It wasn’t Emily’s fault that she needed compassion in court. Oh sure, she committed the crimes against members of our family; but it still wasn’t her fault. My daughter had committed felonies in our home, but it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done to her from her earliest memories, right up until the time she left her Russian orphanage at fifteen. For the first fifteen years of her life, it was just something that happened. Nobody ever did anything about it.
Really, no one would have known, except I told on her. I did it with purpose. I had every intention of having my daughter locked up and removed from the only home she had ever been safe in. When it came to responsible parenting, there really wasn’t a choice. My wife and I had spent months working with Family Services in our state, trying to get Emily the specialized institutional care that was the only chance she had to get better; her only chance at advancing to the point where she could have a successful life. Eventually, we were flatly refused help. When I told the director of the office that Family Services was legally obligated to help us, he said he wasn’t denying that fact, only refusing to do anything. I threatened to sue him. He told me that I might well spend years, and tens of thousands of dollars suing the state, but that he was immune from prosecution within his official capacity. “You can’t touch me,” he said. It was evident that even if I sued the state, nothing would be resolved in time to help our family and my daughter. I told the director that if I dropped Emily off at his office, he would be forced to deal with the situation. He told me that if I abandoned one of my children, he promised it would have implications with the others in our home. There was nothing left that I could do with Family Services. There would be no compassion in court when it was tied to Family Services.
Chances are that your daughter will find compassion in court. If she was my own daughter, I would prosecute her, for her own good.
Several days later I was talking with a detective in our county. “Prosecute her,” she told me. I was shocked. The detective listened while I told of my daughter’s history and all of the reasons that she shouldn’t be prosecuted. Besides, what she had done hadn’t hurt anyone. “She has committed a felony,” the detective said. “You’re lucky. You have a sure-fire way to get her into the system without going through Family Services. And they aren’t going to do anything. You can’t touch the individuals and it takes too long to go after the state. Chances are that your daughter will find compassion in court. If she was my own daughter, I would prosecute her, for her own good.”
That’s how we ended up at the court house in a conference room, with a defense attorney I had hired to protect Emily, and me, sitting on each side of her. “Ninety days in Juvenile Detention,” the prosecutor said after quite a bit of discussion. The defense attorney countered. “She’s a first time offender. Thirty days. And I could probably get it lower.” Then the prosecutor showed his colors. “Look, we all want what’s best for Emily. I doubt that you can get her a bed where she needs to be within sixty days. What are you going to do with her? Where can she go? I can do sixty. It might take even longer to get her a bed.” The defense attorney nodded. “I can do sixty.”
Then the prosecutor looked at my daughter. “I have heard about your history, Emily. I am so sorry about the things that happened to you before you came home.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Look, Emily; I know you can do this. You are strong. I know that you can spend a little bit of time in detention, but that you can learn to keep rules and you can help your family and the other people who want to help you get better.” Then the prosecutor winked at me outside of her line of vision. I would get be the bad cop (story of my life). “Your dad doesn’t think you can do this as fast I as I think you can. We’ll come back before the judge again, after today; in a few weeks, to see how you are doing. I want you to keep the rules. I want you to help me to prove your dad wrong. I want you to show him you can do it.”
“That’s a bet you will lose,” I told the prosecutor, playing along. “No I won’t,” he said. “Emily is strong. She can do this.” Even though I played along, it was very clear to me that the detective was correct. My daughter would find compassion in court.
“I will prove you wrong, Dad,” Emily said. Then she looked at the prosecutor. “We will prove him wrong.” A little while later, the judge agreed with the bargain made between the two attorneys. He sentenced my daughter to sixty days in juvenile detention and then he set the system in motion to get her human support as well as orders to find her a placement in the type of facility that could get her the intense help that she needed. Finally, he set a date for Emily to reappear with both attorneys in sixty days, to see how things were going.
Thirty days later we were back. The compassion in court continued.
When we met back in court, no bed had opened up. The judge extended her sentence by thirty days but ordered those who were arranging for Emily’s placement to find something by that time. The parole officer said that he had commitments from a facility that specialized in helping people with the challenges that my daughter had, and he promised that they would have a placement within the thirty-day extension.
Thirty days later we were back. The compassion in court continued. Emily had experienced several setbacks with acting out in detention, but the attorneys agreed in our pre-court meeting that it would be best to get her out of detention and into the placement that could best help her. The prosecutor once again winked at me. “Emily, don’t make me lose this bet with your dad. I know you can do it. I know you can keep the rules.” Emily squared her shoulders and looked up at the prosecutor. “I can do it!” she said. “We will prove him wrong.”
In court, the judge agreed with the defense and prosecuting attorneys. Emily was told that she would be removed from detention within a few days and given a new placement where she could get help and where Mom and Dad could come and see her more often. There, she would have more freedom. Then the judge told Emily that he was proud of her for being brave enough to want to have a better life. He encouraged her to work hard and to keep the rules. When Justice was served in that court, justice served.
My wife and I were each given a chance to make a brief statement. We could only thank them for what we had experienced with compassion in court and thank them for the help they gave our family in restoring safety to our home. Then it was Emily’s turn. The judge asked my daughter if she had anything else to say. She nodded, nervously. “Go ahead,” the judge prompted.
Emily stood up behind the table, shaking. Then she almost shouted; “I LOVE MY PROSECUTOR!” Everyone in the court, including the judge, chuckled. Then I cried. Where some people who worked for the system had threatened to abandon my daughter, others had stepped forward to make the system shine.
I just love it when justice is served serves. I love it when compassion in court is the right thing to do. I love it when champions in the system help homes and families.
Many parents with troubled teens find themselves in the same situation that Amy and I did, with people who work for the government refusing to do their jobs while standing behind immunity status. Please help me to help these parents by getting this article out. They need to know some of the avenues that, while scary to pursue, really can be the best ways to help our families. Please recommend and share this article.
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