Like Cotton Mather, I haunt our courtrooms in pursuit of witches and the like. Here in our district court I found the resentful and the pissed off: the domestic abusers in striped jail gear and baby dreads, mouthing off at their girlfriends who stand quiet across the room; the endless parade of drivers who were drinking, drivers without licenses, drivers who were drinking and driving without licenses, underage drinkers; the men getting into shootouts over underage girls; the possessors of drug paraphernalia; the check kiters and the shoplifters; the graffiti artists. White, black, Latino. They are awkward in the way of people who know they should be on their best behavior but whose knowledge of that behavior is somewhat theoretical. They pay a lot of attention to their hands. They stand up in front of a man who doesn’t speak their language, who speaks a legal language that’s nominally English but hardly comprehensible even so, especially if at that moment they’re a little tight like they were when that scrub-faced, brush-cut, tight-assed, pressed-out trooper came flying up behind, lights spinning.
They’re ready to tell their lives’ stories, the hundred different reasons why what they did wasn’t so terrible, how what they’ve done since has renewed and redeemed them. They are now upstanding citizens without a thoughtof going outside the court and down the sidewalk to their car for maybe just a sniff, but then onward, straight home to read the Bible except, yessir, for a stop at the package store and by God a quick run to see that girl who started this mess and who needs a talking to for sure.
The judge never wants to hear their exquisitely rehearsed bullshit; he barely lets them speak. No chance to tell the court how they really aren’t as awfully broken as they appear. When a defendant goes free they’re sometimes so shocked they seem reluctant to leave. And when they leave they nearly run for their cars, lighting out for the territory.
— nonfiction work in progress, 2012. (Photo by me)