Everybody knows umf is my real job, but I don't make too much beer money off of that...so I have actual employment I get paid to do on a regular basis. I 'work' for the city as a clerk at the public defender office here in downtown Philly. What does a legal clerk do, you might ask? Well, besides what you're reading right now (I'm on break if anybody asks) being a clerk at a law office is something like being the equipment manager for the New York Yankees. It kinda sounds cool (you get to say you work for the Yankees/for a law firm) it's really a lot less exciting than it sounds (I really just juggle files and answer phones at a desk/organize bats and count gloves in the clubhouse), but the best part is I get to be close to the action (watch every game/look at what happens to mafuckas who break the law from a 3rd party perspective).
That last part has been more interesting than I originally thought when I signed my weekdays away about a year and a half ago...as a result, I get to see the interesting way in which the American justice system works. (It's not really much like 'Law and Order'...if it were more realistic, every episode of the show would be 6 hours long...speedy trial, my ass.) One thing I notice is that once you're in the system, you better grab a Snickers...you're gonna be there for a while. Most of the people whose lives are in my lap in manila-file form right now are career criminals, who have been doing the same shit since about 15 years after they were born.
Does that speak to a lack of good choices? Yes. (I'm really not here to talk that old tired "the man is against me" shit...it's true to a very limited extent...but the reason Rite-Aid won't hire you is because you can't read, not because you're black). It also shows just how badly the justice system is failing those it claims to rehabilitate and make better members of society. You see, once you for whatever reason end up in jail, society has deemed you a bad person. It might not necessarily be true, but that's what the paper trail says and here, that's what counts.
It's even crazier what type of crimes the courts really focus on. The way things work is a little backwards. I don't endorse breaking laws that make sense at all, but if you're gonna do it I recommend going for white collar crime as opposed to what I call black collar crime (haha no, that's not why! It's just that folk who do drug dealing, retail theft and other hands-on stuff tend to wear black). Black collar crimes, despite by their nature being the crimes of poor, probably desperate people, are prosecuted more harshly than their upscale counterparts. (We don't see too many white-collars come through here...they can usually buy the best legal representation, we do the free lawyer here thing here...40 cases per lawyer per day...win or lose, the defender mostly wants to get your case overwith so she can either go on to the next case or go snort some coke, depending on what lawyer we're discussing lol)
Not only that, they tend to have higher bails, longer waits for court (again, you could be sitting in jail for a year and change after your initial arrest waiting to find out how long you'll be in jail if you don't have the money to pay your bail....which most folk who do that type of thing don't) and a much higher rate of repeat offenders. In my experience, the way things work, it's perfectly possible to be addicted to a criminal lifestyle and I feel that's unacceptable, especially if the main purpose to putting somebody in adult timeout is so they'll learn their lesson and play nice.
What about those who actually do go through being locked up once, decide it's not for them, and want to go straight? It's far easier typed than done. Your first conviction is a mark on your name...after that, schools won't touch you, most jobs that don't require that you handle a spatula won't even look at your application (and, increasingly, those that do...do you know you need a high school diploma and a clean criminal background to manage a McDonalds nowadays? Kinda makes sense, guess they wanna make sure you can actually count the buns in the storage room and won't steal them when you're done.) and there you are, free but starving. What else is there to do but get right back up to your old tricks, with maybe some new ones that you learned in jail just for laughs. That's why you see rap sheets that look like:
DOB: 1/31/76 Sex:M ID# 0816219
2/13/91-retail theft (served 8 months)
11/9/91- possession with intent to distribute (served 2 years)
7/16/95- robbery, theft by unlawful taking, grand theft auto, manufactring a controlled substance (sentenced to 5 years, served 2.5 years, 5 years probation)
8/23/99- retail theft, forgery (violated probation, ordered to serve balance of '95 sentence+ additional 2 years)
10/8/05- posession with intent to distribute (served 2 years)
3/14/08- armed robbery, possession with intent, assaulting an officer (serving 7 years)
I'm not saying these people are right for doing the same thing over and over, the trap is just really more common than makes sense if we humans consider ourselves to be reasonably intelligent. I'm sure some of them would go another way if they had a choice (I know, a good amount are dickheads and would keep screwing up even if they did, I won't deny that) but the fact is there are very few options after that first slip-up...one bad decision could change the rest of your life. It's kind of sad if you look at it from the right angle...every day I come in and look at these beige folders full of lost souls. However, it's a powerful lesson...one that stays with me and resounds loudly every time I tuck a case file into it's resting place on the shelf of shame: keep yo black ass out of jail! I think that's something we all can use.