When I first talked to the defendant he sat in his prison cell. He was cold and without remorse. Obtuse to the charges against him, my new client deflected responsibility and sat in silence. I asked him why he thought he was being punished and he immediately blamed his brother escaping all charges against himself.
“Alex started it,” he repeated. Each time with a lower tone to his voice and a lower scowl to his brow.
I explained to my client that as his defense attorney the only way I could absolve him from his punishment or shorten his imprisonment would be if he fully disclosed the events that led him to a sentence in this 12 x 6 room. If I was going to stand in front of the judge and act as his only defendant I would need complete details of the acts in question.
He maintained his innocence stating that the entire world was against him. He stated that he was a victim of criminal profiling. He stated that he was not raised in a stable upbringing. He stated he was merely a product of his social surroundings.
This wasn’t just any defendant I was sitting beside in judgment. This was my son. And the judge in this particular case was his mother, my wife. And this holding cell we were sitting in was one little boy’s bedroom. Usually bright and cheery with life, we sat in the dark on his bed shadowed in the light that applied only from the crack of the curtains.
As a defense attorney and a dad to this stubborn little six-year-old it was my duty to not clear him of these charges, but to plea down the punitive measures. The least I could do was lessen the charges to a misdemeanor. But as a husband to the judge, his mother, I knew that I was putting myself in a position of contempt. I had to balance the scales of justice to maintain a proper level of peace in my house.
It was a weekend afternoon and I jumped in the shower to prepare for work. This otherwise relaxing shower turned tense as I heard parental screams and a childlike, defensive cry coming from the hallway. I knew someone was in trouble. When I emerged from my fifteen-minute shower oasis I found my eldest son sulking in his dark bedroom appearing confused and defeated.
Overtime my wife and I have learned to stay out of each other’s way when it comes to punishment of the children. However, our pendulum of justice often swings to such extremes that we sometimes need each other to act as a mediator. I trust my wife enough to know that this little son-of-bitch was surely guilty of something, but it’s my instinct to act as a liaison to civility and help this child make parole when his number comes up for a hearing.
I could only assume what the charges were. First ruling out assault as the screams I heard were not “assault-like” screams. I am a father of four and know what assault sounds like. My very educated guess was that my son was probably being punished for some crime against the family. Perhaps a two-bit offense like ‘petty theft of a toy from a sibling’. This, coupled with one count of ‘resisting timeout’ and another count of ‘talking back.’ The sum of this rap sheet has led him to a room sentence for an undisclosed amount of time.
Marking off his time served with hash marks on his bedroom wall was a futile exercise not knowing the length of his punishment. And it was my job to get this family right before I left for work.
“It’s in your best interest to use ‘I’ words, son,” I explained to that little stubborn face. “When you get an opportunity to stand in front of Judge Mommy….When you get your chance to explain your case to the judge you need to accept responsibility. Tell your mother, ‘I am sorry. I know what I’ve done. I will not do it again.’ Tell your mother, ‘I will change my behavior. And I will learn from this.”
“But DADDY! I didn’t do anything!” the boy pleaded.
“Well. In that case Honey, you are on your own.” I arose from the bed and left his room giving him a kiss goodbye.
With this, I closed my briefcase and went back to getting ready for my real job. I knew what this boy needed most was time to reflect his crimes. As I tied my tie and shoes, and packed my lunch and i-pad I heard the judge head upstairs for the boy’s hearing. The talk was quiet, which I recognized to in my client’s favor.
I kissed the rest of the family and headed out for the driveway. By the time my key ignited the engine all was right with the world. My wife, the judge, was standing on my front porch with our six-year-old defendant in her arms like a newborn, forty-eight-pound baby. The two of them giggled and danced on those steps in forgiveness. They waved goodbye in unison.
This is the kind of peaceful, familiar mental photographs that drives me to work. This is the kind of moment that makes all that pro bono work worth it. Another case closed.
I am Kevin Harris, a father of four and husband to one very understanding woman. And yes, we know exactly what’s causing all these pregnancies! My home life makes me smile and I like to share that laughter with others. Hopefully, you can find a bit of your home life reflecting in my pathetic blog.