OPINION: The sad, slow making of a criminal

Amber Court in 2011 (left) when she was abducted and the subject of an Amber Alert, and in 2015 when she was wanted by police to face various criminal charges. - RCMP
Amber Court in 2011 (left) when she was abducted and the subject of an Amber Alert, and in 2015 when she was wanted by police to face various criminal charges.
— image credit: RCMP

Her attitude in the prisoner’s box is boastful, disrespectful, rude.

An objective observer might think if the judge or the Crown noticed, it might be an aggravating factor at sentencing.

She deserves whatever she gets and more, one might argue.

But no one in the court really pays attention as the troubled young woman uses an old-fashioned gesture as some of her crimes are read out, blowing on her nails, rubbing them on her shirt to impress her friends in the gallery as if to say: “Check out what I did.”

Look only on paper at the acts of those accused of crimes, not at the person, and someone like Amber Court is a menace to society. Seeing her behaviour in court might confirm that feeling.

She’s a bad apple who, at the young age of 20, may be just getting started.

She nodded deferentially to the court at times on Tuesday, but mostly turned to laugh with friends when a co-accused was mentioned, and when the court was told of her thefts from a tanning salon, and pistachios and gift cards from Save-On.

Amber could barely contain her playfulness at the whole scene with her friends strewn over seats in the gallery.

But what is hard to relay, and is for every criminal case, is that there is so much more to the story. The tears of Kelly Kronebusch (story page seven of Feb. 18 Chilliwack Times) may garner little sympathy from those who read the story, but go see it firsthand: experience the awkward displays, the strained apologies, and the stammering statements of those in the system.

There are no good guys and bad guys.

Readers might remember Amber from 2011 when she went missing. The cynical saw an Amber Alert for a teen not as a girl truly gone missing, rather a runaway, likely off partying. She was young and pretty in 2011, one might say clean-cut in a photo issued to the media.

But her picture was back in the paper four years later, last October in Crimestoppers, with dyed hair flopped to one side, skin scarred, a T-shirt that read: “Trouble Maker.”

What a disaster.

But then, as happens at sentencing hearings, Amber’s lawyer explained her personal situation, a brief sketch of a short life. And the mood in the courtroom shifts from reproach for her crimes and her behaviour in the prisoner's box to the mitigating factors in a young life. The reasons if not the excuses, for the behaviour.

The court often hears about alcoholism and abuse in the childhood homes of those who later commit crimes. They rarely come from stable homes. But then there is Amber’s story, which leaves one wondering, what chance did she have?

Cree by birth, her parents were alcoholic. Her father and grandfather  attended residential schools. She was kicked out of a tension-filled home at the age of 11 by the boyfriend of her mother. Then she bounced around the system.

She hit the news in late 2011 when the aptly named Amber Alert was issued for her disappearance, one that was later questioned by some. She turned up unharmed in December. Missing again in early 2012 and, again, located safely. Probably out on a bender, right?

This week, however, the court heard that in addition to abuse she suffered at home as a pre-teen, Amber was confined and assaulted over an extended period of time by a man. It was here that she became addicted to crystal meth.

She then relapsed a couple of years later, turning to heroin, after her baby son died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

This addiction and subsequent trouble got her admitted to the Vision Quest drug treatment facility in the Chilliwack River Valley. But she couldn’t last, bullying a fellow client so badly, staff at the tolerant Vision Quest remarked, “We no longer will work with Amber.”

The Crown in the current case could have easily asked for a year in jail, the judge told her, but he only asked for time served at time and a half, about 66 days. There are no excuses in law, but as the court heard, sad reasons why a young woman may have come to this.

“You’ve had a really rough time of it haven’t you?” the judge asked.

“No one should have gone through what you did as a child.”

But she did. Now social workers, probation officers, the justice system and hopefully an as-of-yet unmet positive force in her future can pick up the pieces of a life that is just too young to be shattered.

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