She asked if I was available to take her. I was.
Then she asked if I’d go in with her. Of course.
It was 9:00 on Tuesday morning, and every inch of every seat in the entire courtroom was filled with a body. The judge said there were 29 pages of cases on the docket. I had no idea.
My young friend had been subpoenaed to tell her side of a story. She didn’t want to be there. She’d done nothing wrong and wasn’t accused of anything, but the experience was emotionally charged, and she was physically exhausted. She’d worked the night shift and hadn’t slept yet. She wanted time with her husband and children before going back to work again.
But there we sat in a courtroom full of humanity.
If you’re being arraigned and haven’t signed in, come up and sign this piece of paper.
I watched as person after person stood and walked forward. A few with heads held high, trying to look brave; others slouching and shuffling in slow motion.
If you’re being arraigned, you’ve already been arrested…
Sitting silently in the room—surrounded by people of all ages and races—I watched… and wondered.
On the outside I was strong for my friend; inside my heart broke for a society of people whose choices keep them from living life to the fullest, hurt everyone around them, and bring life-long consequences.
On the hard benches of the Justice Center, I sat and listened to the charges.
Over and over…
Assault and battery
I’ve heard “these people” called
the scum of the earth
the dregs of society
Jesus called them
Sitting alone next to me was a redheaded young woman; makeup on, appropriately dressed, shoulders steeled, jaw set. She was being arraigned. What was the charge?
Across the room, next to his pregnant girlfriend, slouched a 20-something young man. Domestic violence.
An old man, hillybilly-style beard and missing teeth: Drug manufacturing.
Then a door opened and men—later women—in the black and white garb of prisoners walked into the courtroom. Hands cuffed; some in ankle chains. All waiting to learn how much money it would take to get them out on bond. Some as little as $500; others tens of thousands.
Finally… a brief recess,
but it didn’t feel like a break. My friend was losing her courage, wanting to take the easy route. The lunch hour was spent encouraging, reasoning, reminding, praying…
After lots of tears and re-grouping, we made our way back to the Justice Center—bestowing sympathetic laughter on a 2-week-old hiccuping baby in the hallway. I wonder why the little guy is spending his day here…
Inside once again, the old man was still missing his teeth, the 20-something still slouched, but the redhead was no longer alone. There she sat—with her clean-cut husband and three young daughters. Oh, young mother… What are you charged with?
Her name was called. She approached the bench. The District Attorney told the judge the charge was “serious” and a conversation transpired about whether or not she qualified for a court-appointed attorney. She didn’t. A court date was set; she thanked the judge. Stoically she returned to her family, gathered up their belongings, and walked out the door.
The great-grandmother holding the 2-week-old baby entered the courtroom, joining what appeared to be the next two younger generations of her family; the youngest was just a girl. The baby was hers.
They stood when a man’s name was called. His charge was child endangerment. His plea was “guilty”. The young girl’s mother was asked if she accepted it. She did. Looks like he pleaded to a lesser charge.
Throughout the day, many had come and gone, but still…
There we sat in a courtroom full of humanity.
Eventually—8 hours after picking up my friend at her home—we left the Justice Center. My young friend had done what she needed to. She’d stood up for Right… and for women everywhere, including the pregnant young woman sitting next to the 20-something sloucher. In the meantime, she acted in love, hoping for someone on the wrong path to be righted. She gave someone a chance. Time will tell what they do with it…
I can’t shake the images of the redheaded mother-of-three … or the 2-week-old baby with his child-mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother … the handcuffs and chains … the tumultuous mix of emotions on people’s faces.
When speaking of the two most important things we should do, Jesus said we are to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And then…
You must love others as much as yourself.
How can I possibly love these people as much as I love myself?
Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous, it does not brag, and it is not proud.
Love is not rude, it is not selfish, and it cannot be made angry easily.
Love does not remember wrongs done against it.
Love is never happy when others do wrong, but it is always happy with the truth.
Love never gives up on people; never stops trusting, never loses hope, and never quits.
Love will never end.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Perhaps the answer begins with learning to walk in humility with God. To learn to love Him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength. To love myself (and my “stuff”) less… so I can learn to love my neighbors more.
To find the balance that can only be found in obedience.
What kind of prison am I creating for myself if I don’t love God enough to love my neighbors?
I know I’m not alone in my struggle. Anyone else want to weigh in?