His name was Yonatan. "The Lord hath given." His parents called him Yoni. He was nineteen years old.
I first met him when he was eight, the youngest son of my upstairs neighbours. He used to scrawl grafitti in the newly-painted stairwell, bang doors, storm out of the building yelling abuse at his father and mother.
"Hyperactive" his parents called him.
"A troublemaker" said the other residents of our apartment block. No doubt many of them heaved a sigh of relief when the family moved, five or six years ago, and left the neighbourhood, taking their troubled adolescent son with them.
I next heard of him last summer, when he appeared in court charged with threatening his mother and assaulting his father. Of the years between, the drug abuse, the convictions for petty crime, leading eventually to an eight month prison term, I knew nothing. The prosecution was demanding that he be remanded in custody until the end of proceedings. His parents, the victims, as so often happens in cases of domestic violence, wanted him back home, under their supervision. Despite our objections, the court acceded to their request, and ordered him confined under house arrest, under parental supervision.
A year later, he was up for sentencing. The probation officer’s report – the last in a long line of them – was, like its predecessors, not favourable. In fact, the Probation Service, unusually for them, had given up on Yoni. The long and detailed report described the many chances he had been given, the failed attempts at drug rehabilitation, the tensions between Yoni and his parents leading to his leaving their house, in violation of the house arrest order, and culminating in his father’s demand to be be released from the duty of supervising him.
That was in July of this year. As expected, his parents accompanied him to court and it was then that we learned, from his father, what the Probation Service did not know, because Yoni had broken off all connection with his probation officer. Earlier that year, he had overdosed on cocaine and heroin and been hospitalised, at death’s door. Yoni and his parents felt that the shock of the experience had wrought a change in him. He was now ready to return to the care of the Probation Service and make another attempt at drug rehab.
Should I, as the Prosecutor, have opposed this? Should I have insisted that sentencing take place immediately? Should I have asked for a prison term? This was the son of my former neighbours, remember, a kid I’d known since he was eight years old. To be perfectly honest, if I had known before arriving in court, who he was (I didn’t connect the surname with my erstwhile neighbours until I saw his parents in court), I would have done my best to get someone else to appear in my place. I told the judge I wasn’t even sure if it was fitting, ethically, for me to appear in this case, but the family didn’t seem to mind and the judge wouldn’t let me off the hook (although, as she told me afterwards, she could see I was – as she put it – "squirming").
I did have a way out. As I said earlier, the Probation Service was unaware of the drug overdose that had nearly killed Yoni a few weeks earlier and it seemed to me that before deciding this young man’s fate, when so much depended on the probation officer’s report, the court should know if the close encounter with the Angel of Death had changed anything in Yoni’s attitude. So I left it to the court to decide, and sentencing was postponed, pending an updated probation officer’s report, to mid-September.
Yoni should have come up for sentencing last week. A few days before the appointed date, quite by chance, I met his court-appointed attorney outside the Judge’s chambers. He had come to notify her that there would now be no need for sentencing. Yoni had once again taken an overdose of drugs. This time, it had proved fatal.
I ask myself, again and again, could I have done anything to prevent his death? If I had resolutely opposed delaying sentencing, if I had held out for a prison term, would he be alive today? I have no answers. People tell me that it’s no problem to obtain drugs in prison and that incarceration would have changed nothing. Yes, I reply, but maybe he would have been unable to obtain such a large quantity of drugs if he had been behind bars. Maybe the warders would have got to him in time. But then, again, as the judge remarked to me afterwards, maybe this time it would have succeeded. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. We can’t know what really happened. We shall never know …..
He was nineteen years old.
His name was Yonatan.
"The Lord hath given."
The Lord hath taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.