(Before the trolls, bubble-poppers, and nitpickers criticize my use of the politically incorrect “drunk” in the title, they should read the entire story, where it will be explained.)
We get a lot of homeless alcoholics in our courthouse in rich Newport Beach, California. Many of these folks sleep, and hang out, on the bluffs overlooking the beautiful Orange County beaches.
I once asked a homeless prisoner if he knew where the homeless shelters were. He snapped back, “Why would a need a shelter? I have a 3-million-dollar view overlooking Dana Point Harbor. Do you?” I couldn’t argue with that, especially since my view is of my neighbor’s house ten feet away.
Our most famous homeless alcoholics was “Alabama Jim.” He had hundreds of convictions for public intoxication. He was our “Otis” from “Andy of Mayberry.”
Years ago, public defenders sponsored a collection to fly Jim back to his home in Alabama. Two weeks later, Jim showed up in our court again. His family had given him a one-way bus ticket back to Orange County.
“Alabama” was brought to our court a couple times a week for public intoxication. Coming to court was a big part of his life. . When he was in the prisoner cage, he asked that his case be called last, so that he could enjoy the legal proceedings.
It was amusing and endearing that Jim called us judges by our first names.
Jim: Brett, do you have any reading classes?
Judge: No, why?
Jim: I need them in order to read when I’m in jail.
Jim: Well, Francis and Margaret [Judges] keep boxes of different size and strength reading glasses,
and I get to choose which one works best.
Judge: Let me have my clerk go next door and borrow Margaret’s box of reading glasses.
Jim: Thanks. I really appreciate it.
“Alabama” Jim was very smart and quick witted. Rumor has it that he was a college professor, who, when his wife died in an accident, he turned to alcohol to cope with her loss.
Occasionally, Jim staggered into traffic and ended up the local hospital. These Judge Margaret and Judge Francis visited until he recovered.
One day I made the mistake of referring to “Alabama” Jim as an “alcoholic.” He got very indignant. He scolded me, “I am not an alcoholic! I am a drunk! And I am very good at what I do!”
One day I had three prisoners in my cage, all charged with public intoxication. Middle-aged “Alabama” Jim sat on the right. Another middle-aged homeless alcoholic sat on the left. In between these haggard looking homeless alcoholics was a fresh faced 18-year-old.
I told the young man, “Look to your left. Look to your right. That is the path you are headed down.” Then I asked, “Jim, are there any words of wisdom you can give this young man to change his life.” “Sure. As my daddy always told me, drink the good stuff, you’ll live longer.” Oh, well, I tried.
A few years ago, “Alabama” Jim stopped coming to court. One of Judge Margaret told me that he passed away. I asked her if Jim was killed in an accident. She said, “No, he died peacefully in the hospital of natural causes.”
May he rest in peace.
(Other Articles: http://www.londonedition.net)