But I had to write about this.
Sometimes what I do for a living is tough. I have to hear and experience second hand the trauma and pain that others go through. I know, it’s not the same as experiencing it yourself, thank God! – but sometimes I wonder if I do any good at all – any real and lasting good. So, I am writing this down for posterity and maybe adding to it, God willing, so I can keep on keeping on!
First, let me tell you the story about little Kevin. Kevin’s mother was my client at a non-profit I used to work for, representing victims of domestic violence. Kevin’s father was nuts, probably had dissociative identity disorder, commonly referred to as multiple personality disorder. Kevin’s mother, my client, and I came to the realization that Kevin’s father had probably shaken him during a three-week hospital stay for my client. Kevin went from walking, talking and climbing to just sitting and no longer talking. Kevin’s mother got him help through the local Infants and Toddlers program. He eventually recuperated, something that is almost unheard of in shaken baby cases. But what to do about visitation and custody? Turns out this guy was more interested in his stuff than his kid, so when I hit him with some discovery about his assets, he was suddenly willing to sign an agreement waiving visitation with his son. Later, the feds charged him on another related matter, and he was also ordered to have no contact for five years with my client or Kevin.
Fast forward two years later. I happened to be at the courthouse on a divorce case for another client and there walked in Kevin and his mother! He looked healthy and happy and he was talking up a storm – seemed to be a normal 5-yr-old boy! I said hello to my former client. She and Kevin were doing well (except for what brought them to court – unrelated to our case). As we bid our leave, I said to Kevin, “Good-bye, sweetie.” As they walked away, I heard him say, in this sweet, delighted voice, “Mommy, she called me ‘sweetie!'”
So often when we lawyers do our work, we have this fairly long term, intense relationship with a client, which gets more and more intense as trial approaches. A brief period of closing the file and getting documents and info back to the client, then nothing. Often we never hear from them again. So when I get a glimpse into their lives after my involvement, sometimes it’s an education. When their lives are better, even when my part in that was small (as in this case) it’s a feeling I cannot describe.
Last week I got a call from another domestic violence client. When I represented her, she was stuck in this bizarre relationship with a guy who was on the sex offender registry (probably for his involvement with her at a too-young age!) She was back and forth, trying to get away, he and his family using their children to tie her to him. He actually found out where she was sheltered and attempted to reach her there, so we got her shelter at another DV agency in another county. There was a criminal trial for his latest garbage, but she was nowhere to be found to testify. I was seriously worried they had done away with her!
But no. Last week she called me. She’s left him. She’s a real estate agent. She’s working on her MBA!!!!! YES! And she’s spent the last few months looking for me because she needs a lawyer to fight him and his bull sh*t in court again. But she’s fighting, God love her! I can’t do work outside of my contract with the state, so I referred her to one of the best domestic attorneys I know who works in her jurisdiction. YES!
Another client of mine was brought into care before I began representing her. She was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriends. Mom was a waste of oxygen. Sorry to say that, truly. My client went from foster care to cutting to suicide attempts. She spent two years at a residential treatment center, then to a wonderful therapeutic group home in western MD, and now is in a foster home with the most wonderful people you could imagine! She still occasionally cuts, but she is doing so well. She has found the love of a family. As I type this, tears sting my eyes. To those of us who have families who love us and put up with us when no one else will, this is not a big deal, but to so many of my clients, this is HUGE!!! Now, I had nothing to do with all of this, except that I listened to her as her counsel and she knows I have her back. DSS actually did a wonderful job for her. So often, it’s the social workers who are the unsung heroes and believe me, theirs is often a thankless task! They not only get it from the parents and their attorneys, but from the courts, who are forever inquiring into whether their efforts are/were “reasonable” – a function of federal law and funding.
About 11 months ago on Mother’s Day, I got a call from one of my clients who was then 18 and had been on runaway for a while. DSS got her too late. She had been sexually and physically abused by her father and her mother was an absent drunk in more ways than one. She told me she had gotten married and was happy. She said I was the only person she felt comfortably calling on Mother’s day! That broke my heart. I told her to feel free to call any time. I still pray for her every time I think of her.
Sometimes this job humbles the heck out of me.