Friday, November 30, 2012


By Michael Wayne Hunter

"I don't want this book," I heard a prisoner say in the library.

"I'm too busy to let you look at more than one book," Evan, the general library clerk, replied.

"Just read this Stephen King last week," the prisoner explained. "I want to check out a different one."

"Why did you ask for this one?!" Evan snapped.

"Didn't know I read it 'til I saw it."

Putting down the Sporting News I'd been reading, I snatched the book request slip from Evan's hands and scooped up a few more from the counter and went into the fiction book room and started pulling books.

"What are you doing?" Evan got at me.

"I'm not busy. Thought I'd help out."

"I told them only one book."

"Because you were busy," I said patiently. "Now you have some help. I'll pull the books and let them make a selection and reshelf the ones they don't want. You can check them out on the computer and stamp the due dates."

"No, Mike," Evan said firmly. "I already told them only one. They won't respect me if I back down."

"Got some odd ideas about respect, Evan. They can see you were busy and now they can see you have help. They're not going to think you backed down, they'll just be happy to get the books they want."

"You're a law library clerk, you got nothing to do with the general library. I'll do it my way."

"Okay." I gave up and handed the slips to Evan. I went back to reading The Sporting News. A few prisoners complained, one threatened Evan, got kind of ugly.

Morning library session over, we broke for lunch.

"Thanks a lot, Mike," Evan said sarcastically.

"Know you been down for only a minute, Evan, but..."

"Don't want to hear about your decades in prison!" Evan jumped in, jabbing his finger. "Just means you been a loser for a long time. Stay out of my work area."

This's crazy, I thought. The guards are going to laugh their asses off if a couple of nearly fifty year old gray haired guys start trading blows.

"Hear you, Evan," I said and bounced.

A few days later, Mr. Kay, the librarian and my boss, asked, "What do think about Evan as the legal beagle?"

"Think he'd be a disaster. Bad for us, bad for him, the legal beagles won't accept him."

"We have to fill the position. If not Evan, you take it."

"No." I shook my head. "I don't want it, but I'll find one of the legal beagles on the yard to fill the spot." `

"No. Evan wants to promote. I'm going to give him a chance."

"It's your call." I went back to work.

The legal beagles are prisoners who focus on writing and filing legal documents, anything from an administrative appeal or claim for damages to an appeal of conviction to civil rights violation claims against prison officials. Some legal beagles even handle family law, divorce and child custody issues. Often probate of estate issues are litigated, sometimes executors of Wills don't want to disburse funds to the incarcerated.

Even the elite legal beagles aren't constitutional scholars, however many excel in the nuts and bolts crafting of legal documents. They're able to bypass time bars and other procedural defaults, survive summary judgment and force a judgment based on the merits.

Storm Cloud, the best of the legal beagles who use our library, charges hundreds of dollars to review trial transcripts and ascertain if appeal issues exist.

A major challenge the librarian faces in hiring a legal beagle is finding one willing to set aside seven hours a day to give legal advice at a mere twenty four cents an hour.

The library legal beagle has to command the respect of the other legal beagles, dispense legal advice to any prisoner coming through the library door, and steer the naive away from the charlatans. These are the fake legal beagles who talk a good game and solicit money to file legal actions, but don't have any litigation ability. These frauds prey on the unwary, selling false hope of a new trial or winning large sums of money from the prison system for personal injury or civil rights violations.

After eighteen years on Death Row, I have a working knowledge of legal research and appeals. I speak the language and can assist the legal beagles by providing the copies and legal forms they need to litigate, but I don't live and breathe the law. I don't pore over the latest court decisions. I'm not one of the brethren. Evan, working around the general library books, isn't even a charlatan, he doesn't know anything, and worse, didn't know he knew nothing.

Evan's first day as legal beagle, he showed me a prison litigation manual he'd been studying. "Mike, I need you to make copies of all petitions for a writ of habeas corpus contained in the appendix."

Reading that litigation manual as if it was a Bible and thinking you're a legal beagle, I reflected, was much like singing, "Twinkle, twinkle little star," and then trying to be the chief astronomer of the Hubble space telescope.

Silently, leading Evan into the law books room, I gestured at a shelf.

“What are those?" Evan asked.

“MC-275 state writ petitions, 2254 federal writ petitions for California's northern, southern, eastern, and central districts."

"Oh, we have them. Good. I guess all I'll need you to do is copy rules of court."


"Thought I'd post them on the library walls, so our customers could read and become familiar with them."

Puzzled, I asked, "Which court?"

"What does it matter?" Evan asked testily. "Court is court."

Pointing, I showed Evan at least four feet of shelf containing various rules of court manuals for most every venue our prisoners would normally file court actions.

"If you're going to post the rules on the walls, Evan, you're going to have to get at Mr. Kay and have him order up some larger walls."

Face blazing, abruptly Evan left the room.

Shaking my head, I started copying forms we'd need that day.

Eventually, the law library opened and Evan manned the legal beagle post, dead center in the middle of our counter. Prisoners rushed us and I was busy logging and copying legal documents.

"Mike," Z-man, a legal beagle one cut below Storm Cloud, called. "I need a 2255 petition for the federal court in Fresno."

"Got copies on the shelf. Have Evan get you one."

"I did," Z-man said with exasperation, "but he gave me one for central district. I told him it's the wrong venue, but he doesn't want to hear it."

"We are central," Evan interjected.

"Central California," I said. "But we're in the eastern federal district of California."

"Can't be right!"

"There's a map in your litigation manual. Central is the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo area."

Evan went and got Z-man an eastern petition.

"Need to dump that chester," Z-man said harshly.

"Why's he got to be a chester?" I said with irritation. "Doesn't have a clue about what it takes to be a legal beagle, but how does that make him a creep?"

"Molested his step-daughter," Z-man asserted. "Didn't make an issue about it when he stayed in his little corner checking out library books, but now he's moving into my turf. Evan don't know nothing 'bout the law and no one wants a creep peeping their legal work. Need to get his twisted ass outta here!"

"I told the boss not to move him into the spot, Z-man, but don't smut him up unless you got it in black and white. You geniuses said my last cellie was a serial chester out of Bakersfield preying on pre-school kiddies. His paperwork had him as a meth lab chemist from Sacramento. You legal scholars said his paperwork was fake, so I checked with the Sac guys and they all said they were in the county jail with him in Sacramento, some of them knew him from the streets and claimed him as a homie who cooked dope. You're a bunch of bogus wires."

"Made a mistake," Z-man copped. "But Evan is a chester from Santa Cruz."

"Don't tell me, show me," I cut off the conversation.

Evan and I ate lunch in the library to catch up on paperwork before our afternoon session; we were a bit overwhelmed because we're one clerk short until the boss hired someone new to take Evan's place with the general library books.

"How do you think I'm doing?" Evan asked quietly.

"Want the truth?"


"You're in over your head. The prisoners coming through the door have delusions they will win their freedom or large sums of money if they file the right piece of paper. Rarely happens. Hope you know if they don't get what they want, they're going to blame you."

"You just want to be the legal beagle, the lead clerk."

"No." I shook my head. "The boss offered it to me and I turned it down. The headaches aren't worth an extra two cents an hour. I'm a whole lot more qualified than you and I'm not up to it. We really need to hire someone else."

“Watch me," he said confidently. "I'm going to master it."

"Takes a long time, years," I said skeptically, "but good luck with that."

We ate in silence for a few minutes before Evan asked tentatively, "Uh,

“Mike, have you heard anyone say I'm a chester?"

"Nothing to do with me," I tried to fend him off.

"I'm not," Evan said quickly. "I got thirty years for smuggling."

No, you're definitely not a legal beagle, I thought. Smuggling is a federal not a state crime. If you were convicted of smuggling, you would be in federal prison not here.

"Don't think it's a good idea for us to get into this," I tried to stop Evan from telling more lies.

"You've been down for awhile," Evan went on, "how do I handle prisoners smutting me up?"

Just a bit ago, I was a long time loser due to my decades in prison, I thought cynically, but all of sudden I'm a sage advisor full of wisdom.

"Okay, Evan, this's how it works. No one's s'pose to challenge you unless they bring their own paperwork with them. If someone whispers smut about you, get at them tough and tell them to shut up and bring their paperwork. You give him yours, he gives you his, and then you both know what's what. Never, ever show anyone your 128-G without seeing theirs. That's the way it's done."

"I don't have a 128-G."

"Do a file review and get a copy."

"How do I do that?"

"S'pose to be a legal beagle and you don't know how to do a file review?"

Evan looked blank.

"Okay, fill out an Olson review form, we maintain a master here in the library, and give it to your counselor."

"My counselor won't help me."

"Sure, he will. Just tell him people think you're a chester and you will have to lock up over safety concerns if he doesn't come up with your 128-G. If you do lock up, a 114 form will be generated with the reason you locked up and within seventy-two hours you will have a 114 hearing with the captain. No doubt the captain will have your counselor's butt once he finds out you're in the hole over safety concerns because your counselor was too lazy or brain dead to get you a 128-G. Trust me, they know what time it is. Just hit up your counselor, he'll jump on his computer and printout your 128-G. Case closed."

"Don't want to go through all that."

"Rather have people think you molest children than fill out a form and hand it to your counselor?"

Evan didn't answer, he just went back to reading his prison litigation manual.

I don't do other people's time. The path that brought them to prison is between them, the legal system, and God. Every morning I put on my blinders and try to walk my own path, do my own time. Honestly, I don't want to be judged by anyone apart from my personal belief in God, so I try really hard not to judge others. But it seemed Evan was determined to cross his path with mine, and I wasn't cool with that.

Evan didn't put in for an Olson review or produce a 128-G, he just kept reading his litigation manual and gave legal advice to the unwary that ranged from marginal to truly awful. The legal beagles simply refused to speak with him. Awkward.

Uncomfortable weeks trudged by before Z-man hit my counter with pages from the Internet. A photo of Evan stared at me. He had been convicted for molesting his stepdaughter from age seven to twelve. Investigators had seized his computer and found incriminating images and videos. DNA evidence was collected. No reasonable or any other kind of doubt existed.

"Stay away from him," Z-man warned. "Going down today."

"Make sure the right guy goes down."

"He knows you," Z-man assured.

Awhile later, I got at Evan. "Your paperwork is on the yard. Save yourself some pain and go right now to Program and lock up for safety concerns."

"Know a lot of people want me out of here," Evan replied with a measure of heat, "but I'm not going to be intimidated."

"This's not about intimidation, it's about great bodily injury."

"Whatever," Evan snapped. "Maybe I don't look like it but I'm scrappy."

This is not the 'burbs where guys carefully take off their jackets, shake hands, and trade a few blows that don't really hurt anyone. This's prison where things happen you might not survive or recover from fully ever again.

At the end of the day, Evan went out the door ahead of me, and a muscled monster eclipsed the sun, threw a right hand that hit Evan's skull with the reverberating sound of a wood driver crushing a golf ball four hundred yards. Evan went down, face distorted by shattered bones. The hitter walked casually away.

No alarm, so I went on for a full fifteen seconds or about thirty yards before the alarm finally rang out. Settling onto the grass, I looked back and saw that Evan was seizing, his body locked and twitching, mouth foaming. I suspected he'd never be the same again. Ever.

As guards and medical staff surrounded Evan, I thought about who I would recommend to Mr. Kay to take his place in the library.

Eventually, the ambulance came and Evan was strapped onto a hard board and wheeled away.

Alarm clear, I headed home for a shower before dinner. Locking up later, the day faded.

-The End-

Michael Wayne Hunter

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

It has been quite some time since we've seen any of your fabulous stories here on MB6. I have always enjoyed reading your entries. I find myself wondering often what is new and exciting in your world. I hope we hear from you again soon.