There are a lot of myths – in and out of prison – about the ubiquitous ‘jailhouse’ or ‘prison’ lawyer. Those inmates that really do have all the time in the world to dedicate to a case and think outside the box. The ‘box’ here being reality.
Lawyers in prison are exceeded in number only by Navy SEALs – a troubling statistical anomaly hopefully attributable to the fact it’s nearly impossible to run a background check on someone while imprisoned. Once or twice the subsets cross over and the inmate with a decent commissary account can hire a genuine SEAL attorney.
Jailhouse lawyers, particularly in the Federal system, ply their trade in the law library ten hours a day. Men self-taught in the mechanics of the law with exactly the same chance of concisely stating a case as the proverbial infinite number of chimps sitting at an infinite number of typewriters have of producing Hamlet and Moby Dick on the same day.
TV and movie portrayals to the contrary, jailhouse lawyers are remarkably ineffective in all but one regard: they systematically, relentlessly, quite successfully, jam the courts with all manner of drivel.
Case in point, FMC Devens, an inmate named Thornton and a jailhouse lawyer I’ll call Haffenreffer (for now). Thornton was in for trading in child porn, CDs, the works, his private sting on behalf of the FBI having gone spectacularly wrong (in his version).
His very public arrest and subsequent publicity throughout the greater Albany area resulted in the termination of his country club membership. He wanted back in, was scarily unconcerned that he would be shunned, asked me to whip up a nice, quick, lawsuit.
I refused, he turned to Haffenreffer, a former Master of the Universe who added law school to his CV on the bus to federal prison. Haffenreffer promised winning results. By this I mean he guaranteed wins. Said guarantees probably had something to do with the fact he was on a country-wide tour of federal prisons to keep him safe.
The tome Haffenreffer produced began with a brief review of the Magna Carta and an analysis of its influence on English Common Law, the Declaration of Independence and on and on and on.
It had to be 100 pages, single spaced but interspersed with ALL CAPS and BOLDFACE where appropriate.
It had, of course, no chance. What it did do, however, was help clog the courts. Jam up the works along with the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other ridiculous, filed-for-the-fiftieth-time-because-the-last-no-was-better-than-the-previous-no response. Briefs, motions, complaints, requests for injunctions, stuff in Latin long forgotten in regular practice but resurrected by prison lawyers.
I was reminded of all this while writing the proposal for my prison narrative. Haffenreffer was in my notes, and the publishing industry more than resembles the state of the courts. Just saying.