A Mother's Agony

Delta Winds cover 1997Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


A Mother's Agony

Otha Farley

Flashing lights, screaming sirens, police cars, and rescue units surround the scene of what earlier had been the site of a raging war. The aftereffects were so devastating, even the media personnel had tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats as they tried to make sense of this blatant disregard for life. Through the pandemonium, I heard a mother wailing. As I turned toward the sound, I saw her cradling the lifeless body of her very young son. My first instinct was to go over and comfort her, but selfishly I repelled the thought and frantically searched the area for my sons. Someone informed me that they weren't there. Relieved, I hastily walked to my sister's car. Before getting inside, something made me take another look at the mother. . . . Although I was concerned and deeply saddened by her loss, I was also thankful that my sons were not fatalities in this senseless gangster war.

The picture of Mrs. Smith was not easily erased from my memory. Soon she would bury her son, thereby bringing closure to a young life which was so violently interrupted. I wondered how she could go on and what resource would get her through this unbearable time. I said a silent prayer for God to shelter her from any more sorrow and pain.

I firmly believe that no person should ever take another's life. There are so many other alternatives to consider. However, when it does happen, someone must pay the price. We rely on the legal and justice system to collect that debt without malice or prejudice, but as I watched my sons placed in handcuffs and taken away, accused of this horrendous crime, I was in total disbelief--certain that this arrest was made unfairly.

It was February, 1990, an election year for city and state officials and a time when gangster wars were rapidly becoming an everyday occurrence. Stocktonians demanded an end to this madness. They wanted the infiltration of the "Blood" and "Crip" gangs in their neighborhoods, in their businesses, and in their schools to stop. I surmised that these officials would, with no thought given to guilt or innocence, exploit my sons for their own political achievement. Junior and Dewayne were black, disadvantaged youths and assumed gang members . . . the perfect prey for this political hunt.

I refused to sit idly by and allow my only two children to be railroaded through this white man's so-called justice system.

I contacted high-level black individuals from California to Nevada to collect themselves and come to see what was taking place in these Stockton courtrooms. I received little or no response, not even from the pastor of my church. Our young men were being railroaded into prison and because these were not high-profile cases, nobody cared. I experienced the agony of defeat.

Bail was set for Junior and Dewayne at $500,000 and $300,000, respectively, so they remained in the San Joaquin County Jail. Because of the gang-related assumptions, they were denied contact with anyone and tagged "high risk." As a result, my sons were housed alone in extremely small cells. I was allowed to visit three days each week, thirty minutes each day. The visits would take place in a cubbyhole, equipped with a telephone. They sat on one side of a thick glass partition and I on the other. It was after those heartbreaking visits and during the constant showing of my sons' pictures on the TV screen as the perpetrators of this crime that I thanked God for the love and support of my family.

I listened to interviews from the Smith family, contradicting any statements made of their son's involvement with gangs, drugs or any illegal activity. I was outraged. I was angry. Of course I knew the Smiths would paint a picture of innocence around their son, but not at the expense of my sons' lives.

Without understanding why, I felt my world falling apart. I cried, thinking of my granddaughters growing up without their father, and I cried out of the need to hug my sons and provide them with comfort. I cried, too, for Mrs. Smith and the demise of her son and for the need to affirm that my sons were not the takers of her son's life.

Possessing no power to stop the horror, I sat and watched my sons lose their battle for freedom. The prosecutor had only circumstantial evidence and non-credible witnesses. Junior's court-appointed attorney entered proof that evidence had been tampered with and some was even "misplaced." The probation report was a total fabrication, stating that Junior was in and out of Juvenile Hall and a drug abuser. Neither of my sons had ever spent one day in Juvenile Hall, and, to my knowledge, neither abused drugs. Yet twelve middle-aged white jurors convicted Junior of second-degree murder. I wondered, "Who are these people?" They certainly are not peers of my son. "What right did they have to say that my twenty- year-old son must spend the rest of his life in prison?" At that moment I knew what real hate felt like, because at that moment I actually hated those twelve white faces. These jurors were selected from the outlying areas of Stockton where white supremacy groups, such as the Ku-Klux-Klan, had taken residence. Blacks were neither wanted nor accepted. The jury's sole purpose in that courtroom was to relieve another young black man of his freedom, thereby ensuring a conviction for the prosecution.

As Junior awaited his sentence, housed in the county jail, Dewayne continued to fight the uphill battle to retain his freedom, from the first floor of the county courthouse . . . . His case was one of deceit and just plain outright disregard for law and justice on the part of the officiating panel. For us (his family), it was a time of hope and encouragement that maybe this time justice would be served.

Both cases had at one time been dismissed for lack of evidence and witnesses. However, the district attorney elected to re-try both cases. The law states that if this action occurs twice on the same case, all charges must be dropped against the accused. After days of deliberation, the ten white and two black jury members stated they were unable to reach a collective decision: a hung jury. Dewayne should have been immediately released. Instead, the presiding judge went on "vacation;" therefore, no decision could be made pertaining to Dewayne's release. A two-day vacation and the judge returned. It was enough time for the undecided jurors to be prepped and instructed. We were not surprised as the jury rendered a unanimous decision . . . guilty of murder in the first degree. Time stood still. Emotions ran high. We had lost the war. For my lack of financial security to obtain adequate legal counsel, my sons would now call a California prison "home."

Consequently, I suffered a nervous breakdown. The days of recovery were like endless periods of time when I seemed to be drowning in a sea of self-pity. My family did all they could to make me realize that everything does happen for a reason. Even though I was hard-pressed to understand the reason my only children could be taken out of my life, I knew deep in my heart they were right.

I made an effort to deal with the reality of what had transpired and tried to put it all in perspective. I felt empty and drained. It was so strange living without them because for sure, they had been the wind beneath my wings.

I had no concept that the preceding months would eventually become the easier ones, because the years which followed were unbearable.

Birthdays and holidays lost all meaning. I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed and placed on medication. I wasn't physically or financially able to visit Junior for three years because he was sent almost a thousand miles away; therefore, I was consumed with guilt each time I visited Dewayne. Their needs were great; I experienced the same guilt each time I was not able to fulfill those needs.

Even though I was divorced from my sons' father, he remained a part of their lives. I was very angry with him for not hurting as I was. He seemed happy, joyful, laid-back, as if he were taking it all in stride. That has not been my demeanor for more than six years. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever experience true happiness again.

I have regained enough composure and control in my life to continue fighting for my sons' freedom. Some days I am overwhelmed with misery, pain, stress, and profound thoughts of how Junior and Dewayne are existing in prison. At times like those, I remember Mrs. Smith . . . .