Solano County (Cont-1)

I dressed in my “prison stripes” and when done exited the room.

The guard was waiting for me outside the doorway. I was instructed to stand facing the wall to my left.  It seemed to me that you spend a lot of time facing the wall in here. A chain was once again wrapped around my waist and secured snuggly with a padlock at the center of my back.  On both sides were handcuffs, and they were secured with a key. I was handed a bed roll, consisting of two white sheets, two gray wool blankets, and a white towel, which I balanced firmly against my lower abdomen using my hands which were secured at my waist.

To my right and to my surprise stood Spencer in his body cast, dressed in prison stripes also.  I hadn’t seen him since we “de-boarded” (or disembarked) the bus and he seemed relieved to see a familiar face.  His cane was gone now but he maintained his labored breathing and disdain for the whole process.

The guard carried the roll for him and together the three of us limped down the hallway, me in my post-operative boot and Spencer in his body cast. We made a few left turns, then a few rights; walked down a hallway that looked pretty much like the hallway we had just deserted, and finally were instructed to stop in front of an elevator. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this elevator had been just around the corner, and that our trip was designed to make sure we didn’t remember that.  We took the elevator up one floor, walked to the left down another similar, or perhaps the same hallway, went through a few more doors and down a few more hallways, where we were finally met by another officer.

Officer Gilligan, a short, friendly, Caucasian man greeted us warmly and welcomed us to the medical ward.  He advised us that our length of stay on this module would be determined by the doctor, although he couldn’t tell us when we might be seeing the doctor; it could be a few minutes or a few days.

We, Spencer and I, followed him down the hallway to room M-03 on the right side of the hall.  We stepped into a large, green room with a total of four cots – two on each side.  The room measured 16 cinder blocks in length, 15 blocks high, and eight blocks wide.  In the corner to the left of the doorway, there sat the stainless steel toilet. Unlike any of the other rooms I had been in, there was no restraining wall to offer privacy. On the wall opposite the doorway, was a window which had been boarded-up with a cement barricade leaving a four inch wide strip of frosted – so you could not see out of it – glass.

I chose the cot on the right in the far corner adjacent to the window and opposite the wall where the toilet sat.  I walked directly to it, dropped my roll on it, waited for Officer Gilligan to remove my chains and began the task of making my bed. Spencer took the cot on the other side of the room.

I draped the sheet over the mattress, pulling it even so there was an equal amount of overhang on all four sides. Making a bed in jail is an art. The sheets are less than perfect, but your bed is one thing that you, as an inmate, can control. I took pride in it because one, it was mine, and two, because it gave me something to concentrate on besides being in Solano County.  I tied the sheet in a knot in the back of the mattress at the head and the foot to instantly create a fitted sheet.  I then placed the second sheet over it. I folded one of the two blankets given to me in my bedroll in half to increase the thickness. This place was cold.

The second blanket I placed over this and tucked it in at the foot. I folded the sheets and the blankets at the head and tucked them in tightly at the sides. My extra socks and underwear I placed under the mattress to raise the head and create a pillow.  With that completed, I lay down, crossed my legs, and cleared my mind.

I allowed myself to just be: no thoughts, no anticipation. In a few moments I was floating. I was acutely aware of my surroundings but I wasn’t there at Solano County.  I could hear the guards walking, their keys jingling with every step and the voices of people talking in the adjacent rooms.  My soul was not yet whole, but my mind was at peace.  I lay there just enjoying the silence. I even ignored Spencer. I simply closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. Besides it seemed the logical thing to do. We had arrived on the floor after the dinner hour, and so, rather than agonize over it, I let it go. Falling asleep was beginners luck.

The hardest time to serve in jail is the first night. I had spared myself the agony by simply going to sleep. It also helped to be on the Medical Ward because it separated you from the general population; a time to get acclimated without the politics of incarceration.

I was glad I did because breakfast comes early to Solano County Jail, I mean really early. Sleeping through the first night spared me the anguish of having to deal psychologically with my first night of incarceration, but in jail the nights are shorter and morning comes earlier. The day begins at 0400 hours and the only question on my mind was why, to what end?  Why did our day need to start at 0400? There is absolutely no point to it, except once again the meanness and psychological warfare applied by the caretakers.  Clearly, no one was going anywhere. Furthermore, under what circumstances on the outside would one be eating breakfast – a bad breakfast at that – at 0400 hours? “Hell, we were inmates; no one had any place pressing they just had to get to”. The fact is we weren’t going anywhere.

The process of incarceration – it seemed to me – had two goals:  first to get you away from the public as a safety issue, and two – to allow you to make sense of your situation so that you could alter your behavior before your discharge.  Breakfast at 0400 hours served none of those. I concluded that it could have no purpose except to confirm that you were no longer in control, someone else was.

Breakfast consisted of corn flakes, white cornbread, gravy, hash brown potatoes, and an eight ounce carton of milk. I ate the potatoes and drank the milk. That seemed the safest tactic. Spencer asked for the leftovers and I gave him the bread and gravy. This simple act of kindness immediately exposed me as a first time “fish”. You soon learn to eat as much as you can when you can. In here the next meal may not be edible, or worst yet, may not even come.

My cell was cold, always cold, and very quickly become even colder after breakfast. The fan never stopped, and the whole process – I am convinced – occurred by design.  The cold forces you to retreat to the comfort of your bed and in particular the warmth of the covers.  This minimizes your interaction with other inmates, staff, and guards.  When you are out of bed, you find that your fingers have become so cold, insidiously, that it’s impossible to read, to sit at a desk and write, or to concentrate.  In actuality, the cold served as a way to control the inmates.  There was clearly not much chatter going on through the walls.  Everyone, it would seem, was simply trying to stay warm.

It was that fact which once again shed light on my mother’s wisdom. When I contemplated doing time rather than probation, my mother’s two biggest worries were my getting enough to eat and staying warm.  The necessities of life I would say.  Very quietly and very succinctly she had gotten to the fundamentals without the bullshit that most of us are constantly shoveling.  She had been quite astute at identifying what could only be described as a weapon the staff at SCJC/DF would use to punish and control the inmates. Face it, it made no sense whatsoever to run the air conditioning 24/7 in the middle of February in Northern California.  All I could think of was the magnitude of their energy bill in these economic times.  I’m sure that just by cutting off the air conditioning system; they could save 50 jobs a year in the corrections industry and probably paid the salaries of ten guards.

During the day there is enough going on to occupy your mind, at least initially, but the nights can be, and at many times are, particularly disturbing.  There is your own loneliness, but worst, there are the sounds of the other people’s misery.  With the constant whirling of the fan in the ceiling and the creaky noises of the building including the constant chatter of electronic doors opening and closing serving as background, the tortured souls demonstrate their frustrations by screaming.  They demand to be heard. There are intermittent blood-curdling screams; not screams for attention, but chilling screams suggesting horrible, wicked violence.  There is the constant sobbing of those who simply have given up and are hoping to die but too afraid of what’s on the other side; and most disturbing is the constant, frantic, banging on the doors as the inmates who are insane struggle to be free.

Spencer also seemed a bit odd. I couldn’t put my finger on it.There was something that just didn’t seem to fit. There was an almost childlike character to his mannerisms and yet here he was this 280-pound man with a thick, fully grown, jet black beard. I was jealous of his facial hair, so thick and dark; my beard had had sprinkles of grey from the time it started growing. His gentleness suggested a feminine side, but I never discussed it, and he never really let on. He had even spoken briefly of his son (which really confused me).

On our first visit to the day room, an opportunity to read a newspaper and to watch television, the program we were watching went to commercial. Spencer being quite aware of prison etiquette asked if he could change the channel for a minute. (You cannot afford one enemy and so compromise in the form of a town hall meeting is the norm.) He surfed quickly and got to the desired channel: Golden Girls, a show about four elderly white women. He smiled and then giggled like – what can only be described as a little girl – “this show is funny,” he said. Everyone in the room looked at him and then at each other: it was confirmed, Spencer was definitely gay to all concerned at that moment. It, however, was never confirmed and the fact of the matter remained that over time, it was a nonissue.

Everyone, including the four white guys in the cell two doors down, was quite comfortable being at Solano. They knew how it worked and I listened as they shared insights about our surroundings.  They were friendly, personable, and funny. If you didn’t know you were in jail, you could have easily believed you ran into them at your favorite watering hole. Of the four, two of them were in wheelchairs- this was after all the medical ward- one unfortunately with a brain tumor that the system had failed to address at the time of discovery, and now, 10 months later, had been declared inoperable, and the other with long grey hair and a very long beard who not only was witty, but I’m sure the past president of the “Hell’s Angels”.  The younger guy with them was the class clown and bore the brunt of most of their jokes. The fourth member of their group, Wayne, had a serious foot infection, and was constantly receiving IV antibiotics. Although a motley crew, I was happy to meet them. I recognize now that they were indeed a special group as inmates go; older, less hyper, and in no need of validation. They were colleagues, friends that we saw once a day for one hour, and our only contacts outside of the guards.

The medical unit was different in that women were housed there too. And although they were silent most of the day, you could hear their conversations, beginning after dinner and proceeding well into the evening. You never saw them, but once they got started talking, it was as if they were in the room.

One of them was young, maybe 19 or 20, and was pregnant and about to deliver. Like clockwork, approximately one hour after dinner, she started screaming for a snack. She held numerous conversations through the walls with the four white guys who she had named “new kids on the block.” They serenaded her with Beach Boy songs and she would return the favor with a song from a more recent generation.

It was sad that she was there. Not so much for her-I didn’t know anything about her-but for the baby. The notion of her delivering a child and having the authorities immediately take the baby away to foster care and then bringing her directly back to the jail, just seemed wrong. But any sympathy given to this woman was wasted, because she was mean. She treated the guards worse than they treated us, and that was pretty bad. She had the foulest mouth I’d ever heard, and made sure any of the guards who got on her bad side knew it immediately. In a sense, their conversations and interactions that I could hear through the walls served as a nightly sitcom that I looked forward to every evening. I’d lie in bed and imagine I was in a hotel in London or Paris just watching TV.

My conversations with Spencer increased as his restlessness began to increase. He was no longer wearing his body cast all the time – which would later prove to be his undoing – and had started to pace often, sit on the window sill and complain, and to beat on the walls to engage the four women – actually now three as one had been transferred – in conversation

Solano County Jail

There were rooms, one on each side, off the foyer.  Things seemed to be happening there, but I could not see for sure what was going on. That was the first thing I was to learn about Solano County. Things always happened just outside of ones ability to see and document them.

Inside the building, just beyond the foyer, and away from the cold where we sat, was a large room. An elevated platform area, maybe 50 by 30 feet in dimension and sitting about five feet above the floor sat adjacent to the wall on the right. This elevated area created the feeling of a hallway on its remaining three sides. Across from this area were the holding cells; empty, drab, poorly lighted harsh cubicles with benches built into the walls and a toilet strategically placed in the line of sight from the platform.

This area, the platform, obviously served as the brain center of the facility. The back wall was lined with large electronic machines, probably servers for computers, and a monitor was present at each station.

It was clear that inmates gained access to the facility only through here.  The few people sitting at floor level, well below the women working on the platform, were apparently in different states of processing – at least by their expressions: some smiled, others looked tired and beaten.

Officer Ramirez was the first person I was to meet on this leg of my journey.  At about six feet tall, slightly pudgy, dressed in black fatigues that suggested he was a storm trooper (and was combat ready) he painted an imposing figure. Uniforms – particularly of this nature – are designed to inspire fear.  The purpose is to suggest power, numbers, and brute force.  This, I was to discover over time, was only the beginning of the constant psychological assault designed to break and dehumanize the inmates.

Ramirez escorted each of us, individually, into the room on the left wall. There was a large computer/Xerox/copy machine looking thing with a screen at the front sitting alone in the small room. In a world of miniaturization and innovation, a machine of this size seemed a throwback to the 1960’s. It actually looked out of place, and so did we, stuffed into this small place, forced to be closer than actually was comfortable for either of us.

The goal, however, in taking us to this room, was to establish, once and for all, that the people in black were, in fact, the people in charge. Ramirez, after punching a few buttons, pulled up my booking photo and personal information. In a deadpan tone and a military cadence, he reviewed thedetails of my arrest with the images right in my face. He wanted me to know they knew everything about me.  He continued the deadpan look, his eyes attempting to stare me down, but for all his pomp and circumstance, his display was impotent.  His questions were to the point, but he really had no idea of what they meant, why he was asking them, or what to do with my responses to his questions. That became particularly evident when he reviewed my medical history. I suspect that had I not known the meaning of it all, his ruse would have been successful. But the dumb-founded look on his face when I began to elaborate told it all. He wasn’t a doctor, or a nurse, or any kind of health professional for that matter and I could tell as I started to engage him about my heart history that he wasn’t getting any of it. He scribbled down some notes but was quick to push forward; detail, it would seem, was something with which he was uncomfortable.

After a few more questions on diet, medications, and drug or alcohol use, Ramirez concluded our interview and returned me to the foyer. I again took a seat.

Officer Prior, a shorter, stockier man, also dressed in combat fatigues, then approached and asked me to remove my shoes and socks. He examined them and then the soles of my feet – from a secure distance I might add.  This was my ticket, my pass, to gain access to the room on the right, which was where I saw a nurse who offered me a seat,

Officer Prior stood authoritatively near, as she repeated – for clarification – the questions previously asked by Ramirez. She was no more interested in my responses than Ramirez had been and the interview proceeded without her ever looking up from her desk.  Prior, though, proved more interesting to me than either of them had. He did not shrink from eye contact. He was personable and polite but remained guarded and a lot more professional as he took me from that room, past the elevated platform of workers to a small holding cell once the nurse had finished with her interview. He also returned my suit jacket to me; the one that had been taken at the courthouse before my joyride to the jail.

A seat in this holding cell offered a much better vantage point of the room.  I sat there for more than an hour – alone – and was able to watch the staff go about the task of processing inmates.  The second psychological technique that I noted in play, in addition to the uniforms, was confusion:  inmates were  brought out of one holding cell to talk with one of the workers at a particular station, but they were never returned to the same holding cell, often being taken to one at the other end of the corridor, or a room next to the one they had just vacated. But never, ever were they returned to the same cell.

When Officer Prior finally returned and as I was being transferred to another cell, for reasons I could not know, a woman sitting on the platform asked, “Who is he?”

“Adams,” Prior said.

“Sit him right here”, she said pointing to the chair below her station “I need to update some information.”  I sat in a chair approximately five feet below her- psychological play number three- as she repeated the information Ramirez, and the nurse, had taken, only as she read, she typed into a computer. She asked for my name, address, configuration and number of tattoos, and gang affiliation to confirm, without a doubt, that I was, in fact, who both I and the system said I was.  When she was done, she motioned to Officer Prior who was standing diligently by. I was then placed in another, different, holding cell.

Another hour or so passed and this time, when Officer Prior arrived, he walked me to a station at the opposite end of the platform. The woman manning this cubicle was an older black woman, well-groomed, and she was a lot more personable than anyone else I had had the privilege to speak with.  Our conversation had to do with my housing arrangement, and at best, seemed odd to me, because I didn’t think it was my decision to make. Nonetheless, she was concerned with my prejudices – and to my dismay there were few – and wanted to know did I hate white people, black people, or Hispanics.  She too inquired as to my status with any of the gangs, and “was I, or had I, ever been gay”.

I was confused by her line of questioning. Clearly she already had on her computer everything there was to have on me. She knew everything. No one was getting in here that they didn’t know. Furthermore, it also seemed to me that if you had ever “been” gay, you probably still “were”. I also thought of my friend, Wynn Katz. A running joke for him was to assure people that I was in fact quite prejudiced and yet the perfect human being because I was equally prejudiced toward everybody. And to a point he was correct. I hate the degradation of any human being regardless of his race.

Her purpose though was to arrange “compatible” housing.  Regardless of my take on her questions, Solano County is a dangerous situation and the possibility of violent conflict is always there, just below the surface.  The last thing they needed was to put members of rival gangs or ideologies in the same closed space.  It would be a recipe to ignite conflict all over the jail.  Under those conditions, no one in the building would be safe.  It was best to be proactive.

As we continued to talk, a strange odor of acetone, a sweet smell of sugar and alcohol filled the air. Both of us, the interviewer and me, noticed it immediately. “Have you been drinking?” I asked her.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.  Then we both laughed.  We each took another sniff and then turned to Prior.

“Don’t look at me,” he said.  “It isn’t me.”

“Well, it wasn’t here before” she countered. And then, we all laughed again.

When Mrs. Jones, that was her name, had completed the interview, I was taken to another holding cell. To the naked eye, the system seemed archaic and inefficient – the long winding walks down short repetitive hallways with identical doors and windows; some leading into offices and others leading only to other short hallways that branched to the left or right; another turn, another monotonous hallway of doors all leading nowhere but to the next cubicle where yet another disinterested worker in black fatigues fired the same questions in the same disinterested monotonous tone until you become confused as to who had asked you what and for what purpose. But the operation was not inefficient; they had you in this place.  The goal was disorientation.  The goal was to confuse you as to just how you got in, so as to discourage any attempt at getting out – at least out without their blessing.

I remained in my holding cell only a short time, when another officer – whose name I never got because neither did he introduce himself, nor did he ever turn to face me so that I could read his name tag – arrived with two brown paper bags.  He suggested that I follow him down the hall to yet another room.  Yet he pointed me ahead of him and proceeded to walk behind me. I could hardly see how I could follow him if he insisted on being behind me. Apparently, it is a safety issue, and they are instructed never to let an inmate get behind them. Good advice!

About halfway down the hall, which resembled all the other halls, I turned right into a room which was empty except for a window in the wall opposite the doorway. There was also a bench that spanned the wall to the right. The officer instructed me to undress completely, including socks and underwear, and then disappeared.

A few minutes later another officer appeared at the window.  He began by asking me my sizes and as I answered he made notes on a pad. Without announcing his departure he turned and left the window. I just stood there dressed in nothing but my birthday suit. He returned a few minutes later with what he called a “bedroll”. He also presented me with clothes to put on.

Nothing fit despite our previous conversation. I told him I wore an extra large top. I received a 3XL V-neck, short sleeved shirt with bold three inch wide alternating back and white stripes. I told him I wore an extra large, 34 length trouser. I received matching striped cotton pants, 2XL, 36 inch length, with no pockets and a fake flap where most trousers would have had a zipper. I also received two pair of 4XL white cotton underwear – which I could have stepped through twice. The officer informed me that that was the best he could do.  The alternative was smaller medium underwear and to his credit, he thought the 4XL at least would be more comfortable.  I considered myself lucky under the circumstances.

I also got two pair of white cotton tube socks and two cotton tee shirts.  I was also given a clear plastic bag – much like a sandwich bag – that contained a booklet, Inmate General Information, Custody Division Rules and Disciplinary Penalties, 17 grams of fresh mint fluoride toothpaste, a two inch long finger held tooth brush – apparently one of my colleagues had been stabbed in the eye with a tooth brush in the past and this thing was now standard issue – and a five inch black plastic comb.

From Holding Cell to the Big House-It’s Just a Bus Ride

The holding cell was a large enclosed room with no windows and the walls were cement cylinder blocks.  The room was 21 blocks high, approximately 14 feet; 18 blocks long, about 27 feet, and 7 to 8 blocks wide, 12 feet.  In the far corner of the room, opposite the doorway was a short wall 5 blocks high and five blocks wide which served as a barrier.  Behind it was a stainless steel toilet with no toilet seat, the back of the toilet culminating in a sink with three buttons: flush, hot water, cold water. In the panel of the toilet back was a round hole for storing toilet paper, but no paper was present.

The walls were painted dreary, dark, industrial beige from the floor to approximately four feet from the ceiling.  From that point upwards, including the ceiling, the room was painted an off-white crème, or winter white.  The floor was polished cement – imitation marble with brown and black specs to make it look like sand – I suspected it was really that way more to camouflage the dirt, than for its aesthetic value.  In the center of the floor – which gently sloped toward it- was a drain.

There were four light fixtures in the ceiling – the one closest to the door was square and not working; the other three were round.  Despite the size of the fixtures, they gave off little light and the room was shadowy and dark and a layer of musk lingered.

It was here in my holding cell waiting for transfer to the county jail that I had my first opportunity to meet and engage with my colleagues. Approximately one hour later, after I had memorized the intricacies of my holding cell, a young Latino fellow, not a day over 18, and the acne to prove it, was delivered to my chamber.  He was approximately 5’7”, 140 pounds, dressed in a blue tee shirt, tan khaki trousers and Adidas sneakers.  He smiled apologetically and took a seat on my right approximately six feet from me. He sat facing the door.  Periodically we would exchange glances, but neither of us uttered a word, lost souls just anticipating what was to happen next.  My immediate emotion was compassion. I felt for him.  He seemed so out of place, so young.

A few minutes later – though realistically it could have been hours – Spencer arrived.  Spencer was 5’10”, 280 pounds, a black man dressed in a brown leisure suit, white tee shirt, and white Puma sneakers.  Spencer was in a fiberglass – full body cast and carried a cane.  He took a seat to my left, and immediately lay down on the bench with a sigh.  It was obvious Spencer was no novice to this procedure, and his mannerisms suggested the whole process was more of an inconvenience than punishment to him. “Does any body know what time is it?” he asked.  I pointed to a clock on the wall just outside the door.  It was 10:25 AM.  “We need to get moving here, this thing is killing me,” he said, and pointed to his body cast.

My young Latino companion took the bait, “What happened?” he asked.

Spencer then began to report the details of his injury.  He had been run-over by an automobile, apparently driven by an individual who, a few moments earlier, he had challenged to a fight.  He had sustained a fracture of his lumbar vertebrae and a compression injury of his left leg.  He needed the cane to walk, but I was concerned that his breathing seemed drastically labored.

My initial response was to ignore him, but as time wore on his effort to breathe increased. He had now added humming and a grunting to his arsenal. When it became obvious to my young Latino colleague that Spencer could not go on much longer breathing like this – who was now staring in amazement at Spencer’s efforts – I spoke up, “You going to be okay?”  I asked. “Your breathing is getting much more labored.

“Labored?” he repeated with astonishment. “You a doctor or somethin’?”

“Yeah,” I said turning back to stare at the wall.

“Well, I hope I get to bunk with you.” was all he said, and then turned back to the task at hand – appearing as miserable as possible.  I just nodded and went back to ignoring him as best I could.  Unfortunately, only a few minutes elapsed before guilt overtook me.  I formally asked him his name and reassured him that I would look out for him.  That calmed his breathing and oddly enough, the theatrics also.

The clinking of chains once again interrupted the silence, and a fourth member was added to the group.  He was huge. He could not have been more than five feet tall, but had to be at least 400 pounds.  He was Latino, dressed in a black Izod shirt, black pants, and black sneakers.  He walked directly to the furthest part of the room, stretched  out on the bench, and promptly went to sleep – snoring shamelessly – and loudly – eliciting a giggle from my sheepish 18 year old colleague.

I spent what seemed an eternity there that morning; that is my colleagues and me. I had arrived there first – at approximately 8:45 AM.  It was now only noon. I already felt as if I had been there much too long. If this was any indication, doing time would be a very slow process and perhaps I had made a mistake. The three hours or so had passed in what seemed to take a month, and nothing had happened.  The guards passed the window –only occasionally – but when it occurred, they always seemed to be in a rush.  They had perfected the art of ignoring the inhabitants – making sure they made no eye contact by looking through the window so that one might get their attention, only to moments later rush past in the opposite direction, in equally as much a hurry, going – for all I knew – nowhere.

About an hour later there was a great deal of commotion, and just outside our window men in prison garb: orange and white stripes, black and white stripes and green and white stripes began to line up against the opposite wall.  I could not see their faces, as they all were facing the wall, but I was impressed with their hair-dos.  There were men in braids, dreads, shaved heads, ponytails and every other hair-do imaginable.  The four of us in this room were definitely going to be out of place amongst this crowd.  The guard then barked some orders that I could not make out, and in a flash, they made a quick left at the clock and were gone.  I thought I’d never see them again, but then our door swung open.

“Okay gentlemen,” the guard said, “we’re going to get you on the bus.  There’s a yellow line on the floor; stay to the left of it against the wall.  We then lined up, the 18 year-old, me, Spencer, and the sleepy big fellow, and to the buses – in chains – we shuffled.

The bus was a short, white, dingy thing with bars on the windows and “Sheriff” painted on the side in black.  It actually reminded me of the short buses you see in the neighborhood picking-up the kids who are mentally challenged. The step up was exceptionally high and in a post-operative boot and chains, I found it difficult to balance. Nor did it help that my hands were chained at my side.  The men in stripes, whom I had seen a few minutes earlier, were already on the bus.  They were laughing, and talking loud, and complaining about their experiences. In reality they just seemed too happy. Apparently, they all had been transported from jail to the courthouse for hearings. If you do not, or cannot “make bail” you stay incarcerated until the disposition of your case. That was their fate.

That served to clear up my first mystery: throughout my trial, I had from time to time sat in on cases where the judge had talked about “time served”. I was at a lost to understand first, what that meant and secondly, why people not yet convicted where dressed in prison garb. Now I knew.

As I reached the top stair, I looked down the aisle running through the center of the bus. Every seat seemed to be taken.  Fifteen inmates had boarded before me, and my colleagues.  I began the uncomfortable walk – chained and in a boot – toward the back and when I reached the next to the last seat, the young black guy sitting there alone slid closer to the window. I nodded and slid in.

The bus then grunted, jerked forward and off we were; a quick right turn out of the driveway and wham, we were skirting along over surface streets at 60 mph. The ride on the bus was an adventure in itself.  The shock absorbers were non-existent and so every bump on the road was sent through your entire body with a bone jarring thud. I sank lower in my seat to keep from being thrown out.  My young Latino colleague, who had boarded with me looked over and shared a frown.  This was beginning to quickly become a nightmare for him. The remainder of the group, the guys dressed in prison stripes, continued talking and clowning like nothing out of the ordinary was happening. This was simply a ride back home for them.

Behind me, a young black guy dressed in black and whites passed the time by screaming out the window, through the bars at women walking down the street. “There is one in every crowd” I thought.  A few quicker, dangerous turns were made, the driver careful to be sure that we encountered every bump and then a hard right. We pulled down a hidden driveway into a structure and the bus stopped abruptly.

The new additions to Solano County, my three colleagues and I, were the first to exit the bus.  The driver, a county sheriff, was explicit in ordering the others to remain seated.  Directly beside the bus was a sliding doorway.  He took us through it and sat us on benches immediately inside the door.

The “veterans” in their orange, black, and green-striped outfits filed off the bus and disappeared in the opposite direction.  As I entered the foyer of the building, heavy sliding doors closed behind me with a bang and a click.  The foyer measured approximately 12 feet square, benches were on either side, and the walls were painted the same beige as my holding cell had been.  The four of us, the new arrivals, sat in the foyer at the entrance to the building. We were incarcerated, but also not quite in.  There was enough security to suggest that escape was futile, and enough distance so you knew you were not part – at least yet – of what was going on in this building.  “You, my friend, are not in charge here, we are” was the message being imparted.

The Process of Surrender

As she backed the car out of the garage into the cold, damp Northern California morning, I felt relief for the first time in a long while.  The past year had been absolutely horrendous for me and this – as far as I was concerned – was the end of it, or at least the beginning of the end.

My mother had been supportive all along the way and more than anything, despite the shear ‘hell’ of it all, the past year had given us time together, an opportunity that life otherwise might not have given to us.  I had thanked the Gods for that too.  I had gotten to know her – not so much as a devoted parent – but as a friend.  I learned so much more about her as a person; her likes, and dislikes, her impressions as a child, what her marriage to my father had been like for her, what she had hoped to accomplish in her life, and her needs. She demonstrated a quiet simplicity with a view of the world that I, unfortunately, had failed to grasp. I had grown to respect her sense of clarity.

We were both silent as she drove north on Interstate 580 towards the interchange for the 80 freeway and onward to Vallejo, California, and the courthouse.  In spite of the silence, we were closer than we had ever been before. I didn’t even comment on her driving.  I was content to just take in the beauty of the green, rolling hills of northern California.  It was peaceful and beautiful and I could not help but think – and wish – that I’d taken more time to get to know it.

My mother would periodically interrupt the silence to confirm that she was headed in the right direction.  I would simply nod; there was no need for words.  When we reached our exit – actually quite sooner than I had hoped – I spoke up. “This is it,” I said.  “Take this exit and turn right.”  We continued for about two more miles, made a right turn onto the street where the courthouse sat.  I can never remember the name of that street. I’m sure it was psychological because I never wanted to be there anyway. Who did?  I suggested she pull into a parking space on the right in front of the building.

After a few moments sitting at the curb she spoke, “I think I’d be more comfortable in the parking lot.”  And so, after sitting there quietly for a few more moments we pulled back into traffic and made a left turn into the courthouse parking lot.

Misery lurked in this place. It was palpable. All the people loitering in front of the building seemed to have a cloud of despair hanging over them.  Life just appeared to have been so hard on them all. Their spirits seemed defeated. It appeared to affect their posture and their manner of dress. Everyone seemed dirty, unkempt and doubled-over by the weight of the world.

Watching them as they huddled about the entrance reminded me of my freshman year at Harvard and my very first course. I had read Walden Pond and “Civil Disobedience”. Staring at these people huddled in the doorway to escape the rain, this quote came to mind: “Often the poor man is not so cold and hungry as he is dirty and ragged and gross. It is partly his taste, and not merely his misfortune. If you give him money, he will perhaps buy more rags with it.”  (Those may not be his exact words but understand that my accommodations at the time of writing this do not lend itself to research.  Nonetheless – and with apologies to Mr. Thoreau- I believe you grasp my meaning.)

This picture, the people huddled in the doorway, also gave me another reason to be thankful for my mother.  She had raised my sister and me on a secretary’s salary, by herself, and very early we were taught the importance of presentation and first impressions. Our clothes were classic, simple, and comfortable; they fit well and were always, always clean.  It is one of the better habits that I was fortunate enough to bring into adult life.

As we pulled into a parking space, I was quick to reaffirm that she didn’t want to come in, in case there was a lot of press.

“I’m not going in and I’m not watching TV for a while,” she said.  “I just don’t want to look at it.”

“Don’t,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t if I were you… But it is raining and I do want you to be careful driving back home.  Don’t get worked up and have a wreck or something.  I’ll be fine.”

We sat quietly for the next twenty minutes or so. My mother broke the silence, “Let’s call Dee Dee.”

That was something I was actually hoping to avoid.  My sister is my best friend and the person I admire most on this planet (or any planet for that matter).  I knew this whole thing was making her miserable and I just wanted to avoid adding to it.  Nevertheless, to avoid making that call would have been worse – at least that is what I told myself. Delia didn’t pick up when the phone rang, but my Mom’s cell rang back before we could leave a message.  They – my mom and sister – spoke for a few seconds and then my mother handed me the phone.  I could hear the sadness and feel her tears through the phone and that was the first time I had really felt any emotion about what was going on – my going to jail. For the first time in thinking about the whole ordeal, I felt sadness.

“So much,” I thought “for sibling rivalry.”

I managed to divert her sorrow by talking politics.  A lot was obviously going on in Washington with the Obama Presidency, and as a member of a “think tank” for the Department of Defense, I knew she had a lot on her plate.  She had threatened to fly home and go with us but that would have been too much – surely for her but certainly for me.  I was glad that her schedule was diverting a lot of her attention.  The only way this was going to be okay for me, was to know that the two of them would be fine.

The ultimate savior was a gastric-colic reflex. I said good bye to my sister, gathered my things, stepped from the car, and in my post-op boot hobbled up the stairs to building security.  Not once did I look back for fear one of us, my mother or I, might lose it.

Once through security – which was extremely fast, but I guess they had seen me and my boot enough to feel secure – I headed down the hall to the toilet.

On exiting the restroom, I saw my attorney, Michael Cardoza, standing at the end of the hall in a conversation with an Asian man.  I walked past them and took a seat on a bench against the opposite wall.  Michael looked up, acknowledged my presence with a nod and continued on in his conversation.

After finishing, he approached me, commented on how well-dressed I was to be surrendering – at least in his recollection of clients forced to surrender in the past – and we headed up the hallway together to Division 24.  This was the perfect stage for Michael, all American boy, white hair (demonstrating maturity), and a boyish smile.  He pranced around the chamber just inside the audience boxes making sure he said hello to the bailiff, his assistant, the sheriff’s officers, and the stenographers.

My case was heard first since I was the only one with a private attorney and not depending on a “public defender” to represent me, and it proceeded as I suspect most court cases proceed: as if I, the defendant, really wasn’t there. Michael presented the judge with my orders for medications which he refused to sign admitting uncomfortably that he wasn’t sure he was entitled to because he wasn’t a doctor.  Never mind that I had called prior to my surrender to clarify what I was bringing and that what we were doing was the proper procedure.  The bailiff suggested that we take the meds and the orders directly to the jail – which necessitated a call to my mother – whom I am sure was halfway back to Oakland by now – and so Michael made the call to her.  All I could think was that she was miserable now because his call had presented her with something that went directly against the plan.

Her biggest fear, however, was never realized.  There was no press in the courtroom, and when the sheriff’s officer walked up behind me and asked me to place my hands behind my back in order to cuff me, an older officer in the courtroom, a male in his early sixties – gruff looking, seasoned with a twinkle in his eye that suggested he’s heard it all – walked up beside her and said, “I tell you what, that won’t be necessary; I’ll walk him down myself.” The public humiliation of being shackled and chained like an animal was avoided. With that, we walked through a door on the left side of the court room which led to a hallway, which lead to another hallway, which in turn lead but again to another hallway.  At the end of the corridor were two officers, a male and a female sitting at a small table.

To the right of their table was a small room with an even smaller table, a glass wall facing another small room, and two chairs.  The officer sat me down at one of the chairs, offered me a “good luck” and disappeared.

A few moments later, a female, Officer Hall, entered the room and instructed me to empty my pockets.  I had left my wallet, my mobile phone, my watch and my keys at my mothers; all that was there was $220 in cash.  I gave it to her; she recorded it in triplicate and then exited the room.

At precisely the moment of her exit, a male, Officer Lewis, entered the room and instructed me to remove my jacket, tie and pocket square.  The official stand is to remove things that could be used against the guards or oneself, but the real reason is to strip you of anything that does not remind you of who’s in charge in here. And, if you have nothing, they are clearly in charge.

Officer Lewis took those things away, down the hallway, and as he disappeared around the corner, Officer Hall reappeared.  She was carrying more forms for me to sign, basically for the articles of clothing and accessories that had just been taken from me. They had done this before and their precision reminded me more of a dance, than either of them being efficient.

With the preliminaries completed, I was shackled in chains, with handcuffs at my side, and then escorted twenty feet down the hallway and placed in a holding cell.  As we passed the rows of doors, an occasional inquisitive face would appear in a doorway window, acknowledge my passing, and disappear once again. It was clear these were the faces of men soon to be my colleagues.

Off to Court!

At 9:17 am on Thursday, February 5, 2009, the telephone rang.

With no other warning, and none of the social graces, the voice at the other end asked, “What are you doing?”  Certainly a bit abrupt, clearly not the friendliest way to start a conversation-at least in my mind-   but once I identified the voice and realized who it was,  I had to accept that there was nothing particularly unusual about the greeting; that is the way Tom began all of our phone calls. I had to entertain the notion that perhaps my irritation was coming from me, and not necessarily the rude caller at the other end.

“Watching TV, eating breakfast, why?” I asked.  I had not more than one minute earlier finished preparing breakfast and had just sat down to eat.  The television monitor had just booted-up when the phone rang, and that’s how I knew the exact time.

“Just called to see if everything was ready for tomorrow,” he said.  Over the past few years, Tom had grown from a necessary evil – a mouthpiece – to what could only be described as a friend.  Tom was genuinely concerned and I knew he was asking from his heart, but I allowed for a very long, uncomfortable silence before I responded because I had been expecting – and anticipating- calls of this nature all week.

Tomorrow, Friday, February 6, 2009, I was scheduled to surrender at Solano County Jail; clearly the source of my irritability.  I had expected this call from many distant acquaintances- feigning concern but really soliciting gossip, but Tom’s call at 9:17 AM was a bit strange if for no reason other than his usual calls occurred around noon, during a time when there was a break in his day.  A call this early, at the start of his day, meant that he had been wrestling with the issue, the burden of my going to jail, all through the night.

I did my best to reassure him that I was fine – and I was. The fact of the matter was that I hadn’t even given it a thought.  I had become quite adept at controlling the focus of my mind and going to jail wasn’t something I was going to worry about, at least consciously, until I was there – and once I was there, I was just going to focus on something else – like this book. About 90% of what goes on in anybody’s life is good and about 10% is bad.  If you truly want to make yourself miserable, focus on the 10% that’s bad and ignore the other 90%. That is what I believe intellectually, and that is how I have tried to live, but even with that, I was definitely feeling the pressure.

Tom’s call served to confirm one of my biggest fears: it wasn’t my state of mind that would be the issue; it would be the inability of the people who truly cared about me to control their thoughts, which would create all the drama. I knew the majority of people couldn’t, and wouldn’t, control the focusof their minds. I was going to be forced to think about jail because that’s what they would be thinking, and calling, about.

Tom was easy to handle despite the fact that being a lawyer had taught him to over think everything. Some well placed silence would allow him to conclude with absolutely no encouragement from me that he was worrying too much. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’ll write you when I get there and get settled.”  Then, I simply hung up the phone.

My mother was another matter.  Over the past few days she had become increasingly quiet and introverted.  I could physically feel the moments when she would stare out the kitchen window deeply in thought, going through the process of conjuring up all sort of demons in order to make herself miserable, followed quickly by quiet sobbing, and trips to the bathroom.  That hurt most of all. There just wasn’t anyway for me to shield her from her own feelings. Nor could I shield her from other people’s intrusions, especially my own lawyer. The kindling for this particular episode  wasn’t Tom, but quickly followed his call in the form of Jason Louis, the paralegal with the firm of Cardoza Law Offices, Inc., my representation in Northern California.

Michael Cardoza is the antitheses to Thomas Byrne in every regard – except the fact that they participate in the same profession. Michael is gregarious and aggressive.  Tom is quiet and withdrawn.  Michael seeks out the media.  Tom avoids them at all costs.

Jason’s call was to inform me that Michael would indeed be present at my surrender the following morning, though a month earlier he had informed me that he wouldn’t.  The caller ID on the phone screamed Cardoza Law Offices with every ring and so by the time I hung up with Jason, my mother was standing in front of me with her litany of questions.  “Who was it?  What did he want?  Why?”

Her concern was motivated not so much by Michael Cardoza, but rather by her fear of the process. The average American, particularly the honest ones, fears his government although it should be the other way around. To make matters worse she had visions of every media outlet in Northern California present in the courtroom, and the whole world present to watch her son chained and carted off to prison. The fact that Cardoza had now changed his mind and decided to show up at the surrender was proof of that. What other reason could there be for his change of heart. Nonetheless, the thought that TMZ would be running a video of me being chained and shackled, over and over and over again, broadcasted to the world- and her church congregation-was just too much for her to take.

I reassured her that that would not be the case, but nonetheless, a few hours later, I found her sitting at her computer, staring out the window, crying.  I gave her a hug and left it at that.  Any more conversation, regardless of its point, or its tone, would have only served as moisture and hot air to continue to fuel the storm.  I hoped to spare her of that, but ultimately I realized I couldn’t.  Moms, I guess, are worriers by nature.

Later that night I did not bring up the next day’s festivities either.  I could see no point to it. In a sense I also found a bit of shameful delight in deflecting her attempts to initiate conversation about it.  I skillfully deflected them all. “Let’s just leave tomorrow’s events for tomorrow,” I thought.  At any rate, when she had had enough of mindless TV, she finally retired to the comfort and solitude of her bed to work things out in her own way.

I followed two hours later and was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.  I didn’t move – remaining just as I had lain down – until I woke to glance at the clock on the table next to the bed:  3:44 am. I did not concern myself with the hour. I thanked the Gods for the four hours of peace.  I stumbled to the bathroom, emptied my bladder, drank of glass of water – failing to wash my hands – and returned to bed.  I lay there nodding in and out until 5:00 am, contemplating the coming day, my trip to the courthouse, and then off to jail.

At 6:00 AM, I could hear my mother’s alarm penetrating the darkness – and the solitude – and I listened as she began to stir.  I decided to get up and get going immediately.  I didn’t want the worry of being late being added to the mix.

I had suggested we leave that morning at 7:30 am, and she agreed on 7:15.  She had taken a bath the night before – a thing that I simply could never get comfortable with for myself. It seemed to me that it defeated the purpose.  I had to shower just before putting on clean clothes and as I got into the habit, I could not do otherwise – even to minimize the morning rush.  I therefore began by turning on the bath and directing my attention to cleaning my mouth and brushing my teeth.

Before I had settled into the tub, my mother was at the bathroom door inquiring as to what I wanted for breakfast.  I bit my tongue – as I considered it an intrusion to interrupt my quiet morning ritual – and assured her that I’d be ready on time.

As I descended the stairs fully dressed at 07:14 am, I could hear her calling from the garage.  My breakfast, which consisted of yogurt, a banana, and an apple, was already in the car.  I grabbed a bottled-water, took a look around the house, and then hobbled to the car.

“You’re not taking your crutches?” she asked.  “No,” I said, “they’re not going to let me use them anyway.” The crutches were the result of an ankle fusion three months earlier; and it was also responsible for my surrender in February, rather than in October following the trial.

My recovery from the surgery had been torture. Ankle fusion surgery required that I remain nonweight-bearing for three months, that’s 13 weeks without being able to stand or walk. (Try peeing under those circumstances.) I spent the entire time on my back with nothing but my own thoughts, and my own physical discomfort which added a whole new meaning to the notion of pain.

Two Lessons I’ve Learned

Solano County is in northern California but I spent the weekend prior to my date of surrender in Log Angeles at the home of my close friend, Wynn Katz. Wynn was particularly concerned about this whole thing and from my perspective it was important to alleviate his fears. On Saturday afternoon we had lunch at an Italian restaurant on Via Rodeo in Beverly Hills.  Over the past 20 years Wynn and I have had some pretty serious conversations, but this afternoon he was particularly introspective.  “If you had to do it all
over again,” he began, “what would you change? What would you do differently?”

I thought for a while before answering. This type of question was completely out of character for him. Where in the hell was a question like that coming from? “Where is Wynn and what have you done with him?” I thought.

I was also concerned that he was feeling particularly bad – and frightened – about my decision to go to jail. Most people, it seems to me, focus on the notion of time when talking about incarceration, but their real fear is the environment, the uncertainty of it all.  They fear the obvious danger that accompanies being locked in a closed space with murderers,
drug dealers, and gang members, not to mention rapists and serial killers (and well they should). It’s this fear that the authorities use, and depend on, to act as a deterrent for the novice. The problem though is that it only works well on those who have never been to jail. It offers no deterrent whatsoever for those who have. They know the system, and do not fear it.

“First of all,” I said, “if I had to do it all over again, I’d kill myself.” (Now, I wouldn’t even remotely consider suicide and no one understands that better than Wynn, but he desperately needed an injection of humor, so I gave it to him.) “I don’t want to do it all over again to be perfectly honest” I said.  “And I also wouldn’t change a thing…You know
me as well, maybe better, than anyone else on this planet” I continued.  “I don’t have those kinds of regrets.  If nothing else, I’ve learned two important things in my life, and those two things have made all the difference… first, life is all of it: the good and the bad. It’s naïve to think that life is only going to be about the things that make you happy.  It isn’t all success.
You know what they say: “If you don’t see God in the profane as well as the profound, you’re missing half the story.”

“Secondly, I’ve come to believe that life is eternal, death is the illusion. I no longer have those kinds of fears. Death is the opposite of birth, not life. I guess because I no longer fear death, the other fears concerning life have disappeared. They all seem so silly to me now. For example, I’m not going to die because some woman goes crazy or wants to take her life on a different path. It’s her life. She can do what she wants. That’s where I am right now. It’s just that simple.  I’ve conquered my fears.  I don’t worry about money, what people will
think, or what tomorrow will bring.  I just don’t do it.”

There was a long, but comfortable, silence and then Wynn confessed, “I worry a lot about money lately; my business, my ex-wife, my children.  I worry about everything.”

“Well, don’t worry about me,” I said.  “In about six months, I’ll be on Larry King Live pushing a book.  It’s all going to be fine.”

The point was quite simple: every problem is an opportunity. I was going to enter Solano County knowing precisely what I intended to accomplish. I was already one up on the guards, the warden, and the other inmates. I knew Solano County offered me the opportunity to clarify my philosophy on life. I knew there was a chance to get clear, I mean
really clear, on the things I wanted.

In a lot of ways my choice to go to Solano County was selfish and manipulative. I recognize that. I am aware of the fact that I wished to be alone. I wanted to determine without any distractions what I really wanted out of the rest of my life. I had hoped to take the opportunity to decide – once and for all – whether to continue on my present course, or to have the courage to admit that it was not giving me what I needed to feel complete, and
therefore, to move on to something else that might. Medicine was becoming increasingly frustrating. Patients were becoming increasingly unrealistic. Insurance companies had frankly stopped paying doctors. And, the government was negotiating an overhaul of the system that did not include paying the doctor, yet made the doctor responsible for decisions someone else had made. A future in a system like that just didn’t seem bright. I needed time to think it through.

 

Self-Pity is Always a Mistake

Frankly, I was “as guilty as hell” of doing exactly that which the people of the State of California and the Solano County prosecutor alleged. I had driven an automobile under the influence of alcohol, a misdemeanor.  I, alone, had made the decision to patronize “1515”, a very fashionable restaurant in Walnut Creek, California, and I alone then made the decision- though clearly not as conscious a decision as the Vallejo, California, city prosecutor would have a jury believe- to drive, or perhaps I should say attempt to drive, back to my mother’s house in the Oakland Hills.The prosecutor- at least as it seems to me now- was, in actuality, quite short-sighted. He did not grasp the magnitude of my
transgression.

My crime was infinitely worse than that for which I was accused. I had done the worst thing a person could possibly do; much worse than any felony on the books:
I had engaged in self-pity. Prior to entering “1515”, I was feeling sorry for myself. That was my crime. After all that I had accomplished, me, looking for a job, was absurd.  In
reality, I should not have even been in Northern California anyway. I should
have been in Los Angeles doing my job: surgery. But for the first time in my
life, I was unsure of what to do next.

People.com was now reporting that I had been cleared of any wrongdoing after months of “intense media scrutiny” (their words), but that backhanded “compliment”, masquerading as an apology (and the notion that the electronic media lynching that I was forced to
tolerate, was “intense media scrutiny”, and not the mean spirited, unsubstantiated character assassination that it was) was ludicrous. And while much of the wrong and unsubstantiated misinformation passed on by the press had been “page one” news, the real facts of the case had been ignored, or much like the people.com article, buried in “no mans land” at the back near the obituaries. No one saw it, so in reality, it didn’t exist.

The court had provided for one, of three penalties, as retribution for my crime: there was the option of entering a residential alcohol rehab program for six months followed by five
years of supervised probation; another option included 120 days in the county jail with five years of supervised probation; and, finally, there was the maximum penalty of up to one year in jail with no probation. I chose the latter, the maximum penalty, and frankly it was an easy decision.  (And if you doubt the wisdom of my decision, ask Lindsay Lohan how it feels to continually have the court system in your life, making it impossible to simply own a mistake, correct it, pay for it, and move on.) I required no special consideration from the State of California.

To the dismay of the authorities and my attorney, I had also documented that fact. Prior to my trial, and on my own volition, I had presented to the Hazelden Clinic in Newberg, Oregon, the authorities in the field of addiction diseases, particularly as it relates to
physicians. After three days of evaluation by the “experts”-the title given the
people at Hazelden by the Medical Board of California, not me- including
psychological evaluation, psychiatric evaluation, evaluations by social workers
and recovering alcoholics, along with psychological and mental health tests,
extensive blood and hair analysis, and interviews with family, friends, and
colleagues, the conclusion was that I did not fit the criteria for alcohol
dependency or alcoholism. I knew that from the start. Why they needed $5000 to
tell me that was absurd.

I was unceremoniously discharged from Hazelden which demonstrated, at least to me, that a six month residential alcohol facility really made no sense going forward. The California authorities however ignored their own experts. And make no doubt about it, I am talking about the Medical Board of California. They were more interested in breaking me than justice. I had already presented to a facility and they had set me free. My attorney, as does pretty much everyone familiar with the criminal justice system, however, saw “a program” as an easy out.  I was not looking for an easy way out. I was looking for the truth. I take responsibility for me and the results I get. (I include my attorney in that group because despite the fact that he represented me, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that somewhere, deep inside of him, was a cynicism that interfered with his acceptance of any of the facts-at least as they related to my point of view.)

The real deal killer for me though was the notion of five years of supervised probation. I was not about to surrender my moral authority to anyone, and I was not about to allow the state of California to impose itself on my life with a set of arbitrary rules
administered by a group of mean-spirited idiots masquerading as administrators.
I did however, as a matter of procedure, interview with a probation officer, and she was exactly the type of person I have tried to avoid my entire life.  To call her a human being is to insult all other human beings because she lacked the one trait required to classify as human: volitional consciousness, the ability to think and choose, our basic tool of survival.

The woman with whom I interviewed had none of those traits; nor did she demonstrate any intention whatsoever of ever of having an independent thought.
She began our conversation by being condescending- a trait I’m sure she
acquired by bullying people not in a position to defend themselves. She also
wasn’t engaged in a conversation, because a conversation is reciprocal and she
made no effort to hear me. Her responses made no reference to what I had just
said to her. It’s as if she could have conducted the interview without my
having been there. She also insisted that probation, and the requirement to
show up three times a week, “had to take precedence over family, job, or career”.  I assured her that I understood the importance of the commitment, but my question was why?  Why must probation take precedence over participating in my career, getting to work, or feeding my family?  Those are the things that give a man purpose.
Her answer was simply “because that’s how we do it.”  I interpreted that to mean that she did not have an answer, and only an idiot would subject themselves willingly to a
system based solely on the whim of a stranger.

She also advised me that the privilege of probation meant agreeing to pay the monthly fees that the system accrued in administering the privilege, in other words, contributing to her salary. I assured her that I also understood that requirement-I actually had no objection
to it-but  I was also a bit confused as to how a parolee, or someone on probation, was to come up with that fee, if his or her commitment to probation, precluded his or her ability to maintain a job.  Exactly where and more importantly how, was one supposed to meet that financial commitment if they weren’t working because they “had to meet with her two or three times a week, or worse yet, whenever she deemed it necessary”?

Her answer again, was no answer at all. It was not her problem. It seemed to me that she was suggesting that the way to make probation work was to resort to a life of crime. I was amazed listening to her make idiotic, conflicting suggestions under the guise of
authority. Where was the rationality in that?

My time with her did however shine a tremendous light on the notion of recidivism and served partly to explain why the same people keep returning to jail. The system, it seemed to me, wanted to keep people in the system to justify their, or rather its, existence. Their requirements weren’t designed solely as punishment or rehabilitation; they were designed to keep you in the system. It was job security. I could see no logic, no reasoning, and no choice in anything she had to offer and so the decision was obvious.  The maximum penalty was the only logical decision. It was the only way to bring finality to a situation which was designed to enslave the individual forever. The justice system is big business
at its finest.

Senate Business and Professions Committee: The Power Behind the Slander

My full time return to West LA was wonderful. I had been recruited by Payam Afsharian, who had purchased Brentwood Surgery Center and was looking for clients to use the facility. I was able to bring my own surgical staff, including an anesthesiologist and scrub
tech, but more importantly, I also got Payam and his staff.

Payam was an excellent administrator who paid attention to detail. He was diligent in his paper work. He was kind and accommodating to patients, and was just a pleasure to be
around. I always joked with him that he had an immigrant mentality, he paid attention to notices that most Americans ignore.

It was the best situation I could have possibly hoped for and I was grateful for the opportunity. My practice had become more body contour work and we had perfected the “mommy makeover”, which included a breast lift with augmentation, a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) and liposuction. We were getting especially good results in our heavier patients by extending the abdominoplasty circumferentially to include a belt lipectomy.

The holidays were rapidly approaching and our volume had picked up. We were scheduling more surgery and I was happy to see Payam beginning to reap a return on his investment.

Then Donda West died. The rug was pulled from under all of us. The press became mean, and the Department of Health Services, the Medical Board of California, and the Los Angeles District Attorney joined in the fray. I especially felt bad for Payam. He had done
absolutely nothing wrong and these regulators were engaging in acts of intimidation. They would send in investigators who would walk around the center, doing nothing in particular but looking. They’d ask for paperwork they already had. No amount of logic could explain this predicament, our predicament. I had done nothing wrong and Brentwood Surgery Center certainly hadn’t. I really had a hard time understanding where it was all coming from. The Medical Board of California had the facts, yet they continued to engage in
intimidation by requesting meetings and reviewing material they had already
gone over. It basically came down to harassment. It never went to court!

In one instance, Tom Byrne, my attorney and a guy always looking for resolution rather than a fight, stopped the proceedings. His excuse was that he had “remembered a meeting that he needed to attend and that the interrogation with the Medical Board and its representative, Robin Hollis, was taking longer than he had anticipated”. When we got outside he informed me that he ‘was sorry” and ‘needed to get me out of there”.

I asked him, “Why?”

“These people aren’t trying to resolve this” he said, “I didn’t know it until now, but Hollis was fishing.” He shook his head in disgust. “What a group of jerks.”

I just shrugged. I had known that all along. I had pointed it out to him earlier that there was no need for Hollis to come by Brentwood Surgery Center unannounced; there was no reason for Health Services to send inspectors there trying to intimidate the staff. That
was all part of institutionalized thuggery.

Tom now understood why his advice to remain quiet and not to engage these people or the press was eating me up inside. They were all using this ladies death for their own gain. It was sickening to see this in a government agency. I didn’t want to believe that that was happening in America. I understood the press, but not the Medical Board. I didn’t
understand why all the pressure was coming from them (they had all the records), and even more troubling, I never understood Rick’s (Payam’s partner) statements that even “people in Washington wanted our licences”. What people in Washington? Who in Washington gave a “shit” about us, or Donda West? That was naïve. People care about everything that gives them some kind of advantage.

Ultimately we were all cleared but not before the system and its mercenaries had exacted their toll, their pound of flesh. I was exhausted. I had not hurt anybody. I didn’t deserve to be where I was. My enemies deserved no such advantage. I was at my wits end. Brentwood did not deserve to be run out of business. None of this made sense.

At the request of my mother, I went to Oakland to rest. Itwas a smart move because I was starting to get angry and identify those who were passing on lies. It was March, 2008. I was tired, and needed to re-group and plan my future. By three months in I was lost. I had failed to revise any goals and for the first time in my life I was without a plan. I trusted no one and unfortunately had become too comfortable being alone.

On June 26, 2008 I left my mother’s home heading to Walnut Creek, California. It was about 1:30 pm and I was on my way to Kaiser Permanente Hospital to volunteer. I had no idea of what it entailed but I needed to be doing something. I needed to get back in the
game of life and I needed to do it now. As I wandered the halls looking for the Volunteer’s Office, I felt a great deal of sadness. I did speak with the administrator though I never really registered her name. Sitting across from her, listening to her questions, all I
could think of was what am I doing here? I don’t belong here. This is not my life.

I left in a daze and headed back to the car, my mother’s car. As I headed for the freeway, I became more distraught; this was not going to happen to me. I needed time to think, to
plan. I decided on lunch, a late lunch and went into a Middle Eastern restaurant on the main street. The food was great and I sat just staring out the window as people passed by. Following lunch I decided to take a walk. I was having trouble with my ankle, and needed surgery for subluxation of the joint. It hurt often but this time it was particularly bad. I went back to the car and began the drive home.

I decided on ice cream and stopped in Montclaire to by a cone. I could barely walk up the hill. Why was this all happening? Why me?

I continued on to my mother’s house but then the walls began to close in on me. The cycle of depression, sadness, and doubt had become complicated by physical pain. I felt miserable and I entertained only miserable thoughts. I hated life and I hated myself. I
didn’t deserve this. I was too tired to lash out at anyone, but I was beginning to note who they were. I didn’t care anymore. I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to be left alone.

It was a sunny day. I had to get out of the house. I decided to drive back to Walnut Creek where it was flat, and I could walk or sit in a café. Being outside would be good, and rather than feeling sorry for myself, I could spend time coming up with a plan. I didn’t.

I made the decision to enter the restaurant, 1515. I decided to do some “thinkin’ drinkin’” and by five o’clock the bar area of the restaurant was full.  A number of patrons recognized me as “the guy on TV” and soon my fate was cast. I drank and talked with the people I met and it felt good to connect to other human beings. Later that evening I was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

But it is true, there are no coincidences. Things happen for a reason. And the reason for this, amongst other things, was to expose, from where, all the meanness out of Sacramento and the Medical Board of California was coming:

On Saturday, July 5, 2008, an article entitled “Troubled Drug Program for Doctors Shuts Down” appeared in the Scramento Bee. The article, bylined by Aurelio Rojas, was written after an interview with then State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas. In the article Rojas states that “a Los Angeles Coroner’s Office probe did not fault surgical errors
for (Donda) West’s death, but State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas said the case underscores why California needs an effective program to monitor doctors with
drug and alcohol problems. Turns out, Ridley-Thomas was grandstanding, and
because of the publicity surrounding the case was defaming a physician with the
help of the Medical Board of California, with false and inaccurate information. That allegation was put to rest before. I now knew the culprit behind it all. He had become arrogant enough to show himself.

Ridley-Thomas was on the Senate Business and Professions Committee which oversees the Medical Board. Being a black politician from Los Angeles it is not a stretch to tie him to the West family, and those officials in Washington, like a congressman or woman, who could exercise some authority (that is what Rick was talking about). There was no need to associate my name with that failed program. It was pure meanness on his part. I called him on it and he refused to answer my calls. He hid, and that was confirmation of his treachery.

I also called Aurelio Rojas and his boss, Scott Labar, at the Sacramento Bee, to offer corrections to the story and document that what the Senator was saying was not accurate. Despite my production of documents to the contrary (and I sent them all the documents), Mr. Rojas and his boss refused to follow-up on the story. Mr Rojas stated that “those were direct quotes from Ridley-Thomas and not his words” .

I also forwarded a letter to a Mr. Bill Gage, the attorney for the Senate Business and Professions Committee, on January 22, 2009. He in turn had another lawyer call me who represented members of the legislature in personal matters, who assured me that Ridley-Thomas’ information was indeed coming from the Medical Board, itself. His job was to protect Ridley-Thomas. The lies had made a complete circle with no one taking responsibility for them, and no one concerned about getting it right.

For me, that spoke volumes about the legislature and the people who work there.

       

Television and No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

We were unable at USA Studios to come up with a project that satisfied the executives (and I soon learned that a lot of ideas, and a lot of shows, never make it to air). I was therefore free of that commitment and interviewed for the job on NBC, a show that was to be known
as “The Other Half.” It starred Dick Clark, Danny Bonaduce, myself, and Mario
Lopez. I learned a lot about television from Dick Clark. “The most important thing to understand”, he said  “is that when you’re talking to that camera, you’re really only talking to one person. So relax and have a conversation with them.”

That was key and a wonderful insight. It gave me a comfort level that helped me to
relax and made me a more effective host.

I lasted only one season though. The concept didn’t seem to fly. People loved when we would simply discuss issues that concerned them, but the producers were determined to put us in positions that they believed our audience would find funny, things like wearing
tutus, or bikini waxing. They didn’t.

Also, as the skits got sillier and sillier, I began to feel out of place. The executive producer, Susan Winston, came to me and said, “Jan, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Of course.” I said.

“Well,” she continued, “I need you not to know the answer. Some of the affiliates think you talk down to the other guys and I just need you to not know the answers sometimes.”

I was shocked. “How could I not know the answer?” I asked. “You’ve got Bonaduce at the other end of the podium screaming, ‘you’re Dr. Jan, a Harvard-educated plastic surgeon.’ How can I look stupid under those circumstances? Besides, I’m not talking down to them. We’re all playing roles here. I’m supposedly the sensible, sophisticated
professional.”

In actuality, it turned out that “the affiliates” – those who owned and operated the individual stations – were uncomfortable with the black guy being the reasonable one. Psychologically, that was devastating for me. I thought we had clearly evolved past that, but I guess we hadn’t. That caught me off guard, especially coming from Sue Winston. I was in love with her. She was smart, pretty, and very knowledgable about TV. I like her
immediately also.

Nevertheless, going full circle, I was now available to do “Plastic Surgery: Before and After” on Discovery Health Channel. That, however, presented another problem that I had not anticipated. The problem was jealousy amongst other plastic surgeons.

If you called me and said, “I have this or that symptom, what should I do?” it would be very easy for me to address. However, I’m not sure how you deal with other people’s jealousy. If you treat them well, they say you’re condescending. If you avoid them, they say
you’re stuck up.

“Plastic Surgery: Before and After” really made me a target. Every plastic surgeon who thought it should be him, or her, rather than me on TV explaining plastic surgery procedures, essentially saw me as the target. There were the occasional interactions where people were happy that someone had put plastic surgery in such an honorable and academic light, but those people were the silent majority. Many plastic surgeons across America (but especially in Los Angeles), the vocal few, would call the offices and offer to debate me on issues concerning plastic surgery. The problem was we weren’t looking for a
debate. We just wanted to offer good sound advice outside the realm of controversy. Unfortunately for me, stardom was creating enemies I didn’t even know I had. And even more frightening was that they were not remote. They were right outside my window.

Incidentally, it’s important to note that all of this took place before the issues of DUI’s, divorce, malpractice suits or the Medical Board of California. In fact, in terms of malpractice suits and the Medical Board of California I would argue that TV was in fact the cause, because it had not happened, none of my patients in the years leading up to “my
celebrity” had ever even complained. In fact, my malpractice carrier was surprised that I had gone as many years as I had without a complaint.

I mention this because it’s very important to put a time frame on what Harvey Levin was saying on Larry King Live. The lesson is not in discussing the confidential information regarding my patient. The lesson is in looking at the behavior of those people outside that
relationship after her death. In his interview Harvey Levin opined, “But,
Larry, What’s interesting about this is that he was on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
almost as the go to plastic surgeon. He was on the Discovery Channel. He was on
NBC on a show they had there. And no one-none of this, none of this surfaced.
And, clearly, you know, had they known, this would have raised a red flag in
terms of putting him on the show because it’s almost like a Good Housekeeping
stamp of approval.” Sounds to me like Harvy is jealous, or heaven forbid,
racist.

I’m concerned for Harvey because once again he demonstrates his laziness, or his stupidity. None of this showed up at that time because none of it had happened at that time. My casting for these shows took place in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The acquittal of the DUI, and the conviction for a BAL greater than .08 took place in 2006. By the way,
“Plastic Surgery: Before and After” had been cancelled already. Its five years
were up. Oprah could not have considered it because it hadn’t happened.

And certainly for completion’s sake take a look at all these so-called malpractice suits. You’ll see they coincide with my decision to try and help those people who otherwise would not be able to afford plastic surgery. You see, the guy on TV, the go-to guy, makes
an easy target.

I was proud of “Plastic Surgery: Before and After”, at least until the tragic death of Donda West. It was at that time that the public relations people at Discovery Networks called (for
the first time in six years) and asked that I don’t mention them should I go on
Larry King Live. They were distancing themselves from me before they had even
heard my side of the story.

And yet, one of our major sponsors of the show was the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. They paid to advertise the services of their members to the general public on our show (one I was now starring in and producing) because it offered an advantage for them: a well-done, informative show demonstrating the medical problems that plastic surgery could solve. Not once, in five years of programming, had anyone from their organization challenged any of the information I shared. They all wanted to be on the show, but they could not find fault with us (or me) and surely most of
their members tried.

In terms of private practice, John Williams’ predictions had been correct. People were more demanding, less inclined to be happy with results, and just meaner. I grew increasingly unhappy.

I searched for other alternatives including reducing the amount of time that I spent in the office doing plastic surgery. Every day got to be too much. At a certain level, I was beginning not to like the patients. That was more devastating than any other factor. I needed these people. I wanted to help them. It was important for me to help them in
order to feel good about myself.

That weighed heavily in my decision to work in Fountain Valley, California at Euclid Surgery Center. With my TV career taking off, less administrative time running an office looked very attractive. I still needed to practice medincine, for that was my platform, but
the freedom to explore other alternatives was very enticing. My job would only be to do surgery. I would come in, evaluate a patient, discuss procedures with them, schedule them for surgery, do the surgery, and then do the follow-up.  The staff at Euclid would do all the
administrative work including scheduling appointments, the paperwork, collect the money, and act as a liaison between the doctor and the patient.

This worked wonderfully, but soon we became victims of our own success. There were more patients than time could accommodate. The patients, even though they were getting cut rates to do premium surgery, were becoming more impatient and more demanding. There were constant threats of malpractice suits because patients had to wait an hour or two to be seen. Things like infections became malpractice rather than an unfortunate
mishap. Hypertrophic scarring, which is known in women of color, became something the doctor did rather than a known complication of healing in people of color.

It did, however, inspire us to take a critical look at what we were doing. I reviewed 530 cases that we had done from July 2006 to June 2007. In that time period, there had been four infections. The national average for infections is 3%, which meant that statistically
we should have at least 16. We had experienced only four, which was a fourth of that. Yet all four of these people were threatening malpractice suits. For me, that was more than enough. If I was going to have to deal with people who were angry, and wanted to see themselves as victims, then I would return to my old fee scale. I was not going out of my way to perform these procedures on people who otherwise might not be able to afford them, and then be wrongfully threatened each day (hence, Harvey Levin’s “malpractice suit after malpractice suit” comments.) With that, I returned to Brentwood and solo practice.

From Beverly Hills To Television

The business of medicine was changing. The government and private enterprise were determined to slow the rate of growth of the health care dollar spent as a percentage of the gross national product. My financial life wasn’t going to get any better if I
continued in my present situation. The pie was getting smaller. I needed to do
something different. I knew that in order to be successful, I had to end my
relationship with Dr. Hicks.

Also, Dr. Williams was considering retirement, and the time seemed right to go out on my own. I looked for an office in Beverly Hills, and found a realtor who I liked and respected. Scott Schwartz, who had also attended Harvard, was willing to make the necessary
changes in the physical structure to accommodate my needs; a waiting room with
a receptionist’s area behind a counter, a personal office with a bathroom and
changing area, a small operating room with storage space, and two exam rooms,
one of which doubled as a procedure room.

I had managed to convince my banker to loan me $6000 to get started. It surely wasn’t enough but it would have to do. Besides I loved the location: 450 Bedford Drive, Suite 110, Beverly Hills, California 90210. It was so civilized and I appreciated just being able
to take a walk around the “Golden Triangle” at lunchtime. It felt good and I
felt I had found the place that would serve me the remainder of my career.

Precisely one month after I had moved to Beverly Hills, I received a summons from Dr. Hicks’ attorney suing me for a third of his overhead over the 12 months that I had covered for him. I had given him 50% of whatever money I had taken in; I didn’t have an office in
his facility; I did have an office at Aesthetica; and here he was suing me. We
had no agreement, I accepted that. But it also meant I had had no agreement to
pay him for overhead in an office I did not have. I couldn’t understand his
motivation. I have never understood meanness simply for meanness sake. We had
tried a relationship that didn’t work, why not accept it and move on? What was
his motivation to want to hurt his nephew? In my conversations with his wife
who by now had passed away, she always suggested jealousy. I, for the life of
me, couldn’t come up with a reason for him to be jealous. He was years ahead of
me in the development of his practice and as far as I was concerned I was not
in any competition with him. But who knows what misery lurks in the hearts of men?

I focused on my move to Beverly Hills. It was exciting in spite of all that was going on around me. I kept looking forward toward the future. Yes, medicine was changing, things were getting harder, but I continued to believe that they would get better as long
as I persevered and did the right thing. Besides, according to the calculations
of International Medical Financials, I had accumulated accounts receivables of
approximately $387,000 over that year and a half.  Surely money would start to come in soon.Unfortunately, also by their calculations in that period; I had received only about $80,000 in payment of which $40,000 went to Dr. Hicks. Money wasn’t coming in soon enough.

Improvement in my circumstances started with a call from a woman who was a segment producer for a TV show. As part of my advertising, I was lecturing to various women’s groups in the community. This lady, Sharon Nash, had heard me give a talk on plastic surgery, and was working on a variety show where they needed a plastic surgeon to talk
about wrinkles. I liked her immediately. “Dr. Jan,” she said, “this is Sharon
Nash. I’m doing a TV show and we need a plastic surgeon to talk about wrinkles.
I was wondering if you would do that.”

I thought for a second and then quickly told her, “No”.  There was silence at the other end. For her I imagine this was unbelievable. Who wouldn’t want to be on TV? We exchanged niceties. I hung up and went back to my day.

The next day I got a call from her and this time she made her pitch.
“Look,” she said, “I’m the only black girl working on this show. We’ve
got a big problem finding a plastic surgeon to talk about wrinkles. If you do it,
it will help me, and hopefully it’ll bring you some customers.”

And so I accepted.

Two days later, I drove to the studios at Universal. I was amazed at all the security, but I was fascinated by all the activity going on. It was a variety show starring Jake Steinfeld of “Body by Jake” fame. I didn’t get to meet Jake until we were on stage, but it was
clear that I was not what he was expecting. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said,
“Let me introduce a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, Dr. Jan Adams.” I walked out
on the stage and Jake stumbled back. He wasn’t expecting a 6’3” tall black guy
with a shaved head. Jake and I exchanged hellos.  I talked about wrinkling from an anatomical standpoint and specific treatments.

I was also amazed at how they were going about shooting the show. It was a half-hour presentation and they were shooting the entire season in a week. That certainly made sense, but as purely a viewer, I had never thought of it that way. I guess I believed they
were all being shot the day I watched them. They are not.

After the show, the producer, Darlene Hayes, approached me, “You’re funny.”

I apologized for anything that I’d done that was wrong.

“Oh, no,” she said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. I sit behind the audiences when we are taping and the women in the audience loved you. You might consider doing this.”

“Doing what?” I thought momentarily and quickly declined. “I don’t think so.” But TV
people can be very persistent, and after about a week I received a call from Ms. Hayes. “Dr. Jan,” she said, “I want you to do a demo tape.”

“OK,” I said. That was part of my conscious effort to accentuate the positive; I didn’t even know what a demo tape was, “What’s a demo tape?” I asked.

“A demo tape is where you stand in front of a camera and you talk about yourself for about five minutes. We just want to get some idea of how you look, your comfort level, and how much the camera likes you.” (I never have gotten to a point of where I fully
understand what that means, “the camera liking someone, but I agreed anyway.)

“Five minutes,” I said. “I could talk about myself forever.”

She chuckled and offered that I didn’t need to do it forever. Five minutes would be more than enough. We arranged the time and place of the taping and I did the demo tape. It consisted of standing in what could only be described as a warehouse and talking at a guy
holding a camera.

According to the cameraman, I apparently was a natural. It seems that it’s generally very difficult for people to stand in front of a camera and talk about themselves without
stuttering or falling over the words. The only people who had done as well as he had seen me do it were radio people. They have been trained to avoid dead air. You can’t see someone on the radio, and so they have to be talking all the time. At any rate, that demo tape made it to USA Studios and I found myself, along with Darlene Hayes and Sharon Nash, in a meeting with one of the producers “pitching” a talk show. Apparently the executives at USA lovedthe tape and signed me to a development deal. They wrote a large check and I hadn’t even done anything yet. This was absolutely fantastic.

Simultaneously, Thom Beeres, of Original Productions, was interested in producing a show for Discovery Networks. He and I met at the Newsroom Café on Robertson in Beverly Hills to discuss the content of the show. What Thom had in mind was to tell stories about people and the changes they were making using preoperative and postoperative photos of them as the payoff. It was a great idea on Tom’s part.  Plastic surgery lent itself exactly to a visual presentation. I’d even shared with him that “when people come to the
office, the one thing they all want to do is look at before and after pictures.” Even those people who were impatient, and in a hurry to get in and out, seemed to find the time to browse when it came to those booklets of photos. “Plastic Surgery: Before and Afte” was born.

Also, NBC Studios was looking for talent to star in a show which would be the male version of “The View.” An agent at Wm Morris, who was friends with the producers at USA, saw the demo tape and thought I’d be perfect for the project. When it rains, it pours and
frankly, I was hot. Opportunities were coming in faster than I could process
them, and I loved it.

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