The call shocked me. Mark Hurley has been released from prison. He’s done his time and is back at home with his family. Do I have any work for him?
Mark is a former prosecutor. I’ve known him for many years. He drove hard bargains on behalf of the state, and I was never sure where I stood with him. He would always listen, but I sometimes had the sense he found me distasteful. I can be a bit much.
When he was accused of embezzlement I was stunned. He took monies from the prosecutor’s union, where he enjoyed a position of trust, and used them to service gambling debt. When he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison time, I was heavy hearted. How had this good man gone down? Would he survive this fall from grace? And what of his wife, his children? Prison rarely does anyone any good. We kid ourselves suggesting otherwise.
I didn’t call Mark when his troubles struck. In part, I was angry at him for failing. It is hard to work out a criminal case. When a state’s attorney or law enforcement officer stumbles, shockwaves go throughout the system. Every defendant harbors the cruel hope that the taint will somehow rebound to their benefit. And I was vain enough to be upset that he did not call me to represent him. I am cocky enough to pit my skills against anyone’s.
But I was also unwilling to shoulder the man’s sorrow. There is simply too much grief in the day-to-day practice of law. Clients weep, rage and become undone over the choices they must make. My greatest failings as a lawyer are in the area of client communication: I simply don’t what to do with all the pain client’s express. I prefer the legal issues, transforming tragedy into puzzles.
But Mark is home now, I was told. He has been released from prison. Hearing those words brought tears to my eyes. I know the man and I know that he is so much more than the sum of his worst moments. And I know how cruel the world is. He’ll bear a scarlet F on his forehead. Much of the world will never give him a chance. We will indulge in hypocrisy.
Mark has made restitution to the union. He has served his time behind bars, time served in protective custody lest an inmate he prosecuted administer some informal jailhouse justice. He is now on probation and must find a way to support his family. It will be hard, I know. I’ve seen too many clients never recover from a simple mistake. But his debt to society, whatever that means, has been paid.
So I called Mark to wish him well.
I wanted to reach through the phone to give him a hug. We’ve all sinned in ways large and small. Mark’s sin became a crime, his shame public, his ruin complete. But Lazarus has returned: I felt like a friend had been returned from the dead.
It was good to talk to him. He has faced his failure and is resolute about his chances. His wife has stood by him. His mission now is to keep a roof over his children’s head. He is an ordinary man who loves and is loved.
Late that night, the night after I called him, I saw the twinkling of a diamond in the rough. It had been cast aside by a society too foolish and punitive to realize that error is really just another of life’s many paths. Mark may not be able to practice law, but nothing prevents him from working as a paralegal. What an asset he would be to a firm representing people in trouble. He’s been there. He’s survived. He has a fine mind and legal training.
I called him again before I went to sleep. Would he consider working for the likes of me?
By the time you read this, we will have met and fleshed out the possibilities. If I am lucky, I will have hired the services of a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.
What tongue-clucking the self-righteous will enjoy. But tell me, truly, who among us is without sin and sorrow?
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.