The Jailhouse Lawyer

We have two former lawyers here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp. Most inmates don't know I'm one of them, and I certainly don't advertise it. Neither of us "practice" as jailhouse lawyers. Occasionally, I'll get a legal question, and I try to be helpful; but I make it clear that my camp career aspirations now lie in the maintenance and hair care fields of service. My advice here is free, and barely worth its cost.

We've had a few "jailhouse lawyers" during my 19 months here. Currently, we have only one. He's never been a real lawyer, but he's quite the promoter. With the demise of the circus, maybe he's the new P.T. Barnum, who believed there was a sucker born every minute. Our "jailhouse lawyer" is serving a long sentence for mortgage fraud and learned his "lawyering" while in a low security prison before working his way to the camp. He handled his own appeal, which was denied. Even so, he's well paid, and not just the typical hustle of sausage and cheese from the commissary. He wanted $2,500 from one inmate to file an appeal. They settled on $1,500, which was all the inmate had. That inmate received the appellate court's response this month. It was No, No, No, and NO. Fees have ranged from $5,000 to $10,000 for other unsuccessful appeals, but the beat goes on.

As I spend several hours in the law library most evenings, I have a ring-side seat on the magic/con. It's currently being perpetrated on a doctor who was convicted by a jury of Medicare fraud. One appeal was already unsuccessful, so now they're working on a second appeal based on the premise that there was "ineffective counsel" provided by the defense lawyers in the original jury trial. At a cost of $10,000, I generously give it a 1% chance of success.

One former client/victim called him a predator. That's a perceptive description because he does pray on many inmates' desperation who have emerged from a federal criminal system where the deck is stacked against every defendant. Over 90% of federal defendants never go to trial, instead they enter into a plea agreement with the government. Often they agree to a plea because they're threatened by prosecutors with unnecessarily long sentences if they risk going to trial. Under this duress, defendants often plead guilty without any consideration of the long term implications for them and their family. They do it, too, thinking the truth will matter in their case, but it doesn't. So many inmates are frantically looking for some sunshine by the time they get here, and our jailhouse lawyer can certainly pump it.

Occasionally a potential client will ask for my opinion, and I tell them they're wasting their money. If they have a good case, they should get a real lawyer. Most have no case at all, even though they were victimized by the federal criminal industrial complex. I'm often just the bearer of that bad news.

Getting paid real money to act as a lawyer, when you're not, is called the unauthorized practice of law and is a crime. The staff here has to know it's going on, but they allow, even encourage, it. That's a little weird, even for Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp.