I spent some time in jail with a slight young man who looked pained and bewildered by his incarceration. When the lawyer asked how he was feeling, he said that he was feeling melancholy and extremely fragile. He was in shock at his situation, and could not seem to grasp that he was considered a criminal. He was much less able to grasp that the prosecutor was only offering him several years in prison in return for pleading guilty as charged – no reduction. It seemed so heartless to him. He felt himself to be a victim of fate. He was an extremely sensitive person.
As I sight-translated the salient portions of the police report, I could see out of the corner of my eye that the defendant was staring fixedly at me, listening intently, and starting to cry. It seemed as though he, too, was hearing for the first time about the event, and just as shocked and surprised as any member of the public would be. When I was done, the attorney let a moment go by, and then asked, “Is that what happened?” and the defendant burst into wracking sobs, bowed down his head and said yes.
The defendant had a really hard time calming down. He just kept saying that he cannot believe that this is happening to him. Why?
He also kept reminding the lawyer that he has a wife and he needs her by his side – they have two children. His being away from her now was breaking him down. It was unbearable. He begged for help and asked the lawyer to please help him get out and get back to his life with his wife and kids. There must be a way!
The lawyer spent the full two hours comforting, explaining, educating, and questioning the defendant, carefully clarifying what his rights were, what choices he had, and what he would likely be facing. At the end, he asked if this young, frail man had any more questions, and he said no questions, just one fervent request, which he made with sincerity in his voice and tears in his eyes:
“Can you please do your very, very best for me, Counsel, please, because I am NOT a criminal – I only beat my own wife!”
It helps to remind ourselves that denial is the first stage of grief, and hope for better things.