Organizing some files, I found this little scrap from a few months ago...
I took my mother to night court a few months ago. After a dozen years of being a public defender, it seemed like the right time to give her another taste of my daily or nightly life. She’d come to court before—once, when I was a young lawyer still traversing the halls of Brooklyn criminal court, even then she was struck by the volume of the justice dispensed in one of my days—8 judges, a dozen cases, half a dozen pleas. Back then, I remember mom being both jazzed and terrified at this strange and abusive world, so far from the sedentary Wisconsin world I grew up in.
And, as the years went by, and I migrated quietly north, to Harlem and then, finally to the Bronx, when relatives or company enquired, mom would still trot out her long stale recollections of that far-away afternoon. And so, just last month, in New York for a conference, it seemed time to refresh her recollections. This time at the beginning of the process—the very first time poor clients meet their lawyers—in arraignments, and often at night.
As far as I could tell, it was the smell that rocked my mother’s world. Sweat and urine and homelessness—the smell of the pens. I glanced over at her as we passed through the barred steel gate, down the graffiti scarred hallway back to where dozens of people, many destined to be my clients were caged. She wrinkled her nose—unused to the peculiar pungency, and almost grimaced, as if to say, “I get that this is criminal court but does it really have to smell so bad?”
She sat through 6 or 7 interviews, farebeats, petit larcenies and drug possession cases.
“Hi, my name is David Feige, and I’m gonna be your lawyer; uuh, and this.." I said, hitching a thumb next to me,
"This is my mom.”
"Hi” they’d all say,
“Hi” she’d reply with a sheepish grin—real alleged criminals look a whole lot different up close—when you know their names and actually listen to their stories.
“Do you mind if my mom, stays while we talk?" I’d ask.
No one did.