Tuesday, December 04, 2012

On the Unit Today

First thing I met with a client who spotted me at the nurse's station, asked me if I was a lawyer, wanted to talk.  So we sat down in private and he began by telling me that he wanted to go back to the group home he had been staying in.  At least I think that's what he was saying.  It was hard to follow him.  He mumbled.  Like many of my clients, he was unable to remain focused on a single train of thought.  I couldn't tell if he was borderline retarded, overmedicated, or acutely psychotic.  Maybe some combination thereof.  He wasn't altogether incoherent, just difficult to follow.  He told me he had two fathers, that one had left him money but the government stopped paying but they weren't supposed to.  His father had to prove he could take care of him.  He had been abused his whole life.  No little kid, 10, 12 should have to see.  All the blood and everything.  Like many of my clients, he was unable to express to me what he wanted me to do.  Probably, to the extent that his thoughts hung together this well, he just knew that he had a bunch of problems and lawyers are supposed to fix problems and right wrongs.

Fix problems and right wrongs.  That's what I thought I would be doing as a lawyer.  It seems almost foolish to me now.  Like I would pass the bar exam and be handed a magic wand.  Yet, I still believe that's my job. It's still why I'm doing this.  Fix problems and right wrongs within a narrowly circumscribed framework.  That second part is what I'm coming to understand.

And a lawyer is only as powerful as his clients.  By that I mean that lawyers appear powerful to people because they are instruments of the powerful.  Corporate lawyers don't win because corporations hire the best lawyers (though they sure try).  They win because they have all the money.

Back to the unit.

My next client made a suicide pact with her husband.  He succeeded.  She had given him the morphine that he used.  She took more than him.  They couldn't pay the bills anymore.  He was slipping into dementia.  And now she was here in front of me.  What is there to say to her?  Sure, I can tell her not to talk to police without a lawyer.  I can advise her of her present legal status.  But really, what in fuck all am I doing here?  What can I possibly say to this woman that will mean anything?  Her husband died less than a week ago.  As far as I can tell, she remains ambivalent about not dying alongside her partner.  She was soft spoken.  Quite friendly in a diffident sort of way.  I felt powerless and wanted to get away.

A while back I sat down for a meeting with a woman who would turn her face away from me, hold one hand over her ear like she was receiving a radio transmission through an earpiece, start muttering to an unseen interlocutor, and then answer herself back.  "Frederick, they're trying to send me away.  Do you see what they're doing to me here?  Sally, this is Frederick, we're not going to let them do that to you.  We're coming to get you today and we're going to take you home with us.  You don't have to take that from them."  When the subject of her hospitalization and the hospital's desire that she take psych meds came up, she would weep and wail "there's nothing the matter with me."

I wanted to run from her.  I wanted to run screaming from from the lobby, run the 60 miles home, and never speak the name of the city of my employ again.

That was months ago.  Still trying to fix problems and right wrongs.  Still earning my paycheck.