The Hearing

The Hearing

My phone rang at 2:30 PM. It was the victim advocate from Essex County Superior Court. She told me that my ex-husband was appearing the next day for a hearing regarding a potential plea bargain. She said it wasn’t necessary that I be there, but if I wanted to present a victim impact statement, that would be the time to do it. I sensed that she would prefer I stay home because it would make her job easier. I was given less than 24 hours to write a victim impact statement and the victim advocate was trying to discourage me from attending because she would be inconvenienced. I told her to expect me.

The call came just before my appointment at the domestic violence crisis center. When I arrived for my session, I told my counselor about the hearing and she called in the legal advocate, who assured me that she would accompany me to court. I went home and wrote my statement.

I arrived at the courthouse early the next day and waited in the lobby for my legal advocate. As I stood there, members of my ex-husband’s family walked past me without acknowledging my presence. I muttered “what the fuck” a bit too loud and noticed heads turn in my direction, except for the heads of my former in-laws. It was obvious the criminal would have a cheering section behind him as he learned of his potential fate.

I noticed my legal advocate arrive and felt relief as I watched her check-in with security. I was glad she’d be by my side while I faced the criminal and his flying monkeys. But my composure was suddenly replaced by panic when my sisters entered the courthouse with my child and I realized they were there for the criminal. My legal advocate approached with a beaming smile and a greeting. I gazed wide-eyed in her direction and began to cry.

She guided me to an elevator and we rode to the fifth floor. I had 20 seconds to detail my family estrangement before the elevator doors opened. I spotted them all at the end of the hallway. My sisters, a brother, and my children were gathered in the criminal’s camp along with his family. Shock waves buzzed through every nerve fiber in my body and my legs began to buckle. The legal advocate led me to a cold, hard bench at the opposite end of the corridor.

My sisters approached as I sat weeping on the wooden bench. One sister scolded me for not reading my emails and walked away. The other told me she forgave me and that she was there for both of us, my abuser and me, then she returned to my abuser’s camp. My children didn’t look at me.

My court-appointed victim advocate made an appearance, chatted to my legal advocate about her FitBit and led us into the courtroom. My family was joined in solidarity behind the man who had set my house on fire while I was in bed, the man who had murdered my dog and tried to murder me. They had also written letters of support in the hopes of reducing the criminal’s sentence.

I sat on another hard bench and stared at my knees. The judge’s voice grew opaque as he discussed the details of the case. I was detached and unable to read my hastily written victim impact statement. Instead, the DA read it out loud to the court and I felt nothing. The judge explained to my abuser that in spite of his crimes he would receive a reduced sentence and the hearing ended.

My children paraded past me with their aunts, never acknowledging me. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned. My brother planted a kiss on my cheek and said “We were here for BOTH of you today”, then he turned away and left me alone

I continue to wonder how my family’s presence in the courtroom that day had any positive impact on my well-being.

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