Speaking Up for the Voiceless

The wheels of justice are slow turning and often grind a person to pieces anymore. That of course is my cynical opinion of our legal system.

And today I had the opportunity to watch it in action, not as a spectator or defendant but as the guy asked to stand up and speak for a man who had no representation. It began for my friend John back on January 28th, when he went to a Raley’s Super Store.

He purchased a 270-dollar money order and several items and walked outside. During the time spent shopping he admittedly picked up a fifteen dollar package of razor blades and put them in a pocket, having no other way of holding them.

After making his purchases he walked outside and then realized he had failed to pay for the blades. He turned around and started back into the store and was promptly met by a plain-clothed security officer.

This officer took him by the wrist and escorted John into the backroom of the store, effectively isolating him from everyone. John was accused of stealing the blades and even though he told the officer he was coming back into the store to pay for them, it didn’t matter.

This security officer told John that he was going to call the Reno Police and have him arrested. But then he offered John a piece of paper that said he would let John walk out of the store a ‘free man’ if he promised to appear in court.

A scared and intimidated John, fearing being arrested and sent to jail signed the paper and was escorted from the store. He was also told he could not return to that store for one-year.

When John went to get a public defender the Municipal Court in Reno denied him one. They determined on April 8th that because he is ‘non-indigent’ and if convicted of the crime, the standard sentence carries no jail time.

This really says that a person has to be completely unemployed and living in the street in order to get a public defender. A very worried John called on Wednesday of last week and asked if I would go to court with him just to support him.

I told him I would and then he started explaining what had happened. I felt something was not right and I offered to have a go at speaking to the city attorney or the judge, which ever I could.

John jumped at the idea. And that is exactly what happened this morning.

The Reno City attorney called John into her office because he didn’t have an attorney of record. She quickly explained that John was being charged with Petty Larceny and what was going to happen and then asked if there were any questions.

She looked at John, who looked at me and I opened my mouth at that point. It was amazing to hear myself speak calmly and rationally to this extremely professional woman.

I explained that since there were no video cameras showing John taking the razors and only the testimony of the single witness, whom I described as an over-zealous security guard, we could go to court and show how this wouldn’t stand the test. She wanted to know how anyone could prove such a thing.

I told her that John had been bullied into signing a piece of paper that he didn’t want to sign. He was not arrested or read his Miranda rights.

I pointed out to her that I could easily take her into a room and intimidate her into signing a piece of paper if I wanted too. She agreed.

After weighing everything she offered John a simple case of ‘disturbing the peace’ for ‘excessive noise.’ The city attorney dismissed the witness and John and I waited for our turn to go into the courtroom.

John answered, “No contest,” when the Judge asked for his plea. He received a 240-dollar fine which was paid straight away and now John doesn’t have to carry the stigma of ‘petty thief’ with him anymore. Ultimately, that is all I wished for my friend John.

I know his character and he isn’t a thief. I was concerned that nobody was willing to step up and look out for his rights.

I am still concerned that somehow the City of Reno has turned over it’s authority to cite shoplifters to the security officers at stores. This is inviting abuse of the accused shoplifter.

What was funny was when the Judge asked, “Counsel, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you.”

I told him I wasn’t an attorney but rather an itinerant Preacher, he said, “Why thank you sir, your presents is duly noted. Please have a seat.”

He had this strange smile on his face, half amused and have puzzled. That was my Perry Mason moment.

Miss Lotty of the Laundromat

Well, the repairman came to the house on Monday and for nearly a hundred bucks declared our washing-machine dead. So this week we’ve been wearing all of our clothing until today when all the dirty clothes hampers were over flowing.

I took Kyle to school and then headed for the Laundromat.

As a kid we had to do this when our washer or dry broke down as well. It was never very much fun and to be honest I felt that old feeling of dread as I pulled into the parking lot and set my truck brake. However, all that dread was washed down the drain by a 71-year old wash woman named Miss Lottie.

She pointed out the best of the washers to use and even helped me get the settings right. Next we started talking. At first it was really about nothing and then it turned to more family history.

Come to find out she, like my father migrated to California from Oklahoma. That’s where our conversation started a new twist, because I discovered that Miss Lottie is a walking encyclopedia of Okie jokes.

It has been a long time since I heard a really good Okie joke. I mean good, with a drawl and everything.

Before I realized it, my laundry was done and it was time to head home. At least I managed to remember 5 of the dozens of jokes she inter-laced in her stories about Oklahoma.

1. What’s the difference between a California Okie and a bag of manure? The bag.

2. An Okie Preacher told his congregation that for the biggest donation any member could get three hymns. One widow near the front wrote out a check for a thousand dollars and immediately stood up and pointed to him, him and him.

3. A Texas rancher decided to visit this Okie farmer. He told the Okie farmer that he had a ranch so big, it took all day to drive around it. The Okie farmer replied that he once had a tractor like that too.

4. What do they call Okie pall-bearers? Carry-Okies.

5. An Okie father and son go to Tulsa to see the big city for the first time. They encounter an elevator and are fascinated by the fancy doors. They watch as a mean and nasty woman gets on the lift and the doors close behind her. When the doors open again a beautiful brunette steps out. Suddenly the father says to his son, “Quick, boy go get yer ma!”

Weekend Dig

Tommy and his son Kyle went for a weekend dig. It was a university-sponsored event and Kyle found a Chinese coin dating to the late 19th century. The head of the operation said that he could keep the find since they had over a thousand of them from the site. Kyle was very proud of himself.

It seemed to spark an interest in archeology for him as he jabbered all the way home about this method of digging verses that method of digging. To his Dad, there was only one way of digging, so he was actually learning something here. Later that night Kyle asked if his father had a chain so that he might put his coin around his neck. Tommy gave him the chain from his old military dog tags.

The following day Tommy had to take Kyle home to his mother.

Four days later when Tommy picked Kyle up, he noticed Kyle wasn’t wearing his coin on his neck. He waited until Kyle was in the truck and they were out of the driveway before asking where it was. Kyle told his dad that his mother didn’t want him wearing it any more because it didn’t represent Jesus. Tommy instantly felt angry, but he managed to keep my mouth shut for the sake of his son.

Later that evening, Kyle and his dad sat down and had a little discussion. He wanted to know if wearing the coin around his neck was the same as ‘idol worshipping?’ Tommy told him that it was not. He explained that idol worshipping was when a person starts ‘putting’ something before Jesus, like money, work, or even worry.

This is when Tommy’s son’s understanding and wisdom knocked his socks off. He looked his dad and asked, “Then a golden cross full of diamonds could be an idol even though it represents Jesus, right?” Dad had to sit and think about that for a moment. Finally he answered, “Yes.” Then Kyle reminded his father, “After all the original cross was made by man.”

Saying Goodbye to Crescent City

Foul weather met us and stayed with us on our travels homeward. It frustrated what could have been an 8-hour trip by making it into a twelve plus hour road tour.

Yet w managed to get home and that is what counts in the end.

Kyle and I were up before 7 am so that we could go have breakfast at Glen ‘s Bakery. It is the one thing that has yet to change in Del Norte County since they were forced to move after the Tsunami of 1964.

I used to go there for breakfast anytime of the day and to flirt with Caroline, who no longer works there. It was at Glen’s that I caught the first glimmer of hope that perhaps I had a chance of seeing somebody I knew.

In a booth was a young woman who looked an awful lot like Michelle Hendricks, whom I went to school with. Alas, she said she wasn’t, but then it’s said everyone has a double someplace in this world.

After breakfast we headed south into the storm, saying good-bye to Crescent City.

We ended up stopping at the Trees 0£ Mystery. I worked there over a four or five-year period in the garden, helping maintain the trail, tagging cars (which they don’t do anymore because of lawsuits) , to being Paul Bunyan’s voice, to cataloging the artifacts in the ‘End of the Trail Indian Museum.’

Mary Lee Smith was always good to our family that way, God bless her.

While cruising through the gift shop and then the museum I happened on a display case that held the collection gathered by Margaret Keating. She was a Del Norte pioneer and school teacher.

She also happened to be our families’ next door neighbor and one of my sister’s God-mother.

She did more in her life-time to advance the traditions of the Yurok people than anyone I ever knew.  She passed on in 1985.

As I was pointing out how I used  to look at this display while eating warm chocolate chip cookies and drinking cold milk in her living room to my son, when I heard a gentle female voice behind me ask, “Are you a Darby?”

I turned in complete surprise because I recognized her face but could not put a name to it.  It was Denise Rode.

She and her sister Tami went to school with all of us Darby kids. In fact her father worked with our father at Klamath Air Force Base.

That is a story in of its self which I will leave for another time.

I was so happy and so surprised. And what a wonderful and sincere hug I received from her.

We talked for a while about life and how things have turned out for all of us. It was certainly great to see her and I look forward to keeping in touch.

Still the rain continued to buffet the roadway and us as we proceeded to travel towards our turn off just before Arcata. That’s where we started our climb over the hills and all the little towns between U.S. 101 and Nevada.

The greatest hazard though was the other drivers who insist on coming to near complete stops in the straight a ways and then speeding up into the corners, or playing hot-pursuit in the passing lanes. Kyle said I did very well on this trip as far as cussing and going crazy over the other driver’s behavior.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was in no hurry to get to where we were going as we headed, besides both my ribs and back hurt too much for me to really care.

It was  jus’ after 10 pm hours when we pulled into the drive way. There  was a trace of snow coming in form the southeast and I really didn’t care if we unloaded the pick-up or not, but Kyle reminded me that we needed to finish the job.

I hate it when I have to hear my own words repeated back too me.