How Does it Feel?

By Phoebe Larson, Jan Senn, and Teresa Scalzo

We like to imagine that if we ever met George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, we would be the picture of nonchalant cool. (Riiight.) But how would we feel if we came face to snout with a hungry grizzly? Or had to leap from an airplane onto a burning mountain? And how does it feel to be circumcised, gentlemen? Maybe the same way it feels to be an investment banker these days. ¶ We don’t know how any of these things feel—personally—but we found alumni who do.

. . . to parachute onto a burning mountain?

Andrew Mattox ’99 was a smokejumper at North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop, Washington, for three years.

Smokejumpers specialize in hitting small, remote fires. A typical jumper fire is under five acres and is situated miles from the nearest road. If we do our job, the public never knows there was a fire.

A typical operation begins when a lookout or a reconnaissance airplane spots a fire and dispatch calls us at the air base. The siren sounds and within five minutes, eight of us have suited up in our jumpsuits, fire gear, and parachutes—all of which weighs about 70 pounds. We’re off the runway within 10 minutes and flying over the North Cascade mountains, one of the most rugged and heavily timbered landscapes in the United States. Flying low over jagged mountains in a small airplane with no door may sound nerve-racking, but it helps that we’re each wearing a Kevlar-and-foam suit, crash helmet, and two parachutes.

The jumpmaster identifies a jump spot and gets us in the door. The pilot flies us directly over the spot at 1,500 feet, and—at the signal—we launch ourselves out the door in one- to three-person “sticks” or clusters. Without parachutes, the ground is only

13 seconds away. Within 4 seconds, the main parachute should inflate. If it fails (failure rate is around 1 in 50,000), I have another 5 seconds to pull my reserve parachute.

Once the chute is inflated, I steer in at the jump spot, usually an open area in heavy timber. For about 1,450 feet, I feel like a hummingbird, and at about 50 feet, I realize I’m a human lawn dart. Then, in a matter of seconds, I hit. An average landing is like a 6-foot fall, and we do special rolls to absorb the impact. Some landings are feather soft. Some are like a 20-foot fall. Once, I bounced. 

After hitting the ground, we strip off our jump gear, tear open the cargo boxes to get our tools, and go fight the fire. That can take an afternoon or it can take five days and require resupply missions. Our basic tactical operation is to use chain saws to cut away heavy fuels (logs, thick brush) from around the fire, and then use Pulaskis (ax-adze combination tools) to dig a trench around the fire. In practical terms, I grab the heaviest available weapon and destroy everything in my path. Once the fire is contained, we let it consume itself, then we go through [the area]—sometimes on our hands and knees—to make sure it’s completely out, feeling every inch of it. 

Sometimes a helicopter can land nearby and fly us out. Often, we have a helicopter sling our gear out and we hike out with minimal equipment. Sometimes we just carry all our gear on our backs to the nearest road head. When we get back to the base, we sort our gear, rack it, and get fresh parachutes. Within an hour or two, we’re ready to jump again.


. . . to be a stand-up comic and celebrity interviewer?

Alex Cambert '90Alex Cambert ’90 is a former entertainment correspondent with Good Morning America, is host of the first-ever bilingual late-night talk show, Mas Vale Tarde con Alex Cambert, and appears regularly on The Tonight Show.

I’ve been lucky enough to appear on The Tonight Show a few times. It’s trippy working with people you see on TV. Up until I perform, I’m a complete mess. My heart beats fast and I pace. I’m a ball of sweat and hair gel. But when they call my name, it’s like I have an out-of-body experience. I suddenly become Stage Alex. When I get up there I don’t have a care in the world. My job is to have a good time. Laughter feeds me (which is a good thing because I haven’t eaten carbs since 1992). As soon as that first big laugh comes, I start improvising and I’m off to the races like a Latino Seabiscuit.

When I interview celebrities, I’m like Alex-on-a-first-date. I’m charming. I’m witty. I’m not married-for-five-years Alex who is grumpy and groggy with bad breath and my hair sticking up. I’ve done my research—I know more about them than they know about themselves, but I’m also a fan. I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh—I’m talking to Julia Roberts!” or “Angelina Jolie! Adopt me!”

My first celebrity interview was with Woody Allen. Not many people get to interview him. You have to go through a screening and vetting process. At the time, I was still a struggling reporter in Miami, so after my interview with one of the world’s most famous directors, I went to Costco and bought a $1.99 pizza, which I ate in my car because it was raining. When people recognize me and ask for an autograph, it’s flattering, but it’s weird because I still think of myself as Alex-who-eats-$1.99-Costco-pizza. Most people are kind—they just want a hug or a photo—but sometimes it’s intrusive. Once someone slid a piece of paper under the bathroom stall I was in and asked for an autograph. I was like, “I have nothing to write with, Senator Craig.”


. . . to survive a rhino charge?

Melissa Schubert ’94, who works for the Department of State in Washington, D.C., was on safari in Nepal when a black rhino got a little too close for comfort.

My guide and driver and I had been out in a battered old Jeep trying to spot wildlife in the Royal Chitwan National Park. We hadn’t had much luck, but on our way back to the resort, driving down a narrow paved road, we noticed a lot of agitated villagers running about. A black rhinoceros had wandered outside of the confines of the national park and was roaming through the rice paddies by the side of the road. Our Jeep approached a four-way intersection with a dirt road at about the same time the rhino did. The crossroads seemed to be the epicenter of the little village and had a high number of people about, all very excited and worried about the rhinoceros. My driver, clearly accustomed to taking risks, drove the Jeep closer and closer to the rhino.

Apparently feeling that we were getting a little too close, the rhino regained the upper hand by trotting from the field up onto the road. It faced us squarely at close range and lowered its head. My driver kept gunning the engine loudly but did not actually move the Jeep anywhere—say, in reverse, at high speed, as I would have suggested had I not been busily trying to find grab-holds in the back seat and glancing uneasily at the missing window. Suddenly the rhinoceros broke into a flat-out gallop toward us. As I attempted to prepare for an imminent massive impact (leaning as far back as possible, getting my legs up, and holding on to whatever seemed firmest), the rhinoceros stopped on a dime—literally a millimeter from the front of the Jeep—wheeled around, and trotted away in the opposite direction. We’d called its bluff.


. . . to butcher a chicken?

Summer 2009: Dead ChickenJason Fischbach ’99, a University of Wisconsin extension agriculture agent, owns Wild Hollow Farm, a poultry farm in Ashland, Wisconsin, with his wife, Melissa Carlson Fischbach ’99. They helped found Pasture Perfect Poultry, a poultry-processing and marketing cooperative.

I grew up in the suburbs and never thought I’d one day raise, much less process, chickens, so I definitely squirmed a bit the first time we butchered one. I felt bad. I thought, “Here I am killing something that was running around in the yard the other day.” I suppose I should say that we’re still humble and thank Mother Earth for the gifts she provides every time we process a bird, but when you slaughter as many chickens as we do, you get desensitized.

We butcher up to 200 chickens and turkeys every other week during the summer months. The chickens are raised outdoors on pasture. All of them are sold to customers who pick them up from the farm. There are three farmers in our cooperative and we share a processing trailer that has all the equipment we need to quickly and safely process poultry. We place the chickens upside down in killing cones, which are like funnels, so their heads stick out the bottom. The chickens, in general, are pretty calm and it goes fast. The entire process takes about two minutes per bird. Once they’re in the funnels a sharp knife is inserted into their mouth and goes straight into their brain, killing them instantly—the process is called pipping. Then we cut the jugular to bleed the birds. Surprisingly, there’s not much blood in a chicken. The blood is contained in their veins, so it’s actually very clean inside the body. We drain the blood onto wood chips, which then go into the compost pile along with all the internal organs and feathers.

After the chickens are bled we move them by hand into a scalder—a tank filled with 150-degree water—which scalds the skin and loosens their feathers. Prior to scalding it’s impossible to get the feathers off a chicken, but after 30 seconds in the scalder they fall right out. After they’re scalded we place them, five at a time, into a plucker, which is like a dryer drum lined with rubber fingers. The drum spins and the fingers knock all the feathers off the birds. Then the birds go to the eviscerating table where we remove their heads and feet, cut open their rear ends, and pull out all their internal organs. The heart and liver go back in the body cavity for stuffing. After being gutted and rinsed, the birds go into an ice bath to chill before we toss them into plastic bags and into the freezer. We’re left with a bucket of guts and a ton of feathers, which make great compost.

The whole process sounds a bit gruesome, but that’s where our food comes from.

Web Extra: Learn more about Fischbach’s poultry cooperative at www.pastureperfectpoultry.org.


. . . to attend President Obama’s inauguration?

Summer 2009: Janae Walton-Green '10Janae Walton-Green ’10 from Chicago is a cinema and media studies major.

We were out late the night before, [so] I only had an hour of sleep, no breakfast, nothing. As we exited the Metro around 4:00 a.m., we saw soldiers holding guns across their chests and motioning everybody onward along the parade route to the National Mall. Once we got onto the Mall [after walking in the crowd for hours], we saw thousands of people wearing Obama hats, shirts, and pins; they were laughing and cheering. We were a good mile away from the Capitol and packed in like sardines. We waited: 8:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m. It was so cold that my feet felt frozen to the ground because I hadn’t put on enough layers of clothing, but I said, “I came this far. I cannot go home now.”

Then they replayed the Sunday concert on the Jumbotron, and the crowd was singing “Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie,” jumping to keep warm, and waving flags. Just to feel that energy made it worthwhile. The festivities started at 11:00.

As soon as the announcer started saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, Michelle Obama,” they cut to an image of President Bush on the Jumbotron and the crowd went “Boooo!” really loud, for a long time. I thought, I hope Michelle doesn’t think that boo is for her. She couldn’t see the Jumbotron; she just heard this mass “Boooo!” It was horrible. And then the crowd started singing [to Bush], “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, good-bye!”

The orchestra played a beautiful fanfare. Then we heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, your president, Barack Obama!” Everyone cheered for the longest time. When you looked up into the sky, all you saw were flags waving really fast, flags everywhere. I was shouting my praises: “I’m here! I’m loving this moment! Thank you, God!” Barack walked out and he was calm, cool, and collected. Everybody was holding their breath while he was taking the oath: “I, Barack . . .” Though [he and Chief Justice Roberts] messed up a bit, the crowd was saying, “It’s okay, it’s all right.” Once he finished, people were crying, screaming, yelling; people were hugging random strangers. It was powerful.

[After he gave his speech] I guess we should have waited an hour or so for things to die down, but we left with the crowd. There was a long line at the Metro, and we thought it would be faster if we walked home. I was frozen solid, I had to go to the bathroom, and what should have been a 20-minute walk took us an hour because of the crowds. I don’t even remember falling into bed.

When I woke up later, it hit me: For the rest of my days, when people ask “Where were you when Barack Obama was inaugurated?” I can say that I was in that million-plus crowd in the middle of the Mall. I was cold, hungry, and tired—but I stayed to see our country make history.

Web Extra: View Janae Walton-Green’s video of the Obama inauguration at http://go.carleton.edu/janae.


. . . to tour with a rock band?

Tour BusKatie Friesema ’01 is a self-employed tour production specialist who has toured with Radiohead, John Mayer, Fall Out Boy, and Panic at the Disco, among other rock bands. Her home base is Chicago, but she is most often on the road.

I toured with Radiohead for the past year and am currently back with Dave Matthews Band. I provide IT and other production support, such as venue setup. There’s a definite distinction between being on the crew and being in the band. Though we sometimes interact with band members, it’s not considered professional to discuss it. You want to do your job and not get pulled into the celebrity aspect of it.

It’s a lot of fun, but the work is intense. When we show up, the venue is just an empty space. We often bring everything in—the stage, the lights, the barricade. It’s not unusual to start setting up the venue at 6:00 a.m. and finish tearing down at 2:00 a.m., only to start again at 6:00 a.m. in the next city and repeat for days on end. It’s a study in managing sleep deprivation because if you’re not pleasant, there can be severe ramifications—you live, work, eat, and sleep in close quarters with the same people for months at a time. Once you’ve been on the road for a while, your body adjusts to the lack of sleep.

On tour, you get a whirlwind view of the world. You see everything from a moving vehicle. I prefer touring by bus as opposed to plane or train because we get more sleep. The bus just pulls up to the venue and we stumble out and start working, rather than having to wait for a flight at the airport. It may not sound like a lot, but on a tour bus you also get your own bunk—your home away from home. A good tour will only put 8 people on a bus so the bunks are more spacious, but some tours stack 12 or more people per bus.

Being on the road puts a lot of demands on your life. Some people still manage to pull off marriage and kids, but it’s hard. The tradeoff for the long work hours is the freedom to take off as much time as you like between tours and the occasional day off in some random country you never thought you’d see. I work a lot, but I know that someday I can start taking more vacation, and when I do, I’ll have the frequent flier miles to go wherever I want.


. . . to appear on The Today Show?

Kevin SteinmanKevin Steinman ’98 is a self-employed singer/producer in Minneapolis. His former a cappella group, Four Shadow, was invited to appear on The Today Show in 2001.

I hadn’t slept much the night before. I was worried that the glam shirt our fashion consultant (whom we hired for the occasion) had bought me would look too weird and my mom wouldn’t like it—“Honey, did you know that shirt says ‘BAD’? Also, are those pants snakeskin?”

Things were pretty surreal at 4:30 in the morning when we were picked up by a black limo in Westchester County, about an hour outside New York City. It had a fully stocked bar, but since I had to sing, I didn’t partake. Having the door of a limo opened for you at Rockefeller Plaza is a trip. I had the camera rolling the whole time, and we used that footage on every promotional video since. It felt like I had arrived.

A producer ushered us in and told us sound check would be in 30 minutes; after that, we waited for three hours before singing one song at the end of the broadcast. We were pigging out in the green room, which was lavishly stocked with bagels and fruit, and suddenly there was Al Roker simultaneously reading a paper and gabbing with guests. Wendy Wasserstein was there to talk about her newest play. I had performed in a production of The Heidi Chronicles in 1996, and I regret that I was too starstruck to say hi to her.

Performing was thrilling. I kept trying not to think that millions of people were watching us sing. When it was done, Al Roker mistakenly called us the Four Seasons. Oh well. Ann Curry gave my dad a hug when she found out he had flown from Germany to see us perform. She was very sweet. I shook Katie Couric’s hand, and we headed for home.

Web Extra: Watch Steinman perform at http://www.tinyurl.com/steinman.


. . . to be circumcised?

Jabir Bin Mohd Yusoff ’11 is a philosophy major from Singapore.

I remember the day it was cut from me. I was five years old. It was a joyous event; relatives were called over, food and drink aplenty. They said it was for the better, that it was cleaner, and that cleanliness is next to godliness. No one questioned the logic. Who wants to be dirty?

I had seen what it would be like. Halim showed his to me sometimes. I was always eager to examine it; it was so different from mine. There was a certain grandness about it, in stark contrast to my pale, enclosed, brown one. Halim’s seeming indifference (he had been circumcised neonatally, without the fancy ceremony) only fascinated me further. Yet beyond the aesthetic and the rite of passage, I knew it would hurt, and that terrified me.

The doctor came in the evening. I heard someone announcing it, and a bolt struck through my heart. This is it, I told myself. This is how it has always been, how it was for my father, and his father, and his father before him. If the ceremony, the prayers and praises from my uncles and aunts, and even the teasing from my older cousins were meant to make it easier for me, they didn’t do a very good job.

The surgery itself was painless. I was under local anesthetic and awake the whole time. I felt nothing but a vague numbness down there. I was fine initially, but as the numbness wore off, a sharp searing pain quickly rose up. I couldn’t sleep for most of the night. In the morning, the pain was still there and, as I would find out, did not go away for a couple of weeks. Walking was awkward and difficult. I would dread going to the toilet for some time, a painful and undignified affair.

When it did finally heal, it didn’t look quite as grand as Halim’s, or was that just my delusions of phallic grandeur? In school, I would feel a bit more grown up than the other Muslim boys who had not had it done yet, and I enjoyed the attention I received when I shared with them my experience of the ordeal.

Today, it dawns on me that I miss my foreskin. It was taken from me at an impressionable age and, although there was no cruel intent, I feel deprived of it.


. . . to act with Hollywood stars?

A small cameo with George Clooney in The Good German (2005) led David Willis ’67 to his biggest Hollywood role, playing Abel Sunday in There Will Be Blood (2007). He works a day job as a library clerk in Los Angeles.

I play a German rocket scientist in The Good German. George Clooney is a reporter in Berlin after World War II. He breaks into my office to get some information. I had to speak one line of German, which I didn’t know until I got on set. Actually, George Clooney and I had been in an acting class together in the 1980s. He wasn’t famous back then. He had just moved to town and was living with his aunt, Rosemary Clooney. I didn’t think he was as good as some of the other actors in the class, but he had connections and he certainly has the look. He didn’t remember me, but, as we talked, he remembered the class. He has a reputation for being a nice guy, and he is.

The following year I spent 10 weeks in west Texas shooting There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day-Lewis. I play a poor goat farmer and Daniel Day-Lewis is an oil entrepreneur who offers me money for my land so he can drill for oil. There’s a lot of time between shots so we talked quite a bit. He was very cordial to me. I was interested in his background—his father was the poet laureate of England in the 1960s, and his mother was an actor. Most of the time he lives in Ireland, but he also has a place in Greenwich Village. He pretty much steers clear of Hollywood. At the end of filming he gave me a copy of The Complete Works of Milton with an inscription saying how much he’d enjoyed working with me. It’s a nice souvenir.


. . . to have a close encounter with a grizzly?

GrizzlyBrentwood “Hig” Higman ’99 and Erin McKittrick ’01 live in Seldovia, Alaska, and are the founders of Ground Truth Trekking, a Web site that raises awareness of the environmental issues they encounter on expeditions by foot, raft, and skis throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Hig: We were hiking a trail on the Alaska Peninsula, near Mother Goose Lake, during our 2007–08 hike from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands. I was walking in front of Erin and I caught a glimpse of the bear, a grizzly, about 300 yards away.

Erin: I didn’t see it. Hig just asked me to pass him the video camera, but I didn’t know what he’d seen. He asked for the camera before the bear spray.

Hig: We’ve had many encounters with bears over the years. Most often they see you and run away. This bear ran toward us—that’s unusual, so it made us worried. The way it held itself, its whole body language, was aggressive. It seemed like the bear was teetering on the edge of a decision.

Erin: It was deciding whether or not to eat us. It was early spring and this was the first bear we’d seen. It was skinny and must have just come out of hibernation. We figured it was hungry. I had my thumb on the bear spray, and I was estimating distances, thinking, “OK, if it gets past that bush, I’ll spray it,” but it never came that close.

Hig: I’d never experienced [the feeling that] “your heart is in your throat” until that encounter. It felt like my heart had moved up and pummeled my throat. The veins in my head were pulsing hard and I could feel the adrenaline pumping through me, but I had to stand very still. It was intense.

Erin: Finally, after about three minutes, the bear ran away. We could hear the boom of its footsteps. Bears can weigh a thousand pounds. They don’t move quietly if they are moving fast. 

Hig: We looked at its tracks afterward and they were enormous. We talked to some bear hunters later and they estimated that it would be about 11 and a half feet tall, standing up on its hind legs. That is unusually big for a bear.

Erin: I remember thinking, “Wow, that bear looked like it had really small ears.” Bears’ ears don’t grow in sync with their bodies, which means that bear was really big. I thought we’d have trouble falling asleep at our campsite that night, but we didn’t.

Web Extra: View Hig and Erin’s close encounter at www.groundtruthtrekking.org.


. . . to be an escort at an abortion clinic?

Summer 2009: Clinic EscortMollie Lam ’09 is a history major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It’s a surprisingly simple job. You wait at the entrance to the parking garage. When a patient arrives, you say, “Hi. I’m with the clinic. May I walk across the street with you?” If she says yes, you walk with her past the anti-choice protesters and the prayer line. Then you go back and do it again. It sounds easy enough.

Well, it’s not that easy. I was completely terrified. Fortunately for me, on my first morning as an escort, it was minus 20 degrees and the cold had kept away some of the protesters. One particularly notorious protester, nicknamed “the Screamer” by the regular escorts, stayed home. There were, at most, 10 protesters that day. Nevertheless, the first time I walked a patient across the street, I was chattering with nervous energy.

We wear bright orange vests printed with “Clinic Escort” in black block letters to make us easily identifiable to patients. I felt like I was wearing a target. I was an obstacle between the protesters and the patient. And if I, as a volunteer, was alarmed by the protesters, I can only imagine what the patients must feel.

I survived my first morning without incident. However, things aren’t always that calm at the clinic. Escorts always carry a cell phone in case we need to call the police, and they have been called a number of times, either when a patient’s companion lashed out at a protester or when a protester became too aggressive.

My experience as a clinic escort was extraordinarily empowering. Petitions and candlelight vigils serve a purpose, but the phrase “standing in solidarity” takes on a whole new meaning when you are literally walking next to the people you’re trying to support. I respect the right of abortion protesters to yell, pray, carry signs, and distribute literature. Still, as often as I can and as scary as it can be, I’ll be at the clinic to make myself and my beliefs visible.


. . . to be an investment banker?

Geoffrey Yu ’06 lives in London.

When I graduated from Carleton three years ago, I expected to live the high life of an investment banker, but things turned out to be harder than I expected. I bike through the streets of London every weekday morning to get to work by 5:30 a.m. My average workday lasts 12 to 14 hours. I penny-pinch on rent in a rough neighborhood and budget carefully to pay for [classes] at the London School of Economics, and that’s just the start. Once respected, my profession is now considered a hideout for thieves, bandits, and pillagers. With the recent financial crisis, people are calling for our heads. This past winter, bankers at a rival firm across the street from mine were pelted with snowballs while police stood by idly.

Every week we hear the chatter of more cuts or see a friend lose his job. The trading floor is one-third empty and we worry if the next phone call will be from HR. But we’re not the ones who screwed up. In reality, a small group of people is responsible for the industry’s woes.

I’m not defending the industry, merely myself and my profession. I admit I don’t know what it’s like to live from paycheck to paycheck, but we have our own struggles.

Despite all this, I enjoy my job, my firm, and my coworkers. I have access to the best information systems in the world and I love watching the financial markets. I am still buying my firm’s stock—despite significant decline in value—because I believe we can turn things around.


. . . to win an Emmy

Emmy AwardPeter Gwinn ’93 is a writer for The Colbert Report. He won his first Emmy in 2008.

It was our third time being nominated. The ceremony is incredibly exciting the first time you go, but after that, it’s a lot more fun when you win. If you don’t win, once your category passes, a lot of people head out to the bar in the lobby. I was honestly expecting Saturday Night Live to win last year. When they read our name, I remember screaming. I was so surprised. There were about 15 of us and we all went up on stage. Stephen [Colbert] gave the speech, which let us relax and look at the room—a great big theater full of people.

After the speech you go backstage. There’s a green room back there with food, and Neil Patrick Harris was there just hanging out. They didn’t hand us all Emmys onstage because there were so many of us, so we went outside and across the street to a parking garage where they had set up a table that was covered in Emmys. From there we drifted through a media tent into the photographers’ tent, where we stood on a platform in front of a riser with about seven levels of photographers. There were more cameras and flashbulbs than I’d ever seen, all going off at once.

Then we partied. The Governor’s Ball begins right after the show, and we also went to the Comedy Central party. When you have an Emmy in your hand, you can get into all the parties and talk to anyone. We talked to Phil Keoghan, who is the host of The Amazing Race, and Catherine Keener. We ambushed her and asked her to take a picture with us. She acted very excited about it, but after the photo was taken she said, “Who are you people?” I also talked to Kanye West.

I have the Emmy displayed at home. My new apartment has inset bookshelves with little arches at the top that are just the right size for an Emmy—it’s like an Emmy hutch. We have to keep it out of reach because my wife and I have a baby and those Emmy wings are deadly sharp.


. . . to get someone off death row?

Bruce Manning ’96 is an attorney with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis. This case, which he took pro bono and worked on with Brooke Tassoni ’92 and Kelly Miller Pierce ’99, was the first in Alabama in which a death sentence was commuted to life without parole (in 2006) because of a finding of mental retardation.

I tried to make it clear to the state’s attorney that I’m not in favor of criminals going unpunished. I’m just against execution. You can’t hide from the fact that our client, Jeremiah Jackson, shot this poor woman in her grocery store in Alabama. What he did was terrible. It’s just a question of what to do next. Jeremiah is mentally handicapped, but he’s capable of a certain amount of self-care in a heavily structured environment. In prison he’s capable of holding a job, going to church, and singing in the choir. His retardation takes the form of being unable to understand the relationship between actions and consequences. He doesn’t do well with empathy.

I didn’t have a lot of contact with the victim’s family. I have no way of understanding the horrible things they went through and are still dealing with. It would even be wrong to say that I’m sympathetic—I just don’t understand. But I disagree with them over what the proper punishment is for murder.

Jeremiah was featured on an MSNBC special. He talked about getting the call from his lawyer and being told that he was off death row. He talked freely about gaining new life and shouted when they filmed him walking off the row. I was amazed by that because when I told him he wouldn’t be executed, he didn’t say anything. He’s usually always talking, blustering about how good he is at basketball. This guy is five foot five and claims he’s a better player than Kobe Bryant and that he’s the most feared basketball player at Holman Penitentiary in Alabama. But when I called him up to say that he was off death row, he was silent.

The last conversation I had with his mother, she said, “Every day I praise God that your mother sent you to law school so you could help us.” I’m very humbled by the experience. In many ways, it’s the most satisfying thing I’ve done as a lawyer.


Comments

  • September 27 2011 at 5:16 pm
    Felicia Muer

    I wish all alum newsletters were as interesting as this one. What a diverse group! --- Felicia Muer charter bus

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