David Feige

David Feige

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 7 1997 3:30 AM

David Feige

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       I saw Kaleh today. He'd been rearrested, and I had him brought to the courthouse from Rikers Island. He just looked at me with that weird mixture of toughness and embarrassment and said, "Hey Feige. What's up?"
       I got Kaleh out of jail about three months ago. He was in for violating his probation, which stemmed from an old robbery case. I handle heavy cases, people looking at a lot of time, and I seldom wind up as emotionally involved as I was with Kaleh. He is young and smart, handsome and mischievous. Ask this guy who is looking at four years in prison what he wants to do with his life, and he cocks his head and smiles and says aeronautical engineering. He could do it too if he had the discipline to stay in school. I tried three times to get him out of jail, and when the judge finally relented, I wept openly outside the courtroom. Rebecca, my caseworker, didn't quite know what to do.
       Kaleh's mother and I were pretty hopeful back then. We talked about getting things together at home--family counseling, curfews, school, and a job. Kaleh can't really get a job though. A few months after I got him out, his father kicked him out of the house. He crashed on my floor, and I tried to get him work. Along with the usual applications, I asked all of my friends to help him out. Maybe it's my friends, but I think the reality is that there are not that many jobs out there.
       Kaleh stayed with me for three days. He is the only client to have slept in my home. I have a studio apartment and things got cramped. I set him up with transitional housing. He didn't have proper papers so he had to go to a shelter before they could place him. But he refused to go to Covenant House, a shelter for troubled teens. He had been placed there once before when the city took all the kids out of the home after a family incident, and he swore never to go back. We talked about it for hours, and finally, armed with some of my clothes and the good-luck watch I pulled from the surf off the coast of Puerto Rico, he headed downtown. Covenant House never saw him.
       I didn't hear from him for a while, though I got word of him. When he was rearrested last week, his Legal Aid lawyer called. She said I must have had a good relationship with him, since when she went to talk to him the first thing he said was, "David Feige is my lawyer," and gave her my office number, home number, and pager number. His mother also told her to call me right away. When we get back to the judge who let him out, who took my word and said that on this one he'd trust my judgment, I am going to get that disapproving stare, the implicit accusation that I have failed in my duties as an officer of the court, the slight adjustment in courtroom credibility. I'm still glad I got him out.

David Feige is a criminal-defense lawyer at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, where he represents indigent defendants in serious felony cases.