Jacob Lehman shares an important reminder that good fortune helps many a career and how his has not been derailed by the mistakes that he’s made, and the privilege of being white.
When I was sixteen, I forgot about a knife that was in my pocket as I walked into a state courthouse for a Mock Trial competition. I was pulled out of the competition, interrogated by an officer for over an hour, and received a “warn and dismiss” from a judge for carrying a concealed weapon. I did not spend time in jail. I was not handcuffed or physically abused. I was not shot or tased. The record was sealed, and my education proceeded as planned. Had any of my stepbrothers been as careless as I was, they would likely not have been so lucky.
When I was an undergraduate at Cornell I took Prof. Barry Maxwell’s “Prisons and Police in American Culture,” and began writing to an inmate on death row in Ohio. He had been in prison for over 20 years on a felony murder charge. I would send him art supplies, he told me about his two children, his efforts to get new shoes so that he could play basketball again, and we exchanged letters (and fantasy football strategies) for the next seven years.
Before starting law school, I worked in the office of a civil rights attorney in Detroit, reviewing footage of a cell phone store robbery in which the police had misrepresented the order of events on the tape in their testimony in order to make it seem as if a seven-months’ pregnant employee had been an accomplice of the robbers.
While working on a project for McKinsey in the Chicago area the hotel staff had misplaced my rental car. I was running late getting to the client and sped to try to make up the time. I got pulled over while driving a car I did not own. I was not grabbed, handcuffed, restrained, tased, or shot. I got to the client site late, but not excessively so, and only suffered some good-natured teasing from my teammates (and a payment to the state of Illinois).
Key points include:
- A forgotten knife
- A cell phone store robbery
- A misplaced rental car
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