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-The Five Spot

Thursday, May 28, 2009

holding back tears

when i became a public defender i figured it would be really emotional. dealing with people who are locked away from their families on a daily basis can wear on you. back in my law school clinical course, we imagined what it would be like to be a public defender and pontificated about the caring side of the work. how you might get emotionally attached to your clients. how there would be days when you would want to cry. and i always thought that if this job did make me want to cry, that urge wouldn't come until i got home, under the covers, in the dark, with donny hathaway singing "young gifted and black". then i'd cry. about how helpless i felt. the revolving jail house doors. the feeling of treading water and never getting anywhere, never making any headway with my clients or changing their lives.

i didn't think that i would want to cry in the middle of a crowded courtroom as i stood before the judge with my client as he was found guilty of loving his children too much. in spite of the law. but last night that's just what i felt. i had to bite my lip to keep the tears from spilling out.

my client was charged with violating a protective order, a minor offense that carries up to 6 months in jail. under the letter of the law, he had violated the order which provided that he not contact his wife or 2 young daughters by phone or mail without the court's permission (although he was allowed to have supervised visits with the children 3 times per week). but by the spirit of the law what he had done was understandable and arguably justifiable. while incarcerated in an immigration facility awaiting deportation, he had written one last letter, a goodbye to his oldest daughter. he had gotten word that his daughter was doing poorly in school during his five month incarceration and wanted to encourage her to do better in school despite his absence. he wanted his child to know that he loved her.

so he sent a letter to her at her church school, care of his pastor. and that letter violated the protective order. so as we stood there, the judge pronounced him guilty, noting that he was "forced to do so" given that my client had written the letter, a clear violation. the judge offered a few pacifying words about understanding why my client wrote the letter but that the court had to enforce the order. the judge then looked to my client and asked him if he wanted to say anything.

my client talked about his love for his children and how he didn't know when he would see them again. how close he and the daughter were and how he wanted her not to make a bad turn in her life because of him, his absence. so he considered his interests against his child's interests and decided that he had to write the letter in order to let her know that he loved her and wanted the best for her.

and that's when i wanted to cry. who wouldn't shed a tear at that? no matter what this man had done to his wife, if her allegations of abuse hold true, his love for his kids is genuine.

in the end, my client didn't get the 6 months and instead got 30 days which he had already served. he was happy with what i had done for him. but who knows what will happen to him. he could very well be right back in an immigration facility based on this new conviction. i just hope his daughters know what he went through for them.


Rum Punch said...

Mint Julep! Why you tryna make me cry so early in the morning? Well actually it's not that early, but still. That had me on an emotional rollercoaster, so I can only imagine what it was like for you, going through it all. Fight the power! Stay strong, warrior clothed in a public defender's suit! Now cues 'To be young, gifted and black, oh what a lovely, precious, dream...'

CapriceClassic said...

Dang. I got all teary-eyed and shivery reading this. I can only imagine what this situation must have done to you.

Amaretto said...

Damnit! A tear has rolled! This is nucking futs! Sometimes I feel like we only need to rely on the law when common sense is absent, which is quite often in our society...but in this case-Come On!

Bellini said...

@minty: continue to fight the good fight! remember last week when i shared my opinions on the michael vick situation -- clearly this judge exercised his license to allow the verdict to parrallel with the "crime" -- bless his/her heart