Clifford Harris, Jr., also known as T.I., enjoys celebrity. Not only does Harris enjoy the fame of being a Rap artist, he can now add legal controversy to his notoriety. According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Harris’s plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta (Northern District of Georgia) created consternation amongst some in the legal community and the Federal Penitentiary. See http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2008/04/12/tisentence_0413.html?cxntlid=homepage_tab_newstab
Initially as a former prosecutor, I cast a jaundiced eye on the plea. Upon looking further, however, Harris’s deal offers significant obstacles to overcome. The conditions of the plea include: house arrest for Harris (per my recollection of the initial media reports), 1,000 hours community service speaking to at risk children and young adults during the next year, and 500 hours more community service in the same line after his one year and one day confinement sentence.
Like many who encounter the criminal justice system, Harris’s decision to enter a plea of guilty exhibits a “change of life” decision. Change of life decisions, commonly observed in the justice system, often times do not bear fruit. Individuals, forced into solitude and outside of their normal conditions, sincerely and insincerely find God. For even the seasoned observer, the distinction is difficult to ascertain in the brief amount of court time allotted to individual cases. No, time will always tell. Upon release from confinement, a change of life decision will either become real or it falls apart at the seams.
Exhibit A: Michael Vick. Following his plea to Federal Charges, released on bond awaiting sentencing, Vick called a press conference to say: I found God and I’m sorry I got caught by law enforcement (really that’s what I heard, not what he said). Subsequent to his change of life speech and but prior to his plea, Vick tested positive for drug use, at least once. (Perhaps, he thought that the NFL would manage his random drug screens…) Michael Vick failed many people, but he failed the most important person, himself. Vick talked the talk. Vick failed to walk the walk.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmais went out on a limb in this case, but Harris sits right next to him. Harris is the one who will fall if Harris fails. Nahmais’s plea agreement contains both carrot and stick. Fail to abide by the terms of the plea for the period of probation, not just the next two years, and Harris will be explaining to a Federal Judge why the judge should permit Harris to remain free. Freedom is the carrot, like it or not. If Harris walks the walk, and talks the talk, then his message of reform will reach those who need to hear it. If he fails to follow the terms of his plea, the legal system will be watching as well as the media, I hope.
If the media cover his speeches for positive change with the same vigor and fanfare that the media covered his arrest, the message against violence will spread further than the individual speeches themselves. Alas, the rape and pillage media is another topic for another day…
Challenge to the media: Follow Clifford Harris’s speaking engagements with the same tenacity you follow the presidential candidates. Insure that he living up to his plea agreement. Who knows: y’all might change the life of a troubled teen!