Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

The system is flawed. I’ve always known this. I’ve always thought that I understood it, but I don’t think that I fully did until yesterday morning. It probably seems like something that I should have understood last year or even before then. I probably should have understood it when we had the complaints come in the mail a few years ago that required us to paint our house and the storage units in the backyard so that I didn’t end up in court. I probably should have understood it when, before I owned the house, the people from the Community Development would come by my house and have my mom come outside, where they would give her a hard time until she would come back in suicidal because of the things that they would say to her. I should have known and understood it then, but I didn’t. I do now.

Yesterday morning was a lot like last year’s hearing. Only last year, we hadn’t had the lawn mowed in time. And as agitating as it was last year when I was told by the judge that getting the lawn mowed “wasn’t rocket science”, I didn’t realize how much more insulting it could be to go before 2 public officials, one representing the legal system and another representing a part of the government that was allegedly founded to help people who are low income to have houses up to code. I didn’t realize that I would be called a liar; that my father would be told that even if he had written proof that he’d paid to have our lawn mowed twice that the judge “didn’t want to see it” and would refuse that evidence. I didn’t realize that the city has the ability to convict people with no proof. I didn’t realize that my word meant nothing.

The person from the Community Development office came to court saying that there had been multiple complaints against my house. Of course, I don’t have the right to know who is complaining. My family has tried to find out in the past and been told that they can’t release this information. Instead, the complainant becomes the city of Huntsville. It becomes the officials who are on a first name basis with the attorneys and the judges. And it doesn’t even have to be the same official. On the original citation (the warning letter) the inspector is Bill Sweetnam. On the court summons it is Jim Martin. The guy who showed up in court and said that “as of yesterday” my yard was 2 feet high was neither of those two men. When I tried to find out where this 2 foot high grass was, I was told that I would have to wait until the proceeding was over and if I thought they were “lying against” me, then the judge was going to enter a not guilty plea on my behalf. He told me I would have to show pictures proving that we’ve been cutting the grass. I guess that these pictures are supposed to have been taken in June and again in July to show that are grass was mowed. These pictures don’t exist. The city, on the other hand, doesn’t have to have pictures. Like I said, the people who have been writing up the complaints weren’t even the ones who came to court yesterday. So, I can’t offer proof that we’ve paid to have the lawn mowed, which would give direct evidence, but the city can use hearsay evidence against me with no problem.

I left the court in tears. Tears that continued as I went to Legal Aid, where I was told that they couldn’t represent a criminal case. Apparently, they can defend people against a corporation trying to break the law, but when the city government is violating Constitutional rights, then that’s okay. I then tried to call CASA to see if they could help with the lawn care. I broke down even further on the phone with a very nice woman named Susan, who told me that they no longer perform that service but that I should call a local church. She suggested I call my own church. Fat lot of good that would do since last year’s court appearance was after we’d been told that the church was going to be doing the lawn. So, I called the church she gave me the number for, and I found out that they only help people who go to that church. I called CASA back. I got the machine. I explained what I’d heard. I got a call back from someone else from CASA who repeated the “we no longer do that service” line, though she apparently didn’t understand that since I was calling back that I had already heard the line.

I called the Legal Referral Service in the state, which provided a number for a lawyer that I will have to pay for their services, even though I can’t afford to do that. Alan, friend from childhood, told me to use a public defender, which I would do, but I don’t know how to contact one. I haven’t seen any numbers or offices that exist for a public defender office in this area. A cousin of mine told me that the system works this way in municipal cases and that this is a revenue source for the city, so the judge is going to side with the city, even if the evidence isn’t there. And I guess I understand why it works that way, but it doesn’t feel right. Another friend from childhood, Melanie, told me that something similar had happened to her family. (Her parents live in my neighborhood.) Her exact quote:

I had a similar city representative come through Sandhurst a few years ago when i was staying at my parents. They were issuing warning/citations/whatever? to people who appeared to have rust on any items in their yards (sheds, etc). He wanted to claim that my parents shed had rust on the roof and needed to be painted or replaced. How he could tell if their was rust on a shed roof without entering my parents backyard is beyond me…but he dropped the issue when I started to ask questions. I would agree that this is just a “money-making scheme” for the city….that’s why I live in the county now. I’m sorry for all the troubles you are experiencing.

It makes me think that the Office of Community Development is going around to the poorer neighborhoods in areas of town and issuing complaints for things so that the city gets money from the poor to finance everything. That may sound nuts, but every defendant in court yesterday was poor. Every defendant had to pay some kind of fine or payment to the city. People who didn’t have their pets’ licenses or violated anything regarding the city’s animal services were forced to go to a class where they paid $25 to be informed about the value of that program. By paying for that class, they had no fines and no court costs, but they still gave money to the city. Every single case that was seen ended with a person paying the city. And even with this not guilty plea, I know that I’m going to end up paying the city. I don’t even know if an appeal would work for this. (My cousin suggested I appeal if I get convicted.) I don’t know how to stop this. Do I find some way to make a lot of money so that my family and I can leave a house that my grandparents bought in the seventies? Where would we go? Do we go to the county and pray that Huntsville doesn’t annex us? Do we move in with my grandmother and hope that we can survive out in the middle of nowhere? What do I have to do to make this stop?

I wanted to kill myself right after the proceeding. I really did. I was pissed that Amy Winehouse got to die and that I have to deal with this, which I know is a crazy way to think, but I am so sick of this. I’m tired of being in a country where we’re taught that we have rights and we have freedoms and that discrimination is wrong, but then I first get kicked out of college because I’m crazy and now I’m being accused of a crime and I’m guilty even if I know I’m not and even if evidence exists that proves that I’m not. I don’t understand why this is okay. I don’t understand why people who can afford to pay taxes won’t and then judge people who are in poverty because they are in poverty. I don’t understand why it is okay for politicians to play around with the entire economy and threaten to not do their jobs, which will in turn cause my checks not to come in next month, which means no food, medicine, doctors, anything. When did this country become like this? And why? Why is greed okay and justified, but justice is wrong and discrimination is encouraged? Why does this happen to people? It’s not right and it’s not fair and it’s not legal and it’s just plain wrong, and I can’t understand how anyone can justify any of this, but they do. People justify it all the time. My family, not my parents but other members, even justify it. And I don’t know why. How can people support this kind of thing?

The only possible good thing that could come out of me going through the trial and (possibly) being convicted is that I can get sent to jail for a very short time, less than 30 days. (I think that’s less than what Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan did for drug-related offenses.) Before you ask why that might be good, I can explain. As we all know, I am crazy. I am a certifiable loony. The more stressed I get, the worse my psychiatric state gets. If I go to jail, I will be a suicide risk. This is not a planned thing, it is just a fact. I will be suicidal. And it will get especially bad when the city probably will disregard the whole giving me my antidepressant and my pain medicine. In the first day without my Effexor, I will get suicidal. This is normal for me. The longer I go, the more depressed, the angrier, and the more psychotic. The city will put me in a hospital because of this, because they will find out (since I also am a lot more forthright when these things get exacerbated) that if I don’t get to go to the hospital that I will make sure to let everyone know that they denied me proper psychiatric care. That is also not a threat, just a reality. I swear that this system has got to change so that people don’t get exploited, and if it means that I have to go to trial, possibly be convicted, possibly go to jail, and maybe file an appeal, then you know what, I guess that’s what will have to be done. This city has got to stop using people that they know can’t fight back.

About Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.