Your Honor, at first I asked Hector
of the Public Defender’s Office to give you this letter.
But since he’s moved on to larger things — I’ve done it myself.
This is meant both as a gesture of respect
and also for me to gain some perspective
on my D.U.I. arrest, appearances in your court,
followed by a 60 day sentence in the County Jail.
Before surrendering, I left my lighter in the courthouse bushes,
appeared in court, was shackled
and taken through the tunnel into jail.
Throughout the fall and into winter
I’ve thought about this letter.
In the meantime I briefly looked into your life and history.
I admired your athletic, legal and judicial careers
and how you and your friend, the neurologist,
are encouraging young people in local high schools.
Over the years the cultural road
has taught me to size up character.
I have done that with you — also, Hector.
My own mostly came from desert farms
and a house full of history, where my people
were good at hard things
and the personalities were wide and varied.
In my early twenties I married a Kansas farm girl
who’d come out to California to break up large farms.
We had two children before the marriage shattered,
and I left the desert farming to find a better self.
My attorney and others suggested writing
because it didn’t require wealth.
Reading deeply for the next seven or eight years,
I rode all over the United States on junkyard motorcycles.
Started writing in Austin, Texas,
because you could ride year around.
And even though I got through school
without finishing a paper,
I established a literary style and voice —
along with a flair for musical production,
mostly in Austin and later on in Oakland.
My vehicle became an evolving street man
who replaced farming with writing.
Some of the language was financed in Yosemite
by working as a pot washer in an industrial kitchen —
so my bands became the Austin
and the Oakland Potwashers.
I’d ridden out to Austin to rearrange years of sound —
Then I rode back across the Southwest
and stopped — at a motel across from a steakhouse.
Checked in, gassed up and went to dinner.
Ate alone at the bar. Drank three beers with whiskey shots,
met some film guys, had two more and left.
The motorcycle wouldn’t trigger the stoplight,
forcing a turn west into a hit and run
crime scene at Panorama,
which turned into a D.U.I. arrest. Waiting to make a u-turn,
maybe the officer just liked the white bike. I’ll never know.
But there was a lot going on at the crime scene,
which played out over the next several months
as I made seven trips to the courthouse.
My counsel over the phone was an old friend
who has a similar background to yours without the judgeship.
I met Hector the public defender on my fifth trip,
then you on my sixth, saying I do, I have, I will,
and surrendered on my seventh.
I’d told Hector that with all of that, you gotta call it a D.U.I.
and they’ve got the law, guns and keys.
At the time — we were in early conversations
with a production company.
My daughter would soon deliver a second grandchild.
An older sister of mine was terminally ill.
Needing to get the county behind me,
I chose the most direct resolution in terms of calendar time.
Jail itself was not so hard, but it was constant noise
while reading fifty bad paperbacks
and becoming a homey of sorts. Hector came to see me
a few nights before completion.
Upon release, I found the lighter
left in the courthouse bushes
and made the production deal a couple of days later.
My daughter delivered a boy in early December
and I got to see my sister a final time.
These pages were written
up in Oakland after the Ghost Ship Fire.
For me — it’s all in the past. Yet we may meet again
when this letter gets delivered. I hope that we do,
your Honor. Be well.
Roy Ruth …