Nannette and Aimee's Story
“Even seeing an infant interact with someone will tell you a whole lot, if you pay attention. Seeing a toddler or older child interact with someone will tell you a lot more, and just asking some simple questions about what’s going on and what can make things better will tell you a lot.” - Nannette
Nannette has been working as an attorney handling dependency and neglect cases in the Juvenile Court of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County for more than 20 years. She also works for the Department of Children’s Services in surrounding counties. While she initially intended to work in entertainment law, she was drawn to this field through her work as a CASA volunteer. Eventually she switched her focus entirely to work as a court appointed guardian ad litem. Many of the clients she has face delinquency charges in addition to their dependency and neglect cases, and through the years, some of her clients have also been clients of Aimee’s.
“Once you start doing this a certain amount of time, you forget how scary all of this is. We’re used to it. ‘OK, so you’re gonna go to custody. They’re gonna take you somewhere. We’re gonna meet in a few days. We’re gonna go over your case.’ You know. It’s all everyday stuff to us. But this is life changing for this kid. And if you ever let yourself forget that, you need to go find a new job.” - Aimee
Aimee works as a defense attorney who does criminal and delinquency work primarily in Davidson County. As a private attorney, she handles delinquency cases appointed to her by the Juvenile Court of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County. When she was in law school (studying to be a prosecutor), she worked in the District Attorney’s office in Juvenile Court looking at police and arrest reports, deciding final charges, and typing up felony petitions. “It was a lot of power that I didn’t really understand until I joined the other side and became a defense attorney.” She worked in the DA’s office for two years, then after a round of JC budget cuts and layoffs, she decided to take on a few appointments, including one in particular that changed her viewpoint completely. As a prosecutor, she had charged him with 50+ felony petitions and 120+ minor charges. A public defender specifically requested that she be appointed to him, and insisted that she just meet the young man in person and speak with him. She came out of that meeting wanting to be his defense attorney, and wanting to fight for him. She’s been a defense attorney ever since.
Interview with Nannette and Aimee, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on September 3, 2017 in Nashville, TN.
Joann: "So tell me your name and what you do for a living?"
Nannette: "My name is Nannette Clark. I am an attorney and most of my practice is focused on juvenile court, dependency, and neglect, and I've been doing that a little over 20 years."
Joann: "So how did you get in ... What was your kind of personal pathway and how did you find this work?"
Nannette: "Actually, I started off as a CASA volunteer, that's court-appointed special advocate, and I had passed the bar, and was working in the entertainment field, which is what I had planned on doing, and I realized after several experiences as an attorney in the entertainment field that many of the people that I was working with on the business end of things were crazy. So they all seemed to have a lot of personal issues and I kept getting drug into them, and I had started volunteering with CASA in the little bit of spare time that I had, and I really enjoyed that. So I segued into as a guardian ad litem."
Joann: "So you actually had cases that were given to you, like this is the case, or [crosstalk 00:01:31]"
Joann: "So tell me about your ... What's the right word? Discover process when you first area appointed a child, a client?"
Nannette: "Well, and that's sort of ..."
Joann: "Discover, not in the legal term, but in the how do you get to know them as they are."
Joann: "I didn't mean it in terms of the legal [definition]."
Nannette: "Depending on what type of case it is. Now, in guardian ad litem, it's usually a dependency and neglect case. There's some allegations that the child has been neglected or abused, and if the state puts the child in custody in Tennessee, the parent has a right to a hearing within 72 hours. 86, I believe it is if it's over a holiday weekend."
"So for example, I might get appointed on something that's going to be happening on Tuesday, and unfortunately, I might get a phone call or if we're on rotation, we know that we come in expecting cases at either 8:30 or 1:00 on Tuesday. I get a petition and an appointment order if ... The child may or may not be in court that day. There may or may not be a hearing that day. It depends on whether the parent is going to demand a preliminary hearing. There are reasons to have the hearing, and there are reasons not to have the hearing, and I may get to talk to my child that day, and I do that."
"I try to at least put my eyes on that child, every single case as soon as possible because even seeing an infant interact with someone will tell you a whole lot if you pay attention. Seeing a toddler or older child interact with someone will tell you a lot more, and just asking some simple questions about what's going on and what can make things better will tell you a lot. So I try not to talk to them with other people around."
"If it is a case where the department or private party is wanting custody and the child is gonna be with say great-aunt Suzy, and mom and dad have agreed for the child to go stay with great-aunt Suzy and not be in foster care, then those cases don't come in quite so quickly because the parent doesn't have the right to that initial preliminary hearing. It's considered an agreement with the state, and they come in after two, or three, or four weeks. But in any event ... And again, the first time, they may or may not be at court. I try to go talk to them, see them at school."
"I used to always go to the home environments that they were in, and I still try to do that but sometimes you know the home is not the issue. You know that it's an okay structure. So if it's more about somebody's mental health or whether they're violent, I can go see them at school, if the child is the one that wants to be seen at school and I try to learn that on the front end too because some children are absolutely tickled for you to come get them out of class and take them to the office. They like that, and some are absolutely horrified and some are in the middle and don't care, but I always try to ask can I come see you at school? And the majority of them think that's okay but there's a few that it's one more person dragging me out of class, causing everybody else to know something's going on, and they don't want that."
Joann: "So to what extent does your work with children who are in foster care who are guardian ad litem intersect with children that you're working with who have a dual involvement with the juvenile justice system?"
Nannette: "Well, if ... There are many times where probably the majority of times, the judge realizes there's probably what we call an underlying dependency neglect issue, and if that's the case, they'll appoint a guardian at litem. Now, if the child is already at the point where they're going into state custody as a juvenile justice child, then my appointment would not be necessary, or my appointment would end at that point, which is not really a good thing because those kids still need people to advocate for them and they generally, if they enter custody as a juvenile justice child, they also just lost their delinquency attorney as well because their case can end after they enter custody."
Aimee: "So our case doesn't necessarily end until after the perm plan hearing. So after that, that's when our appointment officially ends on the delinquency side."
Nannette: "But that's ..."
Joann: "Perm plan? What is that?"
Aimee: "Okay, so a permanency plan hearing, when a child goes into custody, either neglect, dependent, or juvenile justice, the Department of Children's Services has to come up with a plan to get this child returned to whomever they decide the child is going to return home to. Most of the time, it's returned to parent, so that plan has to be developed. Everybody's responsibilities has to be outlined in the plan, and then you have to go to court, and the judge or the magistrate has to actually approve the plan and make it a legal document. So once that's the legal document, the juvenile attorneys, the delinquency attorneys, that's when their appointment ends."
Nannette: "That's usually within four or five weeks after they're committed."
Aimee: "60 days is the limit for a juvenile justice kid to have their permanency plan, it's called ratified but that's the approval of the magistrate or judge."
Nannette: "And in Davidson County, they usually get it done a little sooner rather than ... I mean they're not going to press right up to that 60 days."
Joann: "So you don't typically have any post-adjudication involvement beyond that 60-day period, like you never get called back in?"
Aimee: "Okay, so that's when our appointments end, that's not when our involvement ends. Any time after that, it's donated volunteer time. Some attorneys will choose to do that. We are not required, so there are always gonna be attorneys that say no, I'm done, I'm out. Even though this kid still has needs, still needs advocacy, and I do the best I can to make sure that I'm there. I have a good relationship with the juvenile justice caseworkers with DCS, they know me, and they know when I'm a kid's attorney that if there's problems after that court date, I still want to be notified. I still want to be involved. If there's a disruption meeting, I want to be there. I want to make sure that my kid has his or her voice heard."
Nannette: "That's not how most of it goes. No, that's not most attorneys."
Aimee: "No. There's probably, I would say less than a dozen attorneys currently that can be located after the appointment ends, and part of that is they have current appointments that they're ethically obligated to stay on top of and handle, and it's a juggling match. So you've got ethical obligations to current clients that have to be met versus obligations to clients who are no longer ethically obligated to, but they're still children and they still need help. So it's a balancing act and how many balls can you keep up in the air at the same time? Sometimes you can keep them all up. Sometimes they all come crashing down around you. Sometimes you have to set a couple balls inside for a minute so you can keep the ones that are demanding the most attention going in the direction they need to go."
Joann: "So since you jumped in, I want to get just a little bit about ... Tell me your name and what you do for a living."
Aimee: "So my name is Aimee Seitzman, and I do criminal and delinquency work in Davidson County and some surrounding counties. So delinquency work is basically what you would think of as criminal work only in the juvenile system. The juvenile system has a completely different terminology from the adult system for a very good reason."
"The juvenile system is designed in theory to protect kids from their own stupidity in youth. All kids make mistakes, that's part of being a kid, and if every child who ever did anything wrong had to pay for that for their entire lives, then a lot of kids wouldn't be able to get jobs, they wouldn't be able to go to school, so the vocabulary in juvenile court is very different than the adult system."
"There's never been a child in the State of Tennessee arrested. Juveniles in Tennessee are taken into custody. One of the reasons for that change of language is when a child goes to apply for a job and that application says have you ever been arrested? Every kid's truthful answer to that is no, because they have been taken into custody, not arrested. Children are not convicted of crimes. They are adjudicated delinquent on what would be criminal offenses if committed as an adult. So when a child goes to fill out an application and it says have you ever been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, their truthful answer is no. They may have been adjudicated delinquent, but they've never been convicted of anything. They're also not misdemeanors and felonies, or crimes in juvenile court. They're only delinquent acts. So when I say the words misdemeanors or felonies, generally it's to help people understand the terms that they know. When you talk about delinquent acts, people look at you and say, well, what is that? Well, it's what you would think of as a crime if this person was 18 or above, so that's who I am."
Joann: "Is there a difference between a delinquent act that would be considered a misdemeanor and the delinquent act that would be considered a felony?"
Aimee: "They're treated differently."
Joann: "Is there a terminology [crosstalk 00:12:38]"
Aimee: "There's not a terminology change. There are only delinquent acts, but when anybody is looking at a case where a candy bar was taken from a store versus a person was robbed at gunpoint, they're both delinquent acts but they do not have the same weight in the court system."
Joann: "How is that weight determined in terms of how are children charged differently or how does the court system look at those different acts in a different way, in different ways, is that…?"
Aimee: "It's very much like ... I hate to even say this, but it's very much like in the adult system. In the courthouse, we'll still use terms like misdemeanors and felonies, even though we all know they're nearly delinquent ... They're delinquent acts, not nearly, they are. So we still use those terms, even though they're not technically correct and that goes on in every county that I have been in the juvenile court. We're still using the wrong vocabulary but it's so everybody understands where we really are."
Joann: "So how long have you been doing this, and in which jurisdictions have you practiced?"
Aimee: "So I have ... I mainly practice in Davidson County. I started off in the District Attorney's Office when I was in law school in juvenile court, and that's kind of how I fell in love with working with kids, and I'm still there today. So when I started in law school, I was actually the person who would look at the police reports and the arrest reports, and I would decide on the final charges for those kids, and type those petitions if they were felonies. If they were not felonies, then the juvenile court typically handled those. The lot of power that I didn't really understand until I joined the other side and became a defense attorney and there's great power in who charges these children and what they charge them with."
Joann: "How long did you work on the DA side and what prompted your change to the defense side?"
Aimee: "I worked with the DA's Office for two years and then there were layoffs in the DA's Office. And if you travel around Tennessee long enough, you find out if there are going to be cuts and a budget made, juvenile court is always at the top of the list for those cuts. Whether it's in the metro budget or in the DA's budget, or in the Public Defender's budget, that's where they get cut. So at that point, my position was done away with, and I thought okay, well I can take a couple appointments until I find what else I want to do."
"I had gone to law school to be a prosecutor, and that was my goal. So at that point, I thought I can take a couple appointments until I can get on with another office and move on with my career, and I was introduced to a young man. I got appointed to him. I told the court that I wouldn't take him because I had charged him with probably no less than 50 petitions and no less than 120 delinquent offenses while I was in the DA's office. I thought I knew something about this young man because I had dealt with his paperwork and his attorney was with the Public Defender's Office at that time and asked me to please meet this kid. She asked the court to appoint me to him for a reason and just come meet him with me, and if you walk out of meeting him not wanting to represent him, I'll make sure he gets another attorney. And by the time I left that office, speaking with that young man, I knew nobody else was going to be allowed to have his case. I had a waiver signed, making sure he and his family understood that I had been the person charging him with everything he had been charged with for two years, and that I wanted to be his defense attorney and I was gonna fight for him, and I've never looked back."
Joann: "What happened in that room?"
Aimee: "He became a person and not a file and pieces of paper. He became something more than all these victims saying what a horrible young man he is. He was a messed up kid, who had a horrible upbringing, and abuse and neglect in his file probably four-and-a-half inches deep, and that was before all of my petitions stacked on top of that. He was a sweet kid who lived where he lived and had the family that he had. He was following into the family business and I was gonna do what I could do to help this kid try to have a better future, and I wasn't gonna depend on somebody else to try to make that happen. When this particular person said we want you for a reason, after I met him, I understood why."
Joann: "Have you seen that happen with other people who've either switched sides or kind of seen the light so-to-speak who are on the prosecution side, on the DA side, or even judges who used to act a certain way who've changed? Have you seen other ... Maybe not? You don't have to talk specifics but I'm just curious because it seems to me that even though ... I shouldn't be talking this much but I have observed that people do think of juvenile court in the way that they think of the adversarial system of adult court, as it being a very adversarial process."
Aimee: "It can be, and a lot of it depends on the structure of the court, and every juvenile court in Tennessee is very different."
Nannette: "It's completely different, and that I've observed in a lot of different courts. I worked for the Department of Children's Services for over four years, it feels more like 40, in some of the surrounding counties, and it's truly a case of Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore. Everything's different. Things that children should be released on immediately, sometimes they're spending 30 days in Columbia Detention, and the judges have a real attitude about it, even though they have no legal right to detain those children."
Aimee: "And they'll threaten to hold you in contempt when you show up to court to show the court where a child who is in possession of cigarettes should not be in a secure detention center for 12 to 14 days without a detention hearing, nor are they detainable without a hearing. That's something that they should be either cited for on the spot and released instantly by the police, or if they think the event is going to continue, the police can arrest them for it but they are to be immediately released from the detention center because it's not a detainable offense. And I was actually threatened with contempt for pointing out the law to a particular judge in a surrounding county and they probably would've ..."
Nannette: "And invited not to come back."
Aimee: "Right, and they probably would've been willing to go to jail if he didn't release this kid because you can't hold a child for possessing a cigarette in a secure facility. It's contrary to every law we have in Tennessee."
Joann: "Well, let's talk about the laws in Tennessee. In certain states, depending on the charge, that charge has to be pursued [in the adult court]. Even if that child is 13 years or older, then the charge has to be brought to them in a criminal court. They have to be seen in a criminal court."
Aimee: "So in Tennessee, any event that happens before a child's 18th birthday has to be brought first in juvenile court. So if a child is turning 18 at midnight, and the event happens at 11:58, right before, two minutes before his 18th birthday, that case has to be first brought in juvenile court, and that entitles them to what's called a transfer hearing. So any transfer hearing, probably cause proof has to be put on that this child may have committed whatever act is alleged against him.
" "So if it's a homicide, there has to be a level of proof that this kid may have been involved in that homicide. So if the state can make that burden of proof, it moves to the second phase of the transfer hearing, which is the best interest part in the hearing, and that's really where the state tries to show it's not in the best interest or safety of the community for that child to remain in the juvenile system, and the real defense work in a lot of these cases comes in on the best interest portion, that's where we show that this child is amenable to treatment that he or she will respond well to treatment, that there's enough time before this child's 19th birthday for them to get the issues that they need addressed, addressed. That the community would be safe while this case was still being conducted on the juvenile level, and that this child has a better chance of success if it's kept within the juvenile system, where they can get treatment and rehabilitation. The adult system doesn't care about treatment or rehabilitation of juveniles. They care about how long they can lock a person up. So depending on what county you're in, in Tennessee, it's how much leeway courts are willing to give kids at transfer hearings, and a lot of it depends on the seriousness of the events."
Joann: "When you're now in that position ..."
Aimee: "It's been so long since I've typed petitions against kids. Here's what I do know, that if I ever chose to go back to the DA's office, I could do that job so much better now than I ever could before. And you know when you're asking about switching sides, one of our DAs at juvenile court right now switched from defense and is now a prosecutor. She's a fabulous prosecutor because she understands both sides of this. You can be a prosecutor in juvenile court and have a heart, and you can look at a case and go, oh wow, this kid's bipolar schizophrenic with paranoid delusional features."
Nannette: "And so are his parents."
Aimee: "And maybe that kid doesn't need to be locked up in detention for a month-and-a-half, while we figure out what's going wrong. Maybe that's not the healthiest place for the kid, so let's do something else. So there's a lot to the ... I do better as a defense attorney because of my time in the DA's Office, absolutely no questions asked. I can't help but think what a great DA I could be knowing what I know about the defense of my job. And I do not only juvenile work, but adult work too. So the difference for me is in juvenile court, I'll take court appointments. Kids can't help if they can't afford to hire me. In the adult system, you've got to write a check. That's just the way it is. I'm not going to take criminal cases in the adult system for what they're willing to pay. It's too much stress, too much time, and I won't go into what I think about some of the criminal courts in Davidson County."
Joann: "So I'm going to pause this for just a second because ..."
Aimee: "Okay. This is hard."
Joann: "So let's go back and so tell me that first child that you represented, tell me the rest of his story up to this point. How old is he? How old was he then, and how old is he now?"
Aimee: "He was sixteen-and-a-half when I last dealt with him in juvenile court on his transfer hearing, and we fought a good fight but his case was transferred to the adult system, and he served some time on the charges that got transferred. He got released from his incarceration, and was involved in an incident in Edgehill, where he lived, where he was shot and shot someone else, and he went back to prison for a little while. I did see him last year in juvenile court, when he was there on the preliminary hearing docket for his child. And I got to speak with him, and I got to see his little boy, and I got to watch his little boy hug him, and he still hugs me, and calls me Miss Aimee. And when he was telling me what happened, he still lowers his head like he owes me something like that. And the last time I checked, he has been released on his new charges, and hopefully is trying to be the best father that he can to his little one."
"I do know that the child is in state custody, and my hope is that he's working the plan with DCS to be a dad. Not the best ending, probably not the one you were hoping to hear but that's the reality a lot of what we do. We do a lot of hoping and we put a lot of things in place to try to support these kids. But when a foundation is so broken and cracked when you get it, it doesn't really matter how much support you put underneath, you're still dealing with a broken and cracked foundation. And sometimes we get great outcomes, sometimes we don't, and this was one of those that ... I've had worse outcomes and I hope he does well."
"He's still a special young man, and he's probably 29 now. I call him a young man, but I mean he's probably close to 30 at this point. But his little boy was so cute, and watching him hug his little boy made me think I remember hugging you when you were a little boy. Maybe not that small, but he was still really young when I got him. He was still a kid, and he still acted like a kid around me, and I think people forget that because they see what these kids do, and we know what they're capable of but the bottom line is a 14-year-old is still a 14-year-old, and they're still gonna act like a 14-year-old sometimes, and they're children."
Joann: "How is it different representing children versus representing adults? What are the skills that you have to have in order to represent someone who thinks like a child?"
Aimee: "So not only do you have to be able ... You have to know the law, first and foremost. When you're dealing with delinquency issues, you have to know criminal law, and you have to know juvenile law, so you're adding a layer on top of representation of what you have to know. And then on top of that, you have to be able to break this down to a child's level. I've had clients in juvenile court as young as eight years old. Try explaining anything in court to an eight-year-old. It cannot be done. I don't care how skilled you are, you cannot explain legal concepts to an eight-year-old."
"When you're talking 13 and 14, a lot of them are capable of understanding if you can explain it to them in age-appropriate terms. So you've got to be able to break things down to a basic level, sometimes that means you have to draw this out. You have to draw a diagram. So you go, okay, here's where we are, all right? Now, here's option one, and you write it out, and you draw a little tree, and you may have a really full sheet of paper in the end. But then, you go, okay, well let's go back to the top, we're starting here. Which option of these three options, do you want? And then, you follow it down the tree for the kid."
"You've got to remember a lot of the kids that come into juvenile court can have educational disabilities. They can have low IQs. Most have mental health diagnoses. So not only are you dealing with them from an age level, you also have to deal with them from a mental health and developmental level as well. So maybe I have a 16-year-old client, who should be able to understand all of these concepts but they function on a 9 or 10-year-old level. You've got to be able ... You either have to be able to break it down for them or have a determination that they're not competent, and they're not going to be able to process this information at all. So you kind of need ..."
"I've said all along, I should've gotten a social work degree instead of a criminal justice degree. If I had a social work degree, you need to know social work, you need to know psychology, you need to know the law. You have to have communication skills with parents of varying levels of abilities in cognitive development themselves."
Nannette: "And you need to be able to read people."
Aimee: "Yeah, that's a good point, and you better be able to do it quickly because some of the kids we work with have very ... And the parents. I'll never forget this one dad getting up in my face. He was probably 6'4". I'm 5'6.5" and he's angry because I'm the child's defense attorney and I'm not listening to what he says he wants for his child, and I work for the kid. I am the child's voice in court, not the dad's, and he was very, very angry with me, and he is in my personal space to the point where court officers are converging on me to pull this man off of me. And fortunately, I read him quickly and well enough that when I pointed my finger up and him and told him he was gonna stop that right now, he backed away, but I could've been wrong and he could have probably snapped my neck right there in the courthouse in front of the court officers before they could do anything. But you have to be able to read a situation and you have to be able to either deescalate it or be able to remove yourself from risk."
"I know Nannette can tell you horror stories. I've had tables thrown at me. I've had chairs thrown at me. There are some days when I think my name involves curse words instead of Miss Aimee. It's not uncommon for kids or families to curse me out on a regular basis, and that's okay. We're dealing with families and kids in crisis. They don't come to us because everything's great in their world. They come to us when things are at their worst, and we have to be able to figure out how we can get around the anger and the dysfunction so that we can help them."
Joann: "What would your thoughts be be in terms of how you ... That concept of being an attorney for the child?"
Nannette: "Mm-hmm (affirmative). Pretty much everything Aimee said, and you do have to constantly remind parents and grandmothers that ... And I say grandmothers, sometimes grandfathers, don't want to leave them out. But usually, we've got a granny there, but you're the child's attorney. You are not their attorney, you're the child's attorney, and if the child wants something that may not be what mom, dad, grandma want, you still have to do what the child wants."
Aimee: "And when you say it doesn't matter how old the child is, they still get to tell us what they want, and we will still take that to the courts. We're their lawyers. So they can be eight years old ... In the delinquency world, in the D world, it's a little different."
Nannette: "It's different but still with the current bar rule as a guardian ad litem, I have to take what the child wants to the court as well, and if it's something that I think is not in his best interest, then I have to ask that he have an attorney appointed, so it can get complicated in attorneys very quickly."
"We've got a case right now with two sisters. The eldest sister has a child, and then we've got mom, and then we've got the alleged father of the daughter's baby, and then we've got the father of the two girls. So we have three attorneys for three adults. We have two guardian ad litems for the sisters. We have two attorney ad litems for the sisters, and then there's a guardian ad litem for the older sister's baby on one case, and that makes things complicated very quickly."
Joann: "What's the difference between a guardian ad litem and an attorney?"
Nannette: "As an attorney ad litem, that's an attorney for a minor child who is probably is known from the get go or later on learn is going to have a definite opinion about what is in their best interest that does not agree with what the guardian ad litem says."
Joann: "Is that ...
"Nannette: "It can be more common than you would think."
Joann: "Does the guardian ad litem request that, or is that a ... Who requests that?"
Nannette: "Well, I recently got appointed to a case where they just came in. I think the department requested it from the get go, so by the department, I mean the Department of Children's Services. They had put these two girls in custody and because of the fact pattern of the case, they knew these two girls had an opinion about where they wanted to be and who they wanted to be with, and it wasn't what they thought a normal guardian ad litem would want and it wasn't what they wanted. So they came in asking for attorney ad litems for both of these teenage girls, and they needed them because these girls definitely have an opinion that is contrary to."
Joann: "So why is that attorney ad litem is not ... I mean obviously if you're an attorney for a child and you're supposed to represent the child, what the child wants but the attorney ad litem is not supposed to do that? The attorney [crosstalk 00:38:01]"
Nannette: "The attorney ad litem only has to represent the child as the child wants to be represented. So in this case, the ..."
Aimee: "The guardian ad litem investigates what's going on in the kid's life and the events that lead them to court, and then they present to the court what they believe is in that child's best interest."
Nannette: "Which may not be what anybody else in the case thinks.
"Aimee: "Absolutely. So the attorney ad litem is merely there to bring forth that child's point-of-view, where the guardian ad litem can have completely contrary opinions about this child's situation than the child. So that's when an attorney ad litem gets brought in, when the guardian ad litem cannot successfully advocate what they believe is in the child's best interest and what the child wants."
Joann: "Okay, I understand. So basically, the guardian ad litem has the ability ... Well, has the privilege of understanding lots of different points of views. You, basically, have additional research."
Nannette: "And for me, the lovely thing about being a guardian ad litem is when it gets to a trial, I feel like I can ask any question I want because what I'm trying to do is get to the truth of what's going on so that the judge can make a good decision, and I'm not afraid of bringing out something that's contrary to what anybody would want, and that over the years has allowed some very interesting and entertaining answers that I had no clue that was what was going on. Whereas, if you're an attorney, you have to be very careful and we're always taught from the beginning of law school, don't ask the question you don't know the answer to because you may get something that you don't want at all."
Joann: "Could you give an example, a specific example? You gave a good one by saying how many attorneys were ..."
Joann: "It's like for your clients."
Nannette: "Well, I had a case years ago that I had filed a petition to terminate parental rights so that children could be placed in adoptive homes as the guardian ad litem. The state was taking, I thought, too long to do it. These children had been in and out of foster care, returned to their mother, I want to say three times over five or six years, and she kept having numerous issues and the kids would come right back to foster care. And at the same time, her sister's children were also traveling in and out of foster care. So it was a very ... And they had grown up in foster care. It was a very systemic problem within the family and she was a pleasant woman most of the time but she was always using drugs. She was always getting arrested and she generally tended to be pretty truthful on at least some things."
"I asked her, I said you readily admit you're always positive for marijuana, and she said yes ma'am, I smoke dope. And I said but on all those drug tests, you're also positive for cocaine, and you always deny that you do cocaine. She said no ma'am, I don't do no blow, you know I don't do no blow, and I said so why are you always positive for cocaine? Because I thought of a million scenarios, I figured she was just lying. But she says because when I call it to sell it, it gets on my hands, which is of course a far much worse answer than just admitting to some personal use because now she's admitted in court and on the witness stand that she's selling, and her attorney about slid under the table with that answer but it helped decide the case, I think, for the judge. So again, I didn't have any clue what the answer was gonna because she just always ... You know, she didn't do cocaine."
Aimee: "And she didn't."
Nannette: "And she didn't, she's selling it, which is a much worse crime than occasional use."
Joann: "So let's talk about trauma."
Aimee: "Ours, or the kids, and families?"
Joann: "You spoke eloquently about the different levels of capability of a child, and you mentioned mental illness, and mental health. But one of the things, especially in the State of Tennessee, that's getting a lot of lip service and a lot of attention lately is the adverse childhood experiences, the ACEs. And to the extent that .... Well, at least as was the case with the Shelby County Juvenile Court when the DOJ came in and basically sued the court in 2009, and they made an MOU agreement in 2012. One of the biggest parts of that agreement was they would address the ways in which the court system further inflicts trauma on the children that are going through the system."
"So I wanted to kind of hear from your point-of-view here in Nashville, what that looks like? How you see, obviously, trauma that has happened previously in your children's and your clients' lives, how it's informed their worldview, their actions, their thoughts, their behavior, et cetera, but how their interactions with the system have further traumatized them, and how ... What you can do or what changes can be made that could mitigate those traumas. I mean let's talk about trauma, you know?"
Aimee: "Okay, so I guess in the last 10 years, science is finally starting to catch up with the fact that adolescent brains and early childhood brains are so much different, and how differently they work, and how from a very, very young infant age, the way they're treated as infants from birth to nine months has an incredible large impact on brain development, and how early trauma particularly in those zero to nine months ... It was one study that I was looking at, and that's what I'm gonna directly refer to here, that it permanently affects brain wiring and brain chemicals."
"So when you have an infant that mommy brings home from the hospital, but mommy's not doing well enough to take care of infant, so infant cries, and any home where mommy's doing well, mommy responds to baby's cry. Baby learns that when I cry, I get soothed, whether it's a diaper change, whether it's food, whether it's a caress on the cheek, in physical touch, rocking, walking, whatever it is, that crisis happens, someone shows up, somebody I can trust, makes it better, and that wires the brain to a healthy response of event, soothing, everything's okay."
"A child who comes home to a mommy who's not doing well, baby cries, no one responds, baby continues to cry, no one responds. Baby continues to cry, someone responds with a slap, with yelling, maybe throwing the kid on a table to roughly change a diaper instead of lovingly rubbing a belly, and cooing, and playing with feet, that changes that infant's brain development. What they learn is I can be in distress and no one will come, and they handle trauma and stress as younger children very differently than that child who learned that there is distress and soothing in the world. So from a very early age, trauma is going to rewire the brain and the brain chemistry of these kids very different than kids who have supportive, what we would call appropriate parenting from the start."
"So right off the bat, if we don't get it right for these kids, they're already behind the curve because their brains aren't going to develop as the doctors call a normally developed infant brain would. Now, the study that I saw was old, or at this point is old, and their concern at the end of this study was their brains were going to be hardwired in this pattern and that they were not gonna be able to rewire, and I do think some of the newer studies, and I've slacked off in the last little bit ... I probably need to get back on that, is showing that's not necessarily true, that with proper interventions as early as possible, the brain may not rewire exactly the way we would want them to but that they do somewhat normalize. So from the cradle, infant trauma affects pretty much everything down the road."
Nannette: "And I read part of a study recently, and I am not sure how accurate it is, but it even suggested that your brain could be wired the way it is because of what happened to your grandmother."
Aimee: "Oh, I missed that one."
Nannette: "So you know, in my case, my parents who grew up in the Depression, and were probably better off than some. But I know my father in particular from about four years on, ran a trap line to trap whatever he could catch before he went to school, and he had to skin whatever he caught before he went to school, which he said he didn't understand how people were able to stay in that one-room schoolhouse with him on the mornings he caught a skunk, but that's how he at even such a young age was able to help was helping his family do that. I am real curious where that study's gonna go and what they're gonna learn from that, but somebody who was beaten and raised in an unhealthy manner, it may affect progeny down the line."
Aimee: "Well ..."
Joann: "Excuse me."
Aimee: "And when you look at it, a child who has never been able to experience crying, soothing, everything being okay, they're gonna block off emotions. They're not going to be able to trust."
Nannette: "Or bond."
Aimee: "Or bond, and ..."
Nannette: "And that's the problem that we're having with ... Probably not politically correct to say so, but a lot of the problem we're having with the children that are brought over particularly from Russia as being adopted is they get them over here thinking here's this cute little seven, eight-year-old, and I'll integrate them into my life, and they have reactive attachment disorder, and can't bond."
Aimee: "And reactive attachment disorder, let me tell you that is one of the most difficult, frustrating disorders I think we deal with. Give me a kid who is actively hearing things and seeing things over the reactive detachment. Those kids are so difficult to deal with."
Joann: "What does that mean, reactive detachment disorder?"
Nannette: "They aren't able to bond, and so for explain, I had a child that I was guardian ad litem for, years ago, and cute little thing. She looked like a preteen, teenage Jodie Foster, blonde hair, blue-eyed, freckles. But by the time she was 16, and she wanted nothing more than to get home with her mother and her sisters because she was the parent to her sisters, and mom couldn't, wouldn't do it right. Mom had drug issues. Sisters went home, she went home. She tried to parent the sisters. Mom threw her out and put her back in the system."
"But the time she was 16, she had been through close to 30 foster homes, and so we got into a pattern with her at 15, 16. She'd get there, the family would fall in love. They would know she was available for adoption. They'd want to adopt her. She'd be all great. And then, a month or so later, she'd decide that the father in the family had touched her, and she wanted out because she didn't want to bond with them. She didn't want to be adopted but she wouldn't tell them that on the front end."
"And so I'd go talk to her, did this really happen? Why are you saying these things? And finally, she got very mad and frustrated with me, and she goes it doesn't matter what I say, they're gonna be fine, I just got out. And it's like yes, but you disrupted other children that were in their home, and you've traumatized these people, they may bring criminal charges. No, they won't, everything will be fine. I'm like why would you say that, you don't know. She goes, yes, I do know because the man that did rape me, they didn't do a damn thing to him. Therefore, they won't do anything to this one, and I can continue to make these allegations so that people will leave me alone."
"So that's where her trauma was learned, and that was her experience, so that's the way it was always gonna be. And you know, we tried to rule out reactive attachment disorder with her, wasn't able to do that. She finally aged out of the foster care system at 18. She did go on to at least get a year or two of college in. I was able to keep up with her for a little while, but then I hope she went past her sophomore year of college, but I know she at least got that in. But they just don't bond, and they have no ..."
Aimee: "They have no ability to bond. They have no ability to attach."
Nannette: "No empathy, no ..."
Aimee: "They have empathy for themselves, but it's not sociopathic."
Joann: "What are some of the other types of disorders you've seen that are directly related to the trauma that been experienced through system involvement?"
Aimee: "Post-traumatic stress disorder all day long."
Nannette: "Yeah, I mean every child I work with has that."
Aimee: "Every one of 'em."
Nannette: "Has that stamp on them. ADD, but I'm not convinced that they don't just give that one out."
Aimee: "And I have to agree with Nannette on that. I think a lot of times, they slap that label on 'em, can give 'em a pill, which takes 'em down a few notches so they can be in school. Whether they're a zombie or not, at least they're there. So I question a lot of the ADHD and ADD, but even particularly the kids in custody. It's easier to keep 'em medication and slowed down than it is to deal with the actual behavioral issues."
Joann: "Let's talk about that for a second because different treatment programs, I mean you know this is going to be one of those ones where it's like, okay, I'm going to make an edit here because it's hard to talk about these things in a way that you can be on the record about them. So without kind of naming names about specific treatments or treatment programs, what have you observed to be the kind of approach to treatment and in what cases is treatment successful, and in what cases is it unsuccessful? I mean if there is a wholesale kind of shared approach to treatment, perhaps there isn't. Perhaps it's, like you said, different from county to county, from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but is there something that is intended to be a shared approach to treatment?"
Aimee: "I don't think there is. You know, it's very county-specific in what providers have service coverage in that area."
Nannette: "Contracts with the department."
Aimee: "So we may have provider X, Y, and Z in Davidson County, but Shelby County can have completely different providers or Maury County can have a completely different set of organizations that will provide assistance to those county's kids."
Nannette: "And the frustrating thing is particularly with children in the Department of Children's Services' custody is I'm not sure exactly how this work, but how it appears to work to me is they may have a contract with the XYZ agency in Memphis for the whole state. But say Davidson County has 10 beds at the XYZ facility in Memphis, and so a child may go to Memphis and get placed there because Davidson County only has five beds with the ABC facility in Davidson County. And so then you may have a bunch of Memphis children, or Knoxville children, or Chattanooga children that are all in Davidson County, and all the Davidson County children are three to seven hours away at these other facilities. Particularly, there's some sex offender facilities up in northeast Tennessee and those things are six, seven hours away. It's difficult to get those children here for court. It's difficult for their parents to visit."
Aimee: "It's difficult for the parents and the families to be able to participate in the family component."
Nannette: "In family therapy."
Aimee: "At the therapy, which is essential. If we're gonna fix any of the problems in the house, everybody wants to point fingers at the kids at juvenile court because they're the ones making the noise and getting everybody's attention, and I've never seen a kid down there yet that it wasn't a family issue. It's never just the kids, it's always an issue in the family. So if you never address what the family issue is, how do you expect to make any progress with the child?"
Joann: "So you talk about placements, different placements that are outside of the home communities of the child. Can you share a specific example of maybe you had an opportunity where it's like you've been able to return the child to their community, or where you've had to fight to prevent the child from being taken. You know, if it's down to the actual options, your hands are tied somewhat, but where can you effect change or actually help?"
Nannette: "Well, if the child is in DCS custody, DCS has the ultimate placement. The only thing you can really do is say it's not an appropriate placement and question how appropriate it is.
"Aimee: "Well, and you can make a motion to the court that the department, if the Department of CHildren's Services is not making reasonable efforts to appropriately place that child. So I had a young lady with an IQ somewhere between 53 and 59, which is low on the IQ scale. A very sweet child. They placed her in a facility with regular high-functioning kids, and she was being held down while other kids drew on her shoes, and hit her in the back. I saw pictures of this young lady with bruises up and down her arms where other students were jerking her around. It took me over six weeks of weekly being in front of a magistrate to finally get her to make a finding that DCS was not making reasonable efforts. The reason you want to do is it cuts off the department's federal funding."
Nannette: "For that child."
Aimee: "It's the only thing that sometimes will get the department's attention is if they're not gonna get federal money for that kid anymore."
Nannette: "And it's a pretty good chunk of money."
Aimee: "It is. So the day that magistrate signed the order that DCS wasn't making reasonable efforts, that child was removed and put in the facility that I had been pushing for, for over two months for this kid to go because I knew what the facility could do. I knew they worked with lower-functioning kids. This child had been treated for being autistic for 10 years, and was not autistic, and that didn't come out until I had asked for a particular forensic evaluation. And then, we had that evaluation reviewed, and both of these highly regarded professionals said this child is not autistic and has been in and out of residential treatment centers for autistic kids for years. Talk about damage, and that was the child that was at this facility being beaten on, and I'll never forget the magistrate was gonna deny my motion again, and I went stomping up the bench with my phone, and said look at this child's arms and tell me she's not being abused in the department's custody. It made an impact."
"So there's a lot that we can do as attorneys to make sure, but you have to be on top of the case enough to know, and have a case manager willing to give you a red flag, or a family that's functioning well enough to be able to call you up and say, hey, Sally Jo is at such and such place, and here's what's happening, and this particular child happened to have a stepmother who was on top of things. Now, she was also the entire problem in the home, but at least she let me know when this kid was being abused so I could get her on out of there. It took me a long time, and it was very worth it."
Nannette: "And I've actually occasionally had DCS caseworkers who would call and give me a head's up, and go, look, I'm getting nowhere. My supervisor, their supervisor, they won't listen, or please help, please do something, don't tell anybody I called you."
Joann: "So we did an interview with a young woman yesterday who had been in and out of foster care and these kind of short-term placements, and the youth development centers. She had been adjudicated delinquent, but she also had been in the foster care system. She came in late. She was 13."
"So she said eventually she got kind of a more permanent placement in a DJJ facility, which she called it like the kiddie prison, but she was like it saved my life because then I had a program, and I had consistency, and I didn't have to worry about going to all these different foster homes, and always my behavior getting out of control and getting trouble for my behavior, and having to go back into having to go to a detention center, and having to ... She was like it was just a mess until I had a placement. Have y'all experienced anything like that, where you had kids ... Tell me about it."
Aimee: "These kids have a lot of instability in their homes when they're with their families in the community, and they're used to a lot of chaos. So some event happens, the court gets involved, and they wind up in the foster care system, and then they get removed from night-to-night placements. It's more chaos. They're already having issues from the chaos from their homes, and you can speak more about that. I've had kids who come into detention, and they'll say Miss Aimee, I don't want to go home. I'd rather stay here than go home. No, juvenile court detention center isn't a home. It's not a placement, and it's not good for anybody long term. But to finally have somewhere where they have consistent rules, consistent consequences, they get to put their head down on the same pillow every night. They get to not leave their clothes at Uncle James's or Aunt Jane's home because they're staying over there for a week but they have to leave there and all the kid's stuff gets left."
"They finally have some stability, and they like that. They like the idea of a routine. They like the idea of knowing 7:00, I'm gonna get up. I'm gonna make my bed. I'm gonna shake a shower, and 7:30, there's gonna be breakfast, and a lot of my clients have never had that until they get to a more structured facility. Not even in the foster homes most of the time they do get that kind of structure, and these kids need that to start adapting to becoming an adult."
Nannette: "Aimee and I actually share a client that he's pretty low-functioning. I would guess he probably is on about a second grade level, and he's a big kid. I mean he's a big boy."
Joann: "How old is he?"
Nannette: "But you know, he's six-foot, probably every bit of 250, maybe 300 pounds, but functionally a seven-year-old, and he kept getting into trouble, getting into trouble, getting into trouble. She had several delinquency petitions on him. Mom's homeless. Mom has other children that are getting into trouble. And finally, the department filed a petition on him. He ran, they caught him. He got brought in. He's boohooing because they're taking him away from mama, even though mama hadn't really seen him much lately because she's homeless and he's ... I think ..."
Aimee: "Well, if you remember mama rented a hotel room."
Nannette: "She did, or she left them."
Aimee: "And then, leaves the kids alone in the hotel room to go spend time with her boyfriend."
Nannette: "But anyway, they got him into custody. I went to see him in Memphis. He was so happy. He was laughing. He was in a good mood. He was happy to see me. He was happy to be there. And I've since found out he's got a lot of problems that nobody's taken care of, so we're trying to take care of that for him, but this child's happy in a place I've never had a child be happy before because he's got a place to be."
Aimee: "He gets to go to sleep in the same bed every night and not worry about whether there's gonna be sheets, or food, or even a place to sleep. For a while, they were sleeping in a truck, and the other kids, they're all teenagers, and none of them are small. He's a really kind young man. He was very upset the day he came into custody, and his probation officer with juvenile court, who is one of the best probation officers that building has, we stood out on the street corner with this kid while he just yelled, and screamed, and cursed. And at one point, the probation officer was getting upset, and I said just let him rail against the universe for a minute. He's just mad, let him get it out."
"So we were on a corner, he's a very large child. Neither one of us were very large women, and people ... Guards start coming out of the court thinking, oh well, he's really mad, he's gonna hurt them. Neither one of us was concerned he was gonna hurt us. We were more concerned about stepping in front of him so that he couldn't throw himself in the street. And as big as he is and as upset as he gets, that child would not have laid a hand one of us, or Nannette, ever. That's not who this child is. He's just hurt, and scared, and angry because he's afraid of going into custody, and that's what a lot of attorneys forget. Once you start doing this a certain amount of time, you forget how scary all of this. We're used to it."
"Okay, so you're gonna go to custody. They're gonna take you somewhere. We're gonna meet in a few days. We're gonna go over your ... You know, it's all everyday stuff to us, but this is life-changing for this kid, and if you ever let yourself forget that, you need to go find a new job. And for this kid, it was particularly horrifying, and this is of course before Nannette gets involved with the kid, and all he needed was a chance just to be mad, and have us listen to why he's mad."
"When we walked him back into the building, he was fine and calm after that. He had gotten a chance to get it out. He got a chance to be angry. I got a chance to let him know that I understand that he's afraid and he has every reason to be scared. And of course, at one point, he's a 14-year-old boy, he's not scared of anything. And then, I look at him and he goes, okay, maybe a little scared. But you forget how horrifying a lot of this is for the kids when you've done it for so long, and you've told this to so many kids, and so many families, it can become almost rote. And it should never because it's each and every kid, it's their own personal trauma happening. Yes, sometimes in the end, they're happier, which he is. But that day, at that moment, he couldn't understand that he was about to be happier than he's been in a long time. All he knew was they were taking him away from his mom, his sister, and his brother, and he didn't know when he was gonna be able to see any of them again, or where he was going, or who would take care of him. It's traumatic ,since you brought him up."
Joann: "What is his sentence? I mean how long is gonna be ..."
Nannette: "Oh, he doesn't have a sentence."
Joann: "[crosstalk 01:12:26]"
Nannette: "He is in foster care."
Aimee: "Yes, he is."
Joann: "[crosstalk 01:12:28]"
Nannette: "As dependent neglect."
Joann: "Okay, I'm sorry. Say that again because I just heard ... What I heard was he got a placement in Memphis."
Nannette: "He did as a dependent neglected child, meaning he went into custody as a foster child as opposed to a delinquent child."
Aimee: "That child was not going in delinquent if I could stop it, at all, so no."
Joann: "How often does that happen? I mean he is in a DJJ facility [crosstalk 01:13:02]"
Nannette: "No, no, no."
Aimee: "He is not."
Nannette: "No, he's in ..."
Joann: "Okay, he's just in a regular [crosstalk 01:13:06]"
Nannette: "He's in a group home for children who are dependent neglected."
Joann: "Okay. So was there a possibility that he could've been?"
Aimee: "Huge, a huge possibility, and it's not really over yet."
Aimee: "There's still some things lingering around but this isn't a "delinquent" kid. I'm not sure what's the real meaning behind a delinquent kid. But if you want to say there's delinquent versus N and D, okay, fine. He's not what you would think of as delinquent kid. He got delinquent charges because of the situation his family is in. Like I said before, it's never a kid, it's the family. So being homeless, not going to school because you're homeless."
Nannette: "Nobody's been watching him. There's no supervision."
Aimee: "Who do you think ... If families and responsible people aren't watching children, who do you think is there to fill in that void? It's gonna be gang members. It going to be adults wanting kids to go into that store and get the money for them because nothing will happen to the kid. People will fill that gap in that child's life if it's not filled with positive parenting or positive adults, and that's kind of what happened to this kid, and he's so low-functioning, all you have to do is say, hey little Tommy, why don't you take this and go over there, and grab that woman's purse. And he'll go okay because he wants to fit in, and he's an adult, and he says he'll give me somewhere to sleep tonight if I do this. What do you think a child's gonna do? So the void that the dysfunctional family leaves always gets filled, and it's never filled with what we would want it to be filled with."
Joann: "So we talked about terminology, how things are different in the juvenile system, how do you feel about the word juvenile?"
Nannette: "I think it's got a negative connotation that probably most people automatically assume if we say juvenile, they think it means delinquent."
Aimee: "It depends on what context. Within our work environment, juvenile means one thing. But when I'm around my non-juvenile court people, it means something different to them. They don't look at juvenile with a positive or negative connotation. They think of it as adolescent, and they equate it with that. In our world, juvenile is a bad word. It does mean delinquent. It means you're a bad kid, or you've done bad stuff, so you're a juvenile. Outside of that, most people I think equate it with an adolescent."
Joann: "So what does juvenile justice mean, I mean like to you? What's the first thing that pops into your head when you hear that phrase?"
Aimee: "Oh, I don't know I can answer that on tape. Probably five years ago, my answer would've been very, very negative of what is juvenile justice, but I was going out of county a whole lot more then and there have been some really great improvements in Davidson County as far as juvenile justice. I've seen even with the Department of Children's Services, which if anybody with the department who knows me is listening to this will know this hurts me to say, they've even made great strides in their juvenile justice department over the last five years. And as studies come out, and as theories change, people are starting to focus more on early childhood trauma, and how do we address that with the kids that are now in the juvenile justice system? There's less this kid's irredeemable, let's ship 'em off to the adult system mentality. There's more, okay, let's look at this particular child."
"The juvenile system is always supposed to look at a particular child and their family to determine how to proceed with that child and family. The reality was that wasn't really happened very much anywhere. It was you're on probation. Here's the standard things we do on probation. It doesn't matter if your IQ is 70.5. This is what we do. And there's a whole lot more or I'm seeing a whole lot more now of, all right, so a kid's testing positive for marijuana, but it's not the marijuana that's the issue. It's the kid's depression and anxiety. So instead of just sending them to an alcohol and drug problem so they can check the box next to tested positive, went to A and B, they're looking at it more along the lines of the kid's using marijuana because they've got this anxiety depression issue going on, why don't we get 'em to some mental health services to address that? Not that they're ignoring the marijuana use, but they're trying to weigh better whether the use is the issue or is there an underlying factor. Is this a kid who's just smoking weed with his buddies, or is this a kid who's using because they're self-medicating another issue that we can give them options of treatment other than smoking marijuana, which will bring you back to my world?"
"So my thoughts on juvenile justice, the concept of juvenile justice at least in the last five years for me has gotten a lot more positive. I don't know about Nannette."
Nannette: "Yes, I think so for Davidson County."
Aimee: "Yes, yes."
Nannette: "We've got a District Attorney who's very focused on trying to fix the problems and integrate children back into society, and provide treatment."
Aimee: "And we've got a judge."
Nannette: "And we've got a judge who's very much vested in that. Surrounding counties, I can't say that's going on at all."
Aimee: "We're less positive about some of our surrounding counties."
Nannette: "There's some surrounding counties we won't go to anymore."
Aimee: "Well, there's one I can't go to or I'm afraid I'm gonna be arrested."
Joann: "Well, I mean I don't think that's too different from any other state in the country."
Nannette: "Probably not."
Joann: "And a lot of what you're talking about too is the city versus the county. The city versus rural areas, the extent to which a populous has embraced or accepted different types of approaches."
Aimee: "But look what you saw in Shelby County, you had mentioned you've been spending some time there. Look at what was going on there, that's not a rural county. Isn't it the biggest city in Tennessee?"
Nannette: "Mm-hmm (affirmative)."
Aimee: "And to have that type of horror going on in their juvenile system, and I've kept up and I know all about it."
Nannette: "Both delinquency and dependency and neglect."
Nannette: "The whole system."
Aimee: "That's a blot on everybody who works in the juvenile system in the State of Tennessee that could go on and it went on for as long as it did. Shame on the defense attorneys and the neglect dependent attorneys who worked within that system and let it happen, and didn't try to fight it. Shame on them."
"Davidson County is not perfect, and I can sit here and rattle off probably 10 things that I would like to see change. The bonus for Davidson County is we have a sitting judge who will listen to it, and who will make changes. So Davidson County is not perfect by any means, and I still see some things that are contrary to the law in Davidson County, but not like what was going on in Shelby County. So to be able to say these things happen in rural counties, I think that's exceptionally unfair and it overlooks where the larger counties are failing as well. As progressive as Davidson County Juvenile Court is, there are still things that go on there that horrify the both of us, and we will sit there going how did that magistrate do that when it's completely contrary to the law, and he or she knows it?"
Joann: "Are you talking about violating constitutional rights or what?"
Aimee: "Violating constitutional rights, going strict ... Settled law. Going against the rules of evidence. There are things that are ... And they're gonna happen in every courthouse. So I don't want you to think it's just rural counties. These things happen in the larger jurisdictions as well. The difference in Davidson County from my experience with the outer counties is ... Well, at least now, I can stand up and say, Your Honor, you're wrong. Here's why you're wrong, and not get threatened with contempt, not get thrown out of the courthouse. Under a former administration, I did get banned from the courthouse for a little while."
"I was banned twice. One of the bans didn't stick. Actually, neither of them stuck, and it was because I was advocating for my client's right. The particular magistrate was displeased with my level of advocacy and just decided that I should be banned. And fortunately, I had a reputation with the rest of the magistrates in the building that they said yeah, you may not want her in your courtroom but we're not gonna allow her to be banned from the building. We want her. We want somebody to fight for these kids, and we're sorry you got mad because she fought. And then, one time it was someone higher up who had banned me, and when I went to speak with this person, I was magically unbanned anymore even though there was not an admission that had happened."
Joann: "So are you a private attorney?"
Aimee: "I am."
Joann: "Are you ..."
Joann: "... private attorneys, and to what extent are there public defenders available for children or is it all kind of court-appointed, like a board of ..."
Aimee: "Davidson County has amazing public defenders in juvenile court. They have an amazing division down there."
Nannette: "And an amazing social worker that works with them."
Aimee: "Let's not ... Can we say her name?"
Aimee: "Let's not forget Trish Hayes. She not only helps the Public Defender's Office. Any attorney who walks in there, she is willing to help. She'll point you to services. She'll help you get them set up if you need her to. If all of us could have our own Trish, I cannot help but think of the wonderful things I could do."
"So in Davidson County, the Public Defender's Office is phenomenon. They have intelligent, hardworking, caring, devoted attorneys. They've got a staff that backs them up, 100%, and they have a team leader who lets them do their thing."
Joann: "Do they have a specialized unit for juveniles, or is it ..."
Joann: "So about how many people are in the Public Defender's Office who are [juvenile defense] specialized, do you know?"
Aimee: "Attorneys or staff?"
Aimee: "Four or five. I think it is four or five."
Joann: "About four or five, so there are four or five PDs available, and then you mentioned at one point there were like 12 to 15 attorneys who really, really, really fought for the kids who were private attorneys who were in these situations?"
Joann: "When you were talking about Shelby County, you said shame on them. What could they have done differently?"
Aimee: "The rules are there. The State of Tennessee has rules of juvenile procedure and rules of law, and they cover kids. They cover the juvenile courts, and to allow ... If a magistrate or a judge is going to violate the rules or violate the law, we can't stop them from doing that. But when we allow those transgressions to go unanswered and unchallenged, we are participating in the breakdown of the juvenile system. Here, the juvenile system only works when we all do our part. So if I as a defense attorney am not doing my part, then the court and the state are gonna run all of my kid and their family. If the magistrates are going to listen to whatever the DA says and abdicate their power and their duties, then there is no system working, and that's what happened in Shelby County in a nutshell."
"When you stand up and you fight, you may not win, but that judge or magistrate's gonna think twice about doing that the next time, at least in front of you. And you have enough people standing up and fighting, and you have enough people saying this isn't right, you can't detain this kid like this, some of those behaviors stop. It's kind of like dealing with a child. If you want them to quit touching something, you have to tell them no, that's not right. Here, let's do this instead. It's the same thing. Give them an alternative to do is the right way."
"Now, some of the juvenile law is fuzzy, and there's wiggle room, which there should be because this isn't the adult system. There shouldn't be hard and fast rules, but the rules that we have are fairly clear, and they need to be followed, and the only way that they're followed is when everybody's willing to do their part, and my part as a defense attorney is to be the cog in the wheel. I know you want to just keep things moving. I know you want things to go smooth. Now, I'm gonna stop you here, and I'm gonna stop you here. My job is to make everybody stop for a minute, reevaluate, and not necessarily go along the get along. That's not in my client's best interest, not a best interest attorney.
"Shelby County got out of hand and very much like a particular county I'm not allowed to go to, which I won't name, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this particular judge actually looked at me and said the law is what I say it is in my courtroom, and I invite you to never come back here again, and I responded with her ... My response was the law is what the State of Tennessee legislature says what the law is. It's not what you say it is, and that's the point when contempt was offered. Fortunately, this kid still got to go home for possessing his one cigarette and being in detention for 12 days, and I got to go home too, so I chalk that up as a win, and I have not gone back to that juvenile court."
Joann: "What have we not talked about that you want to talk about? We've talked about diversion alternatives to incarceration."
Aimee: "Restorative justice."
Joann: "Let's talk about that."
Aimee: "Let's talk about that."
Aimee: "You want to start, or you want me to?"
Nannette: "No, you go ahead."
Aimee: "Okay, so the newest theory in juvenile court is restorative. And in case people don't know, that's teaming up with the community victims, my clients' families, and my clients to discuss whatever brought them before the court to come up with mechanisms to help make this victim whole, to have this child and family give something back to the community for the damage the event incurred upon the community. It could be something as simple as an aggravated burglary victim that somebody has had their home broken into by a kid. Sitting down with that kid and the family, and explaining how vulnerable they now feel in their home, and how invaded they feel by somebody they don't know coming into their house and taking things, or breaking things, and explaining this to the kid, and being able to ask that child questions like why would you do this? Why would you come into my house? And it gives that kid a chance to say I was with Johnny, and Johnny said that we could go in there and get a computer, and we could sell the computer to buy marijuana. And then, that victim has a chance to really engage with this kid and family, and they have an opportunity both as the community, and the victim, and the family, to come up with what's the best way to help this person feel whole again? It's a much better approach than locking them up."
"You address the fear and the insecurity of the victim. You address the behaviors of the child, and possibly find out the real reasons for it, and you can have community input into how we make our community safer. So restorative justice in my opinion has a lot of potential if used appropriately."
Joann: "Has that ever been used here?"
Aimee: "It is being implemented in Davidson County as we speak. Judge Calloway is setting up a restorative justice program, and I am ... All through my career at juvenile court, on and off, we've had mediation services, and one of my favorite parts of my job is when I have a case appropriate to send to mediation. And these people can sit down, they can work this out together, and the resolutions are always better than anything that the court can inflict upon anybody because it's the actual parties working it out amongst themselves. So in a way, Davidson County has had restorative justice aspects since as long as I've been there. These are gonna be enhanced, and I'm looking forward to see what they come up with to enhance some of that."
Nannette: "They've also got that program in most of the high schools here, where they have attorneys going out, watching high school attorneys and prosecute and sentence kids within the high school."
Aimee: "They don't prosecute them."
Nannette: "Okay. What's the term they use?"
Aimee: "It's disposition only."
Aimee: "And that's the only comment I'll make about that one."
Nannette: "So, um ..."
Joann: "But this is something that's sanctioned by the Department of Education [crosstalk 01:35:03]"
Nannette: "Well, I don't know about that."
Joann: "Oh [crosstalk 01:35:05] It's not official, it's just kind of informal restorative justice."
Nannette: "It's a program. It's an informal restorative justice program. I don't know if you'd call it ..."
Aimee: "All right, so let me in a nutshell explain youth court, and then I will let Nannette make any further comments necessary. Youth court is a program that Davidson County started a couple of years ago, when Judge Calloway took office, and kids put on the hearings. High school kids. So cases are diverted from the juvenile system to these youth court programs, whether the events happen in the school or the events happen somewhere else."
Nannette: "See, I thought it was strictly school-based."
Aimee: "It is not. So cases are diverted from juvenile court, kids plead guilty to these offenses before their dispositional hearing is conducted by the kids. So volunteer attorneys, there's a volunteer attorney for the defense side. There's a volunteer attorney for the prosecution, and then there's an additional attorney who acts as judge or magistrate to preside over the hearing. The jury pool, it consists of other kids. So in that respect, I suppose you could call it restorative justice, or restorative justice adjacent. I would probably call it more community base than restorative, but that's my perspective on it, and I'll let Nannette explain the rest."
Nannette: "No, that's probably as good as I can do because I haven't actually participated in it, and I know you have."
Joann: "I'm also curious about the extent to which children get caught up in the kind of debtor's prison type revolving door, and we haven't really talked about bail. We haven't talked about the ... I know that there's a practice where when a child is in detention that the parents can be charged for that time as ..."
Joann: "What's that called?"
Aimee: "They can be, and Davidson County families are not charged daily fees for the time that their kids are in detention. There are some other counties where I know that does happen."
Joann: "They're called custody fees."
Aimee: "They are."
Nannette: "And they're very expensive."
Aimee: "They are. As far as Davidson County, that's never been the case. And where I've seen issues in the past, and this currently is not happening in Davidson County, where kids are assessed court fees. They're not assessed to the parents. They're assessed to the kids. They could be charged with restitution. So maybe a kid who is say 12, 13 years old, vandalizes a car, and is ordered to pay $1,000 restitution to the victim, and right now, there's no limit on how much a child can be assigned restitution to. So when I first started, it was $1,000, which I thought was a high number for most of my clients and their families. Then, it was charged under a previous administration to 2,000, and currently there is no cap. So if you've got a kid who is ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution and they've racked up say $800 in court fines and fees, those kids were being forced to remain on probation until that money was paid."
"So when you want to talk about costs of the system on kids' lives, they would've completed everything else. They would've shown the court that they're gonna go to school. They're gonna do what they supposed to do. They're not picking up new charges. But because their family can't write a check, then another family could, those kids remained on probation until their 19th birthday. They spent their entire youths, their entire junior high and high school careers on probation because they were poor, and that's not okay."
Joann: "Have you had any experiences with a participatory offense, families or people who were kind of more actively involved?"
Aimee: "Very minor. I've done some reading into it. It's a fairly new concept, and I think they're really still trying to develop how this is gonna look, and how it's gonna work, particularly in Davidson County. So I have some hope for it. I have some hope but I want to see more of how they're gonna develop and whether they're gonna remain as focused on their goals as they are right now."
Joann: "If you could wave a magic wand and be like I am the state legislature, I here for declare this to be the law moving forward. What would be your top three priorities that you could change tomorrow?"
Aimee: "Oh, that's hard. There's so many. Right this minute because I'm having so many issues with this, the first thing I would do is better fund the Department of Children's Services. And as much as I would like for them to just be closed down and start over again, honestly, they're so underfunded right now that I guess the first thing I would do is write them a big fat check, and say get your act together, here's the money to do it. And if you don't, I'm shutting you down. You've got two, three years to make this happen, fully funded, and if you can't, you're shut down, and we're doing something else, so I guess that's the first one I'd name."
Nannette: "Well, and along with that, hire more intelligent higher-functioning workers."
Aimee: "But you're not gonna get that unless you pay more money."
Nannette: "Right, right. No, I get that, but that's what I'm saying. That would be one of my requirements under that."
Aimee: "I would want better treatment options in the community for my clients, so that's something I would ... And I don't think the legislature can necessarily change that, but as far as my top three things that I would like. We have so few successful options."
Joann: "Is that because of lack of funding or lack of adherence to best practices?"
Aimee: "Yes, and lack of agencies, and the agencies that we have are for profit, so they want to pay the least for the therapists that are on the front end of all of this. So I've had a kid since January with in-home services, and that's when counselors and therapists come into the home to help the kid and the family work through issues. Hugely important."
"So since January, this kid has had 10 different in-home therapists. It hasn't even been 10 months yet. Some months, this kid has gone through two and three. I think the longest this kid has had one in-home therapist has been six to eight weeks."
Nannette: "Which means with each therapist, that child has to retell their trauma."
Aimee: "Which in itself is traumatizing, so it all circles around, and it's a nasty, nasty circle. And a lot of times, I don't know if Nannette will agree with this, I feel like I'm chasing my own tail, and I can't ever catch it. And when you think you're about to catch the tail on one case, it gets jerked out from under you because now you have a new therapist or a new caseworker and they're not invested, and the kid stops investing in their therapist because they know in 10 days, there's gonna be a new one, and why bother? And once you lose their trust, and once you lost their interest, try getting it back."
Nannette: "Yeah. It's really sad for some of these children that their main stable adult in their life is their defense attorney or their guardian ad litem because mom's in and out, God knows where dad is. They've had 10 caseworkers. They've had 25 therapists, and they've only been in custody, two years."
Aimee: "And they've told their story to each and every one because they have to, not because they want to, but because they have to, and then they want to put them in trauma therapy, and trauma therapy is good. I'm a fan of trauma therapy. My clients are not because it's difficult, and they don't want to. But when you're talking about how the system re-traumatizes kids, it's a circle, and it happens over and over. And no matter how you try to break that circle, inertia keeps it stuck."
Nannette: "And I don't really know what the ramifications of the Department of Children's Services coming out of the Brian A. lawsuit, and what was the juvenile justice one? I can't remember that one's name, but I think that one got lifted too, which means they're not under strict scrutiny like they were. A private agency did the Brian A. lawsuit, Children's Justice, Inc. out of New York, and it was ..."
Joann: "Can you tell me about those two lawsuits that you mentioned."
Nannette: "One of them was for dependent neglected children not being placed appropriately, not getting appropriate care. One of the specific requirements under it was the caseworkers would not have ... I don't remember if the magic number was 20 or 25 cases, and I mean that's broken on a daily basis all across the state, except probably in rural counties where they just don't have that many children. But they were released out of that about four to six weeks ago maybe?"
Nannette: "I know amongst other attorneys, we've already been talking about, okay, well we already see that they're not watching their cases as well and scrutinizing things as well just in the past four to six weeks."
Joann: "What was the juvenile justice lawsuit?"
Aimee: "It was basically the same thing that they weren't getting them placed appropriately within a responsible period of time, so juvenile justice kids were sitting in detention centers for days, weeks, and months on end until they could get to their placement. They were placing mentally ill or lower-functioning juvenile kids around higher-functioning kids, or not in facilities that could address their mental health needs, and bad things were happening to these kids, so the oversight was to stop some of that from going on. It was very much tracking the Brian A. case. So it's DCS, get it right, quit just throwing kids in whatever placement you can find, and get it right."
Joann: "Was that lawsuit also brought by a private entity out-of-state?"
Aimee: "I believe it was, but I think it got dissolved a couple years ago. Brian A. lasted much, much longer. My opinion is because neglect dependent kids are soft and fluffier, and people in the community think of them as, oh poor babies, and my kids are looked at as little monsters, and what they don't really understand is my kids come from that pool."
Nannette: "They're the same kids."
Aimee: "They're the same ones. They've just gotten bigger, that's all that's changed."
Nannette: "Maybe in some cases."
Joann: "You said you have an eight-year-old client."
Nannette: "I have a six-year-old."
Nannette: "Yeah, and they ..."
Aimee: "They charged the delinquent, a six-year-old?"
Nannette: "He blew up a car."
Aimee: "Oh okay, I remember that one."
Nannette: "He blew up a car."
Aimee: "I think he had an infancy defense there."
Nannette: "Actually, I think it was a gang initiation."
Aimee: "Did they actually do the petition?"
Nannette: "He spent the night in detention, which I threw a hissy fit about because he wasn't supposed to be there, and they didn't release him, but we monitored it a long time."
Aimee: "My eight-year-old client was alleged to have vandalized a vehicle with some other kids and this was under the old District Attorney's Office juvenile division regime and this particular DA thought that this eight-year-old child needed to be adjudicated delinquent on this. And when she sat on the benches in court, her feet swung. They didn't even touch the ground, and your feet have to touch the ground before you're gonna be allowed to plead guilty to anything on my watch."
"So I set the case for trial. I went and bought a box of Pull-Ups to sit on counsel table just as an exhibit. You know, just sitting there to remind the judge that this kid is one presidency out of Pull-Ups and the case wound up being dismissed. She's not competent to deal with juvenile court, but this DA was after this eight-year-old kid. There was an eight-year-old, a nine-year-old, and two 10-year-olds, and she wanted them on probation, and she wanted restitution to be ordered, and this kid is eight years old. I don't know where an eight-year-old can get a job to pay restitution."
"Fortunately, the other kids' attorneys just let me do my thing and their kids' cases got dismissed as well, so it worked out well. But children under 14 are presumed not to be competent, and attorneys have due diligence to do and if you've got a client under 14, you need to make sure they're evaluated. And Davidson County makes forensic evaluations very easy if you've got a felony charge or what would be a felony charge if they were an adult, and that's what happened to my little eight-year-old whose little feet didn't touch the ground when she sat in court."
Joann: "She actually had to get a forensics ... Like you had to get proof that she was not competent?"
Aimee: "I did, I did. And so this eight-year-old kid, who may or may not have done anything wrong, has to go through not only being arrested and brought into attention because they handcuffed this little thing. So she gets handcuffed, and hauled into detention. She spends the night. She gets out. She has to go to the psychologists who asks all kind of scary questions in a big scary office, and has to come to court for a trial, and that's where we were when all it took was a smart DA to look at a piece of paper and say, oh, this kid's eight years old, we're not charging an eight-year-old court. Get this kid in Family Services. That was all that needed to have happened in that particular case. It's not like the court needs to go no, no, no, nothing should happen because the child's eight. There are other options other than putting a kid in detention, other than forcing this child to go to trial."
"Kids watch TV. You say trial. They see trial on TV. They see people going to jail, and they think that's the next place they're gonna wind up is between bars."
Nannette: "They also think it's gonna take place in the next hour."
Aimee: "They do. That's something else."
Nannette: "They don't. Like my horrified client of last week realized that they're gonna be sitting in detention from now until January, when their trial is scheduled."
Aimee: "We need to talk about that one too, by the way."
Nannette: "Yes, we do."
Joann: "It just turned September, so I'm just [crosstalk 01:53:15]"
Aimee: "It's actually a transfer hearing. So if it was actually scheduled for a trial and the kid's in detention, those trials occur within 30 days if they're being detained. Transfer hearings get pushed out much, much further."
Joann: "Transfer like the consideration of if this child is gonna be considered an adult?"
Joann: "Okay. So who is the youngest child that you were not able to prevent getting transferred, and why? What was the circumstance? And young, I mean [crosstalk 01:53:49]"
Aimee: "So he was 13 years old."
Aimee: "And I make that face because to this day, it's one of the cases that still hurts me the most. In a different time, his outcome could have been so much different. So he was 13 when the event happened, I have my opinions about why this event occurred but he pled guilty to first degree murder, and it was a store owner who was killed in the event, and my client was the only one in the store. So he is alleged to have shot an 87-year-old woman store owner just running her store."
"The testimony in juvenile court was he walked in, had the gun, she sees him with the gun, pulls out her gun, shoots at home. He raises his gun, fires a shot, and hits her in the chest, and she dies in her store behind her counter, which absolutely horrific. Her son was in court. This little tiny child is sitting next to me and he was transferred to the adult system. Long story of why I did not represent him there, but he wound up having an opportunity to plead guilty to 30 years instead of serving 51 years in prison."
"So this 13 ... He was 14 by the time we got to the transfer, and I think he was probably 15 or 16 by the time the case was concluded in criminal court. Pled to 30 years and there's a part of me that was very glad that I did not have to stand next to this tiny little boy while he put himself in prison for 30 years, and I'm very glad he had an opportunity to have something less than 51 years. So that's my youngest and the truth of the matter was he didn't mean to kill her. He didn't want to kill her, but he was there to rob the place with a gun, and he fired the gun, and that's what happens. Kids have no understanding of that. They have no concept of that. They ... At 13, he was too young to appreciate that if I go in here with this gun that anything other than I'm gonna take money from the register is going to happen. No concept of that, and he was competent.”
"You remember the case, I bet. So it's heartbreaking and I don't know how you get over as a defense ... I don't know how any attorney gets over that. To me, that will always be a great loss to the community, to that family, the victim's family, to my client, to his family. There was no way to win that for anybody. Once those events happen, the writing was on the wall, and there was no stopping it."
"Today's court, I would have a much better opportunity to get the kid help in the juvenile system. Under Judge Calloway, things have changed a lot. I'm still not convinced that I would've been able to keep him in the juvenile system, even under her administration, but I would've had a much better shot at it. The special judge who was hearing the case took copious notes during the prosecution's case and kind of slipped through defense proof, so that doesn't happen anymore."
Joann: "How long ago was that?"
Aimee: "10 years ago."
Joann: "[inaudible 01:58:23]"
Aimee: "And it's at 100%, he's got 20 more to go."
Joann: "What are the top charges that ... Okay, so you're pretty much like there's just no way you're gonna get out of it? Are there cases where you're just pretty much not gonna get out of it, out of a transfer hearing, or is it always up to the interpretation? Is it always up to how well you do your defense and how receptive all of the other parties are?"
Aimee: "I'd love to say it depends on how great I am."
Joann: "Yes, right?"
Aimee: "I would love to say that."
Joann: "Yeah, right?"
Aimee: "The truth of the matter is it's very case-in-fact specific."
Aimee: "So there have been cases in the last three years of kids who have been accused of homicides who have not been transferred, and that was almost unheard of 10 years ago, but it's very kid-specific, it's very fact-specific and proof-specific. So sometimes, the state's case is stronger than others."
Nannette: "Like when they go in and admit to everything when they're arrested."
Aimee: "No matter how many times I tell my clients don't talk to the police without me. You have the right to remain silent. They just don't have the ability to remain silent when they're questioned. They just ... And the right to remain silent without the ability to remain silent means nothing. So they're taught when adults ask you questions, answer them, and of course these are police and they may not have a lot of respect for police or authority, but they still have a certain gut reaction to these type questionings, and they tell it all."
"And that one kid, it's like I had raised him almost. I got him when he was 10 years old, and I had taught him every time I saw him, which was no less than twice a year on charges since he was 10, so jump to him being 16 years old. So for six years, I have preached to this child don't talk to the police without your attorney there. You have the right to remain silent and have me with you when you talk to the police, don't talk to them unless I'm there."
"He gets charged with an especially aggravated robbery, and what does he do? He tells them everything, which is all they needed to transfer him. The victim had disappeared by the time the transfer hearing came around. The only thing they had against this child was his statement against him, and they couldn't get it thrown out. And six years, multiple times a year, don't talk to the police without me, and he still couldn't get that concept through."
Joann: "What happened to your six-year-old?"
Nannette: "They ended up not prosecuting him."
Joann: "Who taught him to build a bomb or what led him ..."
Nannette: "Oh, he just stuck a rag in the ..."
Joann: "Exhaust [crosstalk 02:01:49]"
Nannette: "Exhaust ... No, no, into the gas tank ..."
Joann: "Oh, okay."
Nannette: "... and lit it. But again, I think it was a gang initiation from everything I could tell because in interviewing him, I'm like was anybody trying to get you to become part of a group, a bunch of kids? Yes. What did they tell you? They told me I should do this."
Joann: "Is there anything that we didn't cover that you really wanted to talk about? How are you changing the system?"
Nannette: "Oh, I don't know that I am. It's one kid at a time. Just try to help and make a difference where you can. I guess one thing I'd really like everybody to understand is so many of the children with delinquency issues or our juvenile justice children were at one time or still are dependent neglected children. They're children who were not being supervised. They're children who don't have a home where they can lay their head every night, and whose families don't take care of them, and so they go and find other people who have influence in their lives and they learn how to do things."
Joann: "Is there anything that you want to add that we haven't talked about that you felt like we really needed to vocalize?"
Aimee: "No, you covered a lot. The people who work within the juvenile system, they do the best they can with the resources that they have. And at least in Davidson County, the magistrates, I may not always agree with what they do or how they do it, but I don't question their devotion to our community, the families we work with, or my clients, and we're really lucky. That's what it takes. If you're gonna have a juvenile system, you've got to have from the top down, people who are willing to care about our clients and families, want to protect the communities, and are responsive to what these families' needs are. That's how you make the community safer and that's what I would like to see for the juvenile system is more judges and more magistrates within the juvenile courts that understand where our kids and families come from."
"When you've got a judge on the bench or a magistrate on the bench who has been to Ivy League schools and been raised in very privileged homes, that's fabulous. I have nothing against that but if they can't understand what it's like to grow up in a neighborhood with gunshots every night, and when you're five years old you see your uncle gunned down on the street ..."
Nannette: "Or in your living room."
Aimee: "Or in your living room, or in your bedroom. But when that's the environment that these kids are growing up in and you've got somebody who went to Ivy League prep schools and doesn't know what it's like to go to bed hungry, or to have Mom come home drunk or on drugs and yelling and screaming, and smacking you around at six years old, and calling you every name other than my precious angle, when you've had families telling you from the time you can remember you're just like your stinkin' daddy and will never amount to anything, you're a piece of bleep-bleep-bleep, when they have no concept of what that's like, it's very different to relate to the kids and to understand how they wind up in front of you on an aggravated assault."
Nannette: "Or when you've got that same judge that doesn't understand that Mom is doing everything she can and she's got a job, she's working full-time, she's living in the motel or hotel in a room that she helps clean, but the judge decides that living in a motel or hotel is not a fit environment for a child and removes her child sua sponte from the bench because that's not appropriate housing, and that's happened here, not in Davidson County but in Middle Tennessee."
Aimee: "So I'd like to see that the people who have control and power really take a minute to step outside of their own histories and to join these kids and families where they are. I'm not saying that I can even completely understand that but I've been to their homes. I've been to where these kids put their heads down at night, and at least I have some type of perspective and they wish more judges and more magistrates would take the time to learn that perspective. It would change the way they spoke to the kids. It would change the way they spoke to the families, and it probably would change some of the requirements that they inflict upon the families and the kids before them."
Joann: "Well, thank you for your time, and your perspectives."
Aimee: "Thank you."
Nannette: "Thank you."