And the Band Played On…

One of my clients went to jail yesterday. It was expected – he understood when he entered his guilty pleas that he would probably be sentenced to jail. But it still came as a dreadful shock, as it invariably does for almost all clients. Somehow he had convinced himself that this sentence he had prepared himself for, would not happen. When it did, his face crumpled in on itself, his body shrank as though he were trying to disappear inside himself. I have seen this many times with clients. It always upsets me.

One of the hardest parts of the role of defence counsel is preparing clients for jail, particularly those who have never been in custody before. And really, nothing can arm them emotionally against that moment when the sentence is imposed, and the Court officers ask them to put their hands behind their backs, the handcuffs are put on, and they are lead away to the cells. It is all new, and terrifying. There is something surreal about it, the drama playing out at the side of the Court room, while the Judge and Crown and other defence counsel carry on with other cases. Two starkly different worlds are existing side by side, in a moment that for the client will be frozen in time.

I have seen yesterday’s drama played out many times. The Court officers are kind people, who will invariably allow a moment for a hug from the client’s family, before leading them to the cells. But it is hard to witness the anguish of parents, sisters, wives, as they see their loved one walk into something they can only imagine, from images seen on television shows. I carry Kleenex for the families, and my clients. I reassure them, and tell them all the things they need to know to help them through it. I sit with them in a moment of stillness, as they adjust to their new reality; a moment of freeze-frame in the action of the Court. And then I leave, moving on to the next client, as the band plays on.

Ruth Roberts, Criminal Defence Lawyer

Bonn Law, Trenton/Belleville, Ontario