Thursday, November 6, 2008
For the last several years, the only criminal work that I have done has involved juvenile defense. Most of my other work involves representing children who are the subjects of child protection cases. I do a few other things when they happen by such as deeds, wills, bankruptcies and from time to time I will represent a parent in a child protection case but most of my work, and the part that gives me the most personal satisfaction, involves representing kids.
The thing that I like about representing kids--especially in Maine where their criminal acts are fairly minor and mostly a cry for help--is that the criminal code is written for the purpose of rehabilitation. The Juvenile Criminal Code clearly lays out it's purpose and the first two items are:
To secure for each juvenile subject to these provisions such care and guidance, preferably in the juvenile's own home, as will best serve the juvenile's welfare and the interests of society; To preserve and strengthen family ties whenever possible, including improvement of home environment.
Personally, those are my purposes in every encounter that I have with a young person so working with them in the context of the criminal system is an easy extension of my beliefs.
Yesterday, I traveled north to Charleston and the Mountain View Youth Development Center. Despite the euphemism, Mountain View is a kiddie jail. It does have a striking view of the mountains in Baxter State Park and it does look on the outside like a high school but the athletic fields are surrounded by high fencing and the doors are heavy and locked and I had to surrender all of my personal belongings at the front desk before being escorted into the visit room to meet with one of my young people. He shuffled in to see me, head down but anxious--"What are you doing to get me out?" he asked at first boldly and then tearfully, My reply was consistent, "What are you going to do to help me convince a judge to let you out?" For over an hour we had that conversation. I presented him with options that required his cooperation and some acceptance of responsibility. He kept repeating, "I just want to go home." "It wasn't my fault."
There are two parts of the youth development center. The first is for kids who have not yet been adjudicated (my client) or for kids that need a "shock sentence"--a few days or more just to scare the heck out of them--the other is for kids who have been committed until age 18 to the facility by a Judge. My client is tenuously poised on the edge of being committed. For more than two years he has been a regular in the courtroom--never for anything serious but consistently for the same type of behavior--all of which stem from not taking responsibility for his actions.
Yesterday, his part of the conversation contained minor variations of the "it's not my fault" theme repeated ad nauseum and peppered with the clear statement that he did not want to be committed. Finally, I said--"You know, probably most of the kids who have been committed will tell you that the reason they are here is someone else's fault" I told him that everyone that would be in the courtroom for his hearing in two weeks would be looking for a reason to send him home and he could ride home on the bus called personal responsibility. By then, his head was down on the table and he was crying. Once more, I told him, "You cannot control other people's actions but you can control your reaction to other people's actions. You are ultimately responsible for what your hands do, what your mouth does, where your feet take you. So, be a man, suck it up and decide to be in charge of your own life."
He's got two weeks to figure it out before I have to try and persuade a Judge to send him home.