The defendant

The Defendant, Alameda County Court House, California, 1955 by Dorothea Lange

The Defendant, Alameda County Court House, California, 1955 by Dorothea Lange

Life can be difficult for some people and there is so much more going on out there than we can even imagine. This morning I had to attend court for jury selection and in the process I had to face once again the harsh reality that is life for people who could just as well have been my neighbors.

There must have been 200 or more of us sitting in the courtroom and because this is a fairly remote area, I recognized many of the people summoned. When we were somewhat settled, the defendant entered the courtroom and sat in his chair as directed. As all eyes settled on him and murmurs filled the room, he bowed his head and focused on his hands which were of course the only way he could distract himself from the weight of the continual focus of interest that laid upon him.

In a small town such as ours, things can become very intimidating. People are very interested in others and what they do. The residents of this area can be judgmental and my feeling is that any kind of bad news about anyone is like a piece of candy. People appear pleased or happy about other people’s misadventures – whether they know them or not. It is a very sad situation.

Hence, as this poor man sat waiting anxiously for things to be over, I felt a deep sense of sadness. The woman sitting next to me (whom I knew from work) asked me if I knew him and whether I had seen his children standing in the hallway. I didn’t know him but somehow I could tell he was someone’s father.

Silence was deafening as he was directed to a glass “cell” next to where he was sitting. The judge entered and I felt a certain sense of relief as she spoke to us and then to the defendant in a polite and gentle way. As he pleated guilty, I knew he did not have much of a choice given the allegations that were being held against him. I wondered then if he had acted out of desperation to support his family, after all there is little or no work in this part of our province.

Shortly thereafter we were dismissed and it was on my way out of the courtroom that I realized other jurors also felt a sense of compassion – murmurs gave it away. But the whole courtroom experience wasn’t the worst part of it. In the hallway, two young teens and a woman were waiting anxiously and it was the young girl’s overall state that struck me. She may have been 15 or so and appeared very frail in nature. Her long wavy hair framed her delicate facial features and made her look even younger than she really was. Her eyes spoke loudly of her pain and sense of loss for the father that she obviously loved and needed more than anything.

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5 thoughts on “The defendant

  1. Beautifully written post. Life is so full of gray areas when you learn to feel compassion for others instead of writing them off as criminals or mentally ill or partisan. There’s always another side to the story.

    • Thank you. 🙂 What you just said here is so true. I feel the same way. I just can’t imagine what it was like for these children and even the father yesterday. I wondered how the judge, as an obviously compassionate woman, handles all of that.

      • That must be a really difficult job. I’d guess you’d try to console yourself with the hope that your compassion and careful deliberation helps to make for a more even handed justice system. Another great post.

  2. You are kind and compassionate to recognize there are often factors we don’t know about that motivate what some people do. It is a harsh world we live in. It is souls such as yourself and your fellow jurors that help make the world a more bearable place.

    • Thank you. 🙂 Sometimes I think we become compassionate when we experience something difficult – for me it was to have a sick child who was not recognized as such by the system and even some members of our own family.

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