I remember distinctly my "Damascus road" experience. Not because there was a "shining light" from heaven on my path but because of a rude shock and awakening I had. It was Christmas time and I had gone along with other members from my church to feed and provide warm clothing for the homeless at Catholic Charities’ homeless shelter in Spokane, Washington. As we walked into the entrance to the dining hall, a notice board on the wall caught my eye. As I drew closer, my mouth went ajar. The piece of paper glued to the board contained the list of the homeless folks who died in my city that year. Out of the dozen people on the list, I had represented four or five of them in one form or another.
When I inquired the cause of death for one of them, an individual I believed I got out of jail on numerous occasions by pre-trial motion victory, outright victory at trial, or sometimes with credit for time served guilty plea, I broke down and wept when they told me that he died of complications from frost bite and a cancerous liver exacerbated by Korsakoff alcohol-induced dementia. The saddest part for me is that I knew about his serious health concerns months before his death, as he usually brought to me the paperwork from his numerous emergency room visits. It was on one of those papers I learned more about Korsakoff syndrome, but I didn’t do anything about it. I told him to go see a doctor. His response then was that when he needed to see a doctor he’d go to the ER as he has no primary care physician. His ER papers clearly stated that Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by a severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1) and that Korsakoff syndrome is most commonly caused by alcohol misuse, but certain other conditions also can cause the syndrome.
Unlike now, there was no Affordable Care Act, and he had no health insurance. He only visited the hospital emergency room when he was seriously sick. Numerous times he would tell me he wanted to attend alcohol treatment, but he couldn't afford it; and no insurance covered an addiction recovery program at that time. So I fought tooth and nail to make sure no treatment conditions were imposed on his probation. When the court did, despite my several protestations,and he came back on probation, I reminded the court he could not afford to pay for it, so I got the least punitive sanctions, 30 days credit for time served instead of the maximum 90 days for asimple misdemeanor.
To be continued