There’s this public defender at one of the Cook County Courthouses that I’m at almost every week. He’s a veteran with the office, if I recall correctly, and he’s a really nice guy. He often comments that whenever he sees me in the various felony courtrooms, I’m always smiling. He’s an excellent resource for if I ever need help, and is also a pretty good source of courthouse gossip (which we use to our benefit whenever we can). I saw him the other day when I was there on a surrender, when our guy was turning himself in to begin serving his 8.5 year stint in state prison.
He saw me walking down the hall, grim-faced and preoccupied.
PD: Hey! Where’s that smile? How am I supposed to be cheerful if you’re not?
Me: There’s really nothing much for me to be cheerful about today.
PD: Aw, jeez. What have you got up?
Me: We’re turning in one of my boys. He starts an 8-spot today.
PD: Ahh. Yeah, that’s rough. That’s always rough. I’m not all that thrilled to be here today myself.
Me: Why? What happened?
PD: I’m here on a drug case. The cops pulled a crackpipe out of my client’s butt.
PD: Yeah. She bled out from her injuries and died before she could even be arraigned.
I walked away from him – after expressing my condolences – and continued down the hallway to the felony rooms. And even though few things shock me anymore, few things upset me anymore, few things make me clutch my head and duck into a quiet corner until it stops hurting – and to be fair, his story hadn’t affected me in that way, as shocking as it was – still, in that moment, I felt like Alice having fallen down the rabbit hole.
Where the fuck am I?
Where the fuck am I that this is what we talk about casually as we snatch a few minutes of friendly conversation while walking in opposite directions down the hall?
Where the fuck am I?
Where am I that this is my new normal?
That these are the stories I trade? That these are the stories that, as jarring as they are, barely do more than put a slight crimp in my even-keeled demeanor?
I don’t know.
I wouldn’t change it for the world. Truly, I wouldn’t. But still, sometimes, I wonder where the fuck I am and how I got here.
I have a lot more to say about the case I mentioned here – the one about my client who has just started his 8.5 year sentence in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It was a very long case – four years – and I came in on the last two. I learned so much from working this case, and it left its mark on me. And I came to care very deeply for that client and his family, and still do. So in the next week, you’ll see more from me about this, as I finish processing my thoughts and feelings and insights enough to comb them together into some sort of slightly coherent post or two or five.
I was saying on Twitter that I’m glad I’m blogging again, because I have a lot to say about this case. You guys told me you wanted the honest perspective of a young attorney; you’ll be getting it.