Debtor’s Prison
by

Wednesday, one of my closest friends was sentenced to two years in prison. He had pled guilty to squandering his investors’ money on himself and his girlfriend. Before the sentence was pronounced, he made a statement to the court admitting what he had done, expressing genuine remorse, and promising to do everything he could to repay the investors.

He looked awful. Hands cuffed behind his back. Ill-fitting prison clothes. Lousy haircut. He has always been fastidious about his appearance, so the way he looked could not have made him happy. More to the point, how could anyone not think that his appearance would not be prejudicial? It’s not humanity’s best trait, but we do have a tendency to judge based on appearances. If someone looks like a reprobate, and is being treated by U.S. Marshals like a reprobate, doesn’t it stand to reason that the judge will be inclined to look down upon the accused as a reprobate?

Once the cuffs were off, he could turn around and smile and make some sign of greeting to his mother, his sister, his grandfather — whom he loves like crazy — and to me. I made the Sign of the Cross over him. It was a very tiny Sign of the Cross. I didn’t want to attract anyone’s attention in the courtroom except his. He responded with a thumbs up. He is a confirmed heathen. He’s never even been baptized. I’ve always told him that I didn’t know how I was going drag his sorry ass into Heaven. The only other contact his family and I had with him was when he was being led away, again in handcuffs. As he walked past us he said, “Thank you for coming.” All of us have said that after a party, when we are walking our guests to the door. Given our circumstances at that moment, that completely conventional expression kinda stung.

Here’s another issue I have: why are the family and friends forbidden to have any contact with the person who has just been sentenced? We couldn’t even speak to him. Now mind you, there were U.S. Marshals everywhere. We were closely observed. Even if any of us had the inclination to try to pull off something shady, we wouldn’t have gotten away with it.

Since my friend has no criminal record, and his crime was non-violent, and he had already been locked up eight months in a maximum security s***hole waiting for the day of sentencing to arrive, his family, his attorney, and I hoped that the judge would sentence him to time already served. She decided otherwise. Two years. Three years’ probation. No credit card until his victims are repaid in full. And a whole lot of professions and trades he can never pursue. She also stipulated that he must pay $500 a month to his victims.

I have to question the judge’s decision. In prison, he won’t have a job. Well, yes, he can do some work in prison, but he’ll be paid pennies — literally, pennies — he’ll never make $500 in one month there, let alone $500 every month that he is incarcerated. In the meantime, the unhappy investors will have to wait two years before they have any chance of seeing their money again. It strikes me as wildly counterproductive. It punishes my friend who has now been sent away to what is essentially debtor’s prison. And it punishes the investors, the victims, who went to court seeking restitution, and they aren’t going to get restitution for a long, long time. Isn’t there an old maxim of the law about “justice delayed”?

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