Most of my mornings are spent in court observing juvenile cases. Occasionally, we go to the holding cells before court to interview new juveniles. That is how the past Thursday began:
We got to the holding cells and began seeing the kids. The first juvenile we interviewed was Emmanuel. He was wearing a thin shirt that was full of holes, basketball shorts, and flip-flops. Shivering as we interviewed him, our leader, Mpaso whispered that we should take him a sweater, as it can get pretty cold here at night. I took note of the comment, but due to the simplicity of this kid’s case, I was sure he would be released that day and allowed to go home.
However, that’s the exact opposite of what happened. Thanks to some procedural issues, his case was adjourned. This meant he was going to sit in those same clothes for the next few weeks as the temperature kept dropping. My heart sunk, but unfortunately, we are working on so many time-sensitive cases right now that one cold teen can end up toward the bottom of the priority list.
It wasn’t until 3:45 P.M. that we realized we had gotten caught up in our work and we had forgotten to take him a jacket. The jail closed in 15 minutes, and we were a solid 30 minutes away. I grabbed the bag Mpaso had prepared for him, and we jumped in the car. The whole way there Mpaso just kept telling Ashley and me that until we are refused entry, there is hope.
It was around 4:15 when we flew into the gravel parking lot. I quickly hopped out while they waited in the car, and ran in my suit to the front door. Thankfully, the guard recognized me and I was let in even though visiting hours were over. I couldn’t believe I had made it.
Then the reality quickly hit me that there I was all alone, sitting in an adult male prison waiting to see a kid I barely knew. When Emmanuel finally walked up to the gate, I excitedly waved to him. Confused, he came over and sat down next to me on the wooden bench. I asked if he spoke English, to which he responded, “a little”. I told him how I had seen him earlier and I saw that he was cold. As I began to pull out the sweaters and socks Mpaso had packed, a look of relief came over him. He proceeded to physically get on the floor thanking me. I was stunned as he sat kneeling on the floor clutching every article of clothing I handed him. All I could tell him as I held his hands was how I hoped that tonight he would be warm.
That was when it all clicked for me. I understood why people give up everything to do this work. Our moment of genuine human connection was worth more than any salary I could imagine. I know that, by providing him with a few nights of warmth, I have impacted Emmanuel’s life, but I don’t think he will ever know how our time together has changed mine.
Post By: Robyn Leatherwood
Baylor Law School
Candidate for Juris Doctor, 2020