Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

The phone call

“Are you doing okay?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

I should have said yes. I should have been strong and said yes. Instead I said no and he ended up convincing me that things would be alright, that he was alright, that he felt calm, no matter what the outcome.

I had just finished making a Vietnamese beef stew. It was sitting beside me as I spoke to him. I didn’t touch it.

“It’s so good to hear your voice,” I told him. He laughed gently.

I thought he would have some contact time with his family but I later read that the only time they are allowed to see him is after he has died, in the funeral home. They are allowed to go and touch his body while it is still warm.

He asked what I had been doing that evening. I told him I’d been watching RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars. We laughed about the whole drag queen scene. He said he once dressed up as a woman to go to a Halloween party when he was about 20. A man had grabbed his bum at the party, thinking he was actually a woman, and he had been horrified. He’d never dressed up as a woman ever again.

The truth is, I’ve never entertained the idea of grieving for Vaughn because I didn’t want it to tear me apart. When I first met Vaughn, about five years ago, I had also met another man on death row, Ruben. Meeting them both devastated me. I couldn’t believe the situation these men faced every day. It was one of those things I couldn’t ignore.

I came back completely different. I intentionally fell out of contact with some friends. I applied to law school. And I resolved to do something about the situation. I read everything I could lay my hands on about the death penalty in America. My mind was totally absorbed.

For about two months after returning, my mind was in a completely different world. A world of unfairness, of bad lawyers and bad trials, of men from poor backgrounds who were killed and faded from the world without a trace. A world of brutal murders and serial killers. Of guilt and of innocence.

And I felt hopeless. I felt crushed and hopeless. My every waking thoughts were of the men I had met and my struggle to understand that they would be dead one day soon.

It was hard. It was really hard.

I suddenly realised I was facing a beast bigger than myself and if it wanted to take these men from me, it could. It just could. I could fight and I could kick and I could scream. And still, it would take them.

That’s a horrible thing to realise. We are lead to believe that we can affect positive change if we speak up. If we use our voices to enable those less fortunate than ourselves, then we can help them.

Realising that the intention to kill carried the might of the state and that my ability to beat it was minuscule was a hard thing to take on board.

I felt sad. I just felt overwhelmed and sad.

Yes, I enrolled in law school and yes, I sold my soul to the bank for a loan for the fees and yes, I studied the most boring land statutes with gusto but my intention could only ever be to help in a very small way. To someone who has always thought big, this was hard.

Then, a few months ago, I got a letter from Vaughn about his execution date. I was worried for him and I was worried for me. I was worried about coming back from visiting him and being crushed. I worried that my hope and faith in the world would be lost.

And so I determined not to be destroyed by it. I determined to go and see him and have a nice time and hopefully cheer him up in his last few weeks of life but not to return a broken woman.

I couldn’t. I just couldn’t let myself be destroyed. It wasn’t an option. Things are nice in my life right now. I mustn’t let this draw me away into a shell and re-realise the devastating truth that a man had been killed and I couldn’t do anything to help him or to stop it.

And so I came home from Texas and I was fine. I barely mentioned that I’d been away or where to or why unless it came up in conversation and I was asked specifically why I went. I managed to keep my thoughts and feelings in a box and keep it shut.

Every so often, waves of panic washed over me when I thought of the approaching date. I waited til they subsided then went on as normal.

And then July 18th came. What a horrible horrible night.

After we spoke for a while on the phone, there was a beeping on the line and mid-conversation, he said, “It’s call waiting. I’ve got to go.”

And I said, stupidly, like a rabbit in the headlights, “O! Ok, bye! I… I wish this wasn’t happening.” And he hung up.

And that was how I said goodbye to him.

At 00:46 that evening, I read that he was dead. I gasped. I knew it was coming but I felt someone had ripped a body part off. Torn my throat out or punched me in the stomach or something. Unexpectedly, there were tears. I thought I’d be too shocked to be upset.

I went upstairs and lay down and stared at the ceiling. I had an early start the next day and I hadn’t the time to sit up and understand it all.

I just knew that I mustn’t be ruined by it. I mustn’t let it overwhelm me. I mustn’t shut down and shut people out.

So I continued on. I kept a level head and I worked and read books about other things.

And I forgot.

I forgot about Vaughn. And about his death. And about the time I spent with him.

And I didn’t feel anything. That scared me. The fact that I didn’t have any emotional response to the situation anymore.

I remember calling Vaughn back after about an hour. I wanted to talk to him again and I was suddenly frantic about what was about to happen.

The lady on the other end said the line was busy.

I called back twenty minutes later and she said that he had made a choice to take no more phone calls.

In his last words, he said “Miriam, I love you,” and I thought, “Who’s Miriam?”

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Thoughts

I’m having one of those I-can’t-think-what-to-write-about days. Well, actually, I should qualify that statement. I’m having a bit of a lazy morning where I’ve spent an hour or two reading other blogs and listening to an audiobook so now my brain is in too many different places to think of something to write about. So I shall just list the thoughts that are in my mind right now.

– Will I ever become a world famous piano player? Or will I forever be stuck on the line, “And you come to me on a summer breeze” from How Deep Is Your Love? And are ten fingers enough to play this piece of music? At the moment, I need about twelve to be able to play it properly.

– Chocolate and cherry mousse cake is fabulous. And making a genoise sponge for the first time went ok. As did making custard from scratch…

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– Beouf bourginon is not actually that difficult to make. It is also extremely tasty, despite its easiness…

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– Planning an African adventure is muchos fun, even if it isn’t going to happen for over a year…

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– I can’t cope with X Factor winner James Arthur’s ‘my-parents-divorced-when-I-was-a-kid-and-now-I’m-traumatised-for-life’ routine. I just want to shake him and say, “Get over yourself! Grow up! I know your parents are divorced but SO ARE EVERYONE ELSE’S!” He writes songs about it which are really ‘deep’ apparently. So his Mum says. “Yeah,” she goes, serious face on and eyes looking down to the ground. “It’s really… It’s really… (she searches for the appropriate word, having used deep about four times already)… It’s really… deep.” Thanks for that, o mother of great eloquence and feeling. It’s good to know that, as a man in his 20s, the single most important that has happened in his life is still the separation of his parents when he was in primary school. Sometimes, Mr Arthur, people are better apart. Get over it.

– My rooibos tea has gone cold.

– There is a cat digging in the garden. I didn’t know cats dug.

– I am really intrigued about what happened with Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend. I genuinely really like him. I just finished reading his autobiography, Blade Runner, a few weeks ago and it was really good. He seems like a down-to-earth, decent type. And a brilliant athlete. His arrest for murder seems totally at odds with the man I imagined him to be. Of course, a book written by him will obviously give the impression that he portrays, not necessarily who he actually is. And by the same token, a charge for murder is not a conclusion of guilt. There’s this space in between the law and the media and the person’s own voice, where they reside, and I don’t suppose I can know who he is or what has happened. I guess we will see what the outcome is.

– Today I am going for lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in way too long. I am excited.

The time I surprised my Dad

Last year, for my Dad’s birthday, I decided I would go to Liverpool to see him but I didn’t tell him. I thought it would be more fun to surprise him. For the train journey, I had some food and study books with me as I had a huge peice of work due a week later. One of them I guarded with my life. It was the Blackstone’s guide to the corporate homicide and corporate manslaughter act. Blackstone’s guides are like the be-all and end-all in the world of academic law. Everything you want to know about a law will be in one of their guides. It was a thin 170 pages and had cost me £48. But there was no way around getting one. So I had it and it was my most prized possession.

When I got to the main station in Liverpool, I clutched my Blackstone’s guide and went to buy a ticket to the stop nearest to my Dad’s house. With my ticket, I then boarded the train, went the six or so stops, then got off. As I headed out of the station, I realised my hands were empty! Where was my Blackstone’s guide?! My very expensive Blackstone’s guide? The one that I wouldn’t be able to get another copy of in time for my essay deadline.

Panicked, I raced to the ticket office and explained that it had either been left on the desk when I bought my ticket in town or on the train. Panic, PANIC! Where was it? The railway man, thankfully, dealt very efficiently with this madwoman having a panic attack in from of him.

He located it in the station in town and I asked them to keep hold of it, I would go back. The next train was in 20 minutes so I quickly ran to the house, didn’t see my dad’s car, so assumed he was at work and threw my bag down before racing back to the station. I put a pack of ham in the fridge that I hadn’t eaten on the journey. I had also made my Dad a hamper of baked goodies so put it on the sofa, in the seat behind the door where he usually sits so he would see it when he got home.

Picking the book up was fine and on the way back, I called the house to check if my Dad was home. He wasn’t so I headed straight for a friends house. I spent the evening there and got home later but my Dad still wasn’t home. Eventually I just wrote him a note and left it in the hallway and went to bed.

And here is my Dad’s version of events:

“I was upstairs on the computer when I heard a sound like the door being opened then closed. I went downstairs to see what the sound was but didn’t see anything. I popped my head into the front room but didn’t see anyone. I went to the fridge to get my sandwiches to take to work and saw a pack of ham in there which hadn’t been there before. Confused, I just got my sandwiches and went out to work, figuring there must be an explanation for it. When I got home late from work, there was a note on the floor saying Laura was home!”

That’s right. He’d been there the whole time. But because he wasn’t expecting me, he just thought he was hearing things when he heard the door open. So the whole first day I was in Liverpool, we spent missing each other, like ships passing the night. Well done, Laura!

Things I learned from watching Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was very tall.

He was also a Republican. I realised I don’t know what party most of America’s presidents were from (apart from the most recent ones). I know names and policies, eg Roosevelt and The New Deal. But I don’t really know whether they were Democrat or Republican.

It was really hard to get the 13th Amendment through. I didn’t realise how many educated men had opposed it.

The 13th Amendment was such a massive thing. I think we don’t realise it because we live in an age where slavery seems so incomprehensible.

Abraham Lincoln and his wife didn’t really get on a lot of the time.

All but one of his sons died before adulthood.

Everything was so dark at night time, pre-electricity.

Sometimes, as humans, we do the wrong thing. And sometimes we do the right thing. There is hope for us yet.

Abraham Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer. He read some Blackstone’s guides then passed the Bar and started practising. I reckon I could probably skip bar school and do the same. What do you think? (I didn’t actually learn from the film, I Googled it afterward.)

Lincoln was assassinated right in the thick of the war ending and the Amendment being passed. I hadn’t realised it was so soon.

Orange Wednesday is mental time to go to the cinema. I’ve never seen so many people waiting in a line to buy popcorn. (I learned that from the cinema experience itself, not the film.)

A bottle of water in the shop is £1. A bottle of water in the cinema is £2.75.

The time I told a man off in the street

For a few years, I volunteered at a legal charity in London. It was on a road with lots of important looking buildings that were law firms and chambers and inns of court, etc. All very suits-and-ties. It’s a quietish road during the day as the solicitors and barristers are busy in their offices squirreling away. I worked at a desk which faced out onto this street.

One day I heard some people talking loudly. I leaned over to see what was going on. A cyclist was getting a telling off from two guys in suits standing next to a very flash car. I had cycled in that day so was inclined to be on the cyclist’s side, if there were sides to be had in this discussion. As it went on, the two gentlemen from the swanky car just got louder and the cyclist, if he was responding at all, was very quiet. I couldn’t hear the exact words they said so gave up being nosey and went back to my work. I noticed the cyclist pedalling off.

Back to work, thought I. I can still hear their voices. O well, block them out. Concentrate. Concentrate on this filing…. I can’t. They’re getting louder and louder. I can hear actual words. I’m on the second floor up, what can they be shouting about so loudly that I can hear them all the way up here?

I peered out of the window. They were shouting, one of them particularly, about the cyclist. Still. Just mouthing off about how much they thought he was an idiot.

Where do these people think they are?! You’re on a quiet street surrounded by offices full of suited educated men and women who do not conduct themselves in this manner. These loud men had suits on and a flash car. So I didn’t understand why they were acting like idiotic students. Didn’t they get it? I became incensed.

I couldn’t work because I was so distracted by them. Everyone was. It went on for fifteen long minutes. They must have honestly thought that everyone wanted to hear their inane nonsense.

“I’m going to tell them to shut up,” I announced, to questioning looks from my colleagues.

Down the stairs I went, out the door and headed over to them. They smiled, probably thinking I was going to tell them how impressed I was with their shoutyness and could they please take me for a ride in their expensive car because I’m a woman and therefore don’t need any more form of stimulation than a fancy car.

I did not ask them to take me for a ride in their fancy car. O no.

“Can you please keep your voices down, we’re all trying to work,” I said, to two stunned faces. I waited, no response….

“O, and you’re just assuming that it’s us?!” the loud one said finally, in a confrontational manner. He was starting down that road, you know, the one which consists of a lot of ‘you can’t prove it was me’ and ‘you’re jumping to conclusions because I’m young and have a flash car.’ He looked ready for a verbal fight and gave me his best ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about’ face.

“No. I know it was you. Because that’s my window (I gestured to my window) and I’ve been watching you for the last fifteen minutes,” I said.

Silence.

More silence.

And then I flounced. I flounced away. Because I could. Because they had just been royally told off by a girl.

And that is the story of when I told a man off in the street.

I came. I saw. I passed.

Yes, that’s right. All that hard work has eventually paid off. My results came out on Monday. I was working so had it in the back of my mind to check them after work. Then when I got home, the weather was nice enough to have a barbecue so I did that and it totally went out of my mind to check my results. Not because I’m not bothered about them or anything but because it’s just not in the front of my mind anymore. It feels like forever ago that I was sitting around making up stories about Wayne Rooney to remember case names. It was so exhausting that I couldn’t wait to get them out of the way and move on with normal life. So long as I didn’t have to resit, I was happy to have finished them.

The day after results came out, a friend sent a text message asking how I did. That’s when I remembered they’d been released and I hadn’t checked them! I was in work, again, so thought I’d check on the computer when I got home. After work, I pottered off home and sat down with a book. Again, I’d forgotten about the results!

Finally, something clicked and I realised I should go and get my results. Fingers crossed I didn’t have to do any resits!

And…. The good news is… There are no resits! I passed everything. Pheeeeeew! I’m probably not going to get a call from Supreme Court asking me to join them anytime soon. But I passed! Embarrassingly enough, my best result was in land law. Please don’t tease me.

After discovering this amazing news of passing, I thought I’d check what my title now is. Are you ready…? This is how I can write my name now, should I choose to be pretentious and show off.

Laura Maisey BSc, Pg Dip (Law)

I’m not too impressed. BSc is from my first degree. Pg Dip (Law) is from the one I just did. Pg Dip?! It makes me think of tea = PG Tips. Yesterday, three people, independently of one another, said it made them think of ‘Pig Dip’. It developed a bit further as people got experimental and the current favourite is ‘Piglet’.

So I’ve spent the last two years of my life enslaved to my (less than interesting) textbooks learning about mortgages and voluntary manslaughter and parliamentary sovereignty and offer-and-acceptance… all so that I could have the enviable title of:

Laura Maisey, Piglet.

Great.

Freedom internet

The next installment of our guest blogger’s thought-provoking series on freedom….

After Freedom RulesFreedom MusicFreedom Art & Freedom Literature we now come to Part 5 which I’m calling Freedom Internet. As you probably guessed I’ve been covering elements of what most people call popular “culture” (music, art, literature). I think we have to accept that the internet has now become an element of culture in its impact and coverage. Not only is it an element of the culture here in our society but it also affects most cultures in societies across the world. Wikipedia has become the ubiquitous reference tool despite not having the reliability of the printed encyclopaedia. In the past, print had to be far more rigorous in what it published but today’s Wiki sites have only to say: “No ref” or “Citation needed” to indemnify themselves against claims of being conduits of false, confidential or potentially malicious info. And here lies a far bigger issue – unsubstantiated info appears alongside verified stuff with the result that people end up not being able to tell the difference.

The first thing to notice is that “the internet” or, as its altruistic creator Tim Berners-Lee called it, the World Wide Web, does not exist as a separate entity or area like which previous freedom subjects did. Remember his original idea was simply to enable scientists to share info & research without having to resort to paper, telecoms (telex, fax, at the time) & postal connections. There is no unique place called the internet. It exists only on computer chips, in telephone lines and on many different servers across the world. It is actually an open network of linked servers with various files which can be shared. It’s a bit like a library, not of books but of other libraries all across the world.

From that point of view what you see as “on the internet” may not be what someone else sees: take China, North Korea & other nations who severely restrict the access of their inhabitants to it. Their “internet” is not the same as mine or yours. One server owner may agree to content which others may not. These server owners then become the arbiters of what will or will not be released into the public domain. Quite simply they have now become the ones who, to put it mildly, “push the boundaries”. More bluntly they have become the source of much of today’s morality and the setters of standards apparently deemed acceptable. How so? Well think of it this way – to whom are they answerable? There is no ruling body for “the internet”, no high council (or committee) who decide the rightness or wrongness of putting a particular site up for public viewing. It is completely in their hands. The internet is an open network with no controls – except the consciences of the server providers! Comments made in print, film or artistic endeavour are more rigorously scrutinised because of the potential for libel claims. Where the internet is concerned, people can just “hide” behind made up names and identities.

The potential for criminal activity is greatly increased. I don’t suppose there are many of us who have not received an email telling us that upwards of $100,000,000 is lying in a bank account somewhere in Nigeria and that we are the only ones who can unlock this vast store of money. Why would you believe a totally anonymous stranger would want to give you a huge chunk of money? Most don’t; email deleted, move on, no worries. But, and it’s a big but some DID believe it and sent their bank details. Their accounts were emptied, no-one was caught; they suffered the complete embarrassment of being taken in by the scammers. Then there are the internet sellers who simply take the money and no product arrives or, if they’re buying, receive the product and stop the payment. And so it goes on. Starting up a proper trading company takes a lot more effort than sitting in front of a keyboard and conning people. Are we surprised so much of it goes on?

Then there are the “Munchausen Syndromers”. The internet has many forums for people with various illnesses and disorders. It’s an ideal breeding ground for attention seekers. A recent UK radio prog discussed the issue and interviewed people who had gone onto cancer sufferers’ web forums pretending to have cancer and how they were managing day-to-day. Not only was their condition fictitious but they often invented other family members: girlfriends, boyfriends, children to make their situation seem believable. (I think most people will agree that it’s one thing to pretend to like sport on a sport website forum but quite another to pretend to have a terminal disease.) People were befriended and some completely taken in by the person who was not ill at all just pretending they were. (LLM’s “Chat” blog from yesterday referred to it in para 3 without actually naming it.) There is a further condition known as Munchausen by proxy but we don’t have space to go into that one here. In the internet world Munchausen’s Syndrome has become known as MBI (Munchausen by Internet). Those duped by such people are (rightly) devastated to learn that they have been conned, sometimes out of money they offered to help a situation which really didn’t exist. How can the forums’ hosts check out everyone who joins them? They rely on the trust and truthfulness of those who join to give the site the credibility so that people can feel secure revealing details, often very personal, of their condition and their feelings about it.

In real life, meeting someone talking like this you would pick up a number of signals from their body language, facial expressions and the like. On the internet all these human interface reactions are not on show. You are, or you become, what you type because no-one can see you. Only the perceptive or the ones who’ve been through a similar experience and pick up on stuff that doesn’t ring true will see through the lies. That incidentally is how a number of these cancer phoneys were found out. Very soon after they take their details down, disappear and some admitted they just create a new identity and begin the whole process again.

Recent surveys in the UK highlighted the age at which kids admitted they had first viewed pornographic material on the internet. Some admitted seeing it between 10-12 years old and from that I think we could assume that they had done so at a younger age but were wary of confessing to that so they said an age that to them seemed acceptable. Is a button asking them to confirm their age going to deter them?

Further areas of intimidation or “cyber bullying” as it’s called have resulted in a number of suicides over the past few years here in the UK and I suspect in other countries as well. How can it happen? Simply because if one person wants to call another person names or say things about them which are untrue they can. Until a complaint is made any comment is allowed, it seems. Even then the damage can be done and taking the comment down does not reverse the effect on the person hurt.

Without an overall arbiter of web content we should not be surprised that things have gone rapidly downhill in the moral sphere as well as the practical. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle; closing the barn door will be no good, the horse has clearly bolted and we’re not going to catch it. But how many really want to catch it?

Imagine standing at a bus stop and a bus comes along but it has no destination on the front. Would you get on or would you ask the driver where it is going? Even if it’s going the right way would you like it if the route was decided by the passengers shouting out where they want it to go next and not by the bus company. If I travel from say Glasgow to London I will see signs along the way telling me, as I get nearer, that London is 400, 300, 200 and so on miles away. It’s there on a blue metal road sign at the side of the motorway. I know where I’m going and I know how far it is. As you’re reading this you’re obviously on the “internet bus” and probably got on some years ago. Are you just on to enjoy the ride? A Magical Mystery Tour? Perhaps serendipity? Or do you worry about where the bus is going? Will you get off if the bus starts going down a road you don’t like and get on one that doesn’t go that way? A different service provider for example.

The internet has done so much good in many different areas and undoubtedly is greatly beneficial in the realm of study & research, commerce, communications for families and so on. That is to be welcomed and applauded. However we will reap what we sow and sadly we’re seeing a lot of negatives. Whilst I can only raise a few pointers to the current situation I hope you can see that unless controls are introduced the whole thing will continue down the road of decline. Freedom on the internet has had very serious consequences for us all. In a way it is breaking down societal norms and the differences between societies because those with unrestricted access can see what others are doing or how they are behaving. They then press their governments for change and, if successful, their society and culture changes. But to what? – To be more like ours? Why should ours be better than theirs?

Perhaps I can finish with some crucial questions: “Where do you think we as individuals and society in general are heading in this very difficult area? Are we, in reality, just being led by the internet? Can you see any signs? Is freedom helping us get there?”

Now moment of truth! If you look in a real mirror you see what you really look like. If you could look into an “internet mirror” what would you see?

Are you who you are or are you what you type?