My Lawyer’s in Jail!

Posted on November 5, 2016


My wife Louise has a weekly ministry at the Tuscaloosa County jail. She meets with her “congregation,” or “the girls,” or, in more formal terms, the female inmates, and teaches them on Monday nights about the Christian faith and walk.

Louise is very well equipped to do this, a lot more than me for example, which is probably not a high bar. She is ordained and licensed, as are a number of Christian men and women who go into the jail on Tuesday nights, as I do, to share our faith with the prisoners—male and female.

In keeping with the rules of good order, the men preach to the men and the women to the women. No mixing here, although one of our ministers and good friend of mine, Terrell Hamner, says they have mixed the men and women very well in the jail ministries in Chicago, and we are way behind the times.

That may be, but my sense is that you are throwing fuel and adding a torch to a fiery mix if you put incarcerated men and women together. They will gravitate to each other like magnets, and “gravitate” is all I’m allowed in a newspaper for family consumption.

All the inmates are assigned a public defender if they do not have their own counsel, or lawyers, or an attorney. I’m never quite sure which of the many terms we use to say “lawyer” is appropriate for the occasion. Some may get offended if I use the wrong term since getting offended is now very much in vogue in our culture.

The prison population, from what I have observed from about sixteen years of going in on Tuesday nights, is made up of lower middle and lower classes in society. I’m sure there are cleverer, more politically correct terms to remove any stigma attached to be being labeled a member of the “lower” classes, but I have grown accustomed, even comfortable, with offending just about anyone on any given day. Just go take the offense and sit on it. No offense meant.

There occasionally are some middle class inmates, but they are the exception. Most of my “congregation” come from the lower rungs of society. Mind you, scholars, government bureaucrats and those who spend a lot time thinking about this class business have many, often contradictory, criteria for the poor.

Many of my inmate congregation are smart—and not just “street smart.” Some are well read, thoughtful and I suspect could have been good college students.  I am not tarring the whole of the jail population with the same brush. Drug offenses especially drag in some sectors of the upper middle classes, and even a one percenter occasionally. Drugs, I have noticed, do not observe social lines.

So, when my wife asked one of the women one day about her lawyer, the response kind of took her back on her heels, since we don’t associate lawyers/attorneys/counselors with the jail population. At least not behind the bars, rather than coming in to interview their clients.

“He’s in jail,” the inmate said, kind of surprised I think by her own answer.

“In jail?!”

Indeed, the lawyer in question had been arrested for selling or using drugs.

He bailed out rapidly. And the bail wasn’t set too high. I mean, we are talking about the same taking care of each other. It doesn’t look good for a member of the bar to be thrown into the jail!

The irony of the defender of the inmate being locked up—albeit for a very short time until he made bail—was not lost on my wife, or any of the girls in her class that evening.

“If we can’t depend on our lawyer, then who?” some were thinking.

I think my wife took this opportunity to tell them that there was someone more important and powerful than their lawyer or public defender to take care of them and defend their interests.

In fact, it was the Apostle John who told his listeners that they had a perfect advocate to petition for them before God, Jesus Christ. Try 1 John 2:1.

The whole episode reminded me that justice in this country is so often colored by wealth and privilege. Or, put another way, privilege, power, prominence, or profession has a place in the equation of who goes to jail, and who doesn’t. Lady Justice may wear blinders, but she’s not above peeking to see who stands before her and make some adjustments.

Published as “Lady Justice is Not Above Making Some Adjustments” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday September 27, 2016.