Law School Education

An excerpt from my new book Renaissance Homeboy:

When I began law school in Fall 2001, I felt my job was not to be critical but first to be secretly submissive. Many years earlier in Marine Corps boot camp, a drill instructor had barked in my face:

“Scumbag, do you want to be private or a Sergeant?” He thought it was a simple rhetorical question.

“Sir, this recruit wants to be a private.” I looked forward so as not to eyeball him.

“You must be the stupidest rock I’ve ever seen in my life!” He jumped about two feet in the air. “You want to burn shit and get fucked?! Who doesn’t want power?”

The truth was that at the time he asked me I did not have the confidence or schema for being a sergeant, and though I have relayed how I acted boldly in some undergraduate and graduate classes, sometimes it was just a front to scare people away from me. In law school, in competition with people who were excellent thinkers, I felt that the brash strategy would not initially work, especially when I was so out of my league with the sly language and style of power. At Hastings Law School, everyone was brilliant because they believed they were.

I did not believe in the law. I did not understand it nor care to understand it because I was so very mistrustful of it. In the law there were tricks purposely meant to confuse lower economic class people and keep them ignorant and, more insidiously, scared and hopeless. Simply to have a single legal form submitted to the court could cost you thousands of dollars in attorney fees. You were not good, smart, or wealthy enough even to fill out the blank space designated for your own name, so you were supposed to hire a lawyer to do it. In fact filling out the welfare application form, something I had done for my mother since I was seven years old, was easier; I dealt with someone, a welfare worker, who was kind of like me. To speak to a suspicious lawyer or judge was to confess my utter stupidity and feel ashamed and angry. Varrio gente took that anger out not on the law, for they knew how futile that fight was, but they took it out on themselves and other innocent destitute victims until they were nothing but dry bones. The law, you always knew, was an unrepentant killer.

I did not really desire to be that type of killer, but for me there was no other choice. Plunged into perplexity, I had to brave wicked justice in order to learn privileged secrets. Later, during my second year at Hastings, did I learn through the landmark affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, that most House of Representatives members and U.S. Senators and many governors and presidents all have or had law degrees, especially from top tier prestigious universities. There was certainly a secret training in law school and a clandestine powerful language being learned, one that not even professional academics could combat. The new clergy, lawyers were the most powerful people on Earth.

Lawyers’ ideas actually action, move things, force someone to do something or shackle that someone in chains. There is no theory. There is simply right and wrong, and lawyers are the ones deciding what that means. No matter whether the client can understand the legal brief or justice’s opinion, one client is rewarded money while another loses his house; one client breathes life while another’s heart is forced to stop. Consider this lawyer invented (and now culturally entrenched) unprecedented American legal phenomenon: Time is punishment; all time can be taken from precious, healthy life for the furtherance of mass incarceration laws. These types of legal and judicial ideas in action draw the clear line of what is good and bad, even though most of the public do not even know how we get to good and bad. Most of the public simply accept it as the way it is supposed to be.

Ben with HOMEY SF at UC Hastings’ Day at Law School, 2013
HOMEY at Hastings

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