This classroom is much like any other—there are tables, benches, a whiteboard, students, and a teacher up front. There is also gravel, and a smell of wet dog with a hint of gun oil. The classroom is a big green tent buffeted by wind and rain on the abandoned remains of what was once a Soviet military base in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine.
In room M366, a mother holds her hand flat under her baby’s back. Her arm is interlaced carefully through a tangle of electrical wires and fluid tubes to where she can feel the warmth of both his shoulder blades in the palm of her hand. For hours like this she gently, ever so gently, rocks him and talks with her lips to his ear about everything and nothing at all.
I had so many misconceptions about homeless people that it is almost embarrassing to write about it now. I mean, I was an idiot. The only salve to this realization is that most of us are idiots. We don’t know anything about what it is like to be without a home. But a couple of months back I determined to find out.
After the defense and the prosecution had rested their cases in the penalty phase of the federal trial to either kill or imprison Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a panel of death penalty abolitionists gathered at Old South Church in Boston. The Church stands at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and is less than 100 yards east of the detonation point of the first pressure cooker bomb, the one placed by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The second bomb, the one placed by Dzhokhar and which detonated 12 seconds later, lies one block farther west.
Watching the defense team at work for the second week in a row it all begins to seem a bit desperate. The pitfall-covered uphill challenge of making Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into an empathetic figure in the eyes of the jury, after he has already been found guilty of the murder of three people and the attempted mass murder of hundreds more, must be daunting.
Standing up as a witness for the good character of someone who has already admitted guilt in attempted mass murder cannot be easy. A few must have thought long and hard about whether they wanted to go through with it at all. For those who have, possibly reluctantly, acquiesced to step into the witness stand, it is difficult for me personally to see them as anything but brave.
Some approach slowly on crutches, some in wheel chairs, some on prosthetics, and some with the damage only visible in the hollow recesses of their eyes and the sunken creases in their faces. For many of the victims of the Boston marathon bombing in 2013 this is their one opportunity to face the man who is responsible for their disfigurement and pain.
There was a succession of witnesses each of which I had to draw and listen to while getting the odd quote from and each one with an important, harrowing and sad story. Grown men cried and it turns out that drawing through binoculars is easy but drawing through tears not so much.
So some nice folks from The Fix, The Washington Post’s well-read political blog asked if I fancied doing a little political sketching last week. My first reaction was that, as a born again Canadian from Scotland I know somewhere between "diddly" and "Jed Bartlett" about U.S. politics. But it was an opportunity to get out of the office again.
Now I have done a little bit of court sketching, a few big trials even, but Tsarnaev was by far the biggest. I was there to sketch the various involved parties, so that when brilliant Washington Post reporter Adam Goldman filed his stories, my sketches would complement his work seamlessly.