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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 suffer.

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 thirsty.

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 at $50,000.

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 about?"

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?

Clifford Mosby is a

  • licensed private investigator in Los Angeles.

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