A Law Student's Attempt to Understand It All.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I am home

Today, school unofficially started.

I drove down the Boulder Turnpike running 11 minutes late to my interview. I was dressed in my best with my new watch that my parents gave me for my birthday (it is set by the atomic clock). I had two objectives for the day: 1) do not screw up the interview and 2) introduce the 1Ls (it is their orientation week) to the advantages of joining the Federalist Society.

Parking was a nightmare because it was “Move-in Day” and the law school sits next to the dorms. The interview went well. We talked, we laughed, and I impressed them with my knowledge of law. I then spoke to the scared 1Ls and gave them my three minute pitch for why the Federalist Society is cool. The group leaders then retired to the courtyard, where we manned tables for the opportunity of the 1Ls to ask further questions about our groups, receive pamphlets and freebies, and generally mill about.

What struck me was how much the school felt like home. The 2Ls (that’s us now) met up with old friends and caught up with each other’s lives. “How was Europe?” “Where did you work this summer?” “We’re going to grab a beer later, right?” filled the air.

The Ranger and I shook hands. I tried to convince him to join the Federalists, but he just replied “No way!” We ended up making fun of the Shane Company’s radio advertising campaign. “You have a friend in the diamond business.”

The Future (and Current) Politician and I caught up. He and I do not agree on most political issues, but he was trying to convince Justice Scalia to address his graduation ceremony in the spring. I told him to invite the Governator.

I never experienced a moment like this in school before. I quite frankly did not care about the social interactions of high school. My college was a commuter school and so I had few classmates who followed me to the same classes later. (I always wonder how the brilliant but spoiled doctor’s daughter is doing since we met in “Rome and the Caesars.”) No, this experience was a new one.

I am a part of a school, a community, and a family.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Prison Trip III

This is part of a series on my trip to the Colorado Department of Corrections. See the other posts: The Supreme Court Sent Me To Prison, Prison Trip I and Prison Trip II.

Our last tour was the most profound. We toured the Colorado State Penitentiary, which is Colorado’s SuperMax. It also houses the execution chamber.

We first saw the execution chamber. When we walked in, immediately every person’s countenance changed. You could see the sorrow and pain in the women’s faces. The men no longer cracked jokes but stood stone faced. Everyone shifted their weight from between one foot and the other. This was a place of the ultimate punishment. This was a place for serious reflections on justice. This was a place of death.

Our tour guide explained the procedures for execution. From the date that the warrant comes down to the moment they remove the body. He spoke in a matter of fact voice, not as one calloused but as one who has a job to do. He spoke of why we have only executed one person since the 1970s.

We then moved to tour the rest of the prison. The security is supreme, but I will not detail it here. There are sixteen cells to a unit (or “day room”). There are eight day rooms to a “pod.” There are six pods in the facility. Further there is a medical center and decontamination room in the basement that can handle everything except major surgery.

Each pod has its own medical room and barber shop. Each cell houses only one man. The inmates never go outside. Their only time beyond the walls of the cell is a fifteen minute shower and an hour in a very small exercise room. Both the shower and the exercise rooms are in the day room, so they do not even see other parts of the pod. Only one inmate is out at a time.

Lest you believe that these men are mistreated, please note that they put themselves there. Due to the incentive system, the prisoner’s hold the power to determine where and thus how they serve their time. Only when they cause severe security problems and refuse to behave do they end up at the SuperMax.

The way to leave the SuperMax is simple: behave and start reforming your attitudes. Unlike other programs that simply teach the prisoners to say the magic words that the administration wants to hear, Colorado’s program involves cognitive exercises and hypotheticals designed to test if they are really “getting it.” The average stay at the SuperMax is thirty months.

Even here the staff hopes that some of the prisoners will reform. About thirty percent are certifiably severely mentally ill. They may never go to the general prison population and the state mental health penitentiary (San Carlos) is full. Some are simply “bad seeds” that refuse to reform. However, some have been reached. One inmate used to make prison riots a game. Once at the SuperMax he would regularly assault the guards simply because he was bored. Then, one day after being pepper-sprayed, he finally wised up. He started participating in the program and was eventually moved to another facility. He had been at the SuperMax for twelve years.

I left the prison a changed person. I now have a new view of the world. Our “field trip” made me understand the seriousness of this thing called law. The “field trip” was more like a trip to a foreign land. Just as a trip to Europe or Asia changes a person and makes him see America differently, so too has this trip affected me. I have seen the dark side of our society, but I have also seen hope. Every citizen should take such a tour

Saturday, August 9, 2008

BBQ with a Justice

I will be be attending the social event all lawyers... okay that might be a bit overstated. In either case I will be attending the Justice's annual barbecue. I look forward to it!

Prison Trip II

This is part of a series on my trip to the Colorado Department of Corrections. See the other posts: The Supreme Court Sent Me To Prison and Prison Trip I.

We also visited the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility. There were striking differences between the men’s and women’s prison. First, the women inmates actually greeted us. Second, the women’s facility featured a Curves program. The tour guide had stopped counting at 1,200 pounds lost for the women inmates due to the program. Third, the women had more amenities, like koi ponds.

However, the most striking feature of the Women’s Correctional Facility was the “Incentive Hall.” This place looked more like a very nice dormitory at a college than a prison. Each “cell” had only two inmates. Further, they were given keys to their rooms. They could come and go (within the building) as they pleased and had better restrooms and showers than any other prison. They even had a pool table.

We then traveled down the road to Four Mile Correctional Center, where we had a very nice lunch. The culinary arts students made us an excellent three course meal. The salad and homemade dressing were excellent. The chicken parmesan was delicious. The cheesecake with cherry sauce was better than I have ever had at any restaurant. During lunch, representatives from CCI detailed some of their programs.

Tomorrow I will detail the final and the most profound part of our trip: the SuperMax.

Return to Old Ways

I just wanted to quickly comment on the day's development: Russia has invaded Georgia. This invasion is outrageous and against American foreign interests.

This greatly concerns me. The Russian Federation has been moving to it's old Soviet ways under the control of Putin. First, Putin violated and then amended the constitution so he could run again for Russian president. Then, as the U.N. and other bodies began to criticize the Putin for acting like a dictator, Putin stepped down. However, he handed the government over to one of his cronies, who is basically acting like puppet. Further, Russia has used our renewed efforts to protect ourselves from nuclear missiles from rogue nations (i.e. anti-ballistic missiles) as a pretext for revamping their arms production. The government tried to equivocate our actions with theirs: but there is a fundamental difference between defensive missiles and offensive programs.

Now, in the pretext of protecting a region from sectarian violence, the Russians have invaded Georgia. This is the same excuse used by Stalin to keep Eastern Europe in his grasp and start the Cold War. All Americans should be outraged. Georgia has been an excellent ally in the War on Terror and the Operation Iraqi Freedom. Up until the invasion, Georgia had a few thousand troops in Iraq. Now, of course, they must recall those troops to repel the invasion.

If I were President, I would seriously look at our military force structure it see if we could help our ally. I would like to avoid the weakness that Truman, Eisenhower, and especially JFK showed against Russian/Soviet aggression. The fact is that Putin wants to return to the "glory days" of the CCCP. He and his party are starting to re-form the iron curtain.

Such is much quick opinion on the subject. If you disagree, please feel free to comment and perhaps I can flesh out more later. However, I wanted to get some background info out there because this is a serious threat to world and American security.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Prison Trip I

Yesterday I gave you my general impressions. Today I’ll detail some of the trip. This has officially turned into a series. Stay tuned.

The trip was informative and interesting. We visited the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility (est. 1871). When the Colorado Territory was being organized, Cañon City had first pick for one major state facility: either the prison or the University of Colorado. Even then, Cañon City knew it did not want any hippy liberals.

CTCF houses the “Tag and Tab” plant where they make the license plates. The process was interesting. It turns out that that facility not only produces our hundreds of styles of plates, but plates for Alaska, some of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and a foreign country or two. As a surprise, the guys made us license plate clocks-- real license plates in the Designer style-- customized with our names on them. Mine is already hanging in my office.

CTCF also houses the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program (PTKCP). In this program, inmates earn the privilege to work with the dogs. The cell house that once housed death row and the execution chamber now houses the inmates and dogs in the program, where trainer and dog stay in the same cell. They can teach the dogs everything from simple commands to handicap companions to hunting dogs. The inmates and the dogs alike benefit from the program.

Tomorrow I will detail the Colorado Women's Correctional Facility.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Supreme Court Sent Me To Prison

The Justice took us on an end-of-summer field trip to the Colorado Department of Corrections in Cañon City, Colorado. She wanted us to see where we send people when we deny their certiorari petition or affirm their conviction. Our work has real-world consequences. It is not just research and writing. The Justice wanted this trip to bring gravity to our work.

Before I describe my trip (which I will do tomorrow), I will share my general impressions.

First, every worker and guard had a deep passion for their work. While they recognize that they work with bad and dangerous people, they hold out hope that some may be reformed. They are not bleeding hearts who excuse bad behavior. Instead, they hope that they can change the fundamental nature of the offenders.

Second, the prison system runs on an excellent incentive program. Every prisoner has the responsibility of keeping their cell clean. Every prisoner, with the exception of those in SuperMax, must work. However, the system uses incentives of nicer and better paying jobs for those who 1) behave, 2) do quality work, and 3) show a desire to work hard and do more. Education is available for everything from G.E.D.s to C.A.D.

Further, a prisoner may earn his way to lower security facilities with more privileges by good behavior. Thus, a well behaved murderer may be in a medium security facility making license plates, but a thug on a simple drug charge may serve time in the SuperMax. It is entirely up to the choices that the prisoner makes.

Third, Colorado Correctional Industries seems to do just about everything. They have prisoners who make furniture, prisoners who raise livestock, and even prisoners who are chefs. The prison system is thus using a vertically-integrated company. The benefit is that CCI is TABOR exempt but not taxpayer subsidized. However, every higher education institution must buy their office furniture from CCI, and this seems to be a bit of a racket. On the whole, though, the program is good. The prisoners get training. The state receives the benefit of many services and products. The taxpayers do not (directly) pay.

Tomorrow I will detail my trip.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Make God Laugh

Tell Him your plans.

I have been reflecting on the future, my plans, and how I really don't know anything. The Bible verse that has been running through my head is James 4:13-17 (NKJV):
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Charles Spurgeon wrote an excellent sermon on this passage. It was published just after his untimely death. I highly suggest you read it. He had five points. First, that counting on the future is folly. Second, it is clear enough to us all that ignorance of the future is a matter of fact. Third recognition of God in the future is wisdom. Fourth, boasting of the future is sin. Finally, the using of the present is a duty.

I would just like to comment on the third point. In his book, James opens with a plea for wisdom and the promise that God will give wisdom freely. Beware praying for wisdom, for it is not often won easily. But how is the recognition of God in the future wisdom?

We (myself included) are apt to initially think that it means that God will "make everything work out"-- i.e. that it will all be pleasant in the end. I see no such promise in the Bible. Sure, God has a plan for the redemption and the renewal of creation. Yes, we have the promise of heaven and the resurrection in our glorious bodies. Nothing, however, is said that everything will turn out rosy in our lives presently. In fact, if Christ is to be our Model (and He is), then it is more likely than not that things will be tough. Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified. In fact, most early Christians (and many modern Christians in China and elsewhere) have had to die for their faith.

So why trust and be wise in knowing that God is in the future? Because God is the Sovereign, the One who has a plan. So our present suffering and joys are just parts of His plan. We play a part in His dance that will renew the world.

We trust in God not because He promised everything would be rosy, but because He is in charge and is a good God. The pleasant things in life are shallow and vapid. The true joy, however, can withstand any trial and setback. That it because it is rooted in Him rather than circumstance.

It is what I'm trying to learn to do.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Happy Posting

Some have complained to me that my latest posts were too negative. So, I shall talk about something happy for a change.

I have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I picked up the book just before I left for DC. I have a tradition of picking up a book to read while on the plane and other times of low productivity while traveling.

The Chronicles of Narnia are a series of stories about a magical land. There, animals can talk, magic exists in abundance, and all sorts of creatures from mythology play roles in the battle between good versus evil. C.S. Lewis, a noted Christian theologian and writer (more works here and here), had placed a good variety of Christian morals and imagery in the books. I have read six of the seven books thus far.

What makes Narnia so great is C.S. Lewis' use of themes. There are super-themes that run the course of the whole series of books (e.g. the Gospel). Then, each book has a theme. The Magician's Nephew, for example, has the creation/free will/introduction of sin elements. Then, each book has several sub-themes in which various virtues, vices, and elements of Christian character are taught. It really is a marvelous series.

I really liked Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It has to be one of my favorite stories thus far. The imagery of Eustace as a dragon, how that comes to be, and how it is cured, are such great references to sin. I loved the book's theme on doing the right thing in the face of adversity (both internal and external). Sometimes we get complacent and weak (the governor of the Lone Islands). Sometimes our fears create our own trap (the dark island where dreams come true). Sometimes our own pride keeps us down (the Dufflepuds). It was really a wonderful book.

I whole heartedly suggest you read (or reread) The Chronicles of Narnia.