by ANNIE PAPPALARDO
Imagine waking up every day and wondering whether or not it was one day closer to your youngest child being taken away from you.
Imagine not knowing if he was going to be safe.
Imagine thinking about how scared he would be.
Imagine thinking about that moment when you said goodbye, knowing you and he would never, ever be the same again.
Imagine your baby sleeping in a prison cell every night.
I imagined this. For 6 very long months. Every single day. Every single night.
In January, my youngest saw himself on the wrong side of the law. It happened on his 18th birthday. He was involved in a scuffle and ended up biting someone in self defence. We have since found out that biting is a serious offence. So serious that the majority of biting charges end up with a jail sentence.
He was charged, despite it being self defence, and unfortunately the statements against him looked very damning.
When someone is charged with an offence they receive a little piece of paper, smaller than A5 which provides details of when they are to appear in court. I hate this little piece of paper. I’ve never hated a piece of paper before, but this paper sat on the fridge, under a magnet, mocking us all. Mocking us with its smugness. With its power.
We hired lawyers and went to court. For all of us it was first time ever in court. We were so green. Whilst it was scary, we thought there would be a smack over the knuckles and a fine. We were convinced the charges would be dropped. We were green and also very wrong.
You see, the police rarely drop charges and as they were the ones who laid the charges my son was not going to get off lightly. We were given another date to return to court in a few weeks time. It suddenly became more real. Suddenly all optimism had disappeared.
The lawyers were still confident and reassured us that it would be over before it got to trial. In fact they said it would be bad for my son if it went to trial. Magistrates don’t take kindly to people who bite others. I held onto our lawyers optimism and confidence. Sometimes. Sometimes I had nightmares instead. I imagine my boy was also having nightmares in his own private world.
Our lawyers viewed CCTV footage, looked at statements did a mountain of discovery. What they found was that my son had not broken the law and that he had actually been assaulted by a third party, the person who he had bitten in self defence.
This information was compiled into a report and presented to the police. We were told it would soon be over. They were wrong. The police refused to drop it and were pushing for … 18 months jail. Words can’t describe how hearing this felt.
I have one word for the court process – crazy. I still don’t even understand how it all works and doubt I ever will. Absolutely nothing made sense. In fact, Judge Judy makes more sense. Truly.
This is how the whole process appeared to work. You turn up, the lawyer says a few words, the magistrate looks in his diary and gives you another date. You turn up again and the lawyer says a few words. The police say a few more. The magistrate looks in his book and gives you another date. Rinse and repeat!
It turns out we didn’t have to go to the next appearance. The lawyer could go on our behalf. We find out the magistrate has done something different – we are going to a different court – the matter is going to trial! Our worst nightmares have come true.
I think this is the time we all bottomed out. This was serious. There was no thinking it would go away. The police weren’t backing down despite the evidence. It no longer mattered about the law and who was right or wrong. It now came down to a magistrate who had the power to send my boy to jail.
Two days later I heard a news story where a prison warden was sent to jail for hitting a prisoner. The said prisoner had bitten and spat on the warden. The prisoner had hepatitis C. The magistrate decided that he/she was going to make an example of the warden and gave him a jail sentence. This made my blood run cold. I feared a magistrate would also make an example of my boy.
To be very clear, I don’t think teenagers should be let off crimes because they are teenagers. Nor do I think they can behave badly without ramifications. My son wasn’t an angel in this instance. He was verbally abusive to a bouncer and some “dancers” from a club. He was menacing. He was behaving like a feral 18 year old drunken fool. However a bouncer, left his position on the door and went down an alley way to engage in a fight with him. A club manager also went down the alley and attacked him from behind. All of this on CCTV footage. My son deserved to learn a lesson, he did not, however, deserve to go to jail.
In a last ditch attempt to have the charges withdrawn our lawyers visited the police again. This time the officer in charge was prepared to listen, to look at the facts. He was astounded it had gone this far. He dropped the assault charges to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. This would result in no conviction and a fine.
When our lawyer called to give me this news I have never been so relieved. I wanted to jump up and down and scream with joy.
This was a month ago. I am still jumping for joy.
We still had to go to court and it was still nerve wracking. However it was such a relief to go to court safe in the knowledge that no matter what happened I could take my son home with me. Had the trial gone ahead, he may have been taken away to jail.
The realisation of this fact caused my son to momentarily lose the colour in his face. “So I couldn’t go home and pack my stuff or say goodbye?”
“Uh no, you would be handcuffed and taken away from here.” I answered.
“No wonder you have been so stressed mum.”
No shit, Sherlock!
Whilst my son has learned a valuable lesson, he is eighteen. He is still capable of acting before thinking. He is still capable of mistakes. He is still capable of causing me heartache.
Parenting teenagers is so scary. It is heart in mouth kind of stuff. It’s a scary ride where you close your eyes, hold your breath and grip on as tight as you can for dear life. It still is the scariest thing I’ve ever done.