Thursday, March 06, 2008

Marble and Tears

I spent the afternoon in court. I've never done that before - despite my scuffed combat boots and general tough chick aura (hee! hee!) I have never actually broken been caught breaking the law. I have a bad rep in libraries up and down the East Coast and I've spent way too much time in DMVs explaining why my tags are out of date, but court, no, it's a new thing.

It's a fucking broken thing.

We went in, dressed up, because I come from an apparently incredibly distant time and place where you dressed up to go to the courthouse. That time has vanished; we waited in line with a cross section of Asheville, mostly dressed like they were planning to spend the afternoon spiking trash out of the sewer or something equally challenging to your good clothes. Who knew that court has long since become not only casual but filthy? There was a long line when we got there and we waited a long time, knowing nothing. We knew nothing because the phone calls I had made, after much googling, since there was no "summons" per se, just 2 pink slips and a letter with no phone numbers on it, garnered me nothing but a lady who snarled and hung up on me when I asked what one should bring to court and where, by the way, was it?

Eventually, as we waited there in the stone hall with the painted ceiling, a man in a red tie came by and snarled at us some more. Deferred prosecution? he suggested, and then asked if we needed a lawyer. "Yes," I said, still laboring under the belief that everyone gets a lawyer if they need one. Wrong, that idea, by the way. Only if you're innocent and really, nobody is that innocent - if you're not, you'll have to pay. Oh and hey, in case you were wondering, in North Carolina, 16 is an adult. Not adult enough to buy cigarettes or vote or any of that stuff, but adult enough to go to an adult jail and be treated like an adult, which is to say, like shit. And no matter what you do, it will cost you money. A lot of money. Community service costs, by the way. Rather a lot.

So we waited and waited and waited in a variety of hallways and rooms. Noone was kind; noone was helpful; noone was even slightly nice. I'm not sure that we're not in contempt of court right now, because everything was incomprehensible. I think we have to go back in April. I think we have to fill out some, but not all, of a five page form. The lady stabbed her pencil at several parts as she snapped about what must and must not be filled out. I think we weren't supposed to be in that second courtroom, but I'm not sure. I think, but apparently I'm wrong, that a strangely shaped lady with a halter top on who was apparently caught driving 92 in a 45 mph zone without a drivers license is worse than we are, but I guess I would be wrong, since she just paid a fine and went away. I think this is all going to cost me around $400 or $500 I don't have and that's not including a lawyer, who I probably should have, but naively, I thought that things that weren't even illegal when I was a kid weren't that damn big of a deal.

I also think that the system is broken when the courthouse is full, oh full, completely fucking full and moving slowly. I think the system is broken when an older, clearly mentally disabled lady, clutching a white ticket in her hand, comes walking in and out of the courtroom with noone to tell her where to go or what to do. I think the system is broken when noone in the whole building can tell you where to go or what any procedure is and they can't be manage to be pleasant about it, either. I think the system is broken when the only person who can be bothered to look at you in a courtroom is the bailiff and he's just waiting to snatch your cel phone. I think the system is broken when it's all like old home week around the court room because, apparently, everybody has broken some law or other and coincidentally, everybody has to pay a fine. I think the system is broken when there is nobody to speak for the helpless. I think the system is broken when half the people there don't speak English. I think the system is broken when those who actually have lawyers are the only people who know where to go and what to do. And, worst off, I think the system is fucking broken when, going through all this, I am asked, "Mom, is this American justice in action? What's wrong with this place?" and I have to say, "No, I don't think this is justice and I don't think this is right. But I guess we just have to go along and play the game." Nice game.

1 comment:

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