What Would You Do?

What Would You Do?
By Monette Benoit

Copyright 2007 by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.

What would you do if someone you love is charged with an alleged crime? What if a family member is handcuffed and quickly removed from your home? What would you do if you are unable to hear? What would you do if equal communication offered late in events is not what you need? Would you raise your voice, scream – or would you bow your head, not wanting to upset anyone?

This story is true. As I write in December 2006, many individuals are unsure where the allegation, legal process will end.

Let’s say charges are read to the parent after the minor has been arrested, handcuffed, removed from the home, seated in a squad car and charged with an alleged offense. As police explain details, the parent has to get the hearing aid, off-duty that late hour. The hearing dog had alerted the parent to heavy knocking on the door. The child is driven off into the night, then incarcerated.

Stunned and shocked as the parent, your world has now changed. If you are unable to hear, will you stomp to defend your loved one or will you make nice to avoid upsetting anyone – anyone who may bring your loved one home – one day or one moment sooner?

Let’s say this experience is your first one within the legal system. You never visited anyone in jail. Now you have to be cleared through security, counselors. Now your hearing aid is on-duty; you focus to understand each word, which is a struggle at best. You hope for early release – a new term. Also new: Will your minor be tried as child or adult?

Most likely you will not qualify for free attorney aid; legal counsel is required. Your reaction could be “This can’t be happening!” It can. Attorneys requiring compensation, often substantial fees, will need to defend a minor incarcerated without bail. Also new: Minors are not granted bail. What will you now do for attorney’s fees for an alleged offense?

Let’s say there’s no prior history to prepare this family. If this is not your family, perhaps one could think “this is our legal system; it protects all of us.”

But what if your child is placed behind secure walls, visits are limited. No physical contact is permitted. Detainees are required to earn points to earn rights.

All communication is shared behind a wall with a small metal circle, thick dark screen. If you rely on hearing aids and read lips, your opportunity to hear is drastically reduced. As you struggle to understand words, learn details, to check on your minor, and to learn about the legal process and allegations, what would you do if you could not see the lips of your loved one or hear each word?

As court reporters we know that fact-finding trials are held. But when a person is held behind a wall, what then? I know deaf prisoners in San Antonio – ‘Deaf’ and all prisoners often live within a horrible world called a jail.

Deaf prisoners cannot be mainstreamed. They cannot hear anyone behind them, so they lose the ability to defend themselves. Deaf are typically mandated to infirmaries. This may appear fine for hearing, but deaf are now constrained to a tiny area. Social contact is limited. One of the greatest gifts people can give deaf (and deaf community) is to visit deaf prisoners. Deaf are isolated, alone.

If your loved minor is detained, they could be placed into foster care – an option decided by the court. If the parent is deaf or hearing-impaired, trust me, the parent worries about losing rights to their child because of the parent’s deafness. Yes, it does happen. Is it fair? No. Deaf parents have lost “in the best interest of the child.”

If that child is not able to fully communicate with their parent, then that child experiences further trauma. This CODA child (named after an international group called Children of Deaf Adults) will know the parent’s visit is approaching and that communication is limited prior, during, and after each limited noncontact visit. CODA children grow up fast – they say.

Legal facts will unfold with time – but not fast enough for the parent and loved one – in a country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Stress will ripple to others involved and excaberated because of the hearing impairment. Powerless, frustrated, scared may now describe you. Scarred may describe the minor. How will these events affect the minor’s future life?

Limited visitors, who are approved in advance, can be removed at the discretion of parole employees and counselors. Only attorneys and clergy are exempt. Visits are limited to two a week. Detainees have new rules, regulations.

If the parent is hearing-impaired, how does the child share this new bewildering world that has few privileges, mandatory lights out, few books and pencils (if any), and permits only limited communication?

During visits, if you are hearing-impaired (self-described term) contact is further limited. You also notice that everyone else, including the hearing, is finding communication a challenge with the screened circle.

And if a hearing is held for your loved one – perhaps an odd word for the parent not hearing – and if the room does not have assistive listening devices, communication is again limited. When this parent questioned assistance, the parent was informed only “a sign interpreter could be supplied.” Great, but this adult does not use sign language.

Since no law states a parent need be present for legal proceedings of his or her child or police interrogation, this will be a huge shock, too. Will your loved one know when to volunteer information – or – perhaps will your child simply shut down, alone, isolated, and in fear?

If the fact-finding trial has evidence to move forward, perhaps the next phase is a jury trial, or will a plea bargain be accepted because of earlier facts? Attorneys cost money, incarceration is bleak. Decisions are often made on these factors. Trials take time; trials are pricey. I was a court reporter in Miami’s juvenile public defender’s office many years ago, and I am still amazed by the information I reported and witnessed.

So, are you at the mercy of the legal system, the court? Would you “bite your tongue” to avoid stirring any problems, hoping your loved one comes home one second sooner?

Will you struggle to remain unangry knowing that if any person involved in the legal process takes a holiday or sick day during the process, this will cause further delays, postponing justice. And if an experienced juvenile lawyer says this “is a zoo,” what would you do?

I wrote to the parent that I was outraged CART (communication access realtime) was not being shared. I requested permission to write this article. The parent, in response to “how are you,” replied with details and “Thank God for warm furry things that sleep in your arms and purr.”

As I finish writing this article, the hearing was delayed – again. Facts surrounding the alleged incident were shared again, claiming this was a “minor event” – a repeated fact officially shared for many weeks now while the minor remained incarcerated.

And if your child was incarcerated well over one month, including Thanksgiving Day with no visit and Christmas without the ability to fully communicate with his or her parent, and the hearing-impaired parent is praying, praying, praying, I ask you, What would you do?

Monette, Court Reporting Whisperer, may be reached: Monette@ARTCS.com and Monette@CRRbooks.com

Monette Benoit, B. B.A., CCR, CRI, CPE, Paralegal

Tutor, Motivational Management & Career Coach,
Multiple-Title Author of Books & Test Prep for the Court Reporting and CART Captioning Industry
Realtime Court Reporter, Instructor, Consultant, Columnist

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As a 25+ year court reporter, CART Captioner, author of NCRA test prep material, and an instructor, public speaker, Monette Benoit has taught multiple theories, academics, all speed classes, and the 225 homeroom within NCRA-approved schools and a community college. She understands the challenges many adults now face in our industry and schooling.

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