Don Quixote battles PTSD in Philly courts

I never felt more like Don Quixote than when I represented a woman charged with a crime.

And while I didn’t want it, I’d feel called to “champion” her, even when it cost me my reputation, my sanity and my very career as a trial attorney.

I provided dignity to clients as a public defender, especially the women. Heroin addicts became respected ladies who needed someone to tell their story to a Court system most were unaccustomed in doing battle. Many with only a minimum education became learned seers who knew more of surviving in the world than many with MAs and Ph.Ds.

I took up the sword and fought like there was no tomorrow. Two women, both White, come to my mind. Both got lured by heavy drugs. One faced a mandatory sentence for purchasing a gun for a drug supplier who just happened to be a felon. She had cervical cancer and simply wanted to be with her family — and child — for treatment, and not receive it out of the Women’s Facility of the State Prison in Muncy, PA.

The other, also a heroin user, was out on the streets, having just gotten high with her boyfriend when she put the needle into a rumpled jacket for later use and went to a Rite Aid drug store to get deodorant and other sundry goods.

She stuffed them into the jacket — the pocket holding the needle — with plans to walk out without paying. In other words, be a shoplifter. She did it before. At the same Rite Aid.

Someone at the store recognized her, she told me when visiting her in a local Philadelphia prison several months after her arrest. Yes Virginia, there really is incarceration for people with criminal records, despite what others want you to believe. She sat in jail some four months before her case was  “called to trial.” I requested a continuance for further corroboration of her story.

See, two men stopped her in the store. A manager grabbed her from the rear and a clerk got to her up front. She tried to leave and resisted as they held her. She claimed one held her by her hair. The other pulled the stolen items from her jacket pocket.

She clutched the needle as it spilled from her jacket, cutting her hand, she told me, showing a slight scar on her finger. One of the men saw the needle and claimed she twisted it and positioned it so that she could “stab” ’em with it. She never did. One man testified that she actually swung her arm in an attempt — he wanted the court to believe, was — to inject ’em with a what an ADA would later argue, a “tainted” needle.

While placed in prison, a test showed she had Hepatitis B.

————————

A specially assigned assistant district attorney (ADA) was appointed to prosecute her, with an initial charge of attempted murder. “It was a false positive,” the woman told me of the test. She claimed she had proof from some doctor that she wasn’t “contagious.” I use the word contagious for lack of a better medical understanding. I immediately got an investigation started to confirm this to share it with the ADA, a woman I had worked with before and respected. 

To Fight For The Right Without Question Or Pause

The case came to Court and I advised the young prosecutor of the woman’s claim to show a lack of intent to cause such grave injury. I went into detail, sharing my information in hopes of securing a plea for a lesser offense than aggravated assault, which would have required my client serve a minimum of five years in jail, mainly because of her record. It was long one made up of drug possession cases and lots of retail thefts (shoplifting).

When did she learn it was a false positive?” the prosecutor asked, refusing to lower an offer of 5-to-10 years. I started to tell her, and she let slip her reason for the question. Had my client not known it was a false positive until after being arrested and sent to jail, then the ADA could prove “intent” at the time of the shoplifting incident.

I went ballistic. Flash-backed to Vietnam. Suffered perhaps the worst episode of Post Traumatic Stress that has ever surfaced in my life.

I reverted to the First Lieutenant who realized a member of his platoon was placed in immediate danger. By me. In my efforts to help, I made it worse.

Get out of here,” I yelled to the ADA while huddled at the bar of the Court. “Get the fuck outta here,” I added through a clenched jaw while pointing to a door leading out of the Courtroom. A sheriff had just brought the defendant into the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center Courtroom and I felt justified in demanding the prosecutor leave so I could maintain confidentiality with my client at the defense table in the open Court.

———————

Several lawyers, defendants, and witnesses with other cases, as well as police,  sat stunned as they watched my “over-the-top” behavior. I didn’t care. Instead, I “played” to them all, pointing out that the ADA — straight out of what’s called the “Habitual Offender Unit,” was — in my opinion — trying to get a conviction for the worst offense, and not seek justice.

I stopped practicing about a month later. Got into a few more “blow-ups” with prosecutors while awaiting treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and clearing my schedule of trial work for a month. That’s the amount of time I thought I would need to “cure” myself.

It’s been two years this month since I left. Not sure what happened to either woman. Other lawyers were appointed to “champion” their causes. Today, I liken myself to a Don Quixote with a foolish hope back then to right all wrongs and tilt at windmills — “they might be giants!” I like what I see in the mirror and, more importantly, the dreamer still within me . . .

Here’s to you, my Dulcinea!

48 comments on “Don Quixote battles PTSD in Philly courts

  1. […] to finally admit to my struggles with authority and the injustices I saw as a public defender (See Battling PTSD in Philly Courts). For the longest time, I thought it was just me. I met other veterans — some of whom tried […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ellocogringo says:

    Hi, Mr Mike
    I was thinking of you when I did this. A cure for PTSD? Mine anyway. Revenge is much under-appreciated as a cure for malaise.
    http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/revenge/

    Keep tilting dude
    walt

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Walt,

      Seems you “channeled” your energy from anger and revenge into a conduit for good. By alerting everyone of the true evils that exist when God-fearing people allow narrow-interest groups to run government by way of fear and little or no common sense.

      Thanks.

      michael j

      Like

      • ellocogringo says:

        Yeah, kinda scary for awhile. I figured I’m probably the last person Mike Easley wants to surface right now, so I figure it’s safe to come out. (a little) When I made the link to blackwater I figured it was time to “get out of dodge” (raleigh)But the fit hasn’t finished hitting the shan yet. More to come in a courtroom near you. The Federales have yet to get directly involved, and they have evidence that is mind blowing, if it doesn’t get squashed. That’s OK though, I’ve got a “get out of jail free card. The political observer out of raleigh just linked to me, and I just put this up this A.M.
        the stealth sheepdog
        walt

        Like

        • contoveros says:

          Be careful, Walt.

          michael j

          Like

          • ellocogringo says:

            Oops! the windmill didn’t topple after all. check this out, I’m talking about bottom up thinking, skip over that to the graphic showing chinese characters scrolling down the screen. this is too big to back away from
            http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/oracle-2/

            advice? walt

            Like

            • contoveros says:

              Locogringo,

              I pose the same question here as I did on your post: How can one use this “bottom up thinking” to someone’s advantage or disadvantage? What will it provide: a Frankenstein or a jonas salk?

              thanks

              michael j

              Like

              • ellocogringo says:

                Hi Mr M
                What an excellent question. (so what?) I forget at times that I can perceive what others do not. This question would only occur to someone using bottom up thinking. An idiot would dismiss it as “metaphysical bullshit” and go back to his x box. All of the meditative techniques are “neuron trellis’” for accessing bottom up thinking. It’s called by many names depending on worldview. Philosophers call it null-a (non-aristotelian), orientals yin, educators constructivist, maslow called it transcendence, grof emergence, van Vogt nexialist, non christians (sometimes) divine feminine, amerinds mother earth and I call it bottom up, that way the word means what I intend it to mean, no more no less. Doesn’t matter they are just different words for the same thing. Some call it god, that little piece of GOD that is within us all. They are all right.

                Of what use is it? It is the daimon that advises caution when the bullshit detector goes off. It is the stroke of insight one gets when seemingly unrelated patterns correlate. It is the peace you get when you sense your oneness with the universe while being able to maintain your individuation. And it can be the power that impels you to action. It ain’t too bright but it has enormous collative abilities. It is understanding the relationship between wisdom and knowledge. It is being able to see the “big picture” , the interrelationship between all the pieces. It is the inner child, ignored by so many. And for you, my dear Mr M, it is the subconscious that suddenly ain’t all that sub and comes roaring out at injustice shouting. THIS IS BULLSHIT! Be gentle with it Mr M
                walt

                Like

      • ellocogringo says:

        Hi Mr M
        Here’s something I did for PTSD, phisiological changes.
        http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/imprinting/
        eLG

        Like

    • ellocogringo says:

      Still thinking of you big mike, here’s another
      http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2010/06/26/shaman/

      the words may be different but the concepts the same
      walt

      Like

      • contoveros says:

        Wisdom and the shedding of skins. That’s what the snake meant to the Shaman that interpreted my power animal on the “journey” I took in the lower world. The animal is growing on me, particularly, with its connection with medicinal love and compassion.

        Thank you.

        michael j

        Like

  3. […] Check this thread out.  This will piss you off.  People with integrity are getting weeded out of the system.  No wonder the world’s so fucked up.  Don Quixote […]

    Like

  4. ellocogringo says:

    Ringo Kid (Stagecoach): (John Wayne)
    “Well, there are some things a man just can’t run away from.”

    el Loco Gringo

    Like

  5. Michael, have you ever watched a movie called The Ninth Configuration’ starring Stacy Ketch?

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Colonel Kane: [Reading the back of a St. Christopher medal aloud] “I’m a Buddhist. In case of an emergency call a Lama.”

      Well, after Googling and reading this quote from the Ninth Configuration I believe it is a “must see” for me . . .

      Thanks. Look forward to checking it out.

      michael j

      Like

  6. […] Today, I liken myself to a Don Quixote with a foolish hope back then to right all wrongs and tilt at windmills they might be giants ! I like what I see in the mirror and, more importantly, the dreamer still within me . …Continued […]

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      I think this is a blog for cat-lovers. Not sure what Don Quixote has to do with one, but there is something dealing with abnormalties, and if the greatest novel of all time gave the world anything in the year 1608, it was a memorable person who clearly saw life through a different lens than most of us so-called normal folks.

      michael j

      Like

  7. Don Quixote battles PTSD in Philly courts « Contoveros…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Never liked the word “disorder.” Sounds like someone’s got a disease or something like that.

      However about “Re-order,” that is, someone who is “reordering” their circuitry in order to better cope with the stress they feel and the possible new reality they find themselves living with?

      michael j
      whose got “post traumatic stress,” a re-ordering of his life due to the harm and injury he saw and experienced in combat. (It could drive anybody a little nuts!)

      Like

  8. Helen T says:

    Michael,
    “I like what I see in the mirror and, more importantly, the dreamer still within me . . .”
    You are right. What can be more important than to be true to yourself?
    Helen.

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Helen T,

      As far as my trial days are concerned, I feel I went out with a “bang” and not a “whimper” as TS Elliot once worried about in a poem called the “Waste Land.” He described how he thought the world would end, that is, with a whimper, and not a “bang.”

      I won my last case — a complete Not Guilty — with a client whose head I threatened to push through a wall when he refused to plead guilty to a lesser charge I negotiated with an assistant district attorney.

      Went to trial against a complaining witness who was not only articulate, but really nice-looking and sympathetic. The defendant’s ex-girlfried said he robbed her after stalking her for months.

      I thought we were dead in the water until the subject of tatoos came up under my cross-examination and the Court found out that she had gotten the defendant’s name permanetly “engraved” on a discreet and intimate part of her body.

      She had more to lose — way more to lose — than my client did in the break up, and before the trial ended I believe facts showed that she was the actual stalker and the object “stolen” turned out to be my client’s cell phone that she had refused to return despite several phone calls he made to her home to retrieve it.

      I wrote a thank you letter advising the young man on how to expunge his record — he had never been arrested before — and told him to stick to his beliefs no matter what a lawyer may suggest he do otherwise . . .

      michael j

      Like

  9. souldipper says:

    One time as Communications Director for the Virtues Project, I asked the wise founder if she ever felt “used” by the Universe/God.

    “Oh yes,” said Linda Kavelin Popov. And she told of times when she was FULL of remorse over having taken a stand and speaking out with passion.

    She eventually realized there are times she is a conduit. Sometimes people are being used by the Divine and are not privy to the full ramification, consequence or purpose of our actions. So what she and I agreed – to untie the knot if self-forgiveness has not permeated the soul yet – we can ask ourselves one question: What was my motive?

    A motive that opens the tap of PTSD has to be one that is sincere!

    With respect, Amy

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Yes, my motive was pure and I took “great initiative,” as a teacher told us when learning how to become military leaders in Officers’ Candidate School, Ft. Benning, Ga.

      But I used “poor judgment,” which I find myself doing when a PTSD episode arises. Let the anger flow “within” bounds so that you can safely “run away to fight again some other day.”

      Don’t like running, though, Amy. And while I have doubts over the incident, I do feel I was speaking from a moral high ground, no matter how crude my choice of words may have been.

      Thanks for the insight from your teacher. It’s a “pick-me-up” which you seem to offer from the fountain of wisdom just when someone needs a little sip.

      michael j

      Like

      • souldipper says:

        Yeah, I may be cheating, but I have made amends on the basis of asking forgiveness for my delivery, but not the message. – Amy

        Like

        • contoveros says:

          It’s easier to accept the “conduit” theory from a distance away in time and space, than it would be at the time you’re kicking yourself in the butt for flapping your mouth with what my Buddhist buddies might call “Right Intent“, but “wrong speech.”

          Thanks Amy.

          michael j

          Like

  10. ellocogringo says:

    Hi Mr Michael,
    Setting aside for the moment I consider PTSD to be a counterfeit concept. Wow! good on ya. It seems to me that a flashback is just the right mind making a correlation to a past event with relevance and rebelling at the insanity. Why is that a disease? It is a righteous anger. You have responded in a sane manner to an insane situation in a forbidden manner. It is a spiritual emergence.

    Anger is what impels us to action to right wrongs. The suppression of anger is what society is all about. It creates a pressure cooker which eventually “pops”. The suppression of our connectedness with the world is how hyper males control society. Your normal sheepdog instincts have become dominant, as they are supposed to be. You are sane, society is psychotic. I haven’t finished this yet, I just tossed it together, but i feel it’s relevant.

    http://keytoann.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/spiritual-emergence/
    and this i had done earlier

    http://ellocogringo.wordpress.com/category/16-the-warriors-mind/
    you have been given a gift Mr Mike, enjoy it, revel.

    walt

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      The “gift” could get me thrown in jail — where two judges at different times ordered sheriffs to take me, but relented when a senior lawyer of my office spoke of my “over-zealousness — but you can’t mess around with an assistant district attorney and not face some kind of like-anger on their part.

      A young ADA could have a knee-jerk reaction and abuse their power, lose a lack of control, which I felt was happening to me. I should never have raised my voice like I did and let my feelings out, particularly in open court. Totally unprofessional, no matter how justified I may have felt as a man.

      Problem is, Walt, I think I’d do the same thing if it happened again. I’m better off away from that arena and safely being here on a Blog jousting and picking other battles to fight.

      michael j

      Like

      • ellocogringo says:

        Hi Mr Michael

        setting aside for the moment i consider professionalism to be a character flaw, i still maintain that you responded to an insane situation in a sane manner. i suspect the same thing happened to you in the war. the right mind is real good at finding problems, but not so good at implementing answers. i liken it to a puppy in temperament and intelligence. real good at getting mad but not effectively. so your puppy turned into a pit bull. For myself this was something i had to stuff till the pit bull comes out. i have come to view anger not as something to be suppressed by “professionalism” but a power to be channeled constructively. I became a “stealth” sheepdog, doing what i could, when i could. This makes my puppy happy (when my puppy’s unhappy, i’m unhappy). what i finally figured out was that the puppy wasn’t pissed at the insanity, he was pissed at me for allowing it to happen. if he felt i wasn’t doing enough to right wrongs, he came out to take care of it himself. If i didn’t take him out on a leash once in awhile, he’d shit on the carpet.

        i recall the story of a woman walking down the beach, littered with starfish after a storm. occasionally she would pick one up and give it a fling back into the water. she was berated by a watcher. “you can’t save them all lady” she picked up another, gave it a fling and said “i saved that one”. that’s all you can do.

        there’s a lot of windmills out there big guy, just don’t go donkey hoty on yourself.
        walt

        Like

        • contoveros says:

          Love this story about the starfish.

          Also, like the idea of letting the puppy out to “right a wrong” every now and then. Less mess at home, and puppy gets appeased.

          Thanks Walt.

          michael j

          Like

  11. Phil says:

    Thank you for sharing. Keep on dreaming.

    Peace,

    Phil

    Like

    • contoveros says:

      Wasn’t that a great song from the ’60’s “Dream the Impossible Dream.” It captures so much of the idealism back then.

      Still means a lot to those idealists among us today.

      thanks, Phil.

      michael j

      Like

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