02/07/2007 - 9:29 p.m.


If I had looked only at the paperwork I had, I might have dubbed this mother as a good candidate for "least likely to be grounded in reality." She was mentally ill and she had neglected and likely abused her son when he was young. One evaluation I had indicated that she "appeared dull." The paperwork was wrong. Oh, she might have been like that once but not anymore. She was bright, she was informed, she was concerned, she was realistic, and she already had been one of the most effective advocates I've seen.

She called because she was concerned her son was about to make a mistake—and she may be right. She called because she was worried that appealing or, more specifically, trying to take back his guilty plea would be a terrible mistake. I do not remember the exact words that she used but it came down to "I'm afraid that baby is being impulsive and is going to make things a whole lot worse." He had given me permission to talk to her so I did. I did not have much to offer. I had to tell her that the ultimate decision is his. So I did what I could. I listened.

The whole conversation did not take very long. She verified what the risks were if he successfully withdrew his plea. I explained why I was not even sure it was possible to withdraw his plea. She wished I could find it impossible, even if it wasn't, but, in the same breadth, she indicated that she knew I could not—and I think she meant it.

I then discussed the little that I could do. I believe there was a math error and her son is entitled to a little more sentence credit than he got. (I DO wish more judges and lawyers could count and add correctly.) We discussed what might come out of an evaluation I want a psychologist to do.

And then I heard her real fear. Worse, I share it and there is not a thing I can do about it. She believes that her son is mentally ill and there is a lot of documentation that backs her up. She notes that it runs in the family and I could tell she feels guilty about it. She does not believe that his crime was a result of that mental illness but his punishment is definitely made worse by it.

She is worried that his immature behavior, even for the barely eighteen year old that he is, has serious consequences. She is worried that many of the small infractions that get him deeper and deeper into segregation are part of his mental illness now, whether they originally were. The problem is not just that he ends up in segregation. Segregation is nasty and no one wants that for their child. It's that she believes that segregation is making him crazier and crazier. And she is correct that segregation can do that and I think it is doing so here.

When Wisconsin parents confined their thirteen year old daughter under similar conditions to the one my teenage client endures, they were charged with causing mental harm to a child. They were charged even though their daughter had been defiant, easily angered, uncooperative, and vindictive. They were charged even though they claimed they were trying to get her to behave. They were charged, in part, because she deteriorated mentally and became delusional.

And that's exactly what is happening to my client. But the state is doing it so it is okay, or so we're told.

But my client's mother and I are not buying it.

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