A Sixteen Year Old Has Recently Become a Mother (5/15/97)

Circa 1979. A sixteen year old has recently become a mother and is already overwhelmed with the burdensome task of taking care of the newborn. Taking the name of her boyfriend who promises to marry her someday, she has named the child James. The nightly feedings have caused her to become increasingly tired during the day. Her exhaustion, however, has taken a backseat to her loneliness due primarily to the increasingly infrequent visits from her high school friends. She has quit school but promises to obtain her G.E.D. Family support is non-existent. Her mother, Jane, has a new boyfriend and, despite the fact that he does not work, he provides no assistance in taking care of the child or the home. The tension is increasingly mounting, and the verbal abuse tossed out by 40 year old boyfriend becomes more and more obscene. The routine has been established: Jane will arrive home from work around 10:00 p.m. each night and spend a few minutes with the baby before pouring herself a drink. Like clockwork, baby James will fall asleep around midnight but will be awakened by the fighting between Jane (who is slowly becoming intoxicated) and her boyfriend (who reached an official intoxicated state hours earlier). James' mother, like a bystander, watches it all.

Circa 1984. James plays in the front yard which is littered with discarded household items. His face is dirty and his feet are bare even though the temperature would dictate that he should be wearing a jacket. His mother has never read to him and asking him to count to ten would be useless. Sitting on the porch, drinking beer, and profanely speaking of girls, cars, and football with his buddies, is James' new stepfather. There is a rumor in the neighborhood that James will soon have a baby brother.

Circa 1994. It is 1:00 o'clock in the morning and James finds himself in the local high school parking lot smoking pot that he had stolen earlier from his mother's purse. He thinks of how much he hates school but is glad that he has been suspended for bringing an unloaded gun to class. Back at home, his mother is asleep. Passed out would perhaps be a better description. She had last seen James sitting at the breakfast table as she had walked to the bathroom before quickly returning to bed. As she slept, the cereal bowl that he had eaten from that morning remained on the table. A telephone company worker had disconnect the service earlier that day when the third notice of "payment due" had gone unanswered. James' mother, however, is unaware that she has no telephone service for she has not attempted to call anyone in an effort to determine James' whereabouts.

Circa 1997. James sits on the second row in District Court waiting for his name to be called from the list which constitutes the criminal arraignment docket. He hears it and slowly makes his way to the judge's bench where he is asked a series of questions. Yes, his name is spelled correctly on the indictment. Yes, he is aware of the charge against him. No, he does not need the judge to formally read the indictment. He needs a lawyer. "Can't pay for one", he tells the judge, and he is appointed one to represent him whereupon he is told to take his seat.  A few minutes later he is walking out of the courtroom, single file, with three other inmates who are in the same predicament. James' girlfriend, holding his newborn child, tries to smile in a show of support as he is ushered from the courtroom by a deputy. The girlfriend picks up a diaper bag as she, too, exits the room. She realizes that the nightly feedings have caused her sixteen year old body to become exhausted.

Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.

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