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May 28, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison




Men’s Group (Part 2)

It seemed the danger zone for middle-aged men was when they snapped because nagging got too great. The problem with younger men seemed to be other lovers. One young guy had a wife he loved and a young son, but he tripped up when he took on another woman. He promised this woman he would leave his wife and the two of them would be together. So the girlfriend let the wife know what was happening (to help her get lost). An argument with his wife became physical. She called the police. He had to move out. He was alone now with his girlfriend. He started to hate the girlfriend. He started to blame her for the break-up. He wanted his wife back. But his wife was done with him. She filed for divorce. She found another man and was soon engaged.

Another man… goodness, he had a carnival going. He had one child by one woman, another child by another. He wanted other women as side dishes. He appeared to be dodging paying for any of the kids he was scattering about. This caused one of his many women to come over to his house when another one was there. First the women started fighting. Then he hit one, the other, or both. One ended up in the hospital. She didn’t want to tell what had happened but was persuaded. He hid from the police a few days. The police said they just wanted him to come down to hear his side. The police acted friendly. When he got to the police station, they weren’t friendly. They arrested him and loaded him with charges. He was fighting these charges while he attended our men’s group. Despite all of this, he didn’t seem troubled by anything. He had an attitude of, “Aren’t women crazy! How can anyone get along with them?”

A heavy guy named Bruno had been a wrestler in college, but the muscle had gone mostly to fat. He hooked up with an exceptionally pretty woman from China. Their relationship was secret from her parents. His problem was that she treated him like dirt. She was spoiled and loved the attentions of other men. He couldn’t win her loyalty, but he couldn’t let her go. She was too wonderful to look at. I kept wondering what his incident was: if he had been violent, why they were still together? Finally he explained why he was required to be in the program. It wasn’t concerning this girlfriend at all. It was a past relationship. He had skipped out of counseling before completing the 52 weeks, some three years ago. He’d been in Nevada. They caught up with him and he had to start all over.

There was a Greek man who got into a fight over his son. His son was from an earlier marriage, and he felt his present wife was being too strict. He told us, “I just hit her. I shouldn’t have but I love my son and I didn’t agree with her. I never did that before.” He was also the man who kept telling us things like, “I know I was in the wrong, but I think this way of handling marital problems is too severe, don’t you?” And “Don’t you think this does couples more harm? It seems many couples need help, not all these police in the middle of their marriages, which makes things worse not better.” When the police came ,he just told them honestly, “I shouldn’t have, but yes, I admit it, I hit my wife.” He was a cheerful guy, often laughing, always a good listener, and from what he told us he and his wife were getting along great. “So, the thing I don’t understand is why they can’t leave us alone now?”

Another man who didn’t belong in the program. He was involved with an older Hawaiian past-beauty queen. She was 50 and had had four husbands. One night they were driving home and got into an argument. She started scratching his face and hitting him while he was driving. He held her wrist to restrain her. He showed the police where he had been scratched. No matter, even if it was “mutual combat,” he had laid hands on her and he was the man. He said he was not hurting her; he was restraining her. He was arrested, went to jail, and is in the program. She wasn’t charged with anything. She had called police on other men before.

The men didn’t talk just about relationships that had gone bad and troubles with their own tempers. They also brought other problems of every possible description to the meeting. Drug and alcohol troubles. Job crises. Serious worries about children and school. I was really surprised to hear such tender stories about dads and their kids. Most men (not all) would do anything for their kids. One man came in one week and described in detail how he’d found a fellow worker dying of a heart attack in the men’s bathroom. Another man was trying to handle his mother’s dying. The hardships of merely getting a job, pleasing a boss, and paying the bills were something huge. I think the group went best when one of the men came in very depressed or bothered by something, was thinking about doing something rash or plain stupid, and the guys would talk some sense into him. Let go of a woman who has mistreated you. Be fair to your former partner and don’t try to turn the kids against him or her. Solve disputes without lawyers. Tuck in your pride and learn to forgive. See where uncontrolled temper can topple all the cards a person has taken so long to balance. Don’t take troubles too personally and think about jumping from bridges. In many ways, for this group of men in Daly City, a bunch of men, eight to fifteen of them on any given night, men who wouldn’t necessarily talk to anyone, sitting around each week spilling beans was a good thing.

The second group was almost as good as the first group I was required to attend was bad.

Speaking of that first group… I went in to see my probation officer to ask if I had finally been given credit for the missing weeks. I sat in my probation officer’s little work office up on the second floor of the Hall of Justice.

He gave me the situation. “Basically,” he told me, “they are saying that you were discharged for excessive absences…”

“That’s not true! I was transferred by Judge Weiss, Courtroom 15...”

“Let me finish. They say you were discharged for excessive absences and that furthermore if they feel one of their men has not made progress, they are allowed by the penal code, let me look it up (which he did)...see…this section…they are allowed with the judge’s consent to take away all your weeks and make you start over. That is what they have told me they would like to do.”

“But that’s not fair. How can they do that!”

“I’m not finished, Scott. If you do not contest the five weeks, then I will not tell the judge their recommendation. It will stop right here. So it’s up to you, Scott. Do you want to fight for the five weeks and lose those five plus twenty-six more weeks? You have to understand, Scott, I have to take their word on this. If they say a man has so many weeks, I have to take their word for it. We don’t have men tell us what they did or didn’t do. You see, Scott, that’s not how it works.”

“Yes but you’re doing your job, I’m doing mine. I’m just asking them to do theirs and give me credit for the weeks I did attend.”

“Look, do you want to drop it or lose twenty-six more weeks? You’re almost done, Scott, I don’t think you want to do all of those weeks again.”

“Let’s go. I want to fight it! It’s the principle. I did those five weeks and they have no right to just steal them from me!”

“O.K., don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you ask me, you’re making a mistake.”

So I went back to court. First I had to turn in my progress report. I stood in line with other men (as I had done so many times before). It was early. The morning session hadn’t begun yet. Judge Harold Kahn, without his black robe, came from chambers to ask the court clerk something. He looked at the line of men. He seemed to look at me. How could that be? He walked back, past the enclosed area, along the line of men and stood next to me. “Mr. Harrison,” he said in a cheerful voice, “I’ve been reading your writing online.”

I was dumbfounded. I didn't know what to say. I said to him, “Well, I’m just trying to give an insider’s point of view.”

Later in court a review was ordered and Judge Kahn asked, “What day, Mr. Harrison, would you like me to set this?” I said, “Oh, any date would be ok with me.” So my probation officer set a date three weeks later. But these guys in the system are so clever. As of that morning I had already completed my entire fifty-two weeks. In three weeks, before the question could even be addressed, I would have done three extra weeks and I could lose twenty-six more. You see, you can win but lose anyway. I think that happens in courts a lot. I’m always hearing about people in Civil Court who win their case but the legal bills suck up everything. But before I left I asked Judge Kahn if I might leave the court some copies of letters I’d written concerning the whole mess. He said he’d be happy to read them.

Three weeks later I went back to court. I had already done three extra weeks and I felt it was hopeless. With no record and no confirmation from the counseling center, I would not get credit. So I went into Courtroom 19 and took a seat. When my case came up, I stood at the podium and said, “Your honor, I understand that with no record of my completing these weeks the court can not give me credit so I’m prepared to do the final two weeks.”

“But, Mr. Harrison, I intended to give credit.”

“You did? Oh.”

"I’ve reviewed your case, Mr. Harrison. First I want to say you are a very good writer, Mr. Harrison."

“Thank you, sir.” (I was surprised to hear him say this.)

“I am going to give you credit for the five weeks, so let the record reflect that you now have the full fifty-two weeks and have completed the program. Furthermore, I will recommend that after three months you ask your probation officer to be transferred to court-supervised probation. If your probation officer isn’t agreeable to this, then come back into court and I should think the court will look favorably on this request.”

“Thank you” is all I could manage to say. I turned and began to leave. Judge Kahn asked, “Then are these copies ones that I can keep?” referring to the papers I’d left last time.

“Of course. Yes, you may have them. Thanks again.”

What did this mean? Well, it meant no more counseling sessions. It meant no more early morning progress reports taken to court to avoid a bench warrant for my arrest. It meant no more threats of jail if I didn’t admit to something that never happened. It meant the Vatican should think seriously about raising some judges to sainthood.