

Unfortunately, sometimes public defenders forget that every single client is an individual person. For them, their pending case is the most stressful, awful, agonizing part of their lives at that moment. The last thing they want to be told is that their case is “pretty basic” and that cases “like theirs” are worth “X years/months” in custody. Sometimes, us lawyers need gentle reminders (or perhaps more abrupt reminders) that every client we have is an individual who deserves to be treated as such. Even if their case is “basic” and predictable, we shouldn’t necessarily let them know that. Also, assuming that every case of a certain type is “the same” blinds us to the very nuances that we might use to give our clients a better defense.

However, most of the time when our clients complain of issues of “service” they don’t realize that the Public Defender Office is run to provide the very best AND the most efficient legal counsel possible. The customer service is not always first class, but a coach ticket is all they need to arrive at the same exact place. At the end of the day, do you want the lawyer that gives you warm nuts or the one that gets you the best deal?

4) My public defender is a “dump truck” who just wants me to plea.

As sad is it makes me to say it, some public defenders are dump trucks. Burnout is common in any helping profession. They have too many cases, and their supervisor doesn’t stop giving them more simply because they have too many open cases at the moment. Sometimes your public defender is a relic from the days when smart/capable/idealistic lawyers rarely went into public defense. Sometimes they are no longer capable of seeing a client as an irreplaceable individual.

I sorely wish I could fire those people myself. But I cannot.

That being said, so-called “dump trucks” are a tiny minority of the talented, dedicated public servants with whom I have served. And it pains me when I see a defendant proudly “fire” his hard working public defender for some putz who hasn’t tried a case in his entire career.

Sometimes this guy is skilled at giving enemas of sunshine to clients who are desperate for good news, and confuse braggadocio with a realistic assessment of possible results for their case. Even more sadly, sometimes these clients trust this lawyer more because they speak their native language (Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, etc) and they assume that one of “their own” will look out for them more closely than the well-meaning white person who keeps them waiting for hours until the court-appointed interpreter arrives.

What kills me is that I and other public defenders CHOSE to be public defenders because we love doing jury trials. If you are truly innocent, or if the state is simply trying to railroad you, your public defender will try your case and do it well, because we don’t need our clients to fork over the $50,000 that a decent private lawyer would charge to do a trial-by-jury. We end up doing DOZENS of them throughout a career, and we love it. Your private lawyer is probably scared shitless because he has never had to actually don his war paint and argue your innocence in front of a jury.

And he definitely hasn’t had to do it for the guilty-as-sin clients that we represent.

And what did you do on your summer vacation?

I wish I had known what I know now about juvenile gang members back when I was in high school. The Norteno/Sureno rivalry had already divided my middle and high schools in the Central Valley, and that was in the mid-1990’s. But I cannot say that my high school experience was “shaped” by gang violence in any way; by the end of high school, I had not interacted personally with any of the “gang bangers” for about five years. The academic tracking and income disparities in my high school meant that the “gang problem” at my high school really only touched the 30% or so of the school who were 1) Latino, 2) poor, and 3) not on the “AP” track.

I hesitate to throw the phrase “academic apartheid” around, but I’m at a loss for another description.

To make it even more unlikely that I would ever actually interact with one of Small Central Valley Town High’s “gang bangers,” they would often disappear for months at a time. Now I think I know where all of their time went.

Juvenile court makes huge demands on a kid’s time: random urine tests, court-ordered therapy, drug counseling across town, alternative schools. To make these appointments, kids take two, three, or four buses from one amorphous city to another. And if the bus route goes through rival gang territory? If you had to choose between being yelled at by a judge for skipping a pee-test and being stabbed, what choice would you make? These kids aren’t equipped to handle this level of responsibility. Don’t underestimate the amount of social capital necessary to reliably be at a certain place by a certain time when expected to do so. Sometimes the kids give up and decide that it’s easier to run away. Find a girlfriend who’ll open her window at night for a place to sleep. Maybe go steal a car and sleep in that. Believe it or not, this is easier for some kids than making an appointment twice a week in a city fifteen miles away.

And when they fail to “comply” with treatment, and when they get caught, they’re whisked away to a 6-8 month “enhanced ranch program.” Not that this program is THAT onerous, and not that they don’t need to screw up quite a few times on probation before they face this consequence, but just count how many days of one’s youth goes into such a project.

The Ranch is part high school, part kiddie jail, part camp. It’s located on the outskirts of the outskirts of town surrounded by a really tall fence. With the push on keeping kids out of Juvenile Hall, the Ranch is the most severe punishment the system can give to children. Well-behaved clients can even earn weekend privileges to visit their family at home.

And just so you know, the title to today’s post is more for effect than for accuracy; probation doesn’t care where a kid is in the school year to send him to the Ranch. For my clients who were actually doing well in their traditional high school (more than you might expect), the best-case disruption scenario is that it only ruins their summer vacation.

When I finally visited the Ranch last week for the first time, I saw six of my most frequent clients there. This was the surreal alternate universe where “gang bangers” go after getting in trouble too many times. I saw one client learning how to weld. There was another client learning how to use Photoshop. And there was another client being tackled by two big probation counselors.

And every single one of my clients was happy to see me. Clients who cussed me out the last time I saw them came up to me, shook hands with me, and showed me what they were doing or making. I think they were just happy to see someone from the outside, from the “real” world. Maybe it reminded them that the Ranch was just temporary if they played by the rules for long enough?

And as I left, I thought to myself, “This is where the gang kids at my high school disappeared to.”

Respectfully submitted,

Norm DeGuerre