Last Tuesday I stepped out of the elevator into a dimly lit hallway, heavy with a century’s worth of decor. Ramsey County Courthouse, Room 1140 was unguarded and there was a hush but for the heavy strike of my elevated heels. Hesitant and unaware of basic court etiquette, I quietly sulked within the bathroom, hiding, waiting, for footsteps down the hall.
After some serious self-pep talk, I took a breath of courage and wandered the small hallway once more, searching for clues of human activity behind closed, walnut doors. I crossed what seemed like a waiting room and entered to find only two persons seated inside.
In one jumbled mess of a sentence, I asked if they knew whether a person could just walk into a courtroom or if we should wait for a break. They didn’t know.
Along came the heavy footfall of winter boots, an ubiquitous sound in these parts of the world. With an abrupt swing of the door, she demanded to know what I wanted. Again, words tumbled from my larynx. What do I do? Do I just walk in? Is that disrespectful? What are the rules?
She viciously demanded who I was. She viciously demanded that I leave and decide for myself. She viciously followed me back in to the hallway where I plopped confusedly on to a creaky, wooden bench. She stepped up to Door 1140 and listened, cartilage to varnish.
A long moment passed before she meandered over to my bench. I apologized for disrupting her and upsetting her. She sliced my words with a seemingly crazed whisper for my silence. ‘Stop asking me questions! Go in now if you want or wait for a break. I don’t care, just stop asking me questions!’
Mortified at this point, I leapt out of my seat the instant I heard the agéd door crack open. I swiftly entered the courtroom, avoiding proximity with the vicious woman. She had power. I had timidity.
The bench cracked loudly as I slid in from the aisle. I cowered behind a large man seated a few rows ahead. I watched in a horrified state, as the man from the waiting room took the oath and stumbled into the witness stand, the vicious woman creaked into a chair directly behind me. Blood drained from my face. My hands swelled and sweated.
Filled with fear, I spent the proceeding hours searching within my memory to test and try where I had gone wrong–how I could have possibly foreseen that mess and avoided screwing up the trial.
The defendant looked emotionally abysmal. She was 35 weeks pregnant, accused of murdering her boyfriend. Yet the hand of the Lord was upon her. I could see that, oh so clearly. But there was a spiritual fatigue on this woman. The skin under her eyes carried ocean swells of heaviness.
Recess began and the vicious woman made a swift glide down the aisle and through the gate. At the prosecutor’s table, she summoned the two lawyers into a huddle. They stood there staring at me, whispering. I looked away in utter shame, but mentails buoyed as I realized the incredulous behavior these women were using to dehumanize me in my weakness.
So I stared back. They audibly and visually scoffed in my direction, staring, while making their way to the beastly door. I watched in defiance and uncertainty as they left, still confused.
Not much happened until the proceedings adjourned for the morning. Still convinced that I had faulted the case, I gave my business card to the first official to walk past. In hindsight, this is the most embarrassing part–what was I thinking? This shows just how far my fear had clouded my limited knowledge of what was happening around me.
He promptly rushed the card to the judge, who looked excitedly over to me. She expressed how pleased she was with a member of the public coming in to watch the court process. She encouraged me to continue to do so and to not be afraid. Somehow, I strung together the fact that my perception of courtrooms were fabricated entirely from television. Chuckles from the stunned officials.
She clarified with me that I had NOT spoken to a jury member. True, I had accidentally asked an impertinent question to one of the witnesses. She seemed amused at my concern yet compassionate about my overwhelming terror. I left, chin dripping tears.
I wept driving home and continued well past the time I was expected back for class.
It was in the moments of distraction in my classrooms that I recognized several important factors about the morning.
1. She was vicious without having time to truly identify my intentions.
2. She had no reason to respond to me the way that she did.
3. She had some of the most oppressive juju on her that I have felt or experienced.
With these basic realizations, I began to have some deeper revelations.
1. The justice system is fractured. That is but the beginning. It is the people within the system who carry their chisel and hammer to work each day, driving deeper into the fractures, creating chasms. By CHOOSING to lack honor and integrity, respect and humility, she…..they, drove a wedge deeper within the fractures of the system they presumably love.
2. It was not my character that was in danger–like the bad juju initially had me questioning as I cowered behind the man in front of me; instead, it was the utter disregard for my humanity in the THE VISCIOUS WOMEN’S lack of character which created that experience.
2. When a person is consumed with finding the evil within others, their hope for innocence is put in jeopardy. The woman, who no doubt, has seen tremendous evils, chose to be hardened. The result was that she COULD NOT recognize my PURE INTENTIONS and my AUTHENTIC CURIOUSITY, even when I was standing right before her–eye to eye. Can a person discover true evil when they are unable to recognize true innocence? Isn’t that what a prosecutor should be working towards–finding the real crime and presenting it before a jury so they can make an honest verdict? Iain Thomas wrote: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.” I hold these words close and meditate on them often. These vicious women reminded me to not give up, but to keep the fight for tenderness.
There is one more thing I would like for you to know. The defendant was beautiful and covered in divine mercy from head to toe. During the morning recess, she looked up and something powerful occurred. We met glances and stopped, discretely smiling at one another. The ocean waves beneath her eyes broke into a calm and smooth reflection of glory. Her eyes sparkled with hope–veiled in mercy and projecting grace.
I cannot now maintain my composure in remembrance of this moment.
My heart reaches out to her, my prayers are resting in the hope of Christ and her deliverance from the vicious juju.
She’s going to be all right.
Love always wins in the end.