800 words; 4 minutes to read.
Jonathan Baglee is currently attending Athabasca U with the aspiration of becoming a lawyer. www.linkedin.com/in/jonathan-baglee. More instalments of this story are planned.
It was the summer of 2006, grade ten was over, and an eventful summer break under Yukon’s midnight sun was all but guaranteed. Eventful it was, only instead of unforgettable memories made in summer’s endless sunshine, in the middle of June, I escalated a confrontation that sent dozens of people to the hospital when I doused a rowdy crowd of students from another school with bear mace. This was not my first run-in with the law, but the first serious incident that greatly influenced my future.
I grew up in a working-poor, single-parent family with little guidance or oversight. I had always had an affinity for mischief, but my mother’s three jobs and the inherent independence of high school presented opportunities for more severe misbehaviour that landed me in regularly reoccurring contact with the police.
I started using drugs and alcohol in grade eight. What began as mostly harmless escapades quickly became criminal acts while drinking and using almost every drug except cocaine or heroin. Initially, when caught by police, they would have frank conversations about my actions, then deliver me to my mother. Over time, however, my misbehaviour began to land me in Whitehorse’s sobering facility.
At the same time, I became influenced, even enamoured, by those around me with apparent wealth. Some I looked up to ran businesses near my home, while others sold marijuana at school. Inspired by the black-market entrepreneurial success of my peers, and a burning desire for money, I started selling marijuana and, later, any drug I could get my hands on.
I became involved in increasingly risky behaviour. Yet, I felt like I was on the path I was destined for. Peers started to respect me, or so I thought; I had money, and the powerlessness I had always felt was gone. Feeling at the top of my world, I didn’t let anything stand in the way of my new persona; I would resort to violence as a first option for any dispute or perceived slight, whether my adversaries wanted to or not. Despite my escalating interactions with the youth justice system, I faced no meaningful consequences, bolstering my belief that I was invulnerable and beyond reach.
That night in the middle of June, while heavily drinking, I encountered a crowd of drunk students from another school, and when they confronted me, instead of leaving the situation as I could have, I emptied an entire can of bear mace on the crowd. I fled the scene incredibly proud of what had just happened, but the next day I was arrested and charged while still nursing my hangover.
After being quickly released on a promise to appear, as I usually was, it was as if nothing had happened. I didn’t realize the trouble I was in. I thought this situation would be like any other—free from consequences. That was, however, until my first court date, when during my legal aid consultation, I watched nervously as the lawyer on duty filled out every section of my intake form, including the box she checked indicating jail time was likely. I left the courthouse incapacitated with fear. I contemplated leaving the Yukon, fleeing from my charges, but being a child, that thought was neither appealing nor realistic.
As time went by while waiting for my trial, I became comfortable with my lax release conditions. I found a way to work around the condition that did limit me—my curfew. The fear that consumed me months earlier was gone, and I was back on my self-destructive path.
Leading up to my trial, around a year later, I dropped out of school to sell drugs, and as a result, my drug use skyrocketed. I was spiraling, but somehow, I managed to avoid further police interactions. In the middle of my trial, the entire case against me unraveled before I could understand what was happening. One of the witnesses against me had told his mother the whole truth that didn’t align with the initial police report, and she informed the court. I vividly recall the moment the judge dismissed the charges; as he informed me I was free to go, he stared down from the bench, conveying a stern disappointment in me. The charges were gone, and I cared little about what anyone in the justice system thought of me. I left the courthouse emboldened with delusions of being an outlaw.
Any life direction I had before being charged was gone. I then fully committed myself to a life of criminality, believing it was all I was capable of. Fueled by my delusions of grandeur, my lawlessness persisted for many years.
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