Almost all of the clients and cases I have worked on or heard about involve a lot of both desolation and consolation. Sadly, the desolate times in clients’ lives seem to outnumber those where they find consolation. When we visited drug court, we saw a lot of people who were succeeding in the program, but many of them were grandparents and looking back on years (decades, sometimes) of being absent from their family members’ lives. One woman had been a prostitute for over thirty years in order to support her habit. She had children, and she started crying when she talked about how she had missed being with them. Another woman had one son, but he was an addict already, and his father was dead after overdosing.
Both of these women were no longer using any drugs or alcohol, they were employed, and they were getting their lives together, but one client who appeared before the judge was young and did not seem to be addicted to anything. She was just lonely and suffering from a plethora of mental health issues, and occasionally looking to drugs for comfort or entertainment. She was from Louisiana originally and came to Atlanta with her brother. Her brother had been shot and killed in April 2012, and she had no family or friends anywhere. Neither drug court nor mental health court would take her into any of their programs. Judge Downs talked to this girl with so much compassion, and she was trying to find a program that would take her, but I was really worried for her.
For me, total desolation is when one has absolutely no one to turn to. That young woman in drug court was like that. Without a kind judge like Judge Downs, she would have been turned out to just end up under arrest again—or worse. There was no one anywhere for her. We went to the sentencing of one of GJP’s former clients, and she was like that, too. Her mother had died during the trial, and she had been virtually homeless before she was arrested. She lived temporarily with various friends and then ultimately ended up living with an abusive boyfriend, having to sit in his car all day with her now deceased baby while he was at work because her boyfriend’s grandmother wouldn’t let her stay in the house. At the sentencing she told the judge that she really wanted into a work program at the prison because she had nowhere to go if she were released. She was about to get her GED, and then she wanted to learn a vocation. This girl had no education, no family, and she felt that she would be better off in prison than out at this point in her life. With so many loving and supportive friends and family, with a great high school and college education, and with the resources and support to be near the completion of law school, I can’t think of anything more desolate than having no one in the world to turn to, to miss, or to miss me.
When clients hug me or one of the attorneys after a meeting, when people talk candidly and even cry without feeling awkward, and when people can talk about ways they have improved their lives (gotten a job, made new friends, started or finished an education or training program), I see consolation. I am looking forward to Back 2 School, because I think we will see a lot of happiness and relief. I know that small victories are important to our clients, and I am so glad we can do something toward comforting and consoling people, but after all our clients go through sometimes, I wish we (or the “system” or life in general) could give them more consolation!