When I first started in this business I had the squeemies. I made a definite line between me and them in my mind. The them being my clients. They were, after all, criminals.
And then I began to learn.
I learned that all of my clients were poor.
Not just unable to pay for a lawyer. They were poor. They lived in outrageous poverty. In nearly every case where I entered the home of a client or their family, it was in the worst part of the city or county. The furniture was broken and mended and mended again. The refrigerator would be empty.
I learned that my clients were addicted to something.
A large part of my clients were addicted to either alcohol or some type of drug. Most had been exposed to the drug of choice before the age of 12. Most had been exposed by older peers who could not get jobs. It was part of the vicious circle.
But the major cause is poverty. Crushing, mind-numbing poverty. Poverty that caused such hopelessness that any escape is better than sitting day after day with no purpose.
So I began to learn.
I learned that my clients are human. With frailties that I needed to understand.
I learned that I didn't need to condone a behavior to understand it.
I learned that I didn't have to condone a behavior to understand a person.
I learned that I didn't have to like a person to understand something about that person.
I learned that in understanding, I could make a difference.
Every once in a while. I could make a difference.
So when I have a former client walk up to me on the street I don't cringe. I don't look for a way to avoid them. Because if they are coming to me on the street, I have learned that they are going to tell me something I need to know.
They come and tell me that the program that I got them into got them off drugs. That they are in college. That their children are back with them and doing well in school. That they have a good paying job. That they got a sibling out of the ghetto or out of a gang.
Sometimes it is amazes me that just one word, one conversation, one shared idea can make so much difference in one person. One person. One at a time.