“You’re a lawyer?” The man looked at me with disdain, his paunch creeping out from beneath his bulletproof vest. I had just pulled up to the York Correctional Institution to visit with a client. He sauntered out of the booth acting put upon.
“Yes,” I said.
He gave me a once over, taking in the pony tail, my fleece vest and the interior of a car littered with coffee cops, newspapers and books. I guess I didn’t look very lawyerly to him.
I handed him my driver’s license. He nearly winced when he took it in his hand. He looked at it as if it were some foreign artifact.
“You got something to prove you’re a lawyer?” he grumbled. He was focusing on his clip board to the exclusion of the world.
“No, sir. Connecticut does not have mandatory bar cards,” I said.
He was shaking his head now.
This was a first for me at York. On every other occasion I have visited clients there, I have been met promptly by a guard who checked my driver’s license, looked my car over, and wrote down my name and license number. Were did this sauntering fellow come from? Did someone get bounced from kitchen duty for incivility?
I reached into my wallet and found a business card. I handed it to him.
“What’s this?” he said, with the charm of a man awoken from a nap. Now I was getting irritated.
“It’s called a business card,” I said. “You wanted proof that I am a lawyer. That is as good as its going to get.”
He sighed, and stepped back, shaking his head as though he was deciding whether to let me in.
“Is there going to be a problem getting in? I’ve never had this happen before.”
He didn’t answer.
“Do you have a problem with me, officer? Maybe it’s a hair thing.”
Now he was steaming. Hand on his utility belt he marched up to my window.
“Do you want me to call a supervisor?”
“No,” I said. “I want to see my client.”
With great show he reached for his microphone and called for a superior. He left me sitting in the lane in front of other cars blocking access. I and several others were now hostage to passive-aggression. He was in his glory now: wasting the time of others is his triumph.
“Would you like me to move my car so that the others can get by?”
“Yeah. That would be a good idea,” he said.
I pulled ahead and then backed into the spot alongside the median. In my rearview mirror I saw him jump back as though I were about to run him over. He looked like a cartoon character. “Here we go,” I thought.
Just then a supervisor pulled up, and he stopped his Fred Flinstone dodges the avalanche routine. His demeanor changed. He walked over to his supervisor and gave a polite and even-keeled account of his confrontation with a lawyer who was rude. I knew then he was capable of civility. He just chose to show it only we he had to.
“Is there a problem here?” the supervisor said as she walked up to me.
“No,” I said. “I never wanted you to come here. I just want to see my client. He called you,” I said, gesturing toward her colleague.
She looked puzzled.
“Look,” I said. “I heard his description of how this went down. He was rude and disrespectful to me and not all as even-keeled as when he described things to you.”
“I know this officer to always be respectful,” she said, closing ranks.
“Then you don’t know him as well as you think.”
She looked startled. She is a prison guard. You don’t talk back to prison guards.
“This is wasting both of our time,” I said. “Do you want to make a big deal of this? Fine. Let’s having a hearing and get it done. But I really don’t want to waste any more of my time. Are you going to let me see my client or not?”
A moment later I was waved through.
I learned a whole new measure of respect for the obstacles prisoners face behind bars. The uniforms stick together. Plausible deniability is a tool used to cover up the petty tyranny of bullies with badges. I cannot imagine having to live policed by men like this.
Someone at York needs to rethink what they do with their misfits. Putting a half-wit with an attitude on the front gate is not exactly good for the prison’s image. This buffoon might not be fit to leave alone with prisoners, but, really, warden -- assign those who can’t do anything but grumble to tasks out of public view, too. The clown you had at the gates made the whole institution look bad. It was a first for me at York.