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A Mother's Pain: Should It Matter?

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When I wrote about the connection between crime and its context, I wrote about some of the details of Daudi Beverly's criminal case and the systemic failures that preceded it. In this article, I would like to share little about his mother's perspective on her son's case.

I came to know about his case when his mother, Mary, called me for advice. She was desperately trying to find ways to help her son who was being swallowed up in a criminal system that she didn't understand, but which she knew could destroy him.

I didn't handle criminal cases, but I, too, am a mother, and as a trial attorney, I was part of the system that was causing her pain. Her plea was one I couldn't refuse, so I offered to walk with her through this process. That's when I saw firsthand how interwoven and complex the misery has become.

Mary is a strong woman with long dreadlocks, the central pillar of her extensive family. Two of her children have master's degrees, and one is a teller in my local bank. Mary raised them well.

After Daudi's father was murdered when Daudi was ten, Mary told her son that now he had to be the man of the family. It was more than Daudi could handle. He mourned for his father, turned inward and later dropped out of school.

Mary had tried to do all that she could for Daudi, but the mountain was often higher than she could climb. After Daudi threw a burning wooden penis into the home of a church leader who had sexually abused him, at age eighteen he was convicted of arson. Mary was powerless to keep her son from joining the league of young black men with criminal records, but she did all she could to keep him out of further trouble.

When Daudi began experiencing psychosis a year later, the family was dependent on the public mental health system. Daudi didn't like the medication side effects, so resisted going for treatment. Mary tried to keep track of his appointments to be sure he would keep them, but the mental health agency told her to stop calling. She couldn't understand why they would tell her it was none of her business because he was an adult when he was in their care because he was mentally ill and needed help.

When his mental health file was closed for noncompliance, what could she do? They had no health insurance and she could not afford a private doctor. Without medication, Daudi's mental condition deteriorated. A friend found Daudi a job doing some yard work, and that's when, after months without medications, the crime occurred.

When they got word that Daudi had severely beaten the woman for whom he had been doing yard work, it constituted a crisis for the entire family. Daudi never denied that he had beaten the woman and took the seventy-five dollars from her purse which he felt was due him.

The family didn't have money to hire a private attorney, so a court-appointed attorney got the case. He was paid about as much for the entire case as some private attorneys are paid for an hour or two of their time, so Mary helped with the case all that she could. She got all of Daudi's voluminous medical records to the attorney, and called regularly to see that the attorney had not forgotten this case that was so important to her.

By the time Daudi was jailed, he had been off his medications for months. He had severe emotional problems, he attempted suicide, and Mary pleaded that he be seen by a doctor. The jail staff was hard to convince, suspecting Daudi was just another malingerer. It was during this time that Daudi was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

After Mary's pleas, Daudi was finally put on medication and his behavior became normal. That's when Mary found out that Daudi was found competent to stand trial, although it appears no new tests were administered. Then she had to deal with the question, would it have been better if she had not fought for him to be put on medications?

Throughout the ordeal, Mary desperately wanted to tell the elderly white woman and her family how sorry she was that this tragic event had occurred. She wanted to apologize for the serious injuries her son had inflicted and for her inability to keep him on medication.

Daudi also wanted to say he was sorry, but his attorney advised both of them to initiate no contact with the victim. Daudi's attorney probably feared a possible admission against interest, that his client would admit the truth and his own words would be used against him. In this adversarial format, if Mary reached out, that could be construed as harassment. Our punitive justice system rewards a skillful attack, but often stands in the way of attempts to apologize or reconcile.

Daudi's trial did not go well. The prosecutor called the elderly woman's son to testify about the terrible beating his mother had suffered. Large blowups of her injuries were shown to the judge. Mary cringed at these and told me not a day had passed since the crime that she had not prayed for the woman Daudi had harmed.

Mary was upset that the judge did not hear about Daudi's lengthy mental history, but that was inadmissible evidence. His lack of access to medication at the time of the crime wasn't mentioned. Mary didn't get to say a word. No one, not even the witnesses she had suggested, were called to testify on Daudi's behalf.

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Attorney, author, blogger. After several years as a trial attorney, Sylvia Clute became disillusioned with the legal system and began her search for a better way. This led to writing two books, Beyond Vengeance, Beyond Duality: A Call for a (more...)

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