When “Not Guilty” is a Life Sentence

By Mac McClellan; New York Times (courtesy The Key Update)

September 27, 2017

Despite Ann’s determination to betray no emotion, a drop of sweat rolled down her temple as a guard painstakingly examined her lunch items. That Sunday morning, she had taken two buses, two trains and a shuttle to get from her home to the New York state psychiatric facility where her son is confined. Frustrated, she pushed back a little, but just a little, when the guard took away two sealed bottles of fruit-flavored water, a special treat that Ann had made an extra stop to buy. She watched as he held them up to examine them and concluded that they must contain caffeine — which is not allowed — because they did not read, “Does not contain caffeine.”

“They’re testing you,” she said to her son, James, after she was finally cleared, metal-detected and led upstairs to the visiting room, a spare, linoleum-floored space inside the hospital’s high-security building. Ann, who asked that her nickname and her son’s middle name be used to protect their privacy, usually comes to see James three times a week. Obstacles like these are routine. James, a middle-aged white man with thinning hair and a thickening waistline, listened to her complaints in a routine way, too, glancing up from the newspaper his mother had brought, the two of them sitting at a table, the same arch in their brown eyebrows, eating homemade coleslaw and sandwiches. They’ve been doing this a long time.

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