Senator Jeff Sessions is a good man who would be a great U.S. Attorney General, but I didn’t reach that conclusion by only examining his years on the judiciary committee, or his tenure as Alabama’s attorney general, or his record as a federal prosecutor.
Those are all stellar qualifications, but I have the added benefit of remembering the time he helped a troubled family – one without wealth, connections, or experience – successfully navigate the justice system, with firmness yet with compassion.
I was only in the fifth grade in 1985 when one of my brothers was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison for smuggling cocaine from Alabama to Michigan, but I remember nearly everything about the ordeal.
I remember how it transformed my brother from a carefree, often reckless kid into a panicked and desperate man. He saw a once bright future collapse into the darkness of a prison cell because of a stupid, irreversible mistake.
I remember how it wrecked my father, both emotionally and financially. His son was locked up 1,000 miles away with all sorts of violent criminals, and all he could do was listen to his frightened voice on the telephone. Those long distance charges sometimes reached $1,000 a month, nearly my father’s take-home pay from the fire department at the time.
I remember listening to my mother speak, often plead, with an endless cast of characters from our justice system: local police detectives, state and federal agents, my brother’s public defenders, multiple prosecutors, and the judges. She ran up against walls, mostly. My mother walked away feeling ignored, helpless, hopeless, and ashamed.
But I also remember one individual from that world of officialdom who treated my parents with compassion, who took the time to help them understand what was happening, and why, and how their son could be successfully rehabilitated in a federal penitentiary, firmly yet justly.
That man eventually sent their son to prison, but they spoke fondly, nearly reverently, of him for the rest of their lives. He was the top federal prosecutor in Mobile at that time, and his name was Jeff Sessions.
So what did he do to earn such respect? Nothing, except treat my parents like human beings and put their son on a path to rehabilitation. Isn’t that what we seek of our justice system, and of those who run it?
Looking back, there was no clear advantage for Sessions to go out of his way for my family, to help my parents find whatever ease was possible. He was a busy man, my brother was guilty, and my parents had neither connections nor a high-priced attorney (or any attorney, in fact).
So why did Sessions – then nearly a decade away from entering politics – treat one insignificant family so well? The answer is simple: because he is a good man, and I’m sure that this isn’t the only such tale that could illustrate that fact.
Yet now we’re treated with newspaper articles and television reports digging up old, unsubstantiated, and ridiculous accusations that Sessions is a racist, and opponents to his nomination are painting this honest man as some sort of plantation-like caricature of the Jim Crowe days.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if the truth matters to his opponents, perhaps they should recall how when he was a U.S. Attorney, Sessions filed many cases to desegregate schools, how he prosecuted a Klansman for murdering a black teenager and then insisted upon the death penalty, and how his work led to a civil judgment against the Klan that finally broke its declining strength in Alabama.
The public record, and no doubt the private record, proves that Jeff Sessions would be a compassionate yet firm lawman. That’s what my family needed 30-years ago, and that’s what our nation needs today.
Oh, and my brother? He was released after seven years and went on to lead a successful (and completely law-abiding) life in the entertainment and service industry. He never forgot about Sessions, either.
“Last time I voted, it was for Perot, four months out of prison,” he texted me from Georgia before the polls closed on Election Day. “I got up early and voted for Trump today. Fingers crossed.”
Indeed. Fingers crossed.