Monday, October 5, 2009

The Fugitive


I read about a program the State of New Jersey was enacting that would give fugitives a second chance to turn themselves in.

Over a four-day period, a surrender site would be open where people could just show up and give up. A judge would be on hand to hear their stories and then dispense a sentence.

The State was expecting about 6,000 people to walk in to this location and ask for forgiveness.

I was thinking that if this actually worked, we wouldn't need cops anymore. We could probably even scale back the whole justice system. We could have our own self-service criminal justice system.

Just think of the money we could save. Commit a crime and then when you're ready and if you're available on the pre-set surrender date, come on down and hang out with all the other criminals that knew they were guilty. It'd be like a convention, a chance to meet and greet fellow colleagues from the industry.

The State would just need some clever advertisements telling everyone what dates they should mark on their calendars for the big dance. The department stores could get in on the action with Back to Prison Day sales (although I would think all sales would be final), there could be contests where the first 100 people who show up get a prize - like a lighter sentence. Maybe even a 10K road race to add to the festivity.

I was so intrigued by the openness of such an event, I decided to go down an check it out for myself.

I thought it was kind of funny that the surrender site was actually in a church. But considering it was the largest place around besides the town's athletic stadium, which was already booked for some school events, it seemed appropriate for the type of repentance that was supposed to occur.

I thought I got there early enough but the line to get in was already around the block. It's just like it was in the old days when you had to stand on line for concert tickets. I was not an early riser and I didn't like sleeping outdoors, so I never really got the good seats.

As I stood there, I started to wonder if I was on the wrong line. Just like me to waste an hour only to find out I was waiting for a soup kitchen to open or for some free dental check ups from the local dentistry school.

"Excuse me," I said to the rather large gentlemen with the tattoos on his arm, "is this the line for the surrender center?"

"Is this the line? What the fuck do you think it is?" he said quite brusquely and then turned back around. I was going to let that attitude slide for now.

I felt a little better when people started filling in behind me. At least I wasn't going to be last.

"So, what are you turning yourself in for?" I asked the guy behind me trying to make small talk. He was a little less intimidating, probably because he was 6 inches shorter than me.

"Gun possession."

I nodded. "Did you bring it with you today?"

"Did I bring it today?" he said, "what the fuck do you think I am? I'm not packing today, shit."

The guy shook his head a lot. I realized the people on the line used a lot of swears and liked to repeat the questions I asked. I guess it was sort of a fugitive type lingo. I was new at this and I needed to pick it up quick.

"What the fuck you here for?" the guy asked me.

"What the fuck am I here for?" I said.

"Don't fuck with me I asked you question. You fucking with me?"

I shook my head and then said, "Evasion."

"Evasion? What the fuck is that?"

"I didn't pay taxes ... actually, I didn't pay some taxes. I left some information off my 1040."

"You here because of some clerical error on a form, huh? You didn't fill something out right and you fucked everyone over?"

The guy was getting hyped up over this. I was starting to believe it was pretty cool crime from the way he was playing it up.

"You're a crazy mother fucker," he went on. "That shit is federal. That is big shit to mess with."

"That's right," I said. "That's why I came all the fuckin' way down here. I'm doing the right thing, man. Can't live myself anymore."

"True dat," he said. "That's why I came down here. Can't live with anyone anymore."

"Who the fuck can't you live with?" I asked, getting into the groove of the whole fuck thing.

"My bitch. She's driving me crazy. I needs to go away for a while. Three square meals, a little exercise. Do me good."

"Yeah? They're gonna feed us here?"

"Not here. In the blocks, man."

Yes, there was still that hurdle I needed to overcome to get into the big house. I needed to be convicted of my crimes.

It took about an hour until we finally got through the doors. We were asked our names at a front desk and then told to sit in the pews, which were filling up fast.

A guy on a PA was calling out names. Someone would rise from his seat and then walk up towards the altar. There was another desk set up there with three people filling out paperwork and looking up stuff on a computer.

Nobody was really talking to each other. I guess most people didn't know one another. People mostly kept to themselves and slept.

A couple more hours went by and I was getting hungry. I looked towards the back and still saw people filing in. I figured I could slip out the door, grab a sandwich and then come back in on the line. What's the crime in doing that?

"Hey, where you going?" The nazi-looking officer asked me as I neared the door.

"Gettin' a sandwich."

"Outside? Hah! Sit down. Once you're in here, you're not leaving until we let you."

Holy shit! What did I get myself into? What happened to being innocent until proven guilty? Well, I guess that went out the door by showing up here.

I sat back down in my pew and looked at my watch. Half the day was shot. This was not as efficient as I imagined it would be. Even with a self-service model, these government agencies add their own dose of bureaucracy to it.

I wanted to lean over and take a nap, but I have a thing about putting my face in the place where some stranger's butt has been. I chuckled to myself over that one. In prison, would I be getting a brand new bed? I didn't think so. How do they find open cells for all the new fish showing up? Do they work it out so those on death row leave just in time for the new arrivals? Or do they actually double people up in a cell? That would be awful. I hated sharing my dorm room in college. And I hate when people touch my stuff. When you double up you're just inviting that kind of snooping.

Just then, my name was called. I walked down the aisle up to the altar. There was something eerie about that.

I approached the desk with the three men, their logbooks and computer.

"Name"

I gave one of the gentlemen my name.

"Soash."

I gave him my social security number.

"Address."

I gave that, too.

"You're not in here. You have no warrants."

"What? That's impossible. Why do I have to be in there to give myself up?"

"What was the alleged crime?"

"Evasion. Uh, tax evasion."

They looked at each other. Shook their heads.

"Are you wasting our time?" one of them asked.

"No, I wanted to surrender."

"We're not the IRS."

"But a crime is a crime. I want to clear my name."

"Not here," the man said and pointed to the back door. "Take this." He handed me a slip of paper.

Dejected, I walked off the altar and up the aisle.

"What the fuck is up with you, mopey?"

It was my old friend who stood behind me on the line.

"They said they got nothing on me. They're sending me home."

"They're sending you fucking home? Shit, for me that would be the worst news I heard. I ain't goin' home."

I nodded my head and said good luck to the man. As I walked away, he called out. "Don't feel so bad, fuckhead. I read only 1 - 3% of the people who surrender actually get sentenced."

"Thanks," I said. I knew he was trying to cheer me up, but as I thought of those staggering statistics I only became sadder. At best only 180 out of 6,000 people would be sent away. That's no way to run a criminal justice system, I thought.

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