I got a call of thanks from a client this week. He had just spent 12 months in a federal prison and was thankful for every day he had just experienced behind bars. We will call him Spencer. Spencer was facing up to 87 months for his crime. The Federal Judge liked the sentencing memo I filed on Spencer’s behalf and saw remorse in my client’s statement in open court. We have two sitting Federal Judges in Fort Worth and cases are put in their respective courts by luck of the draw. We got very lucky.
One Judge is extremely rigid and I feel confident my client would have received 87 months, for sure. Spencer’s case was assigned to the more open Judge that likes to quote scripture in court….again, we got lucky. On sentencing day there was relief and tears from Spencer and his extended family and friends. They all wanted to thank and hug me, it was a rare day in the life of an attorney. I left the federal courthouse that day knowing that I had done some good lawyering and truly had helped make a difference in one family’s life.
Spencer is a traveling salesman….he is a simple man. He attends church every Sunday, is married with one child. He stands about six-foot and is thin…always looking like he could use a good meal. I spoke to fellow church members and numerous friends, neighbors. All had similar comments about Spencer….that he was extremely thoughtful, helpful, courteous, a Christian man. Spencer’s wife and child were loving and likewise devoted to Spencer. The fact that he committed a crime was a terrible thing, but did not diminish their feelings about him.
If you met Spencer you would like him. I doubt anyone of you would pick up on his secret. Spencer is a simple man in the dark.
Spencer called me one Tuesday afternoon, having been referred by a work associate. He said the U.S. Postal Inspectors were investigating him for a crime and it was urgent that he see me. Within 2 hours Spencer was seated in front of my desk, nervously fidgeting and tapping his right foot. Spencer was unraveling right in front of me as he haltingly answered my questions and told his story.
I have been in the criminal justice system, in one capacity or another, for 24 years now, so I have heard and seen just about everything. People sit in my office and unburden themselves, they throw their missteps and addictions my way in hope of help. Sometimes I think they want a communion wafer and a pat on the head, “go in peace child.” I have equated myself to an eighteenth century “sin-eater” before…the English/Scottish ritual of paying a peasant to come to the altar of the dead. Food is layed about the deceased and the sin-eater eats…and with the food takes the evil and sins of the dead man so he can rise to heaven. Or it might just be my innate obsession with food….go figure.
Spencer likes to look at computer pornography. More specifically, Spencer likes to look at child computerized, pornography. About this time you will begin to judge Spencer and assume he is a pedophile. You should also be judging me as an attorney. (How can you represent people like that?)
I have to be able to represent Spencer. If I believe in justice and everything that is right with our system…he must be defended just as vigorously as the teenager that gets caught with his first joint. Spencer has the same rights and access to due process that we all do. Guilty or innocent, pedophile or not….the system MUST work for him.
When I first met Spencer he didn’t believe he was a pedophile if he just “viewed” porn and never acted out his dark desires. After 12 months of a sex offender program and counseling, he now can see his victims for the first time. Spencer is a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. I think that he is a very low risk for recidivism. I hope I never see him again.
Spencer is staying away from the dark. He has already found another job and is hopeful for his future. In our telephone conversation he said, “Because of you I am a free man again and am home with my family.” I was happy and sickened by that statement. I can believe in the man and rehabilitation and at the same time be repulsed by the darkness. Twenty four years of experience and knowing I did the right thing….but still a small pang of uneasiness thinking that if Spencer does regress, I somehow contributed to making it happen. My belief in justice for every man trumps all other emotions and remains steadfast…even while I acknowledge some conflict. I would be lying to you if I didn’t divulge the conflict.
You have to believe out from the dark can come some light. We cannot give up on hope. Hope is the light that burns within us all. Without it we are lost…we must never be without it, even when dealing with an issue that disturbs and revolts us all. You gotta believe it burns within every simple man.