Our Children

Haydeh Takasugi - South Pasadena, California
Entered on October 27, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
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He slept cradled in my arms last night, little head on my shoulder, his hand on my chest and his feet tucked into me. I stayed awake listening to his breathing, fascinated by his every move. He giggled in his sleep, and I wondered what could be funny to a one-year-old. I could sense the security he felt; I sensed his body relaxed, his breathing slow and deliberate. The sense of peace that surrounded him was magnificent. A few doors down slept my three-year-old girl, tired by the hustle of her day. I listened to the monitor next to my bed just in case she woke up needing my reassurance that everything was fine, but in these short years she has grown to be an independent child, and those instances are far between.

My home life contrasts starkly with the scene that greets me each morning at work. As a deputy public defender, I see the kids whom society has labeled the worst of the worst—the “gang bangers,” the “rapists,” the “molesters,” the “robbers”—the list goes on. But past those labels, they are still children. As I sit across from them and look into their eyes, I have a chance to talk to them about their lives, their homes, their dreams. I sit through tears, I sit through anger, I sit through indifference, but mostly I sit through hurt. A deep hurt that shines through their eyes. A hurt of being forgotten, abused, abandoned, labeled, and discarded. Some of them come from families who tried to do the very best they could through the limitations of poverty and discrimination. Some come from families who simply didn’t care.

I see mothers and fathers, but mostly mothers who sit in the hallways day after day wanting to take their kids home despite the heinous accusations logged against them, to reclaim their children from the vicious streets that have swallowed them whole. I also see mothers and fathers who come to court ready to walk away permanently from their children. And each day at work I see hope abandoned. Each time a child is institutionalized, sent to juvenile prisons, taken to adult court and sentenced to life in prison, our future dreams are relinquished.

I have come to realize that these children are our future, even if we don’t want to admit it. They too slept, or yearned to sleep, on a mother’s shoulder at night. They too had dreams, hopes, an imagination. But then something happened, something tragic and devastating that robbed them of their youthful joy.

Every day when I go home, I hold my children tightly in my arms and whisper “I love you” over and over again. And yet, even as I am filled with hope for my own kids, I cannot forget those children I leave behind. I live in two worlds, one of promise, one of tragedy. I never forget that these children I work with, no matter what they are accused of, are indeed children. And they are our children, and our future.

Haydeh Takasugi is a mother of two and a deputy public defender with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office. She spends all of her free time on gym floors and baseball fields.