Nothing like hanging out in criminal court to help you appreciate what works

Nothing like hanging out in criminal court to help you appreciate what works
I went to court this morning and watched the proceedings on several criminal cases. I was there to see what happened in the cases of the two young men who stole my car earlier this year.
One of my young thieves, as I’ve taken to calling them, was there with some people, probably his mother and sister.  He waived a hearing. As they were getting up to leave the courtroom, I wondered if I ought to jump up and follow them. I wanted to meet him, and his mother. But it didn’t seem like the right timing.
The other young man didn’t show. He blew off his court date. His mother called to say that he had hadn’t been around for a day and a half. This is the guy who already had one felony conviction by the time he was sixteen-years-old.
Before I knew he wouldn’t show, I sat in the courtroom for an hour or so, and listened to the mundane proceedings of a typical Monday morning criminal docket.
There was the jerk representing himself against the woman who was filing harassment charges. She was scared, but she answered the district attorney’s questions about dozens of unwanted phone calls, about the guy showing up at her work, about the morning she woke up to have the tires slashed on several vehicles in her driveway.  
When it came time to cross-examine the witness, the guy’s first question was, “How is your new grandchild?” The prosecutor objected and the judge sustained the objection. Please people, if you’re ever charged with a crime, get an attorney.
Then there was the group of young people who were charged with a number of burglaries. They looked young and scared, and they all dressed at least somewhat appropriately for a courtroom. I’ve spent a lot of time in courtrooms and I’m chagrined when defendants show up in t-shirts and jeans or worse. Nothing says, “I really don’t give a shit” more clearly.
Like the next guy who was charged with selling methamphetamines. He sported a scraggly few days of beard, a black crumpled t-shirt and jeans. Who knows, maybe he just doesn’t care.
It’s a tough world to stomach, the Monday morning criminal docket. It’s the stuff of could-have-beens and eye-rolling and grandmothers crying and mothers sitting beside their young ones, mostly men, and feeling… what? Sad and disheartened? Ashamed and embarrassed? Defiant and resentful? Maybe some of all of it.
And what about the young men? What about that guy in his twenties who was convicted this morning of two counts of battery and disorderly conduct after a drunken fight with a woman he knows. The one who says he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and has lived with his mom, unemployed for the most part, since he dropped out of high school? When the judge says, “I want you to turn your life around,” what does that mean for this guy?
Is his mother helping him by giving him a place to live? Is he at all interested in changing his life?
The struggles of young people, and particularly, young men, have enormous consequences for our neighborhoods, our communities, and our country and world as a whole. Can we help young men find another path? Is it our responsibility? What can we do? How can we teach our young people to find some inner strength that will lead them to better things for themselves?
I was contemplating all these questions as I came home from court this morning. I came home to my peaceful, friendly block full of great neighbors and close community. And that’s when I saw him. One of my favorite neighbor guys, sitting in the sun, in the classic meditative pose. He’s just 12-years-old, but his life has certainly had some bumps and bruises. His brother was killed in a car accident two years ago, and that loss has been enormous for him.
But there he was, taking some time to do what his father and mother have taught him. To sit quietly. To become less reactive. To gather peace. To know himself well. 
When the world comes knocking at his door again—as it certainly will—with pain or temptation to do something stupid, or an opportunity to do something he knows is wrong, this young man will have some resources to fall back on. He’ll have a better ability to know himself, to not have to prove something, to stay clear about what is right.
I don’t imagine that everyone will teach their young people to meditate. But what a different world it would be if we did.
In any case, today, after the criminal docket, the sight of my young neighbor sitting steady in the sun was a beautiful sign of hope. I’ll take it.  

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