With liberty and justice for all…

She asked if I was available to take her. I was.

 

justice-center 1

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Then she asked if I’d go in with her. Of course.

 

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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.
justice-center B

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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…

 

DUI

Burglary

Harassment

Assault and battery

Drug possession/manufacturing/distribution

Domestic violence

Disorderly conduct

Public intoxication

Vandalism

Child endangerment

Probation violation

 

I’ve heard “these people” called

the scum of the earth

the dregs of society

 

Jesus called them

my neighbors

 

Ouch.

 

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?

 

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.

 

How?

 

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?

Comments

  1. I used to teach writing to former prisoners. and I saw them struggling against great odds to re-enter a society that basically doesn’t want them back. Once in the system, a long downward spiral usually begins. Many, many crimes carry overly long sentences. Even after completing those sentences, people must check the “convicted of a felony” box on employment applications and are denied forever the right to vote. Why? This prolonged punishment neither repays a debt to society nor encourages the felon to become a productive citizen, employee, or parent. The USA is producing the world’s largest population of inmates and former inmates, courtesy of outdated laws that foster a mainly privately-run, for-profit prison system; the longer the sentence the more money it costs taxpayers and pays to the companies running the prisons. For more information, see FAMM.org. I believe in a God of second chances. America might benefit from changing its policies.

    • I, too, believe in the God of second chances, Shelley—and I agree that some of America’s policies concerning prison sentences need a major overhaul. Thank you for the investment you made in the lives of former prisoners and for sharing the FAMM.org website with my readers.

  2. Oh my, Susan! We weren’t given any promises that it would be easy to follow the message of Christ! This is such a difficult area! You are filling an important role there. Bless you, and may you be given faith and strength to continue! Hugs, Nellie

  3. I noted your home tour post of Franklin, but this is the post that made me read every word, wanting to know the outcomes of all the ones you noticed, and then more. Such a difficult and touchy subject, I struggle with almost everything you’ve written here. Thank you for the enlightening words. Your message provokes soul-searching, Susan.

  4. I don’t have to tell you what is in my heart, but I can tell you that I am in tears. Oh, the sadness of the hardships we bring on ourselves and others.

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