Monday, July 02, 2007

Curbside Mentor

Originally uploaded by John Gevers
For the most part, I don't know if I would recognize the vast majority of my former witnesses if I passed them on the street tomorrow. And vice versa, I'm sure. After so many years of doing the work, most of my witnesses' faces and stories escape me.

Sometimes, however, I make a strong connection with someone in the course of their time as my witness. These are the folks who pop into my head from time to time as I'm driving in my car or trying to go to sleep. The ones whose story got under my skin.

There's one young man in particular, we'll call him Solomon. I met him in the course of a murder investigation. I remember being immediately struck by his well rounded personality, sense of humor and just the presence of this young man. Raised only by his grandmother, on one of South Central's most notorious blocks, Solomon had formerly been involved with gangs, which is what brought me to his door step as a witness.

Solomon was one of the lucky ones. He's smart, and he's still alive. And, he has a mentor. His mentor is an African American man who runs the business where Solomon works. His boss is determined to save Solomon from the neighborhood and death that surrounds them. Last I spoke to Solomon, he was going to a junior college with some money he had won from a wrongful arrest lawsuit. I still periodically check to see if he is in custody. Happily, he appears to remain arrest free. There's someone listed on the internet by Solomon's name who is a computer programmer now. I'm going to assume that's my Solomon, and that he has been successful in escaping gangs, death and unemployment.

The bad thing about being an investigator, is that you are at the end of the line of the criminal justice system. By the time I meet a defendant or a witness, they are already involved in some serious stuff. If I was a teacher instead I'd be meeting the young Solomons of the world in a capacity where I might be able to help change the course of their life before they get involved in all that. However, I have to think it is never too late in someone's life to offer them a helping hand or a kind word. I'm glad I expressed to Solomon what a great kid he was.

Recently, another criminal defense investigator I know was considering whether it was time to mentor another investigator. That got me thinking about whether I should do the same. I meet people from time to time who I think would make great criminal defense investigators. I count my friend Solomon among them.

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