Curtis Dawkins

Dr. Death and His Lawyer

Curtis Dawkins is in prison serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In this article, he discusses Dr. Jack Kevorkian (a.k.a. Dr. Death and a former MDOC inmate) and his lawyer Geoffrey Fieger.

 

Geoffrey Fieger is the most famous criminal defense attorney in Michigan. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, he was Dr. Jack Kevorkian’s lawyer, defending him from prosecution on charges of assisting suicides in the 1990s. The doctor was finally imprisoned after helping someone kill herself on 60 Minutes.

Fieger later ran a losing campaign for governor and Dr. Kevorkian spent about a decade in Michigan prisons before being “compassionately paroled” for terminal illness. He died soon after.

Commercials for Fieger’s law firm appear daily on my little TV. In his latest, he shows clips of high-profile cases he’s worked on, summing each up with phrases such as: “The government shouldn’t tell you when you can die;” “Juveniles aren’t adults” (there’s a picture of an African-American kid, who looks to be about 10, being charged as an adult); then Fieger says, “I work 20 hours a day, 7 days a week; so if someone thinks I go to court without knowing the law, they’re wrong.”

There is no hint that he’s aware of the hyperbole, that he’s exaggerating the amount of time he works to make a point. Or that he’s bending the truth as a metaphor for the job he’ll do for those who retain him. He’s serious.

Do you want an attorney who works 140 hours per week? Are we supposed to believe Fieger only sleeps 4 hours a day and the rest of the time he’s hard at work in court or with his nose buried in musty legal tomes? What if a doctor—let’s say a neurosurgeon—had a commercial where she said: “I’m elbow deep in brain matter 20 hours a day. I know cerebellums and medulla oblongatas better than anyone; and if you think I’m going to rearrange synapses without knowing the results, you’re dead wrong.”

Or a pilot: “I’m in the cockpit five-sixths of every day. My only communication with the outside world is by Skype, between LaGuardia and Heathrow.” There are strictly enforced limits for truck drivers, pilots, and almost every other profession where human lives might be in peril.

I wouldn’t let a vet neuter my dog after he had been awake for that long.

I never met Kevorkian. He was out of the MDOC when I got here near the end of 2005. There’s a Seinfeld episode that mentions him and, as far as infamous prisoners, he ranked right up there with the most well known ever. He could have lived in the cell where I now reside.

Dr. Kevorkian was a painter of surreal portraits: decapitated heads displayed on fine china and other surfaces one wouldn’t expect to see severed heads. He seemed eager to be imprisoned for his assisted suicide beliefs, until he’d been here a while, the novelty wore off, and reality set in. Prison is as serious as dying, without the fanfare.

At one point in his numerous legal proceedings, he fired Fieger to do the job himself. He began wearing the clothing of pilgrims to highlight the absurdity of the situation.

It is said that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client. Though we are all fools for getting ourselves in this mess, it’s easy to forget that we are only the most visible part, standing on the shoulders of clowns.

 

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Curtis Dawkins

Curtis Dawkins earned an M.F.A. from Western Michigan University and is currently an inmate at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia, Michigan for murder. He was battling with drug addiction at the time. After a jury trial, he was convicted of felony murder which carries a mandatory sentence of "life without the possibility of parole." He is not scheduled to be released. Ever. But writing gives him hope.

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