Getting Happy... when you wish you were dead

Day 115 – Tuesday, 5 Mar

William Paternost, the public defender, came to the jail yesterday to prepare for today's hearing. It was an interesting conversation.

"Hi, Mr. Hall. How would you like to proceed tomorrow?"

"I beg your pardon? What do mean 'How do I want to proceed?'

"Isn't that why you're here? To tell me how it works?"

William was happy and chipper, decked out in casual pants, a nice shirt, and shiny leather jacket. This was clearly a pleasant occasion for him.

"Okay. I'd be happy to." William rubbed his hands together and leaned forward a little in excitement.

"I'm pretty sure I can work out a plea bargain for you. You didn't do anything violent, there's no history of violence, and you didn't even really try to contact Maria. You just left some stuff on the windshield of her car."

"Really? And how do you know that?" I interrupted.

"They have video evidence," he said in surprise.

"And you've seen this video evidence?"

"No, but they wouldn't say they have it if they didn't," he said with assurance.

"Right. Because the police and state's attorney would never lie." My voice was rich with sarcasm.

"But let's say this video evidence does exist. If you haven't seen it, how do you know it shows me leaving something on Maria's car? How do you know that the person in video is even identifiable?"

"Like I said, they wouldn't be saying they have evidence if it wasn't good enough to stand up in court," he replied curtly. "So I'm guessing you want to plead not guilty?"

"Since it's impossible for me to be guilty, yes, I intend to plead not guilty."

"What do you mean it's not possible for you to be guilty?

"Well, the order says to refrain, right? That word is in big, bold letters on the order. So how can I violate an order that tells me to refrain from doing something? I did refrain. I refrained as best I could under the circumstances, then I reached out to my wife to try and work things out."

"You're right. The order says refrain, but the court interprets that as meaning prohibited," he said with some heat in his voice. William didn't seem to be having as much fun now that someone was actively participating, and keeping him from playing out his part.

"Okay. Except you're not allowed to do that. You can't decide that, in this building, a word has one meaning for the rest of the world but it's going to have a different meaning when you're here. That's ridiculous. You don't get to redefine the English language just because it suits you."

William was definitely displeased at this point. His brow was furrowed, his voice had hardened, and his hands had closed into fists resting on his thighs. At least he was still sitting down.

"Okay. That takes care of the first charge of violating the order. What about the second violation?"

"What do you mean? It's still the same order. You can't violate something that tells you to refrain."

"Okay, you're right, but didn't you walk through the parking lot at Maria's place of work?"

"Even if I did, so what? How does that make a difference?"

William opened a file folder and took out a copy of the order of protection.

"You're right that the order says to refrain on the first page. But on the second page, it specifies that you are prohibited from going to several places including Maria's place of work."

He handed me the pages to let me read. That took a few seconds.

"Okay. I get it, and I see two problems.

"First, it says I'm not allowed to go to these places when they are there. So, for example, I could go to the high school for a football game in the evening or a weekend because there's no reason to expect Maria or the kids would be there.

"In this case, let's call it a wash. If I did was I'm accused of, then clearly Maria was in the building. Stuff was left on the windshield of her car. But that doesn't mean I went to her place of work. The parking lot is used by a couple of dozen businesses in the same building. And my experience is that Maria always parks in the south parking lot. But her 'place of work' is on the north side of the building. So even if I put stuff on her car, I still didn't go to her place of work."

With some exasperation, I asked "Isn't this what you're supposed to doing? I mean, you're the lawyer, aren't you supposed to be working out how to defend me? It seems more like you're trying to figure out how to make the prosecutor's job easy."

As you can imagine, William didn't appreciate that very much.

"You're not going to get very far with that line here. The state's attorney is not going to let you walk on both charges. You're going to have to take some kind of plea bargain."

"Wow. That really sucks, doesn't it?"

"It's not fun, I agree, but it was you, after all, who violated the order twice."

"Aha. Right. So what am I supposed to do next?"

William visibly calmed down since I seemed to be doing what was expected of me.

"Well, your psych evaluation came back. It says you're a low risk. That's good. You've never been in trouble before... “William was reading notes from his file folder.”There's no history of violence, you never actually tried to contact Maria directly... You did have a pastor contact her for you... You've been seeing a counsellor... Are you still seeing the counsellor at Batterdrum Health?"


"Good. You've only ever said you love her and want to work things out...

"Alright. I can probably get the state's attorney to drop one of the charges. You plead guilty to the other charge, and I'll get the state's attorney to agree to time served. You'll have to agree to keep seeing the counsellor, and he might require you to attend a diversion program. Maybe I can get him to waive that if you agree to keep seeing the counsellor at Batterdrum Health."

"Well, I'm going to keep seeing Matthew no matter what the judge says. I'm doing that for me and my improvement. If it works in my favor, that's great."

"Okay. Leave this with me, and I'll touch base with you tomorrow before the hearing."

Today, William spoke to me in the courtroom. As usual, my hands and feet were shackled together and I was sitting where a jury would otherwise be seated.

He spoke softly. "The state's attorney has agreed to proceed on only one charge. You'll receive a non-reporting, twelve month discharge, you agree to keep seeing your counsellor, and you're out of jail today."

"What is a non-reporting, twelve month discharge?"

"It basically means you agree to abide by the order of protection, and not break any other laws. You don't report to anyone, you just agree to behave for twelve months."

"And if I don't agree to this?"

"Then you go back to jail until we can schedule a trial," he said with a testy edge to his voice.

"How long does that take?"

"It's hard to say. It will be at least three months, and could be six or seven. That's up to the state's attorney and his schedule. But if you take the plea bargain, you can be out of jail this afternoon. What do you want to do?"

"Well, I guess I'll take the plea bargain."

And that was it. I pled guilty, and was released from jail.

I was definitely happy to be free after 19 days in jail. It may seem a short time for a vacation, or a holiday, but jail is a slow place. Every day feels like two. And I’ve been away from the book project all that time. Do I still want to work on it? Every day has been focused on introspection and self-analysis, with everything else pushed to the side.

I'm divorced, living in PADS, my business has disintegrated, and there are no employment prospects for me in this small town. What do I really want to do?

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