Before I got into the maw of the U.S. legal system, I did not realize the country has 47 million people with a criminal record, (most for relatively trivial offenses,) or that prosecutors won more than 90% of their cases. There, at Coleman, I had seen the courage of self-help, the pathos of broken men, the drawn faces of the hopeless, the glazed expression of the heavily medicated, (90% of Americans judged to require confinement for psychiatric reasons are in the prison system), and the nonchalance of those who find prison a comfortable welfare system compared to the skid row that was their former milieu. America’s 2.4 million prisoners, and millions more awaiting trial or on supervised release, are an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead; they are no one’s constituency.
Of course, I was glad, jubilant, to leave, (though a return is not an impossible result of the pending rehearing), but also grateful for many of the relationships I had formed; enlightened by my observation of American justice on the other side of the wall; and happy to have got on well in an environment very foreign to any I had known before.
My departure was processed quite cordially and the personnel even conducted us to a back exit, through a padlocked gate, far from the media, and shook hands and waved as I slipped the bondage of the U.S. government. It had been 28 months and 18 days since I arrived. The send-off was more congenial than the reception and the ride back to Palm Beach was on the same roads over the same flat, scrubby landscape of strip malls and bungalows as the approach. It seemed more verdant and welcoming on the way back. The drive was contemplative and uneventful.
I was delighted to be back in my home, which the prosecutors had tried to seize for years. For the first time since I was last there, I enjoyed pristine quiet, free of loudspeakers, screamed argument, and the snoring of a hundred men. I had a glass of wine, and waited for Barbara, to celebrate the happiest of all wedding anniversaries.