The Process of Surrender

As she backed the car out of the garage into the cold, damp Northern California morning, I felt relief for the first time in a long while.  The past year had been absolutely horrendous for me and this – as far as I was concerned – was the end of it, or at least the beginning of the end.

My mother had been supportive all along the way and more than anything, despite the shear ‘hell’ of it all, the past year had given us time together, an opportunity that life otherwise might not have given to us.  I had thanked the Gods for that too.  I had gotten to know her – not so much as a devoted parent – but as a friend.  I learned so much more about her as a person; her likes, and dislikes, her impressions as a child, what her marriage to my father had been like for her, what she had hoped to accomplish in her life, and her needs. She demonstrated a quiet simplicity with a view of the world that I, unfortunately, had failed to grasp. I had grown to respect her sense of clarity.

We were both silent as she drove north on Interstate 580 towards the interchange for the 80 freeway and onward to Vallejo, California, and the courthouse.  In spite of the silence, we were closer than we had ever been before. I didn’t even comment on her driving.  I was content to just take in the beauty of the green, rolling hills of northern California.  It was peaceful and beautiful and I could not help but think – and wish – that I’d taken more time to get to know it.

My mother would periodically interrupt the silence to confirm that she was headed in the right direction.  I would simply nod; there was no need for words.  When we reached our exit – actually quite sooner than I had hoped – I spoke up. “This is it,” I said.  “Take this exit and turn right.”  We continued for about two more miles, made a right turn onto the street where the courthouse sat.  I can never remember the name of that street. I’m sure it was psychological because I never wanted to be there anyway. Who did?  I suggested she pull into a parking space on the right in front of the building.

After a few moments sitting at the curb she spoke, “I think I’d be more comfortable in the parking lot.”  And so, after sitting there quietly for a few more moments we pulled back into traffic and made a left turn into the courthouse parking lot.

Misery lurked in this place. It was palpable. All the people loitering in front of the building seemed to have a cloud of despair hanging over them.  Life just appeared to have been so hard on them all. Their spirits seemed defeated. It appeared to affect their posture and their manner of dress. Everyone seemed dirty, unkempt and doubled-over by the weight of the world.

Watching them as they huddled about the entrance reminded me of my freshman year at Harvard and my very first course. I had read Walden Pond and “Civil Disobedience”. Staring at these people huddled in the doorway to escape the rain, this quote came to mind: “Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.”  (Those may not be his exact words but understand that my accommodations at the time of writing this do not lend itself to research.  Nonetheless – and with apologies to Mr. Thoreau- I believe you grasp my meaning.)

This picture, the people huddled in the doorway, also gave me another reason to be thankful for my mother.  She had raised my sister and me on a secretary’s salary, by herself, and very early we were taught the importance of presentation and first impressions. Our clothes were classic, simple, and comfortable; they fit well and were always, always clean.  It is one of the better habits that I was fortunate enough to bring into adult life.

As we pulled into a parking space, I was quick to reaffirm that she didn’t want to come in, in case there was a lot of press.

“I’m not going in and I’m not watching TV for a while,” she said.  “I just don’t want to look at it.”

“Don’t,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t if I were you… But it is raining and I do want you to be careful driving back home.  Don’t get worked up and have a wreck or something.  I’ll be fine.”

We sat quietly for the next twenty minutes or so. My mother broke the silence, “Let’s call Dee Dee.”

That was something I was actually hoping to avoid.  My sister is my best friend and the person I admire most on this planet (or any planet for that matter).  I knew this whole thing was making her miserable and I just wanted to avoid adding to it.  Nevertheless, to avoid making that call would have been worse – at least that is what I told myself. Delia didn’t pick up when the phone rang, but my Mom’s cell rang back before we could leave a message.  They – my mom and sister – spoke for a few seconds and then my mother handed me the phone.  I could hear the sadness and feel her tears through the phone and that was the first time I had really felt any emotion about what was going on – my going to jail. For the first time in thinking about the whole ordeal, I felt sadness.

“So much,” I thought “for sibling rivalry.”

I managed to divert her sorrow by talking politics.  A lot was obviously going on in Washington with the Obama Presidency, and as a member of a “think tank” for the Department of Defense, I knew she had a lot on her plate.  She had threatened to fly home and go with us but that would have been too much – surely for her but certainly for me.  I was glad that her schedule was diverting a lot of her attention.  The only way this was going to be okay for me, was to know that the two of them would be fine.

The ultimate savior was a gastric-colic reflex. I said good bye to my sister, gathered my things, stepped from the car, and in my post-op boot hobbled up the stairs to building security.  Not once did I look back for fear one of us, my mother or I, might lose it.

Once through security – which was extremely fast, but I guess they had seen me and my boot enough to feel secure – I headed down the hall to the toilet.

On exiting the restroom, I saw my attorney, Michael Cardoza, standing at the end of the hall in a conversation with an Asian man.  I walked past them and took a seat on a bench against the opposite wall.  Michael looked up, acknowledged my presence with a nod and continued on in his conversation.

After finishing, he approached me, commented on how well-dressed I was to be surrendering – at least in his recollection of clients forced to surrender in the past – and we headed up the hallway together to Division 24.  This was the perfect stage for Michael, all American boy, white hair (demonstrating maturity), and a boyish smile.  He pranced around the chamber just inside the audience boxes making sure he said hello to the bailiff, his assistant, the sheriff’s officers, and the stenographers.

My case was heard first since I was the only one with a private attorney and not depending on a “public defender” to represent me, and it proceeded as I suspect most court cases proceed: as if I, the defendant, really wasn’t there. Michael presented the judge with my orders for medications which he refused to sign admitting uncomfortably that he wasn’t sure he was entitled to because he wasn’t a doctor.  Never mind that I had called prior to my surrender to clarify what I was bringing and that what we were doing was the proper procedure.  The bailiff suggested that we take the meds and the orders directly to the jail – which necessitated a call to my mother – whom I am sure was halfway back to Oakland by now – and so Michael made the call to her.  All I could think was that she was miserable now because his call had presented her with something that went directly against the plan.

Her biggest fear, however, was never realized.  There was no press in the courtroom, and when the sheriff’s officer walked up behind me and asked me to place my hands behind my back in order to cuff me, an older officer in the courtroom, a male in his early sixties – gruff looking, seasoned with a twinkle in his eye that suggested he’s heard it all – walked up beside her and said, “I tell you what, that won’t be necessary; I’ll walk him down myself.” The public humiliation of being shackled and chained like an animal was avoided. With that, we walked through a door on the left side of the court room which led to a hallway, which lead to another hallway, which in turn lead but again to another hallway.  At the end of the corridor were two officers, a male and a female sitting at a small table.

To the right of their table was a small room with an even smaller table, a glass wall facing another small room, and two chairs.  The officer sat me down at one of the chairs, offered me a “good luck” and disappeared.

A few moments later, a female, Officer Hall, entered the room and instructed me to empty my pockets.  I had left my wallet, my mobile phone, my watch and my keys at my mothers; all that was there was $220 in cash.  I gave it to her; she recorded it in triplicate and then exited the room.

At precisely the moment of her exit, a male, Officer Lewis, entered the room and instructed me to remove my jacket, tie and pocket square.  The official stand is to remove things that could be used against the guards or oneself, but the real reason is to strip you of anything that does not remind you of who’s in charge in here. And, if you have nothing, they are clearly in charge.

Officer Lewis took those things away, down the hallway, and as he disappeared around the corner, Officer Hall reappeared.  She was carrying more forms for me to sign, basically for the articles of clothing and accessories that had just been taken from me. They had done this before and their precision reminded me more of a dance, than either of them being efficient.

With the preliminaries completed, I was shackled in chains, with handcuffs at my side, and then escorted twenty feet down the hallway and placed in a holding cell.  As we passed the rows of doors, an occasional inquisitive face would appear in a doorway window, acknowledge my passing, and disappear once again. It was clear these were the faces of men soon to be my colleagues.

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