The The Pen, Sword And Wreath

by .....© 1997 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved

Of this story, the author says;

This was written in response to D. Grant DeMan's The Wrench, The Knife, the Gun and the Needle, but is dedicated to the Legislators of the state of South Carolina, those who had the courage to say the stars and bars should remain over their capitol as well as to those who had the wisdom to put it away.

One of my few faithful readers writes, “ I like the inside view in the Tales Out of Court, but why are all the stories so sad?”

I didn’t mean to paint a dismal picture of my early days in law. In my early work, with prisoners in parole revocations gave opportunities for fun even when using the tools of the legal profession the pen, the sword and the wreath.

The bleakness is just a part of the times.

The Story

The year was 1983. That autumn for unclear reasons the U.S. attacked the island nation of Granada. Even in Hunter Point Correctional Facility, a factory building turned over to warehouse parolees spirits soared as the gloom of recession years receded.

In the windowless second floor corridor leading to Hunters Point’s hearing room, Ms. Eileen Kynd, the regularly assigned Legal Aid Lawyer, sashayed in flowing skirts between ranks of grisly parole officers pouring over wrinkled tabloids for the latest news of great victories ‘Over There,’ wherever Granada was, as they waited for their hearings.

Military Police Blotter was published by the legendary Bill Loepkey's Inditer Dot Com of Canada.

Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.

Maybe as I reflect back on hours struggling for comfortable repose in bubble gum crusted plastic chairs lined against cheerless cinderblock walls, part of the gloom was the place: Hunterspoint Correctional Facility, an old factory building converted into a prison. A row of plastic chairs on either side of windowless cinderblock narrowed the passageway. As Mr. Bridges the robust turnkey who escorted visitors passed, Ms. Kynd seductively leaned toward her more patriotic opponents to make way.

I leaned back in my plastic chair to enjoy Ms. Kynd banter about the war. In 1983, time was on my side. Paid per diem by the city to represent inmates the Legal Aid Lawyer rejected, I was rewarded for my snooze. And that year saw no end to hopeless immigrants and Vietnam Veterans snared in the dragnet sweeps of city streets.

“Troop all the Vietnam Veterans out of this jail alone,” Ms. Kynd taunted, “and you can add another regiment to your attack on nowheresville - for whatever reason you want it.”

The parole officers, garnished in plaid flannel, and corduroy, delighted in testing Ms. Kynd.

“ Red witch.”

“Uncle Ivan needs your Kynd.”

“Don’t fire until you hear the clink of their - vodka bottles.”

The interplay, Ms. Kynd’s defense of 1960’s liberalism, livened up the long waits in the corridor. In a lull as the debaters ran short on epithets I glanced at the file. What was it this time? Did the ‘bad guy’ lose a job or his flat or, having lost both, light a fire in the park to keep warm? Despite a lofty purpose of bringing to heel the criminal element who reverted to insidious ways, parole revocations rarely confronted high state criminals.

In the Army, I had handled major felony trials, but the bar associations would not accept military credentials. “What would Army lawyers know anyway about law?”

What would I say today in real law? Joe, the Vietnam Vet, will go to the V.A. for vocational rehabilitation or Jose, the unlettered immigrant, will look for a job in the factory that doesn’t exist anymore?

What did we say in the Army Legal Corps of its leaf branch tab? The pen creates it; the sword cuts through it and the wreath wipes it off!

As I pondered my strategy, the debate roared in the corridor. Holding her hands on her well-proportioned hips, Ms. Kynd argued, “Okay, you pound some palm trees into smithereens - you take all the sand on their beach - and what does that do for you?”

“Good,” yelled a parole officer, jerking up from a plastic chair, knocking it into the cinderblock wall, “make love not war. And start with me.”

The corridor rang with laughter.

Yet strangely Mr. Bridges, the broad-shouldered mocha complexioned turnkey who escorted visitors to the hearing room projected a stony silence. As Bridges pivoted to study the jeering ranks of the parole officers his combat infantry badge gleamed on his uniform blouse.

Called into the hearing room just as the catcalling in the corridor overtook the laughter, I did voice concern to Judge Jayson, “All of us veterans - you, me, Mr. Bridges, sport the National Defense Medal, but we never answer the Red witch. Only the parole officers jab her back - and none of them - ever wore a uniform.”

“Ha, we have more important things to do,” Judge Jayson snapped as he looked up from half moon glasses. “You - a per diem lawyer the city pays to bless us with due process should concentrate on you work.”

“There is no hope for the hopeless.” I sighed. “Or should I say I’m ever so happy for the opportunity to waste talent acquired in homicide trials in the Army on bubble gum encrusted chairs to wait my opportunity to plead before this august tribunal.”

“Ha - what would Army lawyers know?” Jayson looked through the file.

“The pen, the sword and the wreath. What the pen creates, the sword scatters and the wreath wipes clean.”

“They should know proper appearance. You,” the Judge pointed an accusing finger at me, “Gotta look more like a lawyer - instead of a bum…”

“It ain’t like,” I complained, “the city pays much for the trappings of due process.”

“A cut-rate mall opened up in the factory building by the rail yard. Find a bargain.” Jayson ordered. “Try it Sunday morning - it won’t be crowded.”

When I returned to my office, there were three checks from the city waiting for me. I plunked them down on my desk: one for the landlord, one for the secretary and this little one to visit the bazaar.

It was early on Sunday morning when I arrived at the old factory building the Judge described, overlooking the rail yards where dilapidated freight trains stood idle on rusted sidings. You have never seen such a collection of junk merchants: from toys to tools. When I stopped at the clothier, I inspected the dust covered goods and declared, “This didn’t fall off the truck; it was dragged under its wheels.”

At that moment, I was tapped on the shoulder; I swung around, expecting to face an offended stall-keeper. Instead I found a twenty year old boy with a smooth face in a lime green shirt with an Army recruiting badge dangling from the pocket.

“Sorry, I done my time.” I started to turn away.

“I’m looking…” the boy recruiter spoke fast, “for people to stand in a picture … I have to run some sort of public display and … nobody will help…”

“Just so long as I don’t have to sign nothing.”

I followed him over to the recruiting table. At it stood Mr. Bridges. On a bulletin board, behind us there were newspaper clippings of the Army’s exploits in far away Granada. With a look of impatience, Mr. Bridges muttered, “Judge Jayson’s idea of a joke.”

The recruiting sergeant clumsily reached into a big briefcase spilling its contents out onto the floor. Mr. Bridges retrieved two civil war Kepis which rolled away from the clutter.

The sergeant read from his script. “Encourage public participation in a fun loving photographic session. Ask people to pose in traditional uniforms: I have two tunics: one blue and the other grey.” The boy looked up at us.

Mr. Bridges looked down at the Kepis and handed me the grey one: “I guess this one wouldn’t fit me.” Bridges said. His dark complexion gave no hint of insult or offense.

I looked at the branch tab on the Kepi. “Crossed rifles - Infantry -and we thought the lawyers were the canon fodder,” I remarked as I donned Confederate grey.

A crowd collected as we put on the tunics, mine grey with blue cuffs. MR. Bridges and I stood at attention shoulder to shoulder in front of the table as the boy recruiter fumbled with a camera on a tripod. The crow was jovial … with good reason. War news from Granada was very favorable. But no one got too close to the table.

After the photographs were shot, the by recruiter and returned to his script. The crowd dispensed quietly. “Encourage the audience to suggest a theme.”

“Audience?” Mr. Bridges asked, “I guess that’s us.”

“How about …” I suggested, “One Country, one Army, one English language.”

“Very good!” remarked the boy. “Let me copy that down.” The sergeant bent over to retrieve a pen and paper from the floor. “Let’s see … could you repeat that?”

Mr. Bridges looked at the ceiling and intoned, “The Army’s political claims are the foundations of the republic: one country, one army, and one English language.”

“Oh really,” the recruiter asked with wide eyes. “I never expected to get a history lesson.”

“And we expect,” I said to Bridges, “to conquer Granada with the people the sergeant finds for us.”

Finishing with his notes, the recruiting sergeant looked around. “Nobody else came … I guess you can keep those hats and jackets.”

"Tunics --- in the Military we call them tunics," Mr Bridges corrected the boy in a gentle but firm tone.

Then Mr. Bridges looked at me strangely. “Are you at the jail on Monday? I mean to deliver our answer to Ms. Kynd and to the parole officer ‘patriots’; wear that grey tunic and Kepi.”

“In a confederate uniform ! The prisoners will riot; the guards ‘ll beat me; Judge Jayson ‘ll …call the bar association.”

An evil smile sprouted from Mr. Bridges lips. “The prisoners and even the guards like a good joke, so does Judge Jayson. And the parole people .. the joke’s on them ... imitation patriots. I’ll fix it up for you.”

I do admit feeling not a little out of place appearing at the rear gate of Hunter Point Correctional Facility in a Confederate outfit and kepi. There were not a few gasps from raggy parole people who queued up, spiked coffee cup in hand, for admittance to the jail that morning.

Yet the Correction Officers in their uniform navy blue tunics maintained their stoic composure, as I whisked through twisted corridors to the waiting room.

Ms. Kynd’s debate with the parole officers in the corridor languished. “Fascist … expansion ..what…will…happen…when you find…there’s no more places to conquer?” The words were said but without feeling. All eyes were on me this morning.

When my case was called, the defendant, Vietnam Veteran, with a scraggly beard, paid the get-up no mind. Only the accusing parole officer stared at the hat in dismay.

We were already sitting down in the hearing room with Judge Jayson on his high bench oblivious to the Kepi, ready to start when Ms. Kynd burst in.

“I’m accused,” Ms. Kynd breathlessly argued, “of being everything from a Red whore to a Grand Dragoness of the Ku Klux Klan and look at him,” she pointed accusingly to me, “He wears the rebel grey.”

“Get me Mr. Bridges.” Judge Jayson ordered with a swing of his gavel. A chorus of blue jacketed Correction Officers sang out in the corridor: “Get Mr. Bridges.” Further down the corridor, you could hear the words “Bridges to the front” ring off cinderblock walls. When Mr. Bridges appeared in the doorway, Judge Jayson asked, “Ha - do you see anything wrong with the attorney’s hat?”

With permission, Mr. Bridges removed the grey Kepi from my head and gently held it in his hands to study it.

“Well,” demanded Judge Jayson in roar.

“The branch tab is crossed rifles … infantry .. not the wreath of the legal corps…and the brass isn’t shinny, according to regulations.” Mr. Bridges replaced the hat.

“Ha…” retorted Judge Jayson, “what do Army lawyers know anyway?”

“What the pen inscribes the sword defies and the wreath swishes it away.” I replied.

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