Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No more anger.... Just, sadness

Today was our second summons to court in the case of 'Bike thief Boy.'

I swore to myself, that if he didn't appear today I was planning to search each and every house in this neighborhood until I found him and then drag him down to courthouse by his ear, myself. I didn't have to though, he showed today, in handcuffs... Someone else was given the responsibility to drag him in, against his will... and with that knowledge my anger melted away and puddled at my feet, making my feet all squishy in my shoes. All that was left was a deep feeling of sorrow. Sorrow for a boy who is in much more trouble than stealing a bicycle. Sorrow for a family who have more than likely experienced disappointment far greater than anything I've ever had to deal with.

But it wasn't just 'Bike thief Boy' that made me sad. In the States Attorney's office there was heartbreak in the form of a tiny 14 yr. old girl, who tried to appear tough until the attorney in the hallway announced the defendant in her trial was going to plead guilty of the sexual assault charges. I tried with all my might to appear focused in the book I was reading, but out of the corner of my eye I could see her bravado fade away and hear her trying to stifle sniffles and fight back tears. I wondered why her mom wasn't with her at that very moment, wrapping her small frame in protective and loving arms. Even after, the woman I perceived to be the young girls mother finished speaking with the attorney, there were no demonstrations of sympathy. She just asked if the girl wanted to go outside and walk around a bit. Maybe that was when the hugs were provided, I hope so anyway.

The other sadness that filled my heart, came from a family who entered the office just after my daughter and I took our seats. A mother with her face hardened by anger. A father with a now and again smile, as if trying to somehow diffuse his simmering wife. A daughter roughly 12 yrs. old and a son probably 15 yrs. old, who was quite obviously the reason behind his mother's ire. It was hard to figure this woman out, because when she walked into the little waiting room she greeted everyone with a sunny, "Good morning!" After which she appeared to display a great fury she could barely suppress as sat down on the bench next to me, across from her family in an obvious huff. She grabbed a nearby magazine, looked at her son and said, "You know, I'd much rather be shopping right now!" (well duh, wouldn't anybody?) Her son seemed to be working hard to maintain his blank expression but every time I glanced at him, I could see fear behind his eyes, eyes which appeared to be just shy of welling up. Though he tried hard not to show it, the skin on his face and neck were mottled with the redness of embarrassment. At one point while his mother flicked madly through the magazine she said, "OH GOOD, here's something WE could use... Navy!" She tore out a card and set it between us on the bench. I waited a moment and then glanced away from my book to the card on the bench and confirmed it was a Navy recruiting card. The woman continued to seethe as her son stared blankly. The dad looked helpless and the girl bored.

As I sat there pretending to read, I tried to put myself in this mothers situation. I don't know what the boy was in trouble for but I tried to imagine what my son could do that would make me treat him with such contempt. Maybe this wasn't the boys first time here? For some reason I didn't have that impression though. I think someone who had been through the court system before might look more bored. This boy looked scared... really scared behind that blank expression.

Later when we were downstairs, outside the courtroom, my daughter and I were seated in chairs directly across from the family. The mother would periodically get up from her chair and walk up and down the hall. The dad would give his son a look every so often which seemed to convey "I know, she's pissed, so sorry for you." Eventually an attorney stood before the family with his back to us. He said something about a plea bargain and stated, "Sometimes these things end up in the paper and conclusions are drawn, conclusions that could affect his future and we don't want that." At which the mother said, "But he'll be held accountable? I want him held accountable!" The attorney merely nodded and left. I hoped the boy wasn't in too much trouble. I also hoped he had someone in his life that would say, "What you did was wrong but regardless you are loved." I got the impression he didn't hear that very often and wondered if that might not be the reason he was in this situation.

We all continued to wait in the hallway outside the courtroom. After re-reading the paragraph in my book for the 5th time our caseworker exited the courtroom and informed me that 'Bike thief Boy' had plead guilty, he'd been ordered never to come near our home again and was being taken into custody. I looked at her sadly and said, "My guess is, he's in much more trouble than just a stolen bike." She said, "Yes, yes he is." I told her I was sorry for him and his family. She thanked both my daughter and myself for coming in a second time and told us we were free to go.

I left the courthouse with two thoughts. I thought about what a heartbreaking place it could be. The effect we have on each other by the choices we make. The effect we have on our own family by actions big or small. The other thing that made a big impression on me were the people who worked at the courthouse. From our caseworker, an older woman with a businesslike attitude but a warm and generous nature. To the bailiff, a large black woman who reminded me of Queen Latifah. The last time we were in court I watched her in the courtroom greet 5 teens who had been lead into the courtroom in shackles. A couple of the kids looked frightened and she greeted them with an infectious smile and light commentary on how nice Mr. Smith looks today (one of the young men in shackles who was dressed in a suit.) Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think kids in trouble need to be treated like mongrels and I was pleased to see that the people I came across treated everyone they worked with like human beings.

I hope the boy who walked into our garage and walked away with a bicycle, finds compassion from those he's dealing with now. I know I'm not angry anymore, just sad.



Anonymous Tom Goering said...

Where the mother in your story only pulled out a card, I have had parents almost drag their kid into our office with a demand, "take him, he is yours", "How soon can you have him in boot camp?"

Each time I can see the child's face reflect embarrassment and fear. Each time we would sit and talk to the person and find out if this is their choice - 99% of the time they don't want to join. What each of those parents don't understand is you cannot force a person to join. Even a 17 year old, who has to obtain parental consent, ultimately makes their own choice - we will/can not process ANYONE under any level of duress. And frankly, we don't want people in the service who don't want to be there.

As you, I often wondered how much communication of love occurs in some of those families...

3:00 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Stacie said...

Wow..what an experience! YOu have given me some food for thought Margie!

3:34 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger Chris said...


Great post. Your empathy is beautiful and from reading this, I suspect it was also very freeing.

5:15 PM, February 25, 2009  
Blogger EmBee said...

Tom, your account of life at the recruiting office breaks my heart. I think it's a mind set that parents give their kids at young age, which gives the kid a "I don't give a shit" attitude because they're treated like they don't matter. Parents treat them like their disposable. Like a dog that didn't work out so they dump it on the SPCA (which I don't approve of either.)

Somehow parents need to be given the tools to understand and relate to their kids, treat them like a fellow human being and not a defective plaything, because this cycle of disposable teens seems to be getting worse instead of better.

Stacie, I'm interested to hear more... Is it digesting well?

Chris, thanks but I'm still reflecting on the sadness of it all.

1:40 PM, February 26, 2009  
Anonymous Tom Goering said...

Yes, I have seen some sad circumstances over my 20+ years in recruiting. Thank goodness though the positive did out weight the negative. For every idiot parent there are at least 10 very good ones.

I did find the post via a Google alert I have set up for "Navy Recruiting".

2:16 PM, February 26, 2009  
Blogger lime said...

there is so much sadness and anger to be witnessed in a courthouse.

there is much of the same to be seen in the facilities that hold those young people who have been incarcerated. i did my student teaching in such a place. there were those who related to them as fellow human beings (while still keeping them accountable) and those who did not. there were a lot of hardened kids who were hiding a mushy interior, a lot of scared kids who were trying...and then there were those you had a good idea would graduate to adult prison, they were the heartbreaking ones.

10:03 AM, February 27, 2009  

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