The age of accountability

About six months ago, a good friend of mine told me that his son was having a birthday and that his family was getting ready to celebrate.  “How old is he going to be?” I asked.  “He will be eight,” he replied.   Oh eight!  What an awesome birthday!  So much changes, so much happens.  It is such a special birthday!  I told my friend that the 8th birthday is a very special one for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I explained that we believe a child can be accountable for their actions at that age, so this is when they get baptized.  I’m not really sure why I told him all of that, we weren’t even talking religion!  Anyway, it just spilled out.

His reaction was unexpected and so sincere.  He said that he had noticed that his son was becoming more able to have self-control.  He said that the idea that a child is accountable at 8 years old totally made sense to him and he was going to go home and talk to his son about it.  It was such an awesome experience!

Last week, my friend brought up the subject again.  He said, “That whole idea of being accountable for your actions when you turn 8 has really struck home with our family and with my son.”  He said that he and his son talk about it all the time, and that his son understands that he is now able to make better decisions.  He told me that this concept had really blessed his family.  I love that.

Sometimes we forget how even the simplest doctrines can be so meaningful.  I will not take this one for granted ever again!

Eight is great!

Testimonial from Ryan U. Thank you!

I read your book this weekend. Gina, it was awesome! I read it in a day (something unheard of for me). I loved the insight. You are a great writer. If there was any criticism it would be that I wanted more. Your experiences and what you’ve learned from them were so compelling that I could not stop reading. I even read during Ward Council meeting… (We’ll count that as my confession.) 

My wife has talked about going to law school for a while now. I’d never considered it because I’m pretty deep into my career, but I’ve recently had some experiences that have made me want to change. I actually started considering law school, and after reading your book I’m giving it more thought. I like helping people, and after reading your words I keep thinking that what would be better than helping those who nobody else wants to help. I have to admit, I knew a defense lawyer in Mexico and my initial reaction was not good. But, as I read your point of view I kept thinking, “They are children of our Heavenly Father.” How easy it is for us to forget that! It was awesome to read your stories, to realize that you rely on the spirit, and that you help people to–in a certain sense–repent for their actions. Of course, many of those people are compelled to do so by the law, but it’s the first step. You distinguished that there are people who are hardened criminals, but there are also the others who just made a mistake and find themselves in deep trouble. All of them, however, are children of a divine maker, so even though they’ve done bad, they are all inherently good.

Wow. I loved it. Thank you so much for writing your book and sharing your testimony. My wife is reading it now. I have no doubt when she’s done she’ll start applying for law schools right away.

Traversing the Mass of Humanity and Loving it.

You might describe me as a soccer mom, even though none of my children play soccer anymore. On any given weekend you may find me in a baseball cap, my short hair in a ponytail, wearing my favorite jeans and an old Gap T-shirt, Diet Coke in hand, sunglasses on to hide the fact that I am not wearing any makeup.

I will be carting children around (mine and the neighbors’) to their various activities, running to the store to pick up some item that my child promised to bring to school, talking on the phone to coordinate schedules, texting my oldest to make sure she is home in time to go to work, organizing my seminary lessons for the next week, and trying to figure out how I will squeeze in a date night with my husband. This is my life, the craziness of being a wife and mom, and yet it is filled with the enjoyment of a few days off from my other job.

There is always some discomfort when I tell people what my “other job” is. That is because when they see me in “mom mode” they are always surprised when I explain that I am an attorney. Somehow the ponytail and jeans just doesn’t seem to fit the idea most people have for an attorney. So they want more information: When do I find the time to work? Do I actually go into court? What kind of law do I practice? They seem interested … until I tell them what I really do.

That’s when the conversation becomes awkward and uncomfortable.

You defend criminals? You mean bad guys? Murderers? Really? Why would you want to do that? You go to the jail? Isn’t it scary? Aren’t all those guys guilty anyway? Why would you want to help someone like that? And the list goes on.

Yes, I defend criminals, every weekday, in a rundown courthouse in a bad part of town. The parking lot is a minefield for high heels, with tree roots pushing up the asphalt. The courthouse itself is an old structure (earthquake-safe, I hope) that has beat-up floors, peeling paint, and courtrooms so small that the family members of the defendants have to wait outside until their case is called.

Every day, as I walk into this place, I am immediately surrounded by an ethnic diversity I cannot even begin to describe—masses of humanity that are troubled, anxious, apprehensive, and concerned about either themselves or family members. There are anger and tears, either of which can suddenly erupt, and I am always grateful for the metal detectors at the entrance to the courthouse that give me some comfort that the only guns in the courthouse today will be the ones the bailiffs are wearing.

There are the rich or middle-class, trying to not touch anyone or anything—and trying not to breathe too deeply in case anything is catching, and there are the poor. There are some who have not bathed or brushed their teeth in days, weeks, months, and then there are drug users who don’t have any teeth left. There are gang members, with loose pants, tall socks, tattoos, shaved heads, and menacing eyes—daring anyone to look at them, and there are young, single mothers with crying children in strollers. And that’s just the hallways!

Behind the scenes are the people in orange, green, or mustard jumpsuits, their own mass of humanity, with their own sets of problems, waiting in achingly cold concrete rooms to see the judge. The anger and tears here are carefully hidden so that other inmates will not see weakness, and there is usually a wall around each heart or mind that takes some effort to break through. Oh, what a place, this courthouse.

I defend both men and women who have made terrible choices in their lives, and I have also defended some who probably should never have been charged with a crime. I will admit that the truly “not guilty” are few and far between, but they do exist, and that is why we have this system, a system that we hope will bring justice to everyone involved.

As I am asked about how I can defend criminals, I could explain that our founding fathers, inspired by a wise and merciful Heavenly Father, created the Constitution of the United States to protect individuals from tyranny and oppression, and that my job is to stand as an advocate in honoring, protecting, and defending those rights.

All of these things are true, and I believe and love the basis of these ideas, but the truth is also that I do love this job. I know it sounds crazy, but I love the old courthouse. I love traversing the mass of humanity. I love meeting new people and learning their stories. I enjoy trying to help. That is why I do it. I have learned so much from doing this job.