Before I ever interpreted at juvenile criminal cases, I have to admit, to my shame, that I unconsciously shared the common belief – kids who get into trouble probably have bad parenting. This belief is a way to protect ourselves and to avoid identifying with these families, because then we don’t have to be scared. If it could happen to any family, it could happen to us. So let’s blame the families!
I have been humbled by the vast majority of juvenile cases. The parents I meet have done everything they can. They uprooted their whole families in the first place in order to give their children a fighting chance. They work hard at unpleasant underpaid jobs. They try to supervise when they are home. They love their kids. They discipline them, scold them, instruct them, and set up rules and chores. They try to have consequences. But at some point along the way, the kid quits listening.
At most juvenile hearings, after simultaneously interpreting the whole hearing to the mother or father, there comes a point where the judge asks usually mom what she would like to testify. It is almost always something like this: My child won’t listen to me. I try to explain, scold, discipline! I try to show them how to live through my example of hard work and honesty. There is nothing else I can say or do. I don’t know what else to do. I need you to help me with my child.
At one hearing, the mother had tears pouring down her face, and the defense attorney turned to the teen who had been caught breaking into a couple houses.
“Take a good look at your mother. She loves you, and look what you are putting her through. Don’t ever forget her face at this moment.”
We rarely get to follow up on our own cases, as they are randomly assigned, so I don’t know if that young man remembers his mother’s face at that moment. But I do.