Steve Reba: Oh, Mother

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Without automobile, telephone, or literacy, it was the first contact with her son in more than half a decade.  Occurring just outside the courtroom, after a little cajoling to let him out of the holding cell, the moment transcended confinement, distance, and silence.

The thought of my twenty-four-year-old client crying, tears streaming down his face to his tattooed neck, was unimaginable.  That there was anything but calloused, deep emptiness left in him seemed unlikely.  Locked up since fourteen, those emotions began to fade in youth detention centers, then eviscerated by violence and abuse, both given and taken, in prison. There was always the hope that this capacity to feel could come back with liberty and its services, that intensive therapy could somehow resuscitate what was present before his incarceration.  But, this kid was pretty far gone.

They saw each other when he came through the courtroom door.  He fell to his knees, shackled and crying.  His mother grabbed his head and brought it into her body, “my baby, my baby.” The embrace lasted for well over a minute, reaching back to the place of forced separation, belying the notion that such a bond could be destroyed by anything other than them.

As they held each other, I thought of a small boy, lost, calling out in a panic down each aisle of a store, finally finding and hugging what he was desperately looking for during those frantic thirty seconds.

This really wasn’t any different.  The kid just wanted his mom.


Steve Reba is an attorney at Emory Law School’s Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic where he directs an Equal Justice Works project called Appeal for Youth.  The project, sponsored by Ford & Harrison LLP, provides holistic appellate representation to youthful offenders in Georgia’s juvenile and criminal justice systems.  This blog follows the clients Appeal for Youth represents, hoping to present a genuine look into a system that is largely unknown or misunderstood by the public

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