A man in his mid to late thirties walked in the other day while I was in the front office. He greeted me by name with an air of timid familiarity that seemed to indicate that I might know him.
I didn't recognize him.
"You may not remember me," he uttered as he walked cautiously forward. I looked at his face as he moved with an air of awkwardness that comes with not feeling particularly comfortable about a situation. I didn't know who he was until he told me his name.
Then some memories came rushing back.
Some twenty-five years ago when I was a pre-teen child, my parents would hire a man to rake and gather up the leaves off of our yard. He would show up for his one or two days of work in an old truck full of lawn maintenance equipment which basically consisted of a few old rakes, a hoe, and a shovel. But that wasn't all that would accompany him. He would bring with him his two young boys.
His kids didn't make the journey in order to "spend a day" with dad. No, they came with him to work so the family would have food to eat and clothes to wear. I have a vivid memory of the three of them because the two boys were my age. Specifically, one was in the same grade at school with me and the other one grade above.
I always felt uncomfortable walking out of the house and waving to the boys, rakes in hand, as I was on my way to doing nothing. I suppose I felt guilty for being so lazy that my parents hired someone else to rake the lawn. It also didn't seem right that, because of nothing I had done or earned, I was free to spend a fall afternoon playing while others my age had to work.
Those memories filled my mind last week when, as I said earlier, a man walked into my office. For you see, that man was one of the boys who had raked my family's lawn those many years ago.
His wife, it seems, had been arrested for a minor drug possession offense and was currently in the Wise County Jail. It may very well be one of those "being at the wrong place at the wrong time" scenarios, but the man wasn't there to make excuses. He simply wanted to know if there was something I could do to help get her out of jail until the criminal case could be resolved. He spoke quietly and respectfully, characteristics that are unusual in the Wise County Courthouse.
A bail bond amount had been set in her case which means that she could have already been released if she could afford it. The amount was not unusually high, but he explained to me that he couldn't afford it. He told me where he worked and what he did. This was confirmed by his clothing which was obviously that of a laborer.
"I don't make much money" he told me, but he would like for wife to be out of jail so she could take care of their young children during the day while he was working. The last two days, he said, had been difficult. He was quite clear that he didn't want any favoritism and that "she'd have to take care of her business" in the future. In the meantime, however, he just graciously asked if there were any options available.
It was difficult for me to concentrate as he spoke with me. My mind kept wandering back to my Bridgeport home and the sight of one man and two boys hauling off mounds of leaves.
I agreed to let the woman out of jail on her own recognizance, meaning that he would not have to pay any money to a bondsman to secure her release. He promised me that he would show up for any court appearances, and I took him at his word. He thanked me and quietly left my office.
Perhaps, as time goes by, I am becoming what can only be referred to as "soft". And if my conversation with the man in in my office that day is somehow proof of this transformation, I'm not sure I am particularly ashamed about it.
No, I'm not ashamed of it at all.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.