I’ve talked here before about how depressing I find the juvenile detention center. It should go without saying that adult jail would be much much worse, a fact I learned last week I went there for the first time to visit Clienette. Clienette was 17 at the time of the offense for which she was arrested, and in Illinois, being 17 makes you automatically an adult, which means your ass goes to adult jail. (Does this seem backwards to you? Illinois is one of the only states in the country where 17 is considered the age of adulthood for criminal law purposes. “hello, teenager, we think you’re still a little too irresponsible to, you know, vote, or buy cigarettes, but we’d be happy to call you an adult if and when you’re ever incracerated!” Terrific.)

Because I am only in my second year of law school, I have yet to receive what is called a 711 license, which allows me to meet with clients and represent them in court on my own. This means that any time I want to meet with a client, I have to be accompanied by a licensed attorney. The supervising attorney I work with at the clinic is an amazing woman and a tremendous lawyer, but she is notorious for forgetting meetings and being terrifically late for the ones she does remember. We were supposed to meet at 9:30, but I had a parking snafu, and didn’t get into the right unit until 9:40. No sign of supervising attorney. This could mean one of two things: either she had not yet arrived (very very likely) or she had arrived right on time and had gone in to see Clienette already (very very unlikely.)

So I sat on a bench next to a preacher (there are a lot of preachers visiting this jail. Maybe that’s true in all jails, but it’s certainly not true in the juvenile detention center. What, don’t the teenagers need god, too?) and waited for supervising attorney to show up. And waited. During this waiting, I had the following conversation with a guard:

Guard: What do you do?
Pseudo: I’m a law student.
Guard: What kind of law do you want to do?
Pseudo: (mightily resisting urge to launch into whole tortured explanation of why that is such a hard question): criminal defense.
Guard: Oooh, no. Not me. I wanna wear a suit. I’m going to law school at night and when I’m done, I’m going corporate. I’ve had enough of criminals.
Pseudo: Yeah, I’d imagine you’ve seen a lot.
Guard: Well, and these laws are just dumb. I had some guy steal my identity, you know, identity theft? And I had to spend so much time and heartache to get my financial situation back on track. And he only got probation! Give ’em the death penalty, that’s what I say! Amount of sufferin’ that guy caused me- I think identity theft should get the death penalty!
Pseudo: um…..

At this point, the preacher to my right was starting to look like an old familiar friend, since preachers are usually, you know, anti-capital punishment. But the guard must have taken a liking to me, because about 3 minutes later she said:

“I looked up what unit your client is on. Do you wanna go in there and see if your supervising attorney is there?”

Well, sure! So I went into the jail and to Clienette’s unit, where I met another friendly guard and had the following conversation:

Guard: What kind of law you wanna practice?
Pseudo: (this gets easier every time I say it): criminal defense.
Guard: you should do divorce.
Pseudo: but then I’d have to be around fighting couples all the time, which I think would get tiresome.
Guard: I tell you what- this no fault divorce thing is crap. My girlfriend’s been trying to finalize her divorce for three years- and it’s his fault! If we had fault divorce, it’d be over by now. But at this point, the only one who’s going to end up with any money is the f**king lawyer. Divorce lawyers must be loaded.
Pseudo: Yeah, but they can’t make as much money as those of us practicing indigent criminal defense, right? Am I right? Haha!
Guard: Really? You guys make a lot of money?
Pseudo: Um, no. Sorry.

Guards, I think, must be lonely, because after this little conversation the guard on the unit decided we were old buddies, and a few minutes later called me over and said:

“Let me see your letter. Yeah, it says you need a supervising attorney, but you seem alright. You can go in if you wanna.”

Just like that! Apparently, if you sit around long enough, they’ll feel bad for you and let you in jail, even if you aren’t supposed to be there! Family members of incarcerated folks, take note! Since I’ve never actually met Clienette, and she has some mental instability issues, and is known to threaten members of her legal team who she knows and likes- I decided that going in by myself was a bad idea. But good to know that if, in a pinch, I’m ever dying to get into jail- I’ve got connections.

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