In Her Shell
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
So I finally went to court for that ticket I got over the summer.

I didn't want to go. I whined and cranked about it all day. After a full day of teaching, then play rehearsal, the last thing I wanted to do was spend three hours in court with weird strangers and the cough I'd been nursing since last Friday.

And three hours I did spend. Two hours and forty-five minutes listening to other people's cases, and fifteen minutes talking to the Prosecutor, appearing in front of the judge saying "Yes," and writing a check to the clerk.

It was an edifying two hours and forty-five minutes. The local courtroom is about the size of one of my classrooms. The judge is white-haired, male, and fairly friendly.

The defendants ranged from two little old ladies who had parked in a handicapped spot, to a guy who had to appear with his brother because the brother had gotten pulled over and given his name. He ended up posting most of the fine as well.

The judge admonished one woman that "this is the last time I can extend this. You have to finish the program within 60 days."

Another one had to state for the court that she couldn't come up with $100 that night to continue her payment plan, but she most likely could bring it by the end of the month.

One man had violated a restraining order and was being sent, against his will, to anger management counseling. The judge said, kindly, "There isn't one among us who couldn't benefit from some kind of counseling. I see it as a strength, and not a weakness, to seek out help." From where I was sitting, I couldn't see the man's face.

Some youngish boys, awkward in their khakis and button-downs, stood awkwardly next to their parents' attorneys. They agreed to have their driving described as "Unsafe" rather than "Reckless." They agreed to pay the fines.

What struck me was that this humiliation is built into the system: to stand in front of a room of strangers and admit to your substance abuse, your violent tendencies, your poverty, is a part of the punishment. To be reduced to "yes, Judge" and "thank you, Your Honor."

The last fifteen minutes were interesting too. The Prosecutor was a jocund fellow, and unwittingly summarized the entire situation when he mistakenly pulled out someone else's driving record while he was looking for mine. My record is clean. This person's was about five inches long.

The Prosecutor looked at the record, said "Wow," looked up at me in my slacks, blouse, glasses and wool peacoat, and said, "That's not what I was expecting!"

Those three hours left me with more than relief over the deal I eventually got from him (which was pretty sweet). How much of that deal, how much of everything I've garnered (including the original ticket) is a result of what people expect when they look at me?

At least I got most of my grading done.
See, I think you have the look of a hardened criminal about you.

I smell a little of my own Amherst essay in this post, the idea of being treated a certain way by "the man" because you look a certain way. And I know it isn't fair, but I bet the Prosector and the Judge see enoough people walk through that court room to have a pretty good idea of who has a record and who doesn't . I know that I can pick the troublemakers out of a room of students before they maek a sound, and it isn't that I look for the gangbangers; I can tell by body language. You can too I bet.

Glad to see you posting again; I almost emailed you to see where you've been.
Good for you. Reminds me of when I got detention once in high school. I furiously tried to finish my math homework during that hour, while the fuck-up kids goofed off. At the end of the hour I wasn't done and I said "is it ok if I stay here a while longer so I can finish this?" (I was on a roll and didn't want to be interrupted.) Let's just say the detention monitor was impressed. I bet the judge was with you, too.
I had to go to court a few years ago because some crazy drunk lady drove into my car in a parking lot. I'm not stupid, but I was APPALLED by the way poor people vs. obviously not-poor people (myself included) were treated by the system. I sat in the car and cried afterwards, even though the very nice (to me) judge awarded me a nice chunk of cash after putting the crazy drunk lady on probabation for a VERY long time.
Only an English teacher can use "jocund" in her blog and not come across as pretentious...
Now don't do it again!
Hi. I found your blog randomly, but noticed that your "word of the day" over there on the right is "extraneous." I took that as a sign that I should comment. So, ummm... Nice blog!
That is all.
Lu: I told you! I'm tough! Thanks for stopping by even though I've been remiss in posting. Fall has eaten my brain.

CP: Ditto to you, and I hope the judge was impressed, and not offended... I get mad when kids do work for other classes in my class...

Megan: Ditto, and I feel you, sister.

JAG: Gee, thanks.

Bubs: I don't know why your comment didn't appear here. I got it in my e-mail Inbox. What's up with that?

Grant: I'm trying...

Jon: Thanks!
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