Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Oh, Barbara...

This heart-wrenching story brought back so many things. So many hurts and forgotten tragedies. I can't thank you enough.

As a U.S. Certified Court Interpreter for the State  of Florida, I had the opportunity to see these sort of trials on a regular basis. I interpreted for years for the legal system that dealt out "justice" to the indigent, illiterate, mentally-ill, disillusioned, and mostly invisible segment of society. Those whom we notice only as a headline or statistic. Often, their court appearances were brief and my level of involvement almost none at all- traffic violations, shop-lifting charges, you know, nothing too dramatic. One day, though, I was handed the docket for a murder trial that would last a few weeks at least.

It was a case of a young, educated Puerto-Rican man who had been living in Florida for five years and had no previous criminal record. He was charged with first-degree man-slaughter after he backed his 18-wheeler into a loading dock and killed a fellow worker. The "victim" was an 18 year-old who was hired by the company as an ex-parolee and was doing community service instead of a fourth jail sentence. He had no family, other than his grandparents, no friends, was rehabilitating from long-term drug use and had actually left a suicide letter in his locker. "Our" defendant had a future, a wife and young baby and everything to lose. Was it an accident? Of course it was, and it was to change his life forever. The conviction would get him jail time, the wonderful education that only inmates can get in reduced spaces of jail confinement and bring his world crashing around him and his family.

Needless to say, I became pretty emotional about the case. In discussing it with a veteran interpreter,I asked her how she coped with these cases and how she managed to keep her sanity after so many years. She gave me some words of wisdom.
"Don't worry", she said, "after a while you'll just treat him like a memory before going on to your next assignment. It won't hurt at all. You just learn to not get involved."

I knew right then that I had to get out of that job, because if I succeeded in getting past the involvement stage, then I would have no feelings left.

Thank you for caring, and for sharing this story. It really touched me. In the end, "caring" is why we live.

Ivonne Miller

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 04:12:54 AM EST
Your experience reminds me of the film ...And Justice for All.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 06:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dear Ivonne,

So good to hear from you :) and thank you for your kind words. In your comment you echoed many of my observations and sentiments. I find that being an interpreter is pretty tough, especially as we, as you said, often end up dealing with very underprivileged people, many at the end of their rope. Even interpreting over the phone can be very unpleasant. I interpret for all the benefit offices in the UK, and I wish I never took part in some of the conversations. Indifferent "helpline" workers telling people with seven children who are on the brink of eviction, making minimum wage, that their "case is being processed" and that they have to wait... not one month or two, but often it's years!!! The frustration of people who send their application only to find out it has been lost, or the office lost their and their children's birth-certificates, or their info "has not yet been put into the system". I cringe when I have to interpret these stupidities. I've had people burst into tears from the frustration of not getting any help, and not receiving the money they were entitled to for their families.  

I'm sure you will remember that interpreters' job is to be, first and foremost, impartial. And everyone drills it into us during our training. No matter what you think or how you feel about what's going on, you can't have any of your own input. Even if you KNOW something's wrong (i.e. a man saying he's just arrived in the country when you remember interpreting for him 6 months ago, as it happened to me.) I find that infuriating, and for that reason I prefer yoga as a job to interpreting... I get to create a meaningful contact and help someone instead of being just a word-processor. A good interpreter is supposed to be the one who is so inobtrusive that it's as if he/she were not there at all... and "not being there" is a pretty hard thing to do, especially when this "not being there" challenges all your basic values.

"If you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it." Lord Brabazon

by Barbara on Sat Jan 12th, 2008 at 06:26:54 AM EST
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