We are bombarded with stories about young men being raised by their single mothers, having no father in the picture. Or, if there is a father around, he is doing nothing more than depending on the mother for support as though he were a sibling to the child, as opposed to a parent. We blame that dynamic for the decline of black male achievement and the rise of black male violence. And, I agree that some of this is absolutely a contributing factor, but this is not always the case.
I recently resolved a case that was emotionally draining for me, but, over the course of 2 ½ years I came to have so much respect for my client and his family. My client, who was 17 years old at the time, was charged with Attempted Murder, Attempted Armed Robbery, and Conspiracy. He and another young man were accused of confronting a local man that had won the lottery as he was entering his home for the night to rob him. When things didn’t quite go as planned shots were fired and the lottery winner suffered four gunshot wounds, but succeeded in keeping his money.
Less than a year after the “lottery robbery” gone wrong, my client was charged with another armed robbery and felonious assault that involved shooting. And, less than a year before the “lottery robbery” gone wrong, my client was shot six times by a man that was outraged because my client was dating his woman and teasing him about it.
So, to say my client had a lot going on at a very young is an understatement. And, just like you all are thinking right now, I too thought “what the hell is up with his parent’s”, until I got to know them. And now all I can think about is, this young man’s life probably would be headed in a completely different direction if his family was not struggling with poverty.
You see my client’s problems did not come about because he lived in a broken home with a drug addicted mother. His problems did not come about because his father was in prison or simply absent from his life. None of the stereotypes that we are fed on a daily basis existed in his life. His parents were married, went to work every day, and were drug free. My client’s downward spiral was because his parents lost the war. A war that they were required to fight on a daily basis because they were raising children in a “poor” neighborhood, or, as his dad put it, “in the hood”.
Any parent knows the hold that peers seem to have over the minds of our children when they hit those teenage years. It is so fierce and strong that many of us feel like we are living with complete strangers. And while we constantly talk to them about right and wrong and encourage them to stay on the right track we are well aware that during this time in their lives, peers rule.
The only difference between those of us that might have a little more financial security than my client’s family is that we can remove our children from the constant exposure of bad influences. Our financial security gives us options. Our children are not consistently exposed to the guy on the corner selling dope, riding his nice car and wearing his fancy clothes. The dope dealer doesn’t get a chance to talk to our kids on a regular basis and influence them to want to be just like him. The gang bangers access to our children is limited so they don’t get to indoctrinate them into the world of guns, sex, and drugs.
Our children get exposed to a world other than the streets. Many of us are fortunate enough to take our children on trips and adventures that allow them to see first-hand the possibilities of life. So, when we tell our kids they need to work hard and focus for the future we have an advantage because we are able to give our client’s a future to look forward to. My client’s family, as hard working as they were, simply did not have some of the things we take for granted and often times use to judge those less fortunate.
As I sat in the jail that morning, before we were scheduled to go to court to enter a plea, I cried with this family. It is gut-wrenching to know that a family fought hard, only to see their young son about to become a resident at the North Carolina Department of Corrections. I felt this father’s pain as he talked about walking through the neighborhood, late at night, in search of his son and knowing that each day that passed, he was losing the war. I felt this father’s pain as he talked about being at work, 2 ½ hours away, when he got that dreadful call that his son had been shot and all he could do was pray, as he drove to the hospital, that his son would at least live until he got there. I felt this father’s pain as he held on to his son with every fiber of his being that morning in the jail and reassured him that he was going to be there for him no matter what and that he would always love him. I watched my client break down in his daddy’s arm and weep, full of regrets, and, fear of what the next few years would be like for him.
I am so thankful to my client’s mother because she never allowed me to forget that her son was more than the crimes that he had been charged with. She never let me forget that he was loved and cared about and that she was there watching me, making sure I was doing my job, advocating zealously for her son.
On that day my client received a sentence of 6 years 1 month to 8 years 4 month in prison. When it was all said and done, we all hugged, breathed a sigh of relief that he did not receive the absolute maximum sentence he could receive, and went our separate ways to resume life as we knew it. In my hectic world as a defense attorney I only get about 15-30 minutes to ponder a case before another case is demanding my attention. And, it is not often that I hear from my client’s or their families once the case is closed. But, as I was sitting in my office the other day, I received a call from my client’s father, thanking me once again for my commitment to his son and his family. It is calls like this that make me crawl out of bed and do it again and again each day.
***Become a soldier in the war against poverty. Find an opportunity to open a young person’s mind to the world of possibilities. It just might change the trajectory of their life.
Peace and Love