Initially, Joe Hunt’s work as a “jailhouse lawyer” was out of self-interest, but as he matured, he realized it was a powerful way to do good for others.
Here, Joe describes how his legal work led to a court order to get treatment for a severe burn victim, and also laid the groundwork for the first inmate treatment of Hepatitis C at his facility.
The initial inclination to help others was to find basically a trait that worked in the prison society, because like any other place, if you have a role to play, it confers a particular level of safety.
I mean there are a few reasons, one of them was I seemed to have a knack for it. I became notorious in the prison circles for being competent in that area because of successfully defending myself with San Mateo, and certainly with guys that were up in San Mateo county.
And there was the human level, which is somebody asks for your help, and you’re able to give it. This is quite natural, for me at least, to want to do something in that regard.
As I said also, it works. It’s functional in a prison situation. You don’t want to be categorized as muscle, it’d be better to be part of the brain or the resource on that level. But, I’ve always drawn a clean line from the beginning about choosing what cases I work on. I’ve had situations where people have come to me sometimes in a little committee and told me I was going to work on a particular legal project, and I’ve said no. That for me has always been non-negotiable. I will not submit to that kind of pressure, and I haven’t.
So, in the beginning, there were selfish reasons, and later on as I grew as a man and deepened my meditation and broadened myself spiritually – I saw it as a way of doing good, of doing something other than leaving wreckage behind me. I’m referring to my early twenties when I created a lot of wreckage or participated in a variety of train wrecks.
And so, I guess it was Angel… just to give you the story – Angel is still a California prisoner, and he had, he had been burned in an accident after a high speed chase, but it had burned over like 85% of his body. He had scarring everywhere over his head, over his face, his eyes – didn’t really have any eyelids, and he had scars that prevented him from closing his hands. His fingers looked like they were made of wax and melted.
And, now there was this report from the doctor at UC Davis Medical Center saying that many of these conditions could be alleviated if he got surgery, but for some reason that surgery was not forthcoming. Angel was not a primary English speaker, and he pushed the… he asked me for help, and I worked on it. Ultimately, the result was the Superior Court found the prison system had been grossly indifferent to his serious medical needs and ordered that he get the treatment that the UC Davis medical doctor said would alleviate it.
And he did get that surgery, and he was able to start playing soccer again. He was able to close his eyes at night after the surgery. Angel was sleeping like a zombie, eyes wide open all night, and the wound on the back of his head that had never closed was closed. So it stopped oozing puss. Anyhow, that was a project I worked on. Things like that are pretty gratifying.
I also did the medical work that led to the first prisoner getting treatment for Hepatitis C back in the day.