I hear from fellow lawyers and laypeople about how noble it is to be a public defender, and how we do is gallant or a true public service. When I hear this bullshit, I want to vomit. Gallantry and nobility are words that are foreign to my experience as a public defender. There is no real meaning in the criminal justice system. Cases become pieces of a puzzle that you have to construct in the dark. You have no idea whether the pieces that you have will recreate the true picture of what happened because you are going on instinct, and how the pieces feel. Guilt or innocence is reduced to probabilities and percentages. Sentences are just a range of numbers. Confinement is seen as a cakewalk. It is three hot meats and a cot or a vacation from the cares of the real world. Or in the eyes of certain jurists, sentences are seen as an instrument to enlighten the masses as to the repercussions of committing a criminal act, and to alter their behavior. However, in this era of Twitter, Facebook, and other social / mass media that produces more sound than fury, and makes all of us sound like blathering idiots, this jurist’s pronunciations are lost in the static, the white noise. The collateral damage that comes from the system is ignored.
The bar may pontificate about the flaws in the public defender system, but they quietly expect us to keep going beyond the limits of intellectual endurance. If we snap or break under the stress, it is of no loss. We are expendable. No, we are interchangeable and easily replaceable cogs in the meat grinder that is the system. They would never treat the vaunted private attorney like the way they treat us.
With every passing day that I am a public defender, I find myself becoming more comfortable that there is a wide kaleidoscope of criminal acts, and there are certain small nuisances between different facets within the kaleidoscope. Some of petty in nature; some are just banal; some are so funny that you have to laugh. However, there are days where I hear of something so fiendish or so deprave that it pierces even my hardened heart, and it causes me to recoil in horror and disbelief. Yet, within in a few days, if not less, I return to my callous state, where I am numb to the suffering of others, and I find myself capable of telling a joke about any depraved act without a second thought or without any malice in my heart. There are some things that come with this profession that you can reconcile to yourself, but you will have a hard time trying to get God to understand.
Over the years of doing this line of work, I find that my mind and my body are in constant warfare with each other. My body wants to collapse from the emotional and psychological wreckage that I must wade through. My mind ignores it, and pushes through it. Yet, there are days where my mind breaks down. Some days it will drop into neutral, and I find myself suffering from the 1,000-yard stare. Alternatively, there are days that my mind will kick into overdrive, despite my physical exhaustion, and obsesses over the most trivial of details or find myself worrying about assignments from classes from law school, college, and high school. To be honest, there are days where all I want to do is cry. The despair that I feel overwhelms me and it comes over me like a wave against an ocean shore. With each wave that comes over me, the man that I was is slowly worn away.