I started in my line of work by happenstance, or fate perhaps. A few short weeks after I passed my bar exam I observed Juvenile Court. Much to my surprise, and her amusement, the Judge appointed me to represent a parent who was incarcerated. Her child was removed due to the family squabble that led to her arrest. They brought my new client into the room, and she was hysterical. As was her family, who chased me from the courthouse down the sidewalk to my office.
I remember thinking what is this? You don’t hear anything about Juvenile Court in law school, unless you seek it out. It’s not part of the curriculum from my experience.
There is a whole other way of life for some families in our communities , and you wouldn’t realize it unless you are a direct participant in their lives. It’s so hard to fathom otherwise; from a distance you may think you know, but unless you’ve seen it first hand, it’s hard to grasp the complicated chaos of such a life. It’s not just one thing that leads people to get ensnared in our systems.
The catalyst for this is usually poverty, and through poverty we oftentimes get addiction, the combination leads us to removing children from their families.
In Juvenile Court, parents or custodians have the opportunity to get an attorney appointed (if they qualify). The child automatically is appointed an attorney, a “Guardian ad Litem”. I have represented parents and children. In my current position I’m charged with prosecuting parents for what is called dependency, neglect, and abuse, as an Assistant County Attorney.
On October 14, 2015, I was appointed to represent Shyana. I had only been practicing for 6 months. This was the day I met her. We went into this little room off the courtroom. I remember thinking how “together” she looked, for lack of a better term. As I’ve known her for almost four years at this point; I can tell you, she’s always got it together.
Even by this early point, I was accustomed to seeing people in all states of appearance for court. Shyana was wearing a nice dress, and presented herself like a person that would be Class President and Miss Congeniality.
I looked at her and couldn’t reconcile the fact that she came from a home that had a meth lab in the basement.
She had a backpack, and had this aurora of being prepared for the many contingencies of any day. I found out that’s how she lived her life. Her bag included snacks and toys for her brothers. She was a parent to them more than the adults in the home.
From our talk, I could tell Shyana was her best advocate, and at 14 years old she had the wherewithal and self actualization to get herself where she wanted to go in life. I thought, what does she need me for?
I was a mess in high school and my first years of college, and I was cloaked in what can be best described as a bubble of privilege. My Dad is an attorney, and my Mom is a retired school counselor; they provided my sisters and I with a stable life. Not to say we don’t have our issues as a family, but nothing compared to what these kids face.
A speaker at Guardian ad Litem training talked about keeping in touch with the children he represented, taking them to dinner, etc. Hearing about his experience made me think differently about representing children. As lawyers, we should walk them through the legal process, and when the opportunity presents itself, be there for them during life’s hardships and joys. It has been one of my greatest privileges to be on Shyana’s path with her.
In working in Juvenile Court, I always think we only see what we catch. That thought gets me on my bad days. We did catch Shyana, and she’s a bright spot in my life, and in the lives of all she reaches.
I’ve never been prouder of another person as I watched Shyana get her diploma in May; she was in the top 10 students of her graduating class, and has earned an academic and athletic scholarship to Campbellsville University where she’ll be running track.
Shyana’s faith is very important to her, she is starting college a little later in the year in order to participate in a ministry program called Youth With A Mission, in Louisville. https://www.ywamlouisville.org/youth-mission-trips/.
She will live on the YWAM Campus in Louisville and prepare for her journey oversees, and then go on a mission trip. The program is from September-February. She has to raise funds in order to attend, she will take donations through her go fund me page. We will have the link on our Facebook and Instagram pages. Please help me, help her, reach her goal.
I will share a video where Shyana gives her testimonial, which she did a few years ago. If you want to follow Shyana, send her a friend request on her page Shyanas Journey.