Archive | October, 2014

church of second chances

30 Oct

Yesterday was a really great day.

I resolved a criminal case in a very short hearing and the result was such that my faith in the wisdom of judges and the system working the way it should was restored.

I got this client because she was a civil client of my law firm’s first and she ended up in jail but my firm needed her signature on some documents. “Who knows how to get into see someone in a rural jail?” they asked themselves…”Oh, that’s right – YOU know how to get into a jail.” Which is how good adventure stories always start.

I gave her my card as I met with her on these civil matters and a week later, she called and told me that she was unhappy with her court-appointed lawyer and could she hire me? And I said “yes, of course” like I always do.

And then I started to worry because I wasn’t sure that there was very much I could do for her given what I knew of her sad situation. All I knew how to do was show up and advocate for her. Then her mother called me, demanding to know my credentials. Then I heard that the court-appointed attorney had said that I didn’t know what I was doing. That I was new and couldn’t do any better than he could. Then I talked to the assistant DA who said that the offer wasn’t going to be reduced. That everyone in the whole county had bent over backward for this young woman and they were tired of her. She’d had too many chances. They were done.

I was defeated before I ever even started. Then Henry lost his backpack and had a complete meltdown on the way to school. His little shoulders slumped over as I watched him walk away from me – down the block and into assembly. Crying. Him and me. Him over the backpack how disappointed his teacher was going to be – and me over that and just everything else.

On the way out to the rural county, I was stopped by a wreck on the highway. I already didn’t know where the courthouse was and now I was going to be late. Unwelcome and tardy and bearing no hope or good news for my client.

When I got there, I met with the prosecutor in a room full of other prosecutors and we struck up a big group conversation. I was completely at home with the discussions because I lived this for so long. The boss of the office told me they had two vacancies and asked me to apply. I said that I couldn’t and then he went upstairs and brought me an application and said “Please. You can work from home except when you need to be in court.”

I was flattered. I even entertained the notion. Then I remembered how much I love my work now. And then I had to go talk to my client and tell her that our best chance was to set the case for a hearing and tell her story to the judge and literally throw ourselves on the mercy of the court. The hearing would be a few months later.

She cried. I nearly cried. She asked if we could just do it today and get this over with. I wasn’t ready for a contested hearing, but if she didn’t want me to call any witnesses for her, then there was nothing to gain by giving the state more time to build a stronger case against her while my case stayed exactly the same.

So we did it. We went into court, she pled true to every allegation against her. She cried. She admitted her failings. She said that her three children needed her in the home and not in the penitentiary. She cried. I was hard on her. I made her admit every failing and I asked her how she planned to address those weaknesses and failures in the future. She gave good and thoughtful answers.

I argued that society would not be served by sentencing this single mother with three young children to the penitentiary. That their daddies weren’t any good, that their grandmother with whom they lived was already overburdened with the care of her elderly mother. That the children deserved some stability and that there was no benefit to anyone – not to my client or to her mother or her children or to society – by sentencing her to the penitentiary for seven years or ten years or two years to teach her a lesson. That teaching someone a lesson is rarely a good reason to do anything.

And then I rested. And laid my client’s fate at the mercy of the Court. And the judge did this:

“You will stay in jail until noon on December 24. And when you get out on December 24, you will be off probation and have a chance at starting a new life. Good Luck to you.”

And she cried. I almost did. She was sentenced to seven weeks in the county jail when her exposure was ten years in the penitentiary.

She thanked me and she said “I think it’s because I owned my $#!+,” and I agreed with her. That’s exactly why. Because when you will own your own $#!+, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. They will offer grace and mercy in ways that they won’t do when you make excuses and blame other people.

It was a great day for justice. A great day for my client and a great day for me. We found Henry’s backpack and so it turned out to be a great day for him, too.

**Church of Second Chances is the name of a place of worship in one of my fave Anne Tyler books: Saint Maybe. I think I will read it this weekend because it is just so apt.



26 Oct

I’m having some trouble with flashbacks. Anna and I just returned from a trip to New York City with my parents and even though it was her first trip to “the city”, I can’t stop remembering my own first visit. When I was just about the age she is right now.

Anna turns twelve in less than a month and my dad had a meeting and invited us to come along with him and my mom for an early birthday celebration for our tween. The boys were disappointed that they couldn’t come, but I promised them that none of us would go back to NYC before they got to travel there, and we brought them some m&m’s that say “I heart NY” and they seem none the worse for wear.

They spend two nights at home with our trusted babysitter and church nursery-worker, Grace, and then they spent two days with Wade’s bff and his family at their place in the country, where Wade apparently shot an axis deer. I wish I could have been there for the male coming-of-age ritual, but I was busy in New York with Anna introducing her to the joys of Madison Avenue and Broadway.

Anna and I left early on Wednesday morning and arrived in New Jersey of all places around noon, in the cold and rain. We took a taxi into the city in heavy traffic and met my parents at a wonderful bistro called Le Bon Soupe, whose specialty is le soupe. Anna declined le soupe and ordered an omelet. Which was très delicieuse. After lunch we strolled a few blocks north to our hotel, which was very grand and super-fancy. They change their floral arrangements out every single day, which I find equally impressive and frivolous. We stopped in at some giant NYC department stores and ogled the $43,000 jewelry and beautiful, expensive shoes, and then we hopped in a taxi for our 8:30 seating at Birdland.

We heard a great jazz duet of bass and piano and fielded questions from a New Yorker sitting next to us who was far more impressed with Anna and me living in Austin than she was with my parents living in Mississippi. “MISSISSIPPI?” she sneered at us. “MISSISSIPPI? Why MISSISSIPPI? What is it like to live in MISSISSIPPI?” We just wanted to listen to the band, but she was a New Yorker and all the conversation I heard from her table was about NPR and how the Republicans are all crooks so I imagine that we were a real novelty to her.

On Thursday we showed Anna the big shops on Madison and Fifth Avenues. She certainly enjoyed all the apologies from my mother and me when we were making her wait while we just tried on this one more thing. I bought a boring black dress that is completely perfect and appropriate for every possible occasion from depositions to funerals. I tried on some sparkly high-heeled shoes, but they were pronounced “outlandish” which I think is kind of strong language, but I did acknowledge that they had a somewhat more limited application and I passed them up. We spent the rainy afternoon at an Egyptian exhibit at the Met.

On Thursday night we dined at Gramercy Tavern pre-theatre and then raced to our theatre to see Matilda. We had wonderful seats and Anna loved it, and declared it the best part of the trip. After that, we walked back to the hotel and fell into our big, comfortable, luxury-sheeted beds and slept hard until morning.

On Friday we took a bus tour until we stopped off in Soho, where we hatched the great idea that Anna should attend NYU for college. We strolled through the boutiques and Chinatown and Little Italy and texted my dad the address of a restaurant we found and he met us for dinner. Once again, we collapsed into our beds.

On Saturday, Anna and her Grandaddy took a taxi to Sarabeth’s for breakfast and the Guggenheim for some upper east-side culture. They also strolled back to the hotel via Central Park and experienced some street-culture. Rosie and I manned the shops in midtown and walked until our feet hurt. Only to learn that the plan for the afternoon included a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge with every other tourist in New York. We were motivated to persevere through the hordes of foot-travelers by the promise of pizza on the other side and we were not disappointed. As a bonus, Anna was able to see the statue of liberty. We ended the day with a nightmarish trip to the m&m store at Times Square and then a viewing of the star-crossed football game between Ole Miss and LSU in our chambers. Because we were very tired.

On my first trip to New York, my mom and I rode the bus up from Tennessee and I remember some pretty scary truck stops along the Virginia border. That is some rough country along the edge of Appalachia that we drove through all day and all night. And I remember being in museums all day every day. Except when we were in the broadway plays. I remember more about that trip when I was Anna’s age than I do about any of my subsequent trips to the city, and I hope that she will remember this one as vividly as I think of that one.

We were so sad that Wade and Henry weren’t with us, because they would have had a great time. I know that they will get to have a trip sometime and that they will love it. It’s just hard to travel with too large a group to a place like New York City and it wasn’t everybody’s birthday. Just Anna and Rosie’s. I think we planned just the right amount of activity. Because right now we are home and I am tired, but not so tired that I can’t go to work tomorrow. That may be because we didn’t plan too much, but it may also be a result of the reduced demands of a 3:1 parent to child ratio, and not to the 1:3 that I usually manage.

We just had a wonderful time, and I told my friend who lives there that if she can just hold on for 12 more years, I will move up to Brooklyn and hang out with her just as soon as I get these children raised and independent.


6 Oct

“Life will break you.  Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning.  You have to love.  You have to feel.  It is the reason you are here on earth.  You are here to risk your heart.  You are here to be swallowed up.  And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness.  Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

– Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum