the talking dog
The Drug Counselor
It seemed to be a pretty ordinary situation: one of my former clients (from the County's assigned lawyer program) had recommended me to one Jose Cabreres, to handle his trouble with the law. Mr. Cabreres, it seemed, had an encounter with law enforcement personnel while driving his early eighties Chevrolet, and, unfortunately for him, evidently had an ounce and a half of a controlled substance somewhere in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. An all too common occurrence in the urban landscape, but the retainer would likely be enough to pay my office rent for the next two or three months. I sat in my office listening to Mr. Cabreres and other members of his family address in me in both English and Spanish, and I ascertained the gist of the case against Mr. Cabreres.
Fortunately for him, even though the charge carried a potential of ten years to life, based on the draconian narcotics laws implemented as part of the war on drugs, I believed that Mr. Cabreres previously unblemished record, and his strong ties to the community, and the potential illegality of the search by which the illicit particles were discovered, might convince the prosecution to plea bargain for one to five, or maybe better. I advised the family of my feelings on the subject, and how, unfortunate as it was, it did look like some prison time was in order. After all, it wasn't as if Mr. Cabreres had merely killed someone or stolen something: this was crack. A very serious matter.
Although there was some sobbing, genuflection and other visible signs of upset, Mr. Cabreres appeared stoic, and realized that a grave deed had been committed, and karmic revenge would have to be exacted. He knew, as did I, that the issue was not the denial of the inevitable, but rather, the effective management of the consequences to as tolerable as possible. He finished hearing me out as I related to him the various possible deals that could be made, from reduced prison time for community service, a fine, probation, or rehabilitation programs. He understood (even if other members of his family, such as his wife, did not). At the conclusion, he told me he would like me to meet a friend of his, who he felt could help with his predicament, perhaps even address the court at sentencing.
The man he wanted me to meet, he represented, was "kind of his cousin", a sort of street front social worker, whose clientele, it seemed, was local drug dealers and users. Mr. Cabreres represented to me that his "cousin" had helped many people, and that I ought to meet him. Indeed, I ought to see him at work.
Insofar as in the business of a privately retained defense lawyer, the presumption of innocence attaches upon the payment of the retainer, and three months rent, in cash, had just crossed my palm, I probably would have agreed to meet Jeffrey Dahmer in his kitchen at that moment. A short walk to the West Side at about midnight hardly seemed out of the ordinary under those circumstances (after the cash had been safely placed in the nearest night depository). I suggested to Mr. Cabreres that he come with me to introduce me, but he instead beseeched me to go alone. Apparently, since his arrest, it was feared by other drug dealers and users that he might have become tainted by the police, and thereby, was persona non grata among those to whom the drug counselor ministered, even if not to the man himself.
Again, in my state of temporary financial euphoria, I agreed, even if, upon thinking about it, the prospect of a man in a suit going to the neighborhood near the bus station in the middle of the night seemed far fetched.
Still, Martin had been described to me in sufficient detail that it did not take long for me to spot him and an entourage of his "clientele". (So this is who was buying Tommy Hilfiger?)
Martin had apparently just begun a motivational speech, that seemed peculiarly drawn from so many different sources that I lost count. He seemed to bounce between Norman Vincent Peale and Norman Bates, from Don Corleone to Don Cornelius. Although he visibly took notice of me, he apparently did not alter his elocution.
"You know" he said, to the assembled throng of perhaps a dozen, all male, somewhere between seventeen and thirty, "Throughout all of human history, this is probably the first country that has ever been created for the sole purpose of being free. Do you realize that? Every other country until then had been some kind of power grab by somebody- but not here. This place was set up, not for the specific benefit of somebody to take over, but so that no one else could take over again! This became a model for all the other country takeovers that ever happened after them- but in the end, this was the first, the freest, and the best.
"But then, you know what? This, freest country in the world? We incarcerate over a million people at any given time. That's more than our friend Ivan used to send to Siberia, more than the communists in China incarcerate. We are the world's biggest police state, in number of prisons, and prisoners. And why? do you know why?
"It is because, free as we are, free as the greatest country in the world is, right now, we as a country have this called the war on drugs. Whenever we have something we say we don't like, we start a war on it. That, my frinds, is why we have a war on drugs, and it means, my friends, a war on you. that is a fact. The system has now declared war on you. And don't think, my brothers, it is not because you are men of color".
I looked, and it appeared that of the assembled dozen, perhaps half were African American and perhaps half were Latino. A few "Amens" and other indications of assent were audible. He continued:
"You have to realize that we live in a world of contradiction. This is a free country, sure. But one false move, and it's a prison. Hell, a false move doesn't have to be a crime- you know that. You just look at some cop wrong, and he'll crack you on the head. And what can you do about it? He can crack your skull open on national t.v., and its o.k., because he's a cop. Right?
"All you can do about it is two things. And the easy thing to remember is that they are both the same three words: Respect the power. First, you got to respect the power of the man. Cause he has got a police force, an army, and the most powerful set of weapons that has ever been assembled, and if he wants to, for no good reason, he can aim them all at you. And what you got to say about it? He can blow your brains out in front of a stadium, and come his trial, and it matters not if its a jury of White men, Black women or Latino hermaphrodites: the system is so powerful, that it wins. All you can do is show it your respect, so it will appreciate that you respect it, move on, and knock some other cracker upside of the head cause he's too stupid to remember three simple words: respect the power.
"But you know what? As awesome as the power of the State is, against you, it is nothing- NOTHING- next to the power in you. You know why?" No one dared answer the rhetorical question set forth by the master.
"Cause the power in you was put there by the Lord Almighty. The big guy put it all on the line- he put more than his image in us, my brothers. He put a little bit of himself- the all knowing, all powerful. And he gave us the will to use it, or not use it. But you know what, my friends? It doesn't matter if you use it, or don't use it, if you do not RESPECT it. It is there. It is a fact. We can all do things that we cannot believe possible, but it is possible, because there is a force bigger than us, and bigger than all the prisons and guns and armies that ever did or will exist. And I want you to leave here with just a little bit more respect for yourself and who you are because the Lord Almighty did not put you where you are for no good reason. Peace."
With the precision of a drill team, the previously enraptured dozen dispersed in literally a dozen different directions. I waited a few seconds, and then attempted to follow Martin. He observed me casually, then appeared to dematerialize near a subway entrance. I followed him down, and saw him enter an arriving train. I dived in just before the doors closed, and attempted to follow him. He managed to make it down to the next station still one car ahead of me, and he exited the subway station faster than I could keep up. I stayed on the train, and went home, determined to meet this man of intrigue.
The next day at the office, I called Cabreres, and asked him to set up a more formal meeting. Not surprisingly, he confessed that he had not himself seen Martin since his arrest. Apparently, Martin was difficult to reach, other than at the outdoor revival meetings, and when Cabreres had attempted to make contact, he had the effect of instantly dispersing the group. No, I would have to make contact on my own. I thought of the retainer, and was duly emboldened.
After a day of mundane court show ups and paperwork, I went home and took a nap. Around midnight, I again headed for the nondescript neighborhood/war zone around the bus station. I encountered the pedagogue at work about a block from where I saw him previously. This time, I was less formally dressed. Again, Martin took notice of me, but did not break stride. He was already underway, when I arrived. He preached:
"And the great man, Machiavelli, wrote in his book called The Prince, that it is better to be loved and feared, as between the two, it is better to be feared. And he was right. Even if you are not shown love, at least if you are shown fear, then you command what really matters- their respect. Once you have someone's respect, you can play ball with them, no matter what ball field you're playing on. But even if you get them to respect you- it matter not if you do not respect yourself, and respect the power.
"Remember this; what the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve. it does not matter how big, or how much, or how long: if you can think of it- if you can envision it- you can have it. Love. Power. Money. respect. You can have all of it- if you envision it. If you focus your mind on it- to all else. and realize- the power is within you. No matter what the man can take from you- your family, your clothes, your home- he cannot take from you your respect- for his power, sure- but for the power you have. a greater power. He cannot take that away from you- ever, unless you give it away to him. I tell you, my brothers, there is no reason, ever, to give that up. The Lord Almighty wanted you to have it- because its not just respect for yourself. Its respect for the endowment given to you by the universe itself.
"That was what the great Viktor Frankl wrote, after surviving the Nazi death camps. No matter what- the one thing no one could take from him was his dignity. And it often meant the difference between surviving and dying. If you have dignity. And if you have a mission to push for- something that's biger than you. Something worthy of the greatness with which you have been endowed. Peace."
The crowd dispersed, with the precision of the previous evening. This time, more sensibly dressed than the previous evening, I could maintain pace with Martin, and I overtook him, and called out to him. "Martin, I'm Jose Cabreres lawyer. He asked me to speak to you. He needs your help."
Martin motioned toward the subway entrance, and I followed. This time, he did not evade me, but did not speak. I told him that Cabreres had been arrested on a charge of possession with intent to distribute, and that he believed that Martin could aid him. Martin asked for my card, and told me I would be contacted. I complied.
The next day, I received a fax, directing me to appear at a coffee shop, in the bus station, at 8:46 p.m., and to come alone. I complied. I sat down, and a gentlemen I did not recognize told me to come with him. I asked him why. he told me that he had sent the fax. I followed him down to the street, where a taxi was waiting. The taxi went approximately twenty blocks, when it stopped, and we changed to another cab going in another direction. Man, was this Martin a shy fellow.
We ended up uptown, in what appeared to be an ordinary rowhouse. I was patted down, upon entering, and I was brought inside to Mr. Gonzales.
Martin introduced himself, and extended his hand. "I am sorry for the cloak and dagger stuff, counselor. As you might imagine, trying to minister to the souls of the working man, when that man happens to be a distributor or user of illicit narcotics does not make me a popular man with law enforcement officials. There are also people from Central America who do not like me much. You will forgive me for showing the appropriate respect. I had to make sure you were not followed."
"Practicing what you preach?" I quipped. "What is it, you do, exactly?"
"By training and vocation, I am a counselor- a therapist if you will; I have a degree in psychology from an English university. I am also a trained thelogian: in fact, a defrocked priest. I was a practitioner of "revolutionary theology" in my native Central America. This eventually made me an enemy of the local government and military officials, not to mention my Church superiors; I found myself turning to their enemies- an odd mix of revolutionaries and drug dealers- for my own protection, before I managed to make it here, and seek asylum. Here, I suppose I run a lay ministry- I counsel various people. I have always had a penchant for the downtrodden and the unpopular- that is why I find myself ministering to those in the drug trade. They still have souls, you know."
I looked around the room, which appeared to be configured as a counseling office. Surely enough there was a degree from an English university on the wall, as well as a theology degree from an Ivy League university, and two degrees from Central American universities. There were various certificates of merit or testimonials from community groups, as well. The furnishings were otherwise conservative- this office could easily have been on the campus of one of those universities indicated on the wall.
"Mr. Gonzales, as you know, Jose Cabreres asked me to see you. He believes you can help him."
"Ah, yes. My cousin Jose. He too came here as a refugee from my country- the poor man was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I understand that that fate has befallen him a second time, no?"
"He's charged with crack possession with intent to distribute, a serious crime."
"Yes, counselor. I have occasion to minister to prisoners, as well as others. I understand such a charge could carry ten years to life. How can I assist you?"
"At this point, I'm trying to deal with the prosecutor. Its Jose's first offense, and there are problems with the State's case. I can usually get them to go to a reduced charge carrying one to five, and he'll be home in a year if he's a good boy inside, with the last three months in a work release. He thinks you can help him do better."
"What did you have in mind counselor?"
"His arraignment is adjourned until early next week. I think if you can say a few helpful words about him at sentencing, maybe we can get the judge to knock off a few months from the reduced plea bargain sentence. Can you do it?"
He nodded, and motioned to the door, and proceeded to escort me out. "If that is all, counselor, I will assist you in aiding my unfortunate cousin. My colleagues will escort you down town."
I was shepherded into a waiting car, and driven downtown. I made no other contact with Martin until the arraignment. Sure enough, he was there. After Cabreres' case was called, the prosecutor and I addressed the court, and reported the plea bargain. I asked the court to permit the defendant's cousin say a few words on his behalf; it was unusual, but the prosecutor had no objection. (Cabreres was being a good boy and pleading, after all.)
"Good day, Your Honor," he began. "My name is Martin Gonzales. Like my cousin, the defendant, I am a refugee from Central America, and am grateful for the opportunity to live in this country. My cousin Jose is a hardworking man. He has held down a job in a factory for over fifteen years. It is hard, back breaking work. but he makes it in, six days a week, often ten hours a day, so that he can have enough to support his wife and three children, and still have enough money to send to his mother in Central America. He lives in a small apartment. His is a life of few luxuries- few diversions. Jose has not taken a vacation in over ten years- his job gives him no paid vacation, and he cannot afford to be without hourly work, even for a week or two.
"Jose is a God fearing man. His only day off is Sunday, and he always goes to Church with his wife and children. Every Sunday. He hopes to bring up respectful, God fearing children. He wants them to have better fortune than himself- a life with few diversions, few escapes.
"Unfortunately, one of the few opportunities of escape of a man like Jose is ingested through a pipe after igniting. Jose knows that it is not right. He told me. He is very sorry for his transgression. He knows that it is worng. And yet, it is one of the few places a man like Jose can go when the world and its pressures just get overwhelming. We must walk a short distance in Jose's shoes: awake at dawn, drives to a factory parking lot, a walk into a dark building, where he operates an intricate and dangerous peice of machinery, continuously for hours, until a meager lunch, and then again for hours on end, until he leaves for home. A repeated pattern, day in, day out. If he i sick, he is not paid. If he loses attetntion, perhaps he will lose a limb like others at the factory, and worse than the pain and disfigurement- he will not be able to work any longer. No, his is a stressful life.
"He sought a diversion. He did not do it often- he could not afford to divert the money from his family- he knew it. He controlled himself, as best he could. He is sorry. He is most sorry because now he will not be able to support his family. Your Honor- that is what this man is most sorry about. That he broke the law- and that others besides himself will suffer. He does not ask for mercy. He has told me so himself- he broke the law, and for this he must be punished. But surely- his family will suffer more, and indeed, may even become a public charge. I ask that you, as a court of justice, do justice, here. I thank you for the opportunity to say a few words for my cousin." Martin bowed his head.
The courtroom had adopted an uncharacteristic silence at this point. The judge called up the prosecutor and myself. Jose Cabreres was sentenced to a year in prison- to be served on weekends only, followed by five hundred hours of community service. Both the prosecutor and I looked at each other; this was a far better sentence than had ever been obtained on thse charges.
Before I could thank Martin, he had vanished.
I often thought of him- particularly as I prepared pre-sentencing arguments.
I was horrified, when some time later I encountered his obituary- on the front page of the local tabloid, after he was gunned down at his office, along with four of his associates. Martin, it seemed, was everything he represented to me and more. He had used his counseling and other skills to have become one of the most successful narcotics distributors in the city. I suddenly remembered why I thought his Harvard M.B.A. seemed an odd inclusion on his ego wall. My mistake.
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