May-June 2014

The Conversation

Richard Alpert

Assistant Criminal ­District Attorney in ­Tarrant County

A poem reflecting on the hardest part of our jobs: speaking to victims about how crime has hurt them

With the passing of this year’s birthday, I have spent exactly half my life working as a prosecutor. There must be something about reaching that milestone that has made me look inward as I think about the job that has come to define so much of what and who I am. In those reflections, and after an invitation to speak to a victims’ coalition, I began to think about what is, for me, still the hardest thing I do in my job. It is something I have done hundreds of times and yet it is still as painful today as it ever was; it is still the one part of my job I am most insecure about, the one task whose performance leaves me feeling inadequate.
    As often happens to me when I dwell on matters that touch me, I wrote about those feelings. When I was done I had the poem that follows. For reasons I don’t understand, reading it made me feel better about this task and my performance of it. For that reason I have shared it with TDCAA so they can share it with you, my professional family. My hope is that it will make other career prosecutors feel better about the job they do while opening a window to the less experienced about what lies ahead of them. Perhaps they can start thinking about how they will perform this task. Perhaps it will give the more senior members in your office an excuse to start a conversation with the less experienced prosecutors, which might, down the road, benefit a victim or a victim’s family. I have decided to call these reflections “The Conversation.”

The Conversation
Tell me about your loved one.
Speak of all that was unique and wonderful
About the person ripped so abruptly,
So completely, from your life.

Find the words to describe to me,
And later to others,
How a dream becomes a nightmare
From which you can’t awake.

Tell me about your child.
Share all that you miss
About the life you brought into this world,
Stolen from you before its time.

Speak to me of promises of a future.
Cut short by unspeakable circumstances,
Of the clothing and toys that fill a room—
A shrine to what might have been.

Bring a photograph, a captured moment,
That will remind us of the hope
And the happiness that is gone,
The broken home that time has not rebuilt.

Share a favorite story
So that we might have a small glimpse
Of the child they were and the person
They will never become.

Tell me about your husband.
Speak of your struggle to live the life you planned
Without the support and comfort
Of the one with whom you planned it.

Paint a picture with words,
Share a side of him that only you knew,
So that I might breathe life into the photos
Of the bloody and violent way his life ended.

Speak of bills that go unpaid, and debt that grows
With no end in sight.
As it takes all you have, to get out of bed
To be a source of strength for the children he left behind.

Tell me about your wife,
The mother of your children,
The other half
Of what made you whole.

Tell me how your kids have adjusted
To the empty space in the house,
That was once a home, built by two,
Sustained by you alone.

Speak to me of the life you planned,
The book that must now be rewritten
With a new ending that is so different
From what you had hoped and dreamed.

Do this for me until it becomes too hard to continue,
And then stop,
And trust that I will fill the gaps,
And make real for a jury, what this crime has taken from you.

Then repeat it all in a courtroom.
While facing the one
Who put an end to that promise
And broke your world.

And know that it’s OK to cry,
But better to hold back the tears
Until you finish the story
That only you can tell.

And forgive me if I look away,
As that’s the only way I can listen
And not be overwhelmed
By all that you’ve told me.

Do all this for me, and I promise
To do all I can
To get justice
For you and your family.

Do all this for me
In the hope that this experience
Will bring you
Some level of closure.

Do all this for me
As I pray that God gives you comfort
And the strength to continue
As I walk you down the hall, and out the door

Only to return to the conference room
To hold open the door
For the next family
With whom this conversation
Must begin again …