‘You know,’ says the man in the light grey suit, when his drink arrives, ‘the finest line of poetry ever uttered in the history of this whole damn country was said by Canada Bill Jones in 1853, in Baton Rouge, while he was being robbed blind in a crooked game of Faro. George Devol, who was, like Canada Bill, not a man who was averse to fleecing the odd sucker, drew Bill aside and asked him if he couldn’t see that the game was crooked. And Canada Bill sighed, and shrugged his shoulders, and said “I know. But it’s the only game in town.”Neil Gaiman, American Gods
That short story (coincidentally set in the very town in which I am working) in the book I chose to read out here could not more perfectly describe our work. The situation here for kids isn’t fair, but it’s the only system there is, so we do our best with what we have, and meanwhile try to change the system whenever the opportunity presents itself. Once such occassion occurred today as we prepared for a debate at the State Legislature next week where we will be trying to pass a law that prevents children from waiving counsel in serious cases, as this is being abused to speed up the process, leaving kids struggling with no understanding of what is happening to them. To discuss details we met for coffee with Lucy McGough, a professor from LSU who I previously met at Stephen’s class. What I didn’t realise then was that she was responsible for writing pretty much half of the Lousiana Children’s Code!
I had a long discussion with Lee, the district attorney, about the dynamics between different people in court, and it was intriguing to hear that he had a very different take on things than Stephen. The two judges at the Juvenile Court have a long-standing dispute which has caused some embarassing problems in the past, but to an outsider hearing people’s views, it is entirely unclear who is at fault.
In the late afternoon I sat in on another class given by Stephen, in this case a one-off training session for CASAs (that’s Court Appointed Special Advocates, naturally). They are basically individuals who work closely with the children in cases and are able to gain a much better understanding of the intricacies and environment than we are able to since they deal with far fewer cases.