“No, you don’t want me on your committee. You really don’t.”

Posted: November 20, 2012 in jail
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As those words came out of my mouth, I knew they were falling on deaf ears. They always do, every single time.

She was smiling and still shaking my hand. “Oh, you are so modest! You would be a great asset to us!”

I pulled my hand back. “That’s very kind of you, but I’m not being modest. It’s not in my nature. I’m being honest. Really, I am,” I said.

I heard James chuckle and looked over at him. He was gathering his papers and talking to his assistant. He was avoiding looking at me.

It was his fault I had been attending these sessions with him and other judges, along with police officers, probation and parole officers and a few others who I had no clue who they were. They were public discussions that us “civilians” were allowed to attend and listen in on. This group was assembled as a way for the County to work together on various programs, laws and God knows what else.

James had invited me weeks ago to attend. I was instructed about the proper format for it. It was open to the public and we could sit in our assigned seats, listen and take notes but not participate during the discussion. We could approach the panel afterwards, but not interrupt while the meeting was going on unless we were called on.

When James first told me about the rules, I nodded my head. “Are you trying to tell me something because you keep going over the point of sitting quietly and not saying anything.”

“Yes. Just listen for once in your life,” he said.

Well, I had been listening for the last few weeks and I had not approached anyone afterwards. I hadn’t said a word as no one had asked me anything.  I sat quietly each time. On that particular afternoon, James had looked at me and said he was curious what us visitors thought. They had been discussing gangs and the various options they had to help and stop the violence.

This was always a hot topic. When I heard what it was, I bit my tongue and concentrated on taking notes and not looking at anyone.

A few people raised their hands and each one was called on. I kept my hand down and listened to what everyone was saying. After everyone had been given a chance to address the panel, I was doodling on my notebook and looking at my watch. The session was almost done and soon I would be heading home for the day.

“Ms. Lewis, do you have any questions for us?” he asked.

I looked up. He had a slight smile on his face. He tilted his head a bit. He knew I hated being called Ms. Lewis, but I let it slide. This was a public forum and that’s just the way it was done.

“No Your Honor, I do not,” I said. Might as well play tit-for-tat.

“Are you sure?” he asked. He was baiting me. I took the bait.

“OK Your Honor, since you insist. I do have one,” I said and stood up.

“That’s great. What is it?” he asked.

I looked at the panel and they were all looking at me. They were wonderful people with good hearts and intention. They came from all over the County and were committed to helping the people of their area.

“When are all of you going to stop passing more and more laws and actually get something done?”

His smile got broader while the others looked at each other and then back at me.

“I mean no disrespect….”

“Of course you don’t, Ms. Lewis,” James said.

“And I know all of you are working very hard with all the problems we have with gangs, but the bottom line is, we all need to roll up our sleeves and get more people getting things done and not just talking about it. Maybe you guys could help me get more people to help me, you know? I realize I’m a small company and one of many, but there are so many good programs out there and what we need is help in getting things done and less talking about it,” I said and sat down.

Various things were said and I didn’t really listen to them because it was just more and more about what they WANTED to do and what their PLANS were, but I was struggling with my own problems. I didn’t have the time or the money to do what I was doing, but it was getting done. None of us had the time for going into Juvenile Hall, but we did it anyway. We wanted to expand but we needed help. We were way out of our league, but we were still at the plate swinging.

And now I was listening to a woman tell me after the meeting about how wonderful it would be to have me on the committee. I looked at her as I pulled my hand away.

“Who are you again?” I asked. She had introduced herself so quickly when she walked up to me. She looked to be in her mid-50’s. She was well-groomed and had a most beautiful smile. Her hands were soft and warm.

“I’m Charlotte and I work in the Mayor’s Office. I attend these meetings for him and I have to say, I’ve seen you here the last few weeks and didn’t know who you were, but I liked what you had to say. I think you would be a great asset to us.”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I’m not the committee type, if you know what I mean,” I said as I picked-up my purse and briefcase.

“No, what do you mean?” she asked. “I think our committee needs more people like you. So, tell me, why not?”

This was not the first time someone had asked me to be in a committee or participate in an activity or join a club and help out.

People say they want to know what you think until you tell them.

Then it’s a different story.

I slung my purse over my shoulder and looked at her. She was sincere. She worked for the Mayor. She could be a good contact for my program, but she was missing “the look” that I needed. It was a difficult look to describe as it was a bit intangible but one that I knew when I saw it.

It is the way the person looks when you talk about convicted felons, children who had murdered, people who had been abused and people who had abused others. They don’t find you strange for being comfortable talking to a hooker or a pimp and they don’t shy away from you when you talk about reforming gun runners or drug addicts.

They don’t push you away; instead they come closer and listen.

It is a look of knowledge that we really weren’t in Kansas anymore. It is a look that tells you they understand that we are all living in a war zone. It is a look that tells you they haven’t bought into the pretty lawns and cars and the latest fashion trend or the most current TV show that is going to change the world. It is a look that is quietly exchanged between them and I and I see they understand one thing: they understand that the only important thing in life is just that – life – and everything else is bull shit.

“Charlotte, I appreciate you asking me, but I am turning you down because I don’t do very well with them. It’s not that I dislike you or what you are trying to do.  It’s just that I’m much better at getting things done rather than talking about it. I’m sure I would annoy everyone and be booted out or at best ignored,” I said.

She put her hand on my arm. “I just can’t imagine anyone not liking you,” she said.

I heard James laugh. He was standing 10 feet behind her with his back turned to us. I ignored him.

“Let me ask you this; have any of you ever worked or talked to the people you pass the laws against? Ever?”

She shook her head. “No, most of us haven’t, but we do have attorneys and judges on his committee. We are working hard to lower the crime rate,” she said.

“I know you are and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong. I’m telling you I would not be a good fit for your committee and not that I disagree with what you’re doing, but until you look in the eyes of a convict, you don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“That you have about 30 seconds to connect them in order to try to salvage them. If you miss your mark, game over. Everyone loses. The time I spend sitting on a committee and playing nice with the other kids is time I could have used to work with someone and maybe have a shot at pulling them out of the gutter or seeing that some are crazy mother’s and should be locked up forever and the key thrown away.”

“Oh, I see what you mean…”

She was trying to understand and she probably never would.  It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

It’s just the way it is and would always be.

“Has the Mayor ever gone into the jail and talked to any of the inmates?”

“Good heavens, no!” she said. She looked a bit horrified at the suggestion.

“Then he doesn’t know and trust me on this; the last thing he wants is to hear me talk about it,” I said. I shook her hand. She gave me her card and told me to call in case I changed my mind.

I walked out of the building and out into the parking lot. It was late afternoon and I was going to hit the commuter traffic. I looked across the street at a coffee shop and thought about running in there for dinner and waiting out traffic. I decided against it because I hate eating at restaurants alone. It always made me feel a bit pathetic.

“Oh Ms. Lewis, are you leaving?” I heard. I knew that voice.

I turned around and James was a few cars over. He was leaning against his car and smiling.

“Yes, Your Honor, I am,” I said and waved.

He waved back. “You turned her down, didn’t you?”

I smiled and nodded my head. “Yep, I did.” I shrugged my shoulders.

“I knew you would. She didn’t look right, did she?”

“Nope,” I said and got in my car and drove away.

James had “the look” and that was the reason we always got along.

He understood.

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Comments
  1. stephie794 says:

    very powerful and honest! I am not a committee person either no asskissing for me love how you get things done