Through this series of blogs, I explore the process I went through before leaving the legal profession as an attorney and jumping on a plane to Europe for an adventure that led me deep into my own subconscious.
I wanted more time for myself. I no longer enjoyed being so busy. For years, I had kept myself occupied with one activity after another. Suddenly, I no longer wanted to be out of the house all the time. One by one, I resigned posts with local organizations. Soon, I found myself declining invitations for social outings. Even my closest circle of friends wondered where I went. Nothing held the same appeal anymore.
At first, I secretly felt like a “loser” for not having plans on a Friday night. I had to battle the long list of “shoulds” and societal expectations. All I really wanted to do was sit on the couch in total silence. Or chant to sacred mantras with candles lit in a dark room. Or move around and dance to deep music in my living room.
I wanted to sleep in without an alarm clock. Instead of rushing out of bed, I laid curled under the covers with my eyes wide open, without a single desire to get up. I stopped wearing makeup and no longer cared to fuss so much over my clothes.
Simple. I wanted as much simplicity as possible. No goal. No requirements to fulfill. No demands to satisfy.
At this point in my journey, I had already left the District Attorney’s Office. Not because I didn’t love what I was doing. Arguing cases before a jury gave me a full-body rush. I loved taking a case to trial. Boxes upon boxes sat around me as I flipped through one page at a time in search of evidence. A smile crossed my face every time I connected the dots. Prosecuting white-collar crime cases was fun.
The problem wasn’t the work. It was the purpose it served. Rather, the effect it had on other people and, increasingly, my soul.
I had continued to operate in the courtroom while experiencing healing journey after healing journey. My perspective changed as I changed. No longer did I believe in “right and wrong” or “black and white” polarities. My vision had come to perceive a complex gray scale.
The offenders I put in jail became more than “just another case.” They were real people, just like me. They had lives and children and goals and histories. It seems somewhat embarrassing to admit that I had never cared about that before. Instead, criminals were the “bad guys,” and I was one of the “good guys.”
Life has a funny way of teaching us what we need to learn. A case came across my desk one day. The charge was embezzlement. The suspected offender was a female who, it turned out, had used over $300,000 of her employer’s money to pay for weight loss supplements, stomach surgery, and a host of other items that she simply hoarded. Most of them were still in boxes with receipts attached, stacked up in closets.
She was meticulous at keeping receipts and records of her theft. It made my job easy. The case would have been a no brainer for the judge or jury. Luckily for her, the suspect had a defense attorney whom I worked with often since who was a public defender. Let’s call her Cat. Cat scheduled hearing after hearing to introduce evidence to the judge about her client’s background and mental stability. Long story short, the suspect had experienced severe abuse from her family and her ex-husband.
Let me back up. During my entire undergraduate career and beyond, I had been a staunch advocate against domestic violence and sexual assault. Not only did I volunteer at rape crisis centers, I answered hotline calls, met with women in hospitals, and spoke at rallies. I formed a committee to update campus procedures and developed training programs. My senior thesis was on domestic violence policy.
In my mind, women who were abused were victims, not criminals. They were supposed to be two different people: either good or bad. Either right or wrong. Yet there I was, faced with a woman – a suspect – who was both.
It turned out that she wasn’t the only one. I noticed a correlation among my cases that shocked me. At least 80% of the female embezzlement offenders that came across my desk were white, overweight, middle-aged women who had been sexually assaulted or abused by their partners.
It changed my worldview. “How,” I thought, “can I prosecute the same women for whom whom I used to advocate?” There had to be an explanation. I began to devour books on human behavior. The question at the forefront of my mind was, “Why?” “Why did people commit crime?” I had never asked the question before. The “why” didn’t matter. Either they committed the act, or they didn’t. Period.
My soul longed for answers. Explanations. Reasons. My heart opened. Compassion existed where only judgment had once stood. Even I was capable of crime, I realized. We all were.
What made us choose it? Didn’t we need to know why people were offending if we wanted to stop crime? If not, what was the purpose of the criminal justice system? Was it purely for the sake of punishment? Deterrence? Retribution? The recidivism rate was high – over 70%. Clearly, the system wasn’t successful at prevention.
I wanted to get to the root of the problem. The cause. The reason. Despite my desire to leave the legal profession entirely, I came up with a compromise: A holistic law firm. The idea was to be part-coach, part-lawyer. Clients, I assumed, would come to me who were ready to face the impetus for their actions. They would want to look at their behavior and take responsibility. To understand and know themselves.
So, I took money of my retirement savings and opened my own law practice. Over a hundred people attended the grand opening, and referrals came in right away. It was, by all accounts, successful. Cases arrived on my desk, and clients showed up at my door.
Why, then, did I feel as if I were on the brink of a nervous breakdown?
That’s for next week’s blog. Stay tuned. In the meantime, join me on Thursday, September 3, at 1:30 p.m. for a FB Live chat: Why is your relationship with YOU the most important one you will ever have?
© Jessica Falcon 2020.