Emeritus Steve Sacks reports on life after retirement

There have been some rough times: lots of nights sleeping in a homeless shelter and quite a bit of time in jail. But in the end it’s worked out well, and now we’re comfortably settled in a small but very pleasant apartment in Brooklyn Heights.

This year I’ve cut down to one night a month at the homeless shelter, but when one of the other volunteers doesn’t show up, I may put in an extra night on short notice. I can’t say it’s fun, setting up cots for the “guests” and serving dinner, then sleeping on a cheap cot in an overheated hallway where there’s always a light on, and then getting up at 5:30 a.m. But there’s considerable satisfaction in knowing that I’m playing a small part in providing a safe, warm, dry night to some people who’ve had bad luck.

Let me explain about the time I spent in jail. My part in a project to study average time from arrest to arraignment in Manhattan started with a phone call from a consulting firm in Cambridge. Over a period of about 20 years, I had worked frequently with this firm to develop software intended to optimize patrol patterns for police cars in urban areas. In this new project for the New York City Office of Criminal Justice, we were asked to create a computer simulation of the steps taken from the time an arrest is made until the accused is brought before a judge. In New York, the law says that arraignment before a judge must occur no more than 24 hours after an arrest. During that time quite a lot has to happen: finger prints must be taken and sent to Albany and to the FBI, a database of arrest warrants must be searched to find out if the accused is wanted in another part of the state or in any of the other 49 states, the Attorney General’s office must decide whether to recommend bail and must write up formal charges, an affidavit has to be written and signed by the arresting officer, in many cases a Legal Aid attorney must be called in, … The amount of paperwork is substantial and the appropriate documents must be in the right place at the right time. Then, too, the prisoner must be in the right place at the right time, and that involves moving him or her from the scene of the offense to the precinct to holding cells to the courtroom. All of this has to be completed within 24 hours or the Civil Liberties Union gets upset. (Sometimes, on a busy day, the 24-hour limit is exceeded.)

The purpose of our simulation is to give criminal justice planners a tool that lets them do what-if analysis: what would happen to the process if more fingerprint clerks were hired? suppose we increase the number of printers available for downloading warrants from Albany? would it matter if we did the medical exam after the fingerprinting instead of before? would the whole process be faster if we built more holding cells under the courthouse? Experimenting with the virtual reality of this analytical tool is an alternative to actually hiring more people, really changing procedures, or physically building more cells. The goal is to find the most effective, and least expensive, modifications to a set of interconnected queues so as to reduce the total time a prisoner is in the system.

In order to create an accurate simulation, we needed to have a very complete understanding of how the system works. We spent months studying every detail. Since I live in New York, I was part of the team that spent a lot of time behind bars, mostly in the basement of Manhattan’s central courthouse. Now that our project is finished, I don’t spend any time in jail, but there were many days when I was in fact inside. To step through those metal gates and hear them snap closed behind me was a sobering experience, even though I was pretty sure that they would let me out. We also sat behind a judge in a courtroom as he dealt with a rapid-fire series of defendants, lawyers, and Assistant Attorneys General. All of this was a real education for me, endlessly fascinating.

I realize now that I haven’t said anything about how I spend most of my time in retirement. But that must be obvious if you know that I live in New York city, where there’s theatre, concerts, movies, museums, readings, ethnic neighborhoods to explore, Brooklyn’s magnificent Promenade to stroll along, swimming (yes, there are swimming pools in New York city), yoga classes, … Retirement is terrific. Everyone should do it.

I miss Storrs and the people there. But I’m glad that we have made this big move. Living in New York continues to be an exciting adventure. Occasionally, we get back to Connecticut for a visit and sometimes old friends come to New York. Most important, making new friends here didn’t take as long as I had feared, even in a city of eight million people.