LifeSavers in My Pocket
As I stood in court, I slid my hand into the gray, wool suit jacket pocket, pulled out the hidden treasure inside: a quarter pack of Life Savers. Unearthing the colorful hard candy catapulted me back to a year prior, sitting in court aside my first homicide trial client, Mr. G, at defense counsel table in Santa Clara County Department 35.
Everyday at 5am for the duration of our six week trial, jail correctional officers would rouse Mr. G awake from his cell bed. They would permit him some breakfast and lukewarm coffee and then let him change out of his jail garb into the shirts and slacks I had provided for trial. He would sit in a secure courthouse pen until the commencement of court each day. I'd arrive in the courtroom at 8:30, slide into the holding cell that hid behind a camouflaged courtroom door. There, across the glass, I'd find Mr. G as he would sit alone on a wooden bench. Every morning, he'd rise and we would meet, just the two of us, face to face, at the window for our daily check in.
From there, we'd walk into battle together for each full day of trial. Motions in limine, jury selection, opening statements, examining witnesses, closing arguments, jury questions and deliberations. All day, everyday for six weeks, me and Mr. G fighting for his liberty, summoning spirit to push through the fatigue, grinding against exhaustion to make every objection, catch each inconsistency, dive into each detail.
While I sustained on adrenaline and consistent doses of coffee, Mr. G's custodial status deprived him of the essential afternoon cups of caffeine. As the days wore on, the dense court schedule and sleepless, stress filled nights wore him down. Less notes, glazed eyes, not so subtle yawns.
One day on a recess, Mr. G whispered to me his struggles to stay focused; he pleaded for help to get through the court days. I hesitated but asked the courtroom deputy if I could bring Mr. G cups of coffee after lunch or on breaks. He quickly and summarily rejected my request, citing court rules and safety concerns. I countered with an overture for fun size Snickers; the deputy wasn't having it. Mr. G, disappointed but not deterred, said, “What about some candy?” The deputy finally acquiesced- I could bring some hard candy to court for Mr. G.
From then on, everyday on my stroll to court, I'd stop at the hot dog vendor stationed on the sidewalk between the jail and the courthouse on Hedding Street. I'd pull out a dollar, buy a pack of Life Savers and tuck them into my suit pocket. In court as trial swirled around us, Mr. G would nudge me, a gentle request for a little sugar pick me up. I'd reach into my pocket, unwrap a couple colorful pieces and slyly sneak them into his hand. He'd pop them in his mouth, one at a time, a distraction and salve from his exhaustion and anxiety. Once in awhile, I'd have one too. And so the ritual went- Mr. G and me, sitting in court, side by side, snacking on Life Savers as we attempted to save his life.
The trial ended in a hung jury and Mr. G ultimately accepted a lesser, non-homicide charge and, after two years in jail, walked out of custody with his sentence deemed served. Months later, there I stood in court for a hearing, finding that old pack of Life Savers in my pocket as I stood next to… Mr. G, no longer in jail clothes, besides me as a free man, a new lease on life. The Life Savers worked.
You can reach Sajid via the following: Sajid A. Khan, J.D., Public Defender, Co-Host The Aider & Abettor Podcast, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter: @thesajidakhan; San Jose, CA