Fast forward to that afternoon.
In my office, Lindy was interviewing a lady, I'll call her "Sarah", who had been a victim of domestic violence. After greeting her, I turned my attention to other matters as the two ladies discussed the pending case and available options. I couldn't help but eavesdrop.
Sarah was of a different nationality. However, despite a thick accent, she spoke English very well. Quickly I concluded that she was smart, independent, and determined. I also knew from reviewing the case report earlier that her family was poor. Very poor. Having some familiarity with her living situation, I can state for a fact that anyone reading these words on a computer terminal has never lived under such difficult conditions.
When speaking about the pending criminal case, Sarah didn't want to drop the charges but she certainly didn't want her husband to go to jail. Instead, she was desirous of him undergoing counseling during the course of some type of probation. It was her belief, and she convinced me, that her husband simply needed to "get control" of his anger.
Having reached an agreement as to how the case should be disposed, Sarah began telling Lindy of her financial situation. She was concerned about the $40 a month probation fee that her husband would be required to pay in that it could be a drain on the family's budget. Lindy told her that we would ask the judge to waive it. She spoke of a car that her family was trying to buy that was 10 years old. Even if they could afford it, she worried that the maintenance costs might be too much to handle. In response to a question by Lindy, Sarah expressed concern, earnestly, that her children may not receive many, if any, gifts for Christmas. (The children, by the way, were in a different room and could not have been more well behaved or well groomed).
Understand that Sarah was not looking for sympathy. Far from it. Instead, she only spoke honestly in response to questions that Lindy asked of her.
Sarah could tell I was listening to the conversation now. She looked at me briefly and gave a polite smile.
When speaking of her employment situation, I learned that she worked side by side with her husband on a daily basis in the residential construction business. They were laborers for a certain subcontractor, but the work was sometimes sporadic.
But what she said next was what stopped me cold. When she expressed her frustration about the construction business, it was not about the hard work or the low pay. Instead, she said, with a heavy accent, "We must be out of the homes by 6:00 or 6:30 at night. They will not let us work longer than that."
She complained not of having to work but, instead, not being able to work long enough.
Because of Sarah, any stereotype of the poor that I might have possessed has been forever changed. My naive assumptions and expectations had been formed after too many years of, like most of you, being far more fortunate than we truly understood or appreciated.
As Sarah left the office that day, she thanked Lindy for her help. Once gone, Lindy and I looked at each other with no intent on discussing the criminal case, but instead to talk about the woman, her struggles, her character, and how much in life we take for granted.
Later, sitting alone, I was ashamed that I had felt pangs of jealousy for Mira Vista only hours before.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.