“He does not see the bend, behind, that will take him from view”
by Jamison Koehler on January 26, 2018
“Davon” is dead. This is what his former social worker tells me. I don’t ask for details. That would be rude. Besides, I am pretty sure I already know the answer.
Davon was 13 years old when I first represented him. He and his mother, a woman who referred to herself as “Danger” on her voice mail, moved across town to take advantage of a better housing deal. Davon was bored at the new location, and he kept returning to the old neighborhood to hang with friends. First he was warned: You can’t loiter at a public housing complex. Then he was barred. Then he was arrested for unlawful entry.
At 15 years old, Davon picked up a “purse-snatch robbery.” Except it was a cell phone. Using GPS, police tracked the phone to Davon’s new home, to his school, and, yes, back to his old neighborhood where he was again arrested for unlawful entry.
At 16, Davon was arrested for armed robbery. Reading the allegations, I had a pretty good idea then what might lie in his future.
If this were a Disney movie, Davon and I would have overcome age, racial, and socio-economic differences to forge a bond between us. That proud and dignified little boy would have let down his guard. We would have become, if not friends, well, at least closer. He would have trusted me.
This is not a Disney movie. That impassive face with the dull eyes never once brightened to see me. He never confided in me, even when his defense depended on it. When I visited him at the Youth Services Center or at a group home, he would sit as I talked. Or we would look across the table at each other in silence. His mind was already on other things – what was going on at his unit, perhaps what was on the menu for lunch.
Once, if only for just a moment, I saw a different side of Davon. He had been placed at the Kool House, a juvenile facility in Virginia with a good reputation, and his progress reports were glowing. He got along with his probation officer. More importantly, his father was back in his life.
We were at a commitment hearing to review his progress. I was waiting outside the courtroom with his mother when I saw his father and him walking down the hallway toward us. His gait was relaxed. The two of them leaned into each other as they talked about something. And, for the only time ever, I saw him smile. It was the easy, unguarded smile of a little boy. For that moment anyway, I thought he might be okay.
I don’t represent juveniles anymore, but I occasionally run into former clients in adult court. They call out to me in the courtroom or hallway – “Mr. Koehler, Mr. Koehler!” — and I am always pleased that, after a moment’s hesitation, I can remember their names. Mr. Smith! How are you? How is your mother?
Sometimes they are there supporting a friend. Sometimes they tell me they are there supporting a friend when in fact the docket shows they face their own charges. In either case, I pretend to believe them. It is a fiction that works for all of us.
We catch up. We reminisce. And the moment passes. We shake each other’s hand or fist bump one last time. Then, smiles fading, we turn back to the day. I follow their cases through the system. Until I don’t anymore.
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