Monday, March 20, 2017

I give you my child

Her hair is long, fiery red and curly, just as unmanageable as mine. She sits in front of me at the office, and tries to get the words that come out of her mouth to sound coherent, but her uninterrupted sobbing makes for a difficult conversation. Her 19 year old son sits next to her, addled between looking like a wanna-be bad-ass gang member and a scaredy cat looking at a 15-year prison term with a 7 year prison offer on the table.

We talk about the case, the evidence, the gang evidence, the gun used, the forensic evidence, ballistics, Gun Shot Residue, the "admission" signed by the client, the video showing the shooting, the field identification cards... We talk about his age, his lack of prior brush with law enforcement, his immigrant family and working parents. His successful siblings... and the path that this young punk has chosen.

"It's very simple", i say to this 19 year old whose innocent childish eyes betray the menacing facial hair covering his face. "i am not your mother. i don't have time for your excuses, or bullshit. Don't waste my time if you're not gonna listen to me. But if you want me to represent you, you gonna have to man up and do as i say. If you don't, i'll break your knee caps and will make you cry. This is the day you decide whether you gonna clean up your shit and say goodbye to the gangs, drugs and your street life or you gonna end up living in the shadows as a gang member. Which one is it??"

Before he has the time to answer, mom says: "I give you my son... please do what you can".

Nine months of fighting in Court, 9 months of motions, conferences and setting up a defense. 9 months of fighting the DA, and the best that we have on the table is a 3 year state prison offer.

In the meanwhile, he has enrolled and continuing with his college education. He has a full time job, and has moved to a better neighborhood outside of gang territory and lives with his girlfriend. He is dressed up in slacks and a sweater, and is clean shaven.

We can't take the offer. Prison will make him a full fledged gang member. I can't go to trial either. I will lose as i have no defense. I ask for a chamber conference with the Judge, and try to explain to the Court why he should be given a chance at probation so that he can eventually reduce his felonies and strikes and clean his record. I explain his immigrant parents. I explain the 19 year old's life. and i find myself welling up and becoming emotional.

"Your honor, i have a 19 year old" i say... "but for the grace of God, it could have been my child. Give him the chance to prove himself and yet the rope to hang himself. Give him the choice to redeem himself. I will stand by him and my office will provide him will all sorts of support services. Give him a probationary sentence. I will deliver a respectful member of the community to you".

My client pled open to the charges today. He faces a maximum of 15 years if he violates. But if he does well for the next 5 years, the court will reduce his felonies to misdemeanors, his strikes will fall by the wayside, and he'll be able to clean up his record.

He won't do any jail time. He won't do prison time. He will remain in school and finish his education and will become a fully integrated member of the community.

As we walk out of court, mom and dad and my client hug me and sob. I look at him and say: "Don't disappoint me" and i walk away unable to hold back my tears. My thoughts are with my own teen age sons. I thank you boys for teaching me love and patience, for making me understand life and teaching me the power of communication and forgiveness. I thank you for showing me the challenges of your generation and the avenues to deal with it. And most importantly, i thank you for making me a better mother so that i can be a better advocate for my clients...

And to you mothers out there who have trusted me with your teenagers. Thank you for sharing your kids with me and allowing me the opportunity to be a part of their wondrous life. I have hundreds of children out there, who have risen up to the challenge, and made exceptional members of the society from the wreckage of their arrests. Thank you for making my job an incredibly rewarding career....


Alaleh Kamran, Attorney at Law
A Professional Corporation
15760 Ventura Blvd, Suite 1010
Encino, Ca  91436
ph: 818-986-6222
Lecturer, Radio Host, Citizen Journalist, Blogger

Monday, February 6, 2017


At the center of every single major epiphany of my life, has always lain a client whose life was placed in my hands.

I am once again walking towards the Inmate Visiting Area.  The cement floors are grey, smooth and polished to a shine.  The silence of this corridor is pregnant with pain and despair.  As I walk down this hallway which is perhaps the length of a football field, I find my breath narrowing in my lungs as it makes it way up to the back of my throat. 

I slow down, pull up my breath from my stomach and stop in my step.    I close my eyes while I roll my shoulders, pull my shoulders back, and breathe deep into the lungs…  The air in county jail is laden with a heavy dark element that enters the human soul and grabs the light within for sustenance and survival.  “Breathe” I tell myself.

The muffled and muted noise of steel rolling doors opening and closing periodically can be heard through the walls of this giant detention facility. The only constant is the white noise of the air conditioning which blows icy air with an unremitting persistence.   The hallway stretches longer under the clippity clop of my heels, one of which is worn to the metal creating a bad syncopated rhythm.

Hundreds of empty pinkish beige plastic chairs line the walls. Like the cemetery, there is a presence.  Yet no one can be seen…  Today is not public visiting day.  But as I walk down, I see them, I see their faces, I hear their voices, I feel them inside my bones… The little girls with their curls all fancied up in ribbons, the little boys wearing their lighted up sneakers, the wives, the baby-mamas, the girlfriends, with their fabulous manicures, their lipsticks, their meticulously applied make up, the Sunday dresses made for church, worn with a world of expectations, hope, and dreams on visiting day move invisibly around me in this hallway.

I am still walking down this long corridor….  And finally arrive at Unit 800.  “Turn left”, they told me at the security check point.  I walk into a beehive of compartmentalized glass booths each equipped with a telephone and a short stationary metal stool… I sit and wait for my client to come.  The graffiti etched on the chipped paint of the booth chronicles monograms belonging to shattered lives, tragedies, hopes, love, deceit, failure, survival, resilience and faith.

He walks in.  He has jet black eyes, deep set in the bone, with dark circles under as if they were lakes gulping in the moon’s reflection.  He sits down, flashes a huge smile and picks up the phone from behind the glass pane.

We talk. We discuss strategy.  We discuss defenses.  And we discuss the harsh realities of life, of the possibilities and probabilities laying ahead in the case.  Do we roll the dice and risk losing and getting a 150-year prison sentence?  Do we take the offer that’s in front of us?  He is 32 years old now, and by time he is done with the proposed offer, he will be in his 60’s. 

How does a man end up here?  What child ever dreams of growing up with ambitions of spending a lifetime behind bars?  I am lost in thought as he talks about trivial details of the case.  I raise my hand, palm facing out towards the glass pane, and wordlessly ask him to stop talking. 

“What’s your earliest memory from your childhood?” I ask.  The businesslike expression in his face changes to a somber one with quizzical furled eyebrows.  Pain washes up in his black eyes.  He looks down and inaudibly says on the other side of the phone:  “my father kicking me in front of the bathroom door”…

“How old were you?” I ask. 
“4 years old… maybe 5”.
“Where was your mother?” I ask.
“She’d watch.  Couldn’t do much.  He’d beat her up as well.  He was an alcoholic”.

Mom was a special-ed teacher.   Dad, carpenter or something or other, turned into an alcoholic, a wife beater, an eventually a heroin addict. He, as all other heroin users, used and lost all family savings.  Ultimately, he abandoned the three kids and the mother.   And this single income family, this nth statistics, unable to meet expenses, soon found itself on the streets only to be rescued by the limited generosity of the neighborhood church.

With mom struggling to make ends meet, no permanent address to call home and a shamed sense of self as his zip-code, he took to the streets with his friends and his skateboard.

How does one run away from pain and shame?   Soon enough, on the streets, he learned to numb the pain with pot, alcohol, and eventually, heroin.      And how does one buy more drugs to escape one’s shame?  One must then steal.  And then one gets caught, and slowly one goes from being an abused child to a drug addict to a thief to a burglar to a convicted felon and eventually to a prison inmate facing over 20 counts of armed robbery charges.   

The progression is undeniable and sometimes inevitable.  How does an innocent child turn into a “discardable” or “disposable” member of the society?

Twenty-five years of Criminal Defense.  25 years visiting different detention facilities around the country, and each time I am awash with the same overwhelming sense of being flummoxed….  How can anyone own his present if he was deprived of his childhood?   How can he own himself, if during his formative years he was dispossessed of himself?   He learned early on to disengage his soul from his body when his dad beat him to a pulp.  And then, when he learned to survive in face of abuse by the hands of his loved ones, he’ll soon learn that survival in jail, prison, dirty sidewalks and vomit-filled beds is easier than surviving a tortured, tormented and twisted childhood … 

He will steal. He will lie.  He will betray.  He’ll do whatever is necessary to get through and survive.  He will transfer the shame of the abuser unto himself, and with time, he will learn to transfer that into anger to destroy those who try to love him and protect him.  

He keeps talking… I have to lower my eyes and I can no longer keep his gaze.   My thoughts are fixed on his mother.  I feel her devastation in having lost this child to the sad fate of her own life.  I can only imagine her desperation in watching her son slowly spin out and down the vicious cycle of crime/abuse/drugs/jail like water spinning down the drain… her inability to stop the train wreck and her ultimate capitulation and submission to “what is”.  The guilt of having failed a child, like a rope must have wrapped itself along her neck…

I feel the shavings of the rope around my neck, sliding up to my ears.
“Where is your mother now?”  I ask.
“She hanged herself a few weeks after I was arrested.” He says.

The noose tightens around my neck. Unconsciously, I bring up my hands to my neck and pull away at the tight collar that I am not wearing.

 Maybe the definition of happiness is the combined total sum of the miseries that we didn’t suffer

Alaleh Kamran, Attorney at Law
A Professional Corporation
15760 Ventura Blvd, Suite 1010
Encino, Ca  91436
ph: 818-986-6222

Lecturer, Radio Host, Citizen Journalist, Blogger