The cruelest thing
by Clifford Mosby
Most of my criminal cases are gang related. Most
often, my client is male, under 35, unmarried and unemployed. Employed
married males are rare for me. In those cases where my client is
married, employed and now incarcerated, it is a heartbreaking circumstance
to witness. Usually he is trying to maintain his personal life and
take care of his business from jail. He attempts to do this through
his relatives, friends and often through his attorney and investigator.
Usually his wife and children will alter their
lives to fit around visitation and running his errands to maintain
the income and family status while he awaits trial.
In the first days of his incarceration, he is
usually trying to conceal this fact from his employer. It is his
hope that he can bail out and no one will be the wiser. If he is
unable to make bail and stays in jail for a long time, awaiting
trial, his incarceration will soon be known to all, including his
employer. From that point on his personal and professional life
will deteriorate quickly.
This is sad to witness, but what is even sadder
is single mothers who are incarcerated. They are forced to turn
over their children to relatives, usually the grandmother. The mother
is usually on welfare and she and her children are surviving on
a welfare check.
Usually the grandmother is in no financial position
to support the children who have been suddenly thrust upon her.
Usually the jailed mother and the children's grandmother have discussed
and agreed that the grandmother will monitor the mother's mail box
and get the welfare check as soon as it arrives in the mail. The
grandmother will bring the check to Sibyl Brand Institute for Women,
intending to have the mother sign the check so the grandmother can
cash it and provide for the children
All items that are intended for the inmate must
be given to the deputy in the visitation room. What the unsuspecting
mother and grandmother do not know is that the deputy is required
to take possession of any welfare check and return it to the Department
of Social Service, because the mother is not allowed to receive
welfare while in custody. It is very sad and disheartening to sit
in the attorney visitation area and witness check after check being
seized by the deputy while both the mother and the grandmother watch
powerlessly from opposite sides of the deputy station.
You can see and hear the hearts of the mother
and the grandmother drop into a cavern of disbelief as the realization
of what is happening sinks in. Both mothers will cry and plead with
the deputy to consider the children and how many people will be
hurt by the grandmother not being able to cash the check and care
for the children. This plea falls upon deaf ears.
Repeat offenders are aware that the checks will
be seized, and make other arrangements to have their checks illegally
cashed. But it is extremely sad to watch the system rip the hearts
out of those women new to the system who are in the throes of a
horrifying experience, jailed and separated from their children
for the first time and having their check, their last link with
survival, taken from them when they absolutely need it most. This
has to hurt more when both women can see the deputy standing there
holding the check and placing it in a special drawer. A drawer of
no return. For the most part, life has been in a holding mode, waiting
for that check.
This will just be the beginning of the children's
suffering. The mother will not be able to reapply for welfare until
she is out of jail. The person keeping the children will be put
to a hard test for survival. The irony is that the mother will be
provided for while in custody, but the children will be left to
Unlike the male in custody that I described earlier,
where his friends and family try to help maintain his status quo
while he is in jail, the single mother usually has only her mother,
the children's grandmother, to assist her. The grandmother is usually
without transportation, illiterate or non English-speaking. She
is usually on a fixed income. For her a visit to the jail is an
all day procedure requiring a long wait outside the facility in
whatever the weather.
I have witnessed men beaten in jail and seriously
injured. I have talked to clients who were being confined in solitary
in an area known as "the hole." I have had client's in the hole
who were forced to eat "juke ball" (all your food cooked into a
hard barely digestible, cracker-type ball) but by far, the cruelest
thing to witness is the seizure of the check.
PICO BOULEVARD IN LOS ANGELES extends from
the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles. I have
traversed every inch of that street by foot, vehicle and bicycle
since 1960. In April, I was riding my bicycle along a familiar stretch
of Pico when my front tire hit an uneven spot. I was flipped forward
and severely injured my right wrist.
I was taken to Los Angeles County General Hospital
for emergency treatment. I arrived at about 8 am. It was immediately
determined that I would need surgery. Medical procedure dictates
that if you are to undergo anesthesia, you are not allowed to consume
any food or water.
I was placed in a temporary cast and given several
shots of medication and I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I
was there the entire day and by 8 that evening I still had not officially
been checked in as a patient and assigned a room. I was hungry and
I decided to sneak out of the emergency room to
the cafeteria and get a glass of water. As I approached the cafeteria,
I saw a sign which read "Patients not allowed in the cafeteria."
I could see that there was no one inside but the cashier. I could
also see the water dispenser nearby, with courtesy cups sitting
on a nearby table. I decided to chance it.
As I entered the cafeteria, the young female cashier
started to yell at me: "You are not allowed in here...you are not
allowed in here." I grabbed a paper cup and filled it with water
and quickly left. The girl came running out of the cafeteria, still
yelling that I was not allowed inside. It did not phase me. I took
the water and drank it and returned to the emergency room, confident
that I would not be operated on that night since I still had not
been officially admitted and assigned a room and a bed.
Shortly after returning to the emergency room,
I saw eight security police approach me from each side. I laughed
to myself, thinking this must be a slow and boring night for them
to send so many security police to deal with me over a cup of water.
The chief asked me my name and wanted me to produce identification.
I challenged him and indicated that I had committed no crime. He
quickly informed me that I was under arrest and told me that the
cashier had complained that I had struck her.
My heart fell!
I quickly denied that I had ever come close to
the woman, and insisted that I had not struck her. I was escorted
from the emergency room to the lockup area where I was further questioned
and searched. The security police ran a make on me and were preparing
to call the Los Angeles Police to pick me up and transport me to
the Men's Central Jail, where I would be booked. Bail would be set
I continued to plead my case, but they would not
hear my side of the story.
I sat there surrounded by eight somewhat hostile
security police who felt they had just captured a serial killer.
I knew that my life had changed in an instant. Who would believe
me? I felt that although my family and friends would be sympathetic
to me, privately they would ask themselves why the cashier would
make up a lie on a person. They would always wonder if I might have
just "nudged" her. Everyone would ask themselves, "Why would a nice
working girl with nothing to gain just make up a story like that?"
Why would a judge and jury believe me? I am a
big person and I appear to be somewhat imposing. In addition, I
had in fact violated a rule by entering the cafeteria in the first
place. She was an attractive, tiny woman with no ax to grind, "just
doing her job." How could I ever defend myself?
Then it happened! One of the security policemen
made an offhand statement about security cameras. I CAME TO LIFE!
"You have security cameras?" I asked. "Sure," he replied smugly,
as if to say "your ass is grass." I demanded that they pull the
video tape and review it. They had time to kill while waiting for
the police and they were somewhat curious. They got the tape. Each
of them reviewed the tape out of my presence. They started to huddle
and confer. I inquired, "Well?" And the chief quickly responded,
"Inconclusive." I knew I had them! "What about the tape is inconclusive,"
I asked. "You are arresting me; what part of the tape are you unsure
The chief was more angry with me now than ever.
"I am not arresting you...the cashier is making a citizens arrest...we
are just doing our job!" I could see him start to back peddle and
try to clear himself and absolve his crew and the County of Los
Angeles from a false arrest.
The chief angrily snapped, "I have to go get the
cashier and let her review the tape." I was taken to yet another
room so that the cashier would not have to pass me. I could hear
her when she came in. A while later, the chief came in and said
"the cashier decided to give you a break and not press charges."
I knew they had now determined that she had lied and fabricated
the story out of anger that I had ignored her command not to enter
the cafeteria. I responded: "How can she give ME a break? I never
touched her and now you know it!"
The chief was now more angry with me than ever...."I'm
letting you go, but I'm writing you a ticket for resisting arrest!"
I was stunned again ... "When did I resist arrest?"
The chief glared at me and said, "You don't respect
authority and you have to learn to respect authority!" He wrote
me a ticket, similar to a traffic ticket, and I was to appear for
arraignment several weeks later.
I rallied forces with many of the attorneys I
know and I was prepared to take this battle on, but a strange thing
happened. When I arrived in court, there was no file and I was free
to leave without further proceedings.
I have since attempted to obtain what is referred
to as an "incident report" from the hospital. The security police
and chief would have been required to prepare and file it, but to
date, they have used every method to stonewall me and prevent me
from obtaining it. I had an attorney send a letter requesting they
provide me with the report.
On one level, I have resented that we now live
in an era where all of our actions are being monitored. But without
the tape, who would have believed me? Would you?
private investigator in Los Angeles.
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