I found myself in the midst of a MTV: True Life marathon yesterday. You know what that means: A Saturday wasted.
No, seriously, I only watched two episodes.
One was True Life: I'm Dead Broke.
(If you don't know what True Life is, it's basically a documentary that follows some 18-24 year old through a few weeks dealing with some aspect of their life. Episode Guide here.)
Anyway, the "I'm Dead Broke" episode followed three young people, in three different parts of the country (Illinois, Missouri, and California), who are having trouble making ends meet.
The girl from Missouri I had the least sympathy for. Basically, she said she dropped out of school, and went to another state, so she could work for a year so that she could afford to buy a car so that she could go back to school - under the rationale that she couldn't go to school without a car, because she wouldn't be able to get to an afterschool job. And the reason why she had to go to another state was because there wasn't any work in her hometown, and she didn't want to be a burden on her single mother. So, she was waitressing at some weird restaurant (it looked like lawn furniture indoors, very "homestyle") and kept whining about how she needed money so she could go back to school (free public school, mind you), and some people were letting her stay at their house for free, and they kept showing her smoking, which bugged me because I just thought, "If you're *that* broke, you can give up your very expensive habit." Then, she got fired from her waitressing job for having marijuana at the restaurant one night when she went there to play pool. I'm just saying that if she was that desperate for money, she could go without weed. And I was just suspicious that maybe she left her hometown for other reasons (drug problems? arrests?) and, personally, I don't have a problem with that either, but I thought that if she was going to put herself out there to be in a documentary, she should 'fess up to that too.
The next girl from California, I related to a little bit more. She was saying that she "hustles" to make ends meet, mostly braiding hair (without a cosmetology license.) I wonder how much it would cost her just to get her a cosmetology license and whether she could make better money working out of some kind of salon or barbershop. She did 'fess up to past arrests involving forgery or credit card fraud, but seemed to to be trying to do her best to make ends meet for her and her boyfriend in a legitimate way (if we ignore the cosmetology license issue). She and her boyfriend were getting kicked out of their apartment because their landlord sold it, and struggling to find a new place with the little bit of money they had. I can respect that, but I certainly don't think that she was as bad off as many young people I meet in my practice.
And, finally, there was a young man named DeMarlon. This is the one that really made me sad and will probably stay with me the most. He lived in this dilapidated house, without running water, with his family. He was shown pumping water for the house and cooking a meal for his family. He went to work with his father. At night, he was home reading to his younger siblings. Although he graduated from high school, he said, his reading wasn't too good. (How you can graduate from high school and still not read is another issue.) He was forthcoming about the fact that he had been arrested for stealing a car, and then he had done it because he had seen friends who lived that life who had nice cars and new clothes, and he had decided to do the same. Unfortunately, it didn't work out, and he spent two month in jail and was now on probation. He seemed truly contrite about his crime, and his arrest, and very committed to staying home with his family and becoming a hardworker and a person of God. He sets out to walk the 18 miles to his monthly probation appointment and worries about it ahead of time, because he knows how important it is to be at his appointment and to be there on time.
DeMarlon has decided that he wants to join the armed forces. He feels that it's his only way out of poverty, it'd be one less mouth for his family to feed, and that he'd be able to help support his family. He feels that it's his best shot at bettering himself for the future. I think it's unfortunate that he feels that he has so few choices, but I think that this is a really smart decision that he's made. One of the obstacles standing in DeMarlon's way is the ASVAB and he makes his way to a literacy program and to the library to get review books and take a practice test.
And here's the public defender point I've been tying to get to. DeMarlon finally learns that he can't even take the ASVAB until he's done with probation in two years. And, I just wanted to ask all of the other criminal defense attorneys out there - don't you think they would have terminated probation for him so that he could go into the military?
I've never had a client do it, but I've seen other people's clients come into court with a military recruiter. The recruiter goes on the record, stating that whatever military branch is prepared to enlist him but the only thing standing in his way is the probation. And then the judge just terminates the probation favorably. And it makes sense. If the point of probation is supervision, he'll be well supervised in the military. If the point of probation is to keep you out of trouble, he's much more likely to stay out of trouble in the military than he is going to meet his P.O. once a month. Especially now, my understanding is that enlistment is at an all-time low, you'd think they'd find some way to work around these circumstances. Another option would be for the probation to be somehow "transferred" to the military, the same way you can transfer probation from one state to another, with the idea that then the military would be responsible for his supervision, rather than the state.
(I was also under the impression that if the recruiters wanted you enough they'd work with you to pass the ASVAB, but maybe that's not true either?)
Poor me, I was so upset about this poor kid. The boyfriend said, "You're not going to try to send him money now, are you?" It crossed my mind. But more importantly, I hope that my clients know they can and should call me when this kind of thing comes up, that I might be able to help.
I just wonder if the kid never tried to talk to his lawyer, or his P.O. or his recruiter about this. Because, do all the other lawyers out there agree with me, there would probably be a way for him to work around the probation so he could enlist? I know at least one of you is a military veteran and lawyer (and another future lawyer) - do you have anything to add?