the difference between my mother and me

or at least one of the differences

I was speaking with one of my clients the other day. He is an inmate in Michigan who claims total innocence in the murder for which he was convicted.

I believe him.

Whether or not he’s actually telling me the truth remains to be seen, but I honestly believe he shouldn’t be where he is. And he’s there for life. And he’s 33.

His co-defendant is a different story. I’m not so sure that he’s guilt-free.

That too remains to be seen.

So my client and I share a birthday. While we were talking he asked what I did for my special day.

I actually had an entire special weekend complete with boating and hollandaise, and bloody marys, and hot springs, lots of fabulous sex, and a lemon chiffon cake.

I felt so uncomfortable answering. I felt guilty.

Ironic, right, when talking to a convicted murderer. But yes, I felt absolutely terrible telling my guy just how much fun I had while his day was another shitty one in confinement with no choice of meals, no homemade cake, no lounging in hot water under the sun while birds and bunnies and bears wandered around 20 yards from where we sat.

I felt insensitive going on about it so I just told him that I went rafting.

It’s one thing to say to Ted Bundy that I’m enjoying my freedom. It’s another thing completely to tell an innocent man whose entire life has been ripped out from under him because of a flawed system that I’m going out and having fun when he should be doing the same.

His response, “Fuck, I can’t wait to be free so I can try something like that.”

And my heart breaks and I am more determined than ever to help this man.

And then I think, “Well, maybe when he gets out (fingers crossed)I’ll take him on the river. Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to celebrate his freedom.”

Then I think, “Wouldn’t it be cool to put together a river trip for a bunch of exonerees?”

How fun would that be?

And I picture myself rowing a raft through a canyon, with a bunch of very large tattooed black men who have never done anything like this and have barely been outside for most of their adult lives. And I think it sounds like a total hoot.

And wouldn’t it be so healing for them?

So here’s where my mom comes in.

When she and I talk about my work, she asks, “How do you know if they’re telling the truth? Anyone will say anything to get out of prison.”

“What if you get the wrong person out?”

“They wouldn’t have gotten convicted if they were innocent.”

“They must be guilty of something.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“You don’t tell them where you live do you?”

As if any murderous felon from across the country would be able to find me lost in the canyons.

When I say that I really like one of my clients, she purses her lips, shakes her head and says, “You’ve always been so easily persuaded.”

As if any person who tells me that they are innocent is lying and I am just a gullible fool who fell for someone’s bullshit once again.

She thinks it’s dangerous for me to be communicating with killers, but I’ll take a murderer over someone like my ex any day. Way less dangerous.

She would try, no doubt, as she is still my mommy, to forbid me to go on this river trip. She would fear for my life.

Is my he’s-lying-through-his-teeth detector fully functioning? Could I possibly be wrong about someone’s innocence? Is my client truly a cold-blooded killer? Hopefully, maybe, maybe.

I tell my mom that just because someone has been convicted of a crime doesn’t mean that it has actually been undeniably determined that they pulled the trigger, so to speak. Those lips purse again, the head, almost imperceptibly, moves back and forth, the eyes roll; she is cynical while I want to believe the best of everyone.

I begin with the premise that they are, as they claim, innocent, until it is proven to me, in no uncertain terms, that they are guilty.

Wait, that sounds kind of familiar…

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