Freudian Slips: Ace in the Hole

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

April 21, 2005

Ace in the Hole

"Just because it is your job doesn't make it right, boss." - Prisoner Paul Neuman reprimanding a prison guard in a scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke.
The wind howls when I hear the mere mention of his name. If I lower my rose-colored social worker glasses, the view of his his house is that of a crime scene in a cheap detective novel. My client is an alleged sexual perpetrator who has escaped prosecution. Heinous allegations against defenseless minors he reflects on with a sinister smile. He is none other than the bloody ketchup on a small fry. Developmental disability is his crutch that his attorneys have leaned on mightily. He understands the difference between wrong and right. His basic understanding of the difference between wrong and right is the crux not crutch of the matter. God forbid. I am not his judge and jury. Nobody has sat for that...not through trial or error.

He sits across from me now on a tattered sofa. I look him in the eye without a grimace or wink. We dialogue freely over the noise pollution known as the Jerry Springer show. He repulses me although I do not let him know it. He fills me with the kind of nausea that could bring a greenhorn social worker overtop a toilet. I take it all in and keep it all down but make no mistake about it, I believe his accusers. I have prayed for their sorrow and pain. While my mind is filled with malcontent, I discuss social services to his indifferent ear. I wonder, fret even, whether my composure constitutes two-faced hypocrisy or savvy compartmentalization of a professional? The world may never know since I haven't yet figured that one out for myself.
As he watches the fabric of America unravel on Jerry Springer, I think about how I got in this predicament right here and now. A man is not idle just because he is absorbed in thought so I force myself to remember. I am called as a witness for the Defense in his pre-trial hearing. This case against my client was held in abeyance for years before somebody came up with the less than noble, prize winning idea of getting this man a staunch social worker. I knew my testimony could be a part of my own deathbed confessional. Guilt lays heavy with me. I recall time standing still before moving from the inertia of my courtroom seat to testify. My personal opinions had to be suppressed in my testimony. I represented the State not myself.
Standing in a monkey suit, I take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The truth hurts but in this case it hurts me and the prosecution more. It is small thanks to being certified as an expert witness in my field of social work with nary an objection from the Prosecution. The Public Defender's questions box me in a corner. The court draped me in a papal robe as suit and ties tout the miracles I can perform in the name of social work to save a wretch like him. My leg twitches below the microphone but my voice booms with confidence. I realize during the questioning that my testimony makes the community more vulnerable. A huddled group of people in the audience sneer every time I mention another social service my agency offers. It is a smothering experience to feel resigned to tell the truth and only answer the questions asked without an allowance for expansion. Rather, I want to stand up and yell that justice is being overlooked and this type of offender cannot be rehabilitated. I want these charges to proceed to trial more than anyone except maybe the latest victim herself.
After an hour of testimony, I am summarily dismissed. I turned helplessly over to the old Judge. I will never forget his uncomfortable look. His eyes looked me over like the manner in which the public respects a used car salesman. His wrinkles had frowns. The judge handed me a manilla envelope after I testified. He instructed me to read it in private and not to share its contents. To this day, I have not told a soul. It is unspeakable for the most part anyway. I can still feel the weight of the voluminous file as I limped from the stand.
Back in my office, its stark contents startled me. I had been given no choice but to testify in ignorance. They wanted me without prejudice and that they got. What have I done? I lumped my head on my desk and cried. I felt betrayed by lawmen. Knowing what I know now, I cannot ensure the safety of the community nor guarantee his rehabilitation. I can do neither but I am expected to do both. Under oath, I have been reduced to a pawn among tournament chess players. I am both the system's pawn and my client's ace in the hole. I am being played.
After umpteen pre-trial motions, hearings, and uninterrupted social services, the criminal case gets dismissed! The little girl is now fourteen. She is anyone and everyone. She is every youngster's face I see in a crowd. She is any one of my daughters, the neighbor's kid, the unsupervised toddler spinning a Big Wheel on the sidewalk. She is anyone who can't protect themselves. She is the innocence of childhood falling prey to the wicked and it is this brand of wicked who rests his laurels in my protection. Go figure.
Fisticuffs break out on Jerry Springer. My inner conflict surrenders to present day conflicts at large. He reaches for another cigarette barely acknowledging my presence. The card deck has been shuffled and only two players remain from that courtroom. It is just him and me. The Prosecutor has moved on. The probation officer last hung up the phone in my ear before taking a new job. The Public Defender has disappeared into the Halls of Justice. My letter to the Judge trying to amend my original testimony never amounted to a hill of beans on the justice scale. I remain his ace in the hole attentive to his needs in the chamber of his house. The silence of second guessing proves deafening. I look up from my notepad to force a smile that snakes across my face of regrets. All the pre-trial social services I started for him he has the latest criminal case against him. I point out the circumstantial evidence of his uncooperativeness. I want him to admit he worked over the system as much as I don't want to hear it. I wait for an answer.
I hear his red-neck voice carry through the cigarette filled air. "Joe, I'm a free man." He boasts to the tune of braggart. "Ha-Ha! F---k yeah!"
The walls in the speck of a house close in around me. He is a free man and I am his prisoner.



Blogger Lost said...

No platitude I could come up with would make you feel any better. That said - keep in mind all the people you do help. You do an important job.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous chi said...

You've got all my comprehension!

7:10 AM  
Blogger PaxRomano said...

This blasted job of ours ... I can't say anything except, I hear you loud and clear.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, this individual has got to be one of the most loathsome of God's creations. His abhorrent act against the child, unfortunately, has reverberating consequences. The obvious, of course, is towards the child. But, he has contaminated you with lasting feelings of guilt and self-loathing. To make matters worse, you have to administer to his worldly needs. What a hell-of-a-way to make a living! God bless you for your admirable fortitude.

Early this morning I did the cryptoquote in today's Courier Post and after reading your blog realized that it fit perfectly with what you went through. I ran to the garage to retrieve the paper so that you could read the following:


Stop blaming yourself. If you want to be whipped, come to my house and I'll take all of my frustrations out on your backside with a wet noodle. And, I'll give you a cup of coffee. ET

1:39 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

My chin is up, thanks.

I hope social work is a little different over there in Italy.

Race you to retirement then its blog, blog, blog.

I don't think you will ever be finished spanking Antonio Banderas with a wet noodle to find time.

3:41 PM  
Blogger girlgrey said...

my favorite line from that movie is "let me know you're up there, come on! love me, hate me, kill me, anything! just let me know it!" probably my number one favorite movie scene of all time. at least today.
i majored in social work for 2 semesters. when we started working with people who didn't want to be helped, didn't want to change or grow, didn't even wish they wanted to become a fuller person, well, that is when i decided i couldn't take it. i teach now, and it is often very similar, especially in the school where i am now, to social work. but the difference is the people i'm trying to help (and who help me) are children (middle school). and though they may say they don't want to be helped, i am close enough to a corn-fed cockeyed optimist to disbelieve them.
you are doing good work. maybe this time it backfired - your good intentions backfired. but you have to know deep down that you are making change for the good. and if you don't know it anymore, maybe you could consider getting into teaching...

9:29 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

I recognize that line from the church scene in Cool Hand Luke.
How about this one? I'd rather eat 50 eggs before going back into that home. Chaperoning one middle school dance was as close to teaching as I have been.

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, you're right about Antonio and me. How about just a cup of coffee. Bring Pax. Love, ET

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe, you're right about Antonio and me. How about just a cup of coffee. Bring Pax. Love, ET

7:40 AM  
Blogger girlgrey said...

btw, the line is actually from the thunderstorm scene. -just sayin'

3:22 PM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

It sounds like I had a failure to communicate. I stand corrected. Thunderstorm not church.

8:07 PM  
Blogger justrose said...

powerful, courageous, and raw. tremendous writing. i can't believe you have had to deal with all this, my respect for you is immense.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Joe Tornatore said...

thanks. I didn't think I could win over readers without sporting cleavage. I am still a long way from the 20,000 hit parade of your blog.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:39 PM  

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