Monday, December 25, 2006

Home for the Holidays

Leo made it home for Christmas. A humbug night in jail is now a night of holiday cheer with family, thanks to volunteers from the Student Hurricane Network. Leo’s offense was failing to appear last January for a court hearing to check on the status of his probation. He missed his court date because he was in Houston, where he evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. Saving himself apparently is no excuse. The court issued a warrant for his arrest despite the fact that the local courts (and most parts of the City) were barely open and functioning. The sheriff arrested Leo in September, and he’s been in jail ever since. Neither the sheriff nor the correctional facility where he was held, however, bothered to tell the Court that Leo was in their custody. He was not brought promptly before a judge, nor was any hearing scheduled within ten days, as is required by State Code. Instead, he waited patiently for four months – without seeing a lawyer or a judge – before the volunteers could find him.

Even then, it was a surprisingly slow ride home. We secured a court order for Leo’s immediate release last Thursday. The prison should have released Leo promptly and put him on a bus back to New Orleans, but the bureaucracy predictably dampened all sense of urgency. Despite a court order and having kept Leo four months past expiration, prison officials were in no hurry to get him home in time for the holidays. After some cajoling, the prison assured us that Leo would be on a bus to New Orleans on Saturday. I waited, sign and all, for Leo to arrive at the bus station so I could make sure he got from the station to the home he shares with his elderly sister. I left disappointed. Several people called the prison trying to track down Leo, but no one would give us any information. “Call back on Tuesday, after the holiday, when the full staff is here.” Eventually, we got a call from Leo himself. He had made it back to New Orleans by Sunday, just in time for Christmas.

To paraphrase Churchill, prison officials finally did right by Leo after exhausting every other possibility. We have located numerous other inmates who have been held in prison well past their allotted time. As for them, the prison Scrooges evidently have a few lumps of coal to go around. Maybe the new year will bring some cheer for them.


rothmatisseko said...

Congrats to the students. What a great way to start your career.

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