From the Heart – Thanks for the Derriere Kick, Ladies! by P.A. Moore

Last Sunday, Montana Women Writers sponsored a free heart information event at our local community center, with Dr. Betty Kuffel presenting medical information and many of us reading from our books. We didn’t get a large turnout, given it was the last day of Winter Carnival, but the gathering gifted me with an epiphany.

A year ago, I returned to my criminal law practice and since then, I’ve felt overwhelmed, stressed out, and, at times, hopeless, as I yet again face uphill battles for my clients, expectations from my family to provide them with the same level of care and concern, and a pervasive sense that there’s no end in sight for my legal career – ever.

On Sunday, for the first time, I read a scene from Courthouse Cowboys wherein I’d met a young, disabled client at Deer Lodge State Prison fifteen years ago. He’d pled guilty to a murder he didn’t commit, and the judge sentenced him, at age 18, to 100 years in prison. His parents hired me to try to get his guilty plea reversed and take the case to trial.

As I stood before my fellow writers, nerves wracked me. I opened my iPad to my book and uttered the first line of the scene. As I read along, I felt stronger, not only in my voice, but in my soul.

My heart sailed back to 1999 when I’d met this bruised and battered kid. On that day, I’d had the same feelings about my law practice as I do today – stress fueled by fear of failure, heart strings tugged in a thousand directions, the urge to quit mixed with maternal guilt piling rubble on my back.

Yet when I finished reading, my purpose in trying to help these scattered, damaged, prisoners crystallized.

Not much has changed in the system since 1999. Kids born into families of violence, addiction, and mental illness too often become batterers and addicts, their brains impaired from head injuries and substance abuse. They lack impulse control, which simply means they act without thinking. Most pick up their first offense as children, add arrests into adolescence, and land in prison by their early twenties. There they suffer more beatings, more exposure to drugs and disease, bleeding them of faith, trust, and hope.

I give them legal advice, sure. I file papers, go to court, and consult with them in jails throughout Montana. But mostly I do what all Moms do: I smile, I listen, I ask them about their lives, and often I share parts of mine, where I, too, have screwed up.

On Sunday, after I sat down, I remembered why I spend my days in the bowels of the criminal justice system. I do it because I give my clients a glimmer of hope, peppered with a bit of faith and trust. And maybe, lifted by hints of promise, helped by the grace of forgiveness, they can find freedom from custody and the past, and a future steeped in peace. 

So, thank you, ladies of Montana Women Writers, for that gentle kick in the derriere. By listening, you restored my hope.

Montana Crime from a Crime Writer/Lawyer’s POV – by P.A. Moore

Image

Since I write legal thrillers, based on factual scenarios from our law practice here in Montana, I never miss the Crime Roundup in our local paper. Here in Flathead County, population 90,000-ish, we get some interesting characters calling the police for a variety of reasons.

In the last few days, a caller reported that her neighbor was saying “not nice things” about her. Is this a police matter, I wonder? Another reported three kids ringing the doorbell, asking for water. Is it possible they were just thirsty in this above average heat? Someone else phoned in to report that either wolves or dogs were eating a deer carcass. Query what the responding officer should do when he arrived?

But my personal favorite this week is the woman who reported that her computer contracted a virus after she watched a porn movie that Kim Kardashian made with Ray J. A virus, as in a sexually transmitted disease? And is it contagious? If I’d been the officer who received that call, I’d think twice about responding in person.

Here in western Montana lots of people drink. We have nearly as many bars as churches in Whitefish, so someone on Central Avenue screaming the Lord’s name could be a preacher trying to convert the drunks, or a drunk after he tripped and fell on our seriously cracked sidewalks. Certainly inebriated people comprise the majority of those arrested in our community. Alcohol involved fights, drunk drivers, and guys urinating in public, usually in the alley behind a bar, fill the Crime Roundup daily.

Many of those arrested end up as clients of our mom-and-pop law firm. Practicing law in a small Montana town never provokes boredom … too much information about our friends and neighbors, yes. But dull? There hasn’t been a humdrum day yet in the 16 years since we opened our doors. 

Of course, we also get our share of tragedies. Our local front page story today focuses on a 22-year-old bride who pushed her husband of eight days off a cliff in Glacier National Park, then lied to the young man’s family, friends, and to the authorities. She’s in federal custody in Missoula hoping to get released on bail. I know there’s more to the tale than the Daily Inter Lake reports, but I can’t help feeling sad for all involved.

So, yes, local crimes inspire me to write. In Courthouse Cowboys, I described the behind-the-scenes drama of a local murder case I tried, and Dateline, NBC covered gavel to gavel. They did a good job but missed the real story, so I fictionalized the names of the characters and locations and published the story as fiction.

My next book, due out in two weeks, isn’t quite as Montana-focused, but involves many of the same characters. And yes, indeed, many who live in our beautiful Rocky Mountain community appear, in whole or in part, as players in the drama.

Cheers!