I haven’t made a secret of the fact that a large part of my caseload involves child pornography. I think 70% of our practice right now is child porn, to be honest. And even though the Adam Walsh Act restricts a defense attorney’s access to child porn, we still have prosecutors that turn it over subject to a protective order, so we’ve got quite a bit of it stored in a secure evidence locker.
And an attorney has to look at whatever gets turned over in discovery.
Our paralegal, Nicole, and I love discovery. It’s great. She says it’s like Christmas. But, admittedly, we’re not all that enthusiastic about it when I return from court with a couple DVDs of child porn in my purse. Still, it has to be examined, and we do it. We go through all of it, and at the absolute bare minimum, we go through enough of it so that we can tie either images or videos or a combination of those to the Indictment. And with our child porn cases, it’s not unusual at all for the Indictment to be, like, 10 counts.
And when we’re watching the stuff – and especially if we’re matching it to the Indictment – we watch every second of it and we take good notes. The notes are just so that we don’t have to go back and look at the video again because we can’t remember something. Once is just fine, thank you.
This is going to be really naive of me, but despite all of the child porn I’ve seen … I’m still kind of surprised when it’s being produced by a women. That is, when I hear or see an adult female giving direction to the children that are being exploited.
Here’s the sexist part: I always do a little blink because when it comes to women, I guess I’m surprised at that kind of involvement because I associate women with maternal instincts. With the biological incapability of doing that to a child. Of being nurturing and selfless when it comes to raising and protecting children.
And that’s not always true. Plenty of women have raging maternal instincts and would never be able to bring themselves to do anything to harm a child. But plenty of women do not have or want kids, and do not have those instincts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, inherently. We’re not some monolith that loves babies always and forever.
And it’s sexist of me to not be surprised when it’s men that direct or participate in this kind of abuse. Certainly there are plenty of men with tremendous paternal instincts, who are very nurturing and protective of children.
I don’t know.
I don’t really know what the point of this post is.
I just don’t want to be looking at what I’m looking at.
I recently read this story on Slate and the Chicago Sun-Times. The title is evocative enough: “Without a translator to help rape victim testify, alleged rapist walks free and and finds another victim.” That’s basically exactly what you need to know.
Here’s the gist of it. This all took place in Cook County, right here in Illinois. A Spanish-speaking woman was allegedly raped by one Luis Pantoja. At the preliminary hearing, complaining witnesses have the chance to testify. All of the prelims I’ve done have involved cops, so they’re the ones I’ve cross-examined, but in sex cases it’s very often the complaining witness (that is, the victim) who testifies and is then cross-examined by the evil defense attorney.
Then the judge decides if there is a finding of probable cause. If so, the State returns an Information, which is a charging instrument. If not, the case is dismissed, but even if you win at prelim, there is often a good chance that the State will then come at you again and charge you for the same crime via Indictment, another charging instrument that requires that they convene a secret grand jury.
So in this case, a Spanish-speaking woman was testifying about her alleged rape at the hands of Luis Pantoja. English wasn’t her first language and it seemed clear to many that she would have benefited from the services of an interpreter. A Cook County judge decided that the interpreter wasn’t needed, proceeded with the hearing, and ultimately found that there was no probable cause.
Pantoja walked, and then allegedly raped another young woman, this time a fifteen-year old. That case is currently pending in Cook County. In fact, I think he was just arrested over the Polar Vortex weekend.
The Sun-Times has run a piece on it and has a lengthy transcript from the prelim, if you want to check it out.
I’m just saying, generally, when things like this happen – when a judge lets someone out on bond and they commit another crime, when a judge sentences someone to probation and they commit another crime, when a judge finds no probable cause and the person commits another crime – that judge tends to get called into his or her boss’s office and gets reamed. I’ve seen it happen (well, not literally, obviously) with some of the judges I appear before regularly.
So the judge in question is definitely catching some heat for her decision, trust. Just in case anyone was curious.
But that’s not what I want to discuss here. I wrote this post to discuss the tremendous importance of interpreters.
Not just to the Defense, but as we see here, to the State.
But who am I kidding? Forget the Defense and the State. Interpreters are important – vital – to the commission of justice in general. No matter how many flaws there are in our current justice system (more like INjustice system, hurr hurr hurr, we’ve all heard that a million times and it’s totally true).
This isn’t the time to be cynical about it. If we’re talking about justice, we’re talking about equal access to that justice (HAHAHAHAHA). Okay, fine. We’re actually talking about equal access to the process that is supposed to carry out justice (HAHAHAHA oh god now this is just getting depressing). We’re talking about people having equal access to that court system, and interpreters are vital to that. How can you have your day in court if your English isn’t good enough to express your thoughts, to ask your questions, or to even understand what is going on and what your rights are and what the judge is saying?
As a defense attorney, I enlist the services of skilled interpreters quite often. Most of our clients that need interpreters are Spanish-speaking, but we’ve also had to hire a Russian interpreter during my 1 year and 1 month with the firm.
We had a client that was in state custody, and he barely spoke a handful of words in English. His wife and sister spoke a little more than he did, but not very much, either. We definitely couldn’t sit around a table and have a meaningful conversation about his case. His brother-in-law, however, had a thorough command of the English language and, when we had to have emergency meetings, he would serve as the informal translator. It was a cumbersome process and I got the feeling that no one really got as much out of the meeting as we could have.
So I remember, when I was at 26th&California for a bond hearing one day, I made contact with an interpreter from the Cook County Interpreter’s Office or whatever they’re called. Lucky for me, she freelanced/moonlighted, too, so I was able to secure her for all of our meetings with the client’s family when they came to the office.
And when we went to see the client, having an interpreter handy was excellent because you could actually have a meaningful discussion. The Cook County interpreters are incredibly skilled not just in the languages they know, but the legal terminology in the languages they know. They don’t need to use synonyms for extradition or consecutive versus concurrent. They know those words in Spanish (or any other language). It’s highly likely that the client knows those words – in Spanish.
There was a case I was aware of (I wasn’t on the case), in Cook County, where a defendant’s mother testified. She was a material witness to the crime alleged. SHE WAS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENED. She was the only person other than the defendant and the victim who was there when it happened. And the victim was dead.
English was clearly not her first language. It was Greek. When the State asked her questions at trial, she didn’t know what they were asking half the time. She said, I don’t know, I don’t know what you’re asking, what does that mean, I’m not sure what you’re saying. There was never an interpreter provided.
In this case, a lot of the blame rests with the defense attorney. I’d argue that was ineffective assistance.
First of all, prep your damn witness. My boss trained me in how to prep witnesses. I saw him do it in my first trial. He had all the witnesses schedule appointments at the office. He went through a very loose direct examination. Not scripted, and not even everything he’d have asked on the stand. But he wanted them to get a sense of the rhythm of direct exams. He wanted to help them get comfortable. He wanted to impress upon them the importance of listening to his question, of letting him finish his question, and of never speaking before he was done speaking.
Then he asked them what areas of their testimony they were worried about. Those areas then became pointed sample questions for cross-examination. If they worried that the State would ask them about the steps they’d taken during the real estate closing (this was for a mortgage fraud, ID theft, fraud of a financial institution in excess of $100,000 case, and was indeed criminal and not just a civil real estate case), then my boss and I would exhaust that topic, glaring at them and barking out derisive, sneering questions meant to illustrate the witness’s ineptitude. They’d learn how to handle those exaggeratedly hostile questions – they’d learn how to handle their emotions, not get scared, not buckle on the stand, and keep going.
If it’s a really big case or there are complications, we have more than one in-office prep with witnesses that are not the defendant. (The defendant gets several preps. At least two or three, and as many as the defendant feels he needs to feel comfortable.)
On the day of trial, when the witnesses are gathered, we do another mini-prep. We calm them down, we explain the procedure, we do a very very loose direct with the main themes, we see if they have any questions or fears about what they’re going to be asked on cross, we inform them that they are not obligated to talk to the State but that the State will ask, and we tell them to hang tight and hold a good thought for us all.
So for this trial, while my boss did all the initial preps, he let me handle part of the trial day prep. I wasn’t responsible for the prep, really, but I had already gotten a good lesson in how it was done, and I got to follow his lead and watch him in action.
For our third trial together, my boss was out of town the week before trial, so I was prepping more than a dozen Defense witnesses BY MYSELF. I was shitting my pants as I did all the telephone conferences (our schedule didn’t allow us to schedule office meetings with all of the witnesses), but I knew what to do because my boss had taught me. So I did it.
And on the day of trial, I gathered all my witnesses together in one of the conference rooms and, as my boss stood behind me at my shoulder, I conducted the trial day prep. And at trial, I directed and redirected all eight of the Defense witnesses that weren’t our client.
Prep your damn witness. It’s not hard.
The other reason I blame the attorney is, if any of my client’s witnesses needed an interpreter, you can bet your ass I would have made the court aware of the need for an interpreter at trial. And if there wasn’t one, you can bet your ass that on trial day, I’d be motion in limine-ing that, saying that I wanted a continuance if an interpreter wasn’t available because not having a translator for my witness interfered with my client’s sixth amendment right to a fair trial. And if that motion was denied, you can bet your ass that at trial, I’d be objecting right and left. I’d make my record that I believed that the witness needed a translator because he or she wasn’t understanding the questions and that was a violation of my client’s sixth amendment rights. And when the trial was over, you can bet your ass I’d include all of that in my Motion for a New Trial, twisting the judge’s arm with an issue that the appellate court might slap him with if my client appealed.
In that case that I’m talking about – the one I know of but wasn’t involved in – the defendant’s mother needed an interpreter that spoke Mandarin. The attorney didn’t request one, to my knowledge. During trial, he never objected. It did not appear in his Motion for a New Trial, which I pulled from the file and read. (And which was shit. I can write a better Motion for a New Trial in my sleep. That’s not bragging – it’s accurate reporting.)
In that case, an interpreter was needed, at trial, and was not provided.
And I blame the State and the Judge, too, to be sure. SOMEONE should have said, “Hey, wait a minute, this lady doesn’t seem to be understanding what we’re talking about. Maybe we need someone who speaks her language. Derp dee derp dee deedily derp.”
The federal government is a bit better on the subject, I think.
We had a federal client in custody that was provided an interpreter in court, even for an arraignment or a prelim that was ultimately superseded/circumvented/whatever by indictment, where there’s really only a few sentences being said on the record. He was always provided an interpreter because, hey, it’s the feds. They tend to be really on the ball with that sort of thing.
There’s a but. Sadly, there’s a but.
The budget cuts – especially when Congress was playing their game of chicken and the government shut down and slashed budgets right and left – affected federal interpreters tremendously.
I have a friend who is a federal defender in Chicago, the Northern District of Illinois. She was telling me about some of the troubles their department faced because of the cuts.
Sentencing on the federal level is a strange beast. It’s much different from state sentencings, which I feel are much more ‘fast and loose,’ if that makes sense. I can play around a bit more with state sentencings. They feel more … real. Somehow. I don’t know, I’m probably crazy.
But at the federal level, this is what basically happens: your client is investigated and gets contacted by the feds. Your client hires you. You negotiate with the feds and see what they’re willing to do as far as the charges. You might be able to get the client immunity if he flips on a co-defendant, if you’re lucky. You may bring the client in for a proffer in which case the government will lessen/lower/reduce the charges in whatever way it chooses.
For example, we’ve gotten AUSAs to agree not to charge a client with Distribution AND Possession of Child Pornography, and instead charge only with Possession, which lessens the Guideline range (which strongly affects the term of imprisonment). We’ve gotten AUSAs to agree to take a subsequent crime and NOT charge it as an additional count or two, but instead use it as relevant conduct, so it doesn’t affect the Guideline range as much.
The government basically tells you what it’s thinking of in terms of prison sentence. You wiggle them down as much as you can. Like, we had an AUSA that wanted 10 years, but we got him down to 4 years and 3 months. Then your client gets officially charged. Then arraigned. Then there’s a plea agreement with the terms that you and the AUSA hammered out. Then your client signs it, withdraws the plea of Not Guilty and enters a plea of Guilty, and then the Court reviews the plea agreement, accepts it, and then you and the AUSA submit memos arguing your positions – the government argues for whatever term it said in the plea, and you argue for something less. Either less jail time or probation.
Some particularly obnoxious plea “agreements,” like those “offered” in the Northern District of Indiana, say that it is a violation of the plea “agreement” for the Defense to argue for anything less than the term of years that the government asks for. I believe that there’s a special place in hell for AUSAs who draft those “agreements,” but what do I know? I just work here.
Part of the Defense’s sentencing memorandum commonly includes letters of support from friends and family. These letters say, I am ____ to the Defendant, I’ve known him ___ long, I know what he’s been charged with, he’s such a great guy, please show him some leniency.
My federal defender friend in the Northern District of Illinois was telling me that for their non-English speaking clients, well, they have family members and friends who also don’t speak English or don’t speak it well. And when they write letters for mitigation packets, those letters are in a language other than English.
And at our sentencing hearings, either we’ve already submitted the letters with the memo, and we refer to them, or we have the witnesses available to testify, or both. Not having interpreters GREATLY impacts federal sentencings. Those letters aren’t going to translate themselves.
What is a judge who doesn’t speak Spanish going to do when a federal defender has to submit 12 letters in mitigation, in Spanish, without the benefit of a translator to submit the English translation as well?
He’s probably going to toss them.
What happens is that an entire community is shut off from participating in - accessing – the justice system that their loved one is a part of just because of a language barrier and budget cuts to translators’ offices.
And that’s just criminal.
I have a translator that I have worked with many times in the past. I love her. I met her in the bond room at 26th & Cali and I made sure I had all of her information. She is so professional and smart and talented and warm, and the clients that have met her just love her. And we do too! I fairly skipped out of that room, I was so happy to have found such a wonderful interpreter.
But we got to talking – several times, actually – about the way that Cook County handles things with the Interpreters’ Office. And that was why when I read the story of Luis Pantoja and his second alleged rape victim, that we know of, I wasn’t altogether surprised. I was horrified and dismayed … but not all that surprised.
Cook County’s Interpreters’ Office has a small number of interpreters staffed. They handle the demand of ALL SIX districts in Cook County. Keep in mind, depending on who you talk to, Cook County is either the first or second most busiest criminal system in the country.
Cook County doesn’t play.
And when you’ve got such a small number of interpreters that are running around between Skokie and Maywood and 26th street and Markham and Rolling Meadows and Bridgeview … well, you can see the problem.
That’s immediately what I thought of when I read this story in Salon. This horrifying story. I thought of my favorite interpreter telling me that the office really struggled with the County’s demand for its services. I thought of my federal defender friend receiving letters in Spanish and being unable to have them translated for the sentencing hearing because there simply wasn’t anyone who could do it. I thought about the Judge who never ordered that a defendant’s mother be provided a Mandarin interpreter, and the defendant’s attorney who didn’t seem to give two shits about it.
With this job, I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many different people from so many walks of life, with so many different backgrounds, speaking so many different languages, with such varied educational and family experiences. All of them deserve equal access to this system that they’re a part of, either because of their own alleged deeds or those of someone they care about. All of them deserve that, at bare minimum.
Interpreters are a huge part of that guarantee of access. And when our system, for whatever reason, fails to provide interpreters, fails to bridge that language gap…
I don’t even have the words for it.
No, wait, I do.
I don’t know, maybe I’m still just incredibly naive and bushy-tailed. I see things like this sometimes, and every time I feel like I just get a wee bit more desensitized to it. But maybe not, because it obviously bothered me enough for me to puke out my random thoughts in a blog post, right?
Ugh, I don’t even know.
Today is January 7, 2014, and it’s frigging cold as balls. Not as cold as balls as it was yesterday, when wind chill made temps feel like they’d plummeted to about -45F. Today, when I set out for the Grundy County Courthouse located in Morris, Illinois, about an hour from my home, the thermometer on my dash said that it was -8F. No clue what it was with windchill, but probably at least 30 below, if not 40. Probably 40ish.
We were lucky enough to have a snow day yesterday, so our afternoon sentencing hearing in a Grooming/Indecent Solicitation case involving a teacher and baseball coach and his student was bumped.
I had a mitigation packet jam-packed with letters of support from our wonderful client’s family, his friends, his co-workers, and former students of his, as well as certificates from all his training programs as an EMT and firefighter, and I had to deliver a copy to the State and Judge.
Because of the holidays and the weather, we weren’t able to get all of it together until Friday. So I was going to go deliver it Monday morning, so the Judge had time to read it before we returned that afternoon for sentencing, but that didn’t happen because of the snow and the temps.
So I went this morning to deliver the packets, and to say that I was bundled up would be a bit of an understatement.
Can you tell I’m smiling? :P BECAUSE I AM.
God. I was wearing like 18 layers: shearling boots and fleece lined tights and thermal leggings and my dress and blazer and my heavy faux fur coat (it’s lined on the inside and SO WARM) and God knows what else. Hats and scarves and mittens, obviously.
But it wasn’t that bad, actually. You’d think -30F or -40F or whatever the hell it was (balls is what it was) would be miserable, but the walk was kind of brisk and lovely. In a freeze-your-boogers sort of way.
If girls even had boogers.
Which everyone knows we DO NOT.
It turns out, adorably enough, that the Judge wasn’t in because he was dropping his son off to work. That’s what I love about these smaller counties. Grundy County has, like, three judges. They’re all general jurisdiction, to my knowledge, so they handle everything, which is pretty amazing. For example, in Cook County, you’ve got at LEAST 50 or so judges who ONLY handle criminal felonies. Then you’ve probably got 30 or so that handle ONLY criminal misdemeanors. I’m fudging the numbers a bit, but it’s around 10 (probably 8) felony judges at each of the six districts.
But in Grundy County, they have three judges who handle everything. So they’ve got a criminal case going and a bankruptcy thing and some insurance stuff, I don’t even know. And I think that’s pretty cool.
And I love the small-county feel. These courthouses are, basically, just a bit more informal. The judges tend to be a lot more informal with the attorneys, who, from what I’ve seen (and done) walk freely in and out of chambers and just have more casual exchanges in general with the Judge, I guess, is kind of what I”m saying.
I don’t know. It’s more of a feeling than concrete examples I can point to. I’m not saying there’s a lapse in decorum: judges are always treated like judges. But there’s a difference between how courthouses in Cook County function in terms of formality and how smaller courthouses like Grundy or Iroquois or whatever.
But I love love love the Grundy County Courthouse. There’s a big courtroom upstairs where we usually are. It’s gorgeous. It’s so old-timey. Take a look!
Ignore my crap on the table. But see? Isn’t that gorgeous?
That’s the jury box. They have a wooden chair for each individual juror. Love it.
And this is the Defense side of the aisle. Look at all those chairs. Isn’t that just gorgeous?
I love this courtroom.
As of December 1, 2013, it’s been one year since I officially became a(n associate) criminal defense attorney. For many, many months prior to that, I’d been unemployed and searching for work – any kind of work. I never dared to dream that I could actually manage to land my dream job – that of a criminal defense attorney – in such a terrible market, lacking connections and all that. I figured I’d just get some kind of attorney job that would help me pay the bills. I was even considering working for Peter Francis Geraci. (I HATE BANKRUPTCY.)
But as luck would have it, I found my boss’s listing for an associate. And I didn’t reply to it. I figured, I probably won’t get it, I suck, blah blah blah. And then I saw it two weeks later and figured, hey, he didn’t find anyone that he wanted, so maybe I should apply, and I’ll just get rejected by him too ALONG WITH EVERYONE ELSE FOREVER.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. After two interviews, I shadowed my boss at trial – a gun case in Cook County – and was hired the following Monday, December 1.
And now it’s been a whole year, and it’s been fantastic. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found this job and to have found my awesome boss, Raymond Wigell, and incredibly blessed to be able to do this work. I’m also very lucky to know many people who, while they may not fully understand this work or what makes me so passionate about, do fully believe that everyone deserves a defense and never give me a hard time, even when I say stupid things like, “MY CHILD PORN GUY GOT PROBATION!”
That’s how I know I’m surrounded by keepers, you guys. (Including you guys, obviously.)
Plus, I have to say, I’m rather proud of myself for being able to do this work every day. When I was first hired, I spent about twenty seconds wondering whether or not I had the mental and emotional fortitude to do this. I decided that I did, and never troubled myself about it again.
But now the yearly mark is up, and I can stop to take a breath, sip my root beer, and evaluate.
And it turns out, hell, yeah, I had the mental and emotional fortitude to do this. Hell fucking yeah, I did. And do! It turns out that I’m a lot stronger than I think. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m unaffected by terrible violent fact patterns, or videos of child p0rn0graphy. I am. But that doesn’t lessen my love of what I do, or my endless optimism, or my unflappingly upbeat nature.
I’m still as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as I ever was. And I’ve got a backbone of steel, I’ve discovered. And an iron constitution, considering how many vomit-worthy things I see.
In the one year since I joined the ranks of criminal defense attorneys, I have done the following:
Last year, December 1 was a Monday. This year, it was a Sunday. On December 2, a Monday, the day I’m writing this post, I was in court in Will County, in the private hallway behind Room 404, bullshitting with one of my favorite prosecutors (who, like my boss, is probably as old as my father and is a total sweetheart).
I was there on a ResBurg and an AggCSA. (That’s shorthand for Residential Burglary and Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault, which in this case is statutory rape; I know I use the shorthands all the time but I think I sometimes forget to clue you guys in as to what they mean.) The prosecutor and I were looking out over the courtyard in front of the building, where the clerks were on strike, when I got a call from my boss, Raymond Wigell, who recently celebrated his 38th anniversary as an attorney.
I ducked out of the hallway, strode across the courtroom, and found a quiet corner in the main hallway, which was teeming with defendants, the families and friends of defendants, other attorneys, and security guards. I answered the call from Raymond only to convey the offer I’d received, which I had no intention of recommending to our client, and discussed what we’d done for Thanksgiving a few days earlier.
And before we hung up, he said something that was typical of the sweet, fatherly man he is.
“Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”
My boss and I were handling a status date for a child pornography case we’ve got pending. It wasn’t that big of an event; it was a return of our independent psycho-sexual evaluation, which we were going to tender to the State, and then we’d order the county-specific sex offender evaluation, the main purpose of which is to determine if the defendant lives within 500 feet of a school or park, etc. Armed with those, we’d go into a 402 conference next time.
While at the courthouse, we ran into my boss’s former associate, a very tall man (probably like 6’4″; holy hell, he was an absolute skyscraper of a man) who I’d met before and have heard lovely things about. Raymond and he talked for a minute, and then Ray introduced me and I made my usual pretty small talk, and then we parted ways. This attorney also had a matter up before our judge, and Raymond and I hung out in the corner and watched him when he was called up.
Attorney: Good morning, your Honor. For the record, I’m That Guy of That Guy Law Firm, counsel for Mr. The Other Guy, who is present in court on bond.
Raymond: [elbows me] Sound familiar?
(It’s the same intro that Raymond taught me, almost a year ago, which is what I say every time I step up before a judge.)
[watch Attorney That Guy do his thing]
Raymond: He was, hands down, the very best associate I’ve ever had in my thirty-eight years of doing this.
Raymond: …You are ten times better than he was.
Raymond: Don’t get too excited; I’m going to make fun of you later.
Raymond: …You eat more than he does, too.
The sad thing is, it’s true. Raymond and Nicole have seen me demolish foot-long super hot dogs, and cheeseburgers as big as my face, and polish a massive lunch off with a big thing of ice cream and then go hunting around the office for more food two hours later.
But, still. The main, substantive compliment. Which meant so much to me precisely because I’m so young and green. I mean, I just …
And there was a little of this:
And I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t also a little bit of this going on:
Yep, the results are in. It turns out, I’m awesome. Woop, woop!
I don’t care
about little misdemeanors
the way I do
And Demand My Attention and Apprehension.
I defend your rights.
Some of them are small to me.
Your lives are small to me.
– “If I were a bad defense attorney.” by Huma Rashid 10.3.2013.
Did I mention that I recently had dinner with my high school AP English and AP US History teachers? It was wonderful fun, just a great evening, and frankly, it was a long time coming. I don’t think I had seen them in 8 years, since we graduated.
Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Colleen Hiles taught me AP US History and AP English in high school, respectively, and were already married by the time I had Mr. Hiles in my junior year. They’re two of my favorite teachers ever, and Mrs. Hiles and I had been texting recently and we figured we should do a little get-together.
She invited me over to their house for happy hour, and I told her I’d be bringing by a friend and former alum, but it was a surprise. My friend John recently moved back home and is doing all kinds of wonderful things that he told me about when we had gotten together for dinner the previous week, so I figured I basically HAD to bring him along with me. The Hileses LOVE John. And I had a feeling that they hadn’t seen him in many years, as with me.
So John and I showed up for what evolved into dinner and then some, and we ended up staying for six whole hours.
Six whole hours.
I’m not saying that in the sense of “Ew, who can even talk to their former teachers for six minutes much less hours?” I’m saying that in the sense of “Ew, who imposes on their teachers, who have three young children, for six hours?”
But they didn’t seem to mind, and we had a wonderful evening. Mr. and Mrs. Hiles were in their mid-twenties when we had them, and it’s been barely ten years. Now John and I are in our middling-to-late twenties, and they’re in their mid-thirties and still looking exactly the same as they did when we were kids, so obviously there is some dark magic afoot there, but I don’t even want to know, to be honest.
It’s kind of trippy, really, to be able to speak to your former teachers on a more adult level, as colleagues or relative equals. Mr. and Mrs. Hiles were always very interesting (and obviously very intelligent) people, and both of them are hilarious. But our contact with them was pretty much limited to the classroom and random school-related social events.
And now … not so much. We’re coming back together of our own volition, out of a genuine sense of wanting to reconnect and spend time together and continue learning from each other, all in much different ways than when John and I were teenagers.
So that was really fun. I think it made a difference that we’re not all that far apart in terms of age. I’d think it would be harder to strike that kind of connection with a much older former teacher.
Anyway, that’s not the funny part. (The funny part is Mr. Hiles’s face. No…)
We were talking about former students, and they mentioned this one guy that’s one of John’s friends (I think I barely spoke two words to this kid through all of high school) and they asked about his height.
(It was germane to the conversation, I promise, even though it sounds like we were sitting around talking about the most frivolous things. No, no, that came later.)
And John considered me briefly from across the table and said, “You know, I think he’s pretty much Huma’s height.”
I just stared at him.
Because I knew the kid he was talking about. He’s not my height.
“I’m 5’1″, though,” I corrected.
And it was confusing at the time but so amusing in retrospect: John stared at me blankly and said, “Wait, you’re 5’1″? …Oh. Well, your presence is much taller than that.”
. . .
Yeah, the guy’s smooth.
But that’s basically the best compliment ever? I’m a shrimpy little thing, but apparently my personality (?) makes people feel like I”m taller.
(That was how I interpreted that, anyway.)
I kind of like that.
OH. ANOTHER THING.
I can’t remember if it was here or on my Tumblr, but I remarked upon a trend. I’ve been noticing over the past two years, let’s say, that men I know – relatives, friends, close acquaintances who haven’t yet crossed that threshold to friendship – have told me that I’m, and I quote, “a little scary.”
And you know how Tumblr has the option for anonymous comments? I leave that on because, what, like I got anything to fear? Like a few harsh words will upset me? I’ve just noticed that it’s a good way for people who are shy to communicate with people that they kind of like or want to connect with – it’s like a stepping stone, and I’m cool with that. So I leave it enabled so that I can receive anonymous comments.
And I had been noticing that over the past year, I’d been getting messages that were basically to the effect of, “Huma, you’re great but you’re a little scary.”
I’m not kidding when I say I found all of this BAFFLING. I just … I couldn’t even begin to make sense of it, you guys.
Because it clashed so radically with my self-image. The way I perceive myself, I’m not scary at all. “Harmless” is actually the word I would use.
I’m harmless. I’m encouraging. I’m intensely awkward. I’m a little clueless sometimes. And I’m generally quite chipper and upbeat and positive.
I’m also the kind of person that hates uncertainty, and likes to attack problems quickly and conquer them so I can move on to the next issue. So I’m maybe willing to admit that sometimes I MIGHT come off a little intense that way. I’m always trying to think of solutions and different plans of attack. Maybe there’s a possibility that that’s kind of exhausting for people who don’t think that way. For which I apologize.
But yeah, I definitely couldn’t even begin to reconcile “a little scary” with my self-image of myself as harmless. I mean, come on. Many of you know me in real life, but many of you don’t. Still, you have a good sense of who I am through this blog, I guess. And you have to rely on my physical descriptions of myself: I’m 5’1″ and now that I’ve gained about 10lbs in the last year, I can finally fill out the 0-2 Petite sizes in most women’s lines. I’ve got hair I keep long and layered, and glasses.
I’m small and bespectacled and often messing about with my hair. The very PICTURE of harmlessness, really.
At least, that’s my side of it.
My fellow party-goers did not agree. It came up in conversation and I expressed my confusion at being called “a little scary” and attempted to argue that I was harmless, but John and the Hileses weren’t having any of it.
Which, frankly, I found shocking, because how dare anyone not agree with me.
…Wait, that’s kind of “a little scary” thing to say, isn’t it?
Anyway, my argument was not accepted. Not even when I attempted an amending of the argument, citing how quiet I was in high school, to which John quipped, “Maybe OUTSIDE of class.”
I think I’m going to have to start accepting that I’m a little scary.
The question is … is that something I’m willing to change about myself in order to be a better person?
I guess the answer depends on what kind of scariness it is. Scary is a catch-all word, and it can be problematic when applied to women. Usually because the same qualities that would afford a man praise, when applied to women, are viewed as negatives.
So I guess I’d have to get to work figuring out what people mean when they say I’m scary. Our awesome paralegal, Nicole, thinks that when people tell me that I’m a little scary, they probably mean determined. That’s her interpretation, anyway. She said, “Determined is a good thing. But when that word is used for a woman, people sometimes get nervous.”
I can live with determined. That’s not something I’m willing to change.
But, on the other hand, if “a little scary” means something like, “argumentative without purpose,” then I have further unpacking to do, and, likely, some things to improve on. First, I’d have to figure out if “argumentative without purpose” was just that person’s perception, which can at times be unfair, or if it was a misunderstanding, or if it was based on one or a small number of incidents that were then unfairly turned into a generalization.
In that case, I’d be more tempted to dismiss it (unless many people felt the same way), but to keep it on my radar as something to be aware of nonetheless.
If, however, I felt that “argumentative without purpose” was a legitimate concern, then I would certainly get to work monitoring my behavior even more intensely, examining my reactions and motivations, and correcting the bad behavior in small but consistent ways until there was a noticeable change.
Gah. This turned into something other than what I wanted it to be. This was basically me just rambling about something that I’d usually put down in my journal (which, like I’ve said, is an excellent problem-solving tool that I use for both personal and work-related problems – I mean, I can’t tell you how many motions I’ve really refined and added teeth to just by musing over the weaknesses in my journal).
But yes. Anyway. I’m too lazy to go back and delete this and then find some effective transition to lead into a better, more watered-down conclusion, so whatever. It stays.
But now I have to go figure out exactly WHAT people mean when they say I’m “a little scary.” That is, if I’ve accepted that I AM in fact “a little scary.” I don’t think I’m quite there yet.
If you have suggestions or a possible explanation and for whatever reason can’t leave a comment (some people are reporting issues and I have NO idea what’s wrong and I can’t fix it) I recently put up a contact form in the sidebar. Put in a fake name and fake email from the Mailinator domain if you like; I don’t care if you want to remain anonymous when you contact me. Go for it.
(I had to add a CAPTCHA because I was getting spam. Sorry. I know it’s a pain.)
A little scary.
I’m going to be at the drawing board with this one for a while, guys.
Today is a solid office day. For me, at least. I was supposed to be at 26th and California, with Raymond, but I figured that because I have two huge motions that need to be done by this Friday, my time would be better spent at the office, while he worked our sex cases that are up today.
So I’m alone in the office today, because our awesome paralegal Nicole is coming in late, which means I have free run of the place.
I kind of love office days when I have a bunch of motions to write, and I’m either alone or it’s just me and Nicole. What usually happens is what I consider the perfect work day:
Right now, as I write this, and as I prepare to write two big motions in two of our big sex cases (one a motion in limine to exclude certain evidence; the other a sentencing memorandum for a federal case involving illegal pornography), I’m watching Louis Thereux’s “A Place for Pedophiles,” a documentary about a hospital that houses and attempts to treat basically people who commit sex crimes against children. (Although some of the prisoners refuse treatment and are basically just going to be housed there until they complete their sentences or die.)
We have a bunch of cases like that, so I like to watch documentaries about sexual deviancy and sex crimes because it’s something that, up until a year ago, I knew so little about.
Now, by reading more and watching more and just learning everything I can about it, I feel so much more qualified and, I guess, well-rounded when it comes to dealing with these cases.
Human sexuality is really confusing. (And please don’t think I’m affirming pedophilia as a viable aspect of human sexuality. It’s not. It exists, yes, but it is abhorrent and illegal for very good reason.)
So yes. That’s what my day is going to be like. Documentaries and motions and sexually deviant behavior.
(That is not a sarcastic YAY! I genuinely love what I do. Even when it involves things that I find morally icky.)
And as much as I love my boss, I do love the days when I’m just here all by my lonesome.