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