Thursday, March 09, 2006

arraignment day

I was hoping or expecting to go on to teach conversational English at the community centre immediately after Monday morning’s court appearance, which I hoped would be a formality. Yet I admit I was also half-expecting that it would be something of a trauma. As I think I’ve reported, we stuffed up our appearance, or rather my appearance, last week, so I had to reappear a week later. This time Sarah didn’t accompany me, largely because we already knew the matter would be adjourned to five weeks hence, due to the prosecution’s ‘qualms’. All I had to do, apparently, was enter a plea – again.

I arrived at court in plenty of time this time. Court 6 was packed with arraignments, and I was near the bottom of the list. Still I fondly hoped that I’d get bumped up as it was a mere technicality, half-dealt with the previous week. But that didn’t happen.

There were a number of people waiting outside. I betook myself to the toilet for a while – anxiety always goes straight to my bladder and bowels. Then I paced about in front of the courtroom. No sign of my lawyer. The crowd was building up. A court official started taking people’s names. I gave mine in. It was about this time that I spotted Lee, Andrew’s mother. This would be the first time I’d laid eyes on her since she picked Andrew up after the ill-fated Victor Harbour trip. My agitation increased markedly. The lawyer finally put in an appearance, explaining that I’d be ‘patted down’, asked to enter a plea, and then it would be adjourned. Simple. The lawyer disappeared again. A court official ushered us all into the courtroom. I found myself for a while directly behind Lee, uncomfortably close. More people piled in. I felt trapped, claustrophobic. I stood up and made my way back towards the aisle, so as to be ready and close to hand when called. The first name was read out. The charges were recited, something to do with assault or attempted assault, the threatening of life and limb, the likely gent pleading not guilty. There were the usual negotiations around the next appearance, and then the next name was read out. And so it went, driving a car as if it was a deadly weapon, threats of murder, indecent assault of the accused’s daughter on several occasions, from her fourth year to her fifteenth, the growing of commercial quantities of marijuana. All pleaded not guilty.

Though I often made an effort not to even hear the charges laid against all these worthies, naturally some caught my ears and like everyone else there I wondered. And soon they’d be wondering about me. The young woman next to me took a quick squiz at my dog-eared copy of The Blank Slate. Little did she know that I’d soon be in the dock, facing the charge of having anally raped a fourteen-year-old lad.

So to continue my tale of court. My lawyer turned up again about ten minutes before I was called up. A little before my arraignment, a tall well-dressed young man was had up on the charge of having had sexual intercourse with a fifteen year old girl, back in ’97 or ’98. My guess was that he was probably a teenager himself at the time. He was the only one of us to plead guilty. So presumably the former ‘girl’ was now pursuing the matter. Trying to wheedle a little dosh out of an old peccadillo? Then again, she might’ve fallen pregnant and had her whole life overturned by the event. Useless speculation but really, how few of these sorts of connections would end up being settled in a court of law. Chance or fate really does play a large part in this, the kind of girl you manage to score with as a raw eager teen, and the kind of kid you cavalierly take on as a foster carer.

My name was called. I was asked, like everyone else, to step outside through a side door where I was cursorily patted down. Inside again, I stood awaiting the reading out of the charge. I started to fold my hands in front of my chest, then I let them drop to my sides, then I held my hands together. I danced from one foot to another. I was bursting out of my skin with nervous energy. How desperate I was to tell the story, to have my day in court, though I knew this wouldn’t happen today, that it wouldn’t happen for months yet, if it happened at all. More likely it would never happen, the matter would be dismissed without my having to say anything other than ‘not guilty’, such a paltry response to all this horror. The case would be dismissed and that would be me, processed and dealt with.

I didn’t look anywhere but at the judge, though I didn’t take him in at all. My ‘crime’ was announced to the packed court-room. Rape was mentioned, and anal intercourse. I barely took it in, concentrating as I was on enunciating ‘not guilty’ proudly and loudly, with the right admixture of scorn and outrage. However, I did vaguely register the words ‘that you did, between [a certain date] and the 30th of September 2004’, which may not have quite correlated with the previous accusation. The little liar’s previous claim was, as I recall, attached to a precise date. I may have to check up with the lawyer on that one.

After a brief confab, the case was adjourned to April 19, early in the morning I think – again, my brain was fuzzed by a general sense of outrage and humiliation. I stumbled back to where I’d left my ‘the Big Lie’ folder and my copy of ‘The Blank Slate’. Lee, Andrew’s mother, was making her way out of the court, and she contrived to give me a dirty look. Could anybody in the world, apart from her, believe that little liar for a moment?

My lawyer briefly addressed me – he could perhaps see my aggravated state – about contacting him before the next appearance, and then I was outside of the court once more.

I watched my adversary, a dumpy and middle-aged woman with a hearing aid and a face remarkably or perhaps unremarkably similar to that of her morally deficient son, negotiating the wide beige stairs down to the Square. Out there was the city’s heart, our festival city, at festival time. I wouldn’t be attending much this festival. I had a running joke with myself that I was always particularly poor at festival time. As if I wasn’t always poor, mea culpa, but at least this time I had someone else to blame for the poverty and the low spirits that would keep me largely outcast from the city’s party.

Yet this lonely mother was outcast too – perhaps even more, or more permanently, than myself. I at least would feel at home, under usual circs, at the Persian Garden or the Garden of Unearthly Delights, I could hold my own at the after-show nightspots, hobnob half-successfully with the clever Dicks and sexy Sallys who proliferated around festival time. Lee, I fondly hoped, had no such skills. Naïve, fearful, limited, she likely saw herself as the poor but honest protector of a horrifically trammeled son, stubbornly determined to set matters to rights. And how convenient to discover that, for all her failings as a mother, the state or the foster-care system was so much greater a failure. She could feel almost saintly by comparison.

And yet, I’d been reading Pinker on the nature and nurture of children. He subscribed to the view, made popular and notorious by the psychologist Judith Rich Harris, that kids are less influenced by their parents than by their peers. Basically, parents obsess too much about how their kids turn out, and we all know how resistant kids can be to attempts at parental moulding. Parents often find themselves shaping their parenting style to suit the unique nature they gradually or not so gradually uncover in their kids. Could Andrew have a psychopathic personality (are there degrees of psychopathy?) explicable partly through genetic inheritance and barely attributable to his upbringing, or to that part of it which was under parental control?

I had to admit that I, too, wanted someone handy to blame. A part of me felt sympathy, albeit limited, for the middle-aged woman plumping grumpily down the stairs, while another part of me wanted to run her down screaming, ‘your son is a moral monstrosity, and you’ve created him, and I won’t stop until you’ve both been brought to justice for your crimes!’.


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