I was at Prisoner Legal Services only nine months. In that time, I won one case – my first win as a lawyer! The State had miscalculated the parole date of my client, Chuck. He should already have been eligible, but according the Department of Corrections, he was not.
I never met Chuck, and we never went to court. The mistake was all resolved by phone calls and papers. It wasn’t a huge win. Chuck would have gotten out in a few months anyway. But hey, who knows what a difference a few months can make in a man’s life, right?
I also lost my first client in those nine months. One day, I received a letter from an inmate named George. He had AIDS, which in 1993 was a death sentence. He wrote “I don’t want to die in prison. I want to die at home.” There was a chance I could negotiate his release, since the State would prefer not to spend the money on all the end of life care that would be needed. I visited George a couple of times in the hospital at North Carolina’s maximum security prison. The hospital was old, dingy, and smelled of urine and bleach. I liked George. He was pleasant and very appreciative of my visits.
I was going through the mail one day when I saw a letter that I had sent to George. Across the front, in large letters was stamped “deceased.” That was how I found out that George had died. That was how our relationship ended. No good-byes. I held the letter in my hands and wanted to do something. But what was there to do? Case closed.
According to The Foundation for Aids Research, by the end of 1993, 360, 909 cases of AIDS had been reported in the United States and 234,225 deaths from AIDS. Today, it is estimated that over a million Americans are infected with the HIV virus.