Remember that guy in high school that you were friends with that was your "bad friend"?
The one who smoked weed (and probably did more) earlier than anyone else? The guy who had actually been to Juvie or Rehab? The one who everyone else thought was so cool because he was the guy who just didn't give a crap what his parents, teachers, or the police thought? The James Dean of your high school? The one that the girls wanted to date to piss off their parents, and the one that guys wanted to be like to show that they could be "bad"?
That guy in high school was my best friend. For the purposes of this post, I'll just call him "Jim".
Although we lost touch a couple of years after high school, and actually had some personal differences that led us to not talk to each other for about eight years, you don't forget the people who held the title of "best friend", no matter how old you get.
Today, after having not seen nor heard from him in eight years, Jim showed up at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center looking for me.
When you practice criminal law, and an "old friend" looks you up out of the blue, the reason for it 99.9% of the time is that they are in legal trouble and want some free advice. And given the fact that I hadn't heard from him in a long amount of time, and the fact that he was never really one to turn his back on any drug in the book, I pretty much assumed that was why he was looking for me.
I found him on the first floor by the elevators. He looked fine. He seemed fairly relaxed and he looked just like he did in high school. We exchanged greetings and went to a witness room to talk.
"Are you in trouble?" I asked him.
"Nah, man," he said.
"What's going on, then?"
"Man," he said. "I knew you were probably the only person who could help me."
"Man," he said, as serious as he could be. "I've finally figured out that since I was two years old that my dad has been conspiring with the CIA, the Secret Service, and Queen Elizabeth to kill me. They've been injecting isotopes into my body that allow them to track what I do and control me. My dad can even see everything I see through my eyes."
He meant every word he said.
My best friend from high school, in other words, had become severely mentally ill.
And I had no idea of how on Earth to help him.
It's a strange feeling to sit there across from someone that you used to know like a brother and see that the person he used to be is no longer there. His mind rotted away for whatever reason, whether it be hard core drug use, or just genetics.
It's a painful feeling. It's a hopeless feeling. It's a feeling that I wasn't equipped to deal with in any productive way.
So I quickly thought about who I knew that could possibly help me with the situation. Who would be sympathetic, understanding, and helpful.
I thought about it for about ten seconds.
And then I called Mark Bennett.
Mark answered the phone in the hushed tone that told me he'd been in a courtroom when I called. I asked him if he was in the CJC at the moment, and when he said that he was, I told him I needed his help.
He was there in under five minutes.
I introduced him to Jim, and Mark took over from there.
He communicated with my friend in a way of patient understanding that only somebody who had dealt with the mentally ill and understood what they were going through could do. He didn't condescend to him. He was candid with him that what Jim was saying was logically implausible. But he didn't belittle Jim for what his far-fetched thoughts were.
He spoke to him in words that Jim could understand. Ultimately, Mark told Jim that he needed psychiatric help and that "even if a doctor doesn't believe what you are saying, he can probably help make you feel better about coping with it. Wouldn't you like to feel more at ease?"
And Jim did.
I would like to tell you that we walked Jim down to a psychiatric institute where the people took him in and everything was going to be okay.
But I don't know that everything will ever be okay with Jim.
Mark got me the name of a psychiatrist who specializes in dealing with someone with Jim's type of problem. I talked to Jim's dad this afternoon, and passed along the advice that Mark had given me.
Will it help Jim? I don't know. Frankly, I doubt it.
But the point is that when I needed help, and when my friend needed help, Mark Bennett showed up in the blink of an eye. He stepped in where I would have miserably failed, and dammit, it was pretty freaking impressive.
My dad once told me that the highest compliment that one man can give to another is to call him a "good man".
Mark Bennett and I have disagreed over many topics. He's been blasted on his opinions by me and numerous prosecutors on this blog, and on his own.
But folks, let me tell you something.
Mark Bennett is a good man.