Is this nothing but the truth?
I am trying to write one true sentence. The truest sentence I know. Trying to write what I know and see and hear and do. Not to describe. Â But it is, indeed, difficult to come upon the past as if it was now and write it as if it hadn’t already happened. How do I tell of events as they occurred hours ago without this thing called time tainting it with feelings and thoughts and ideas?
I cannot write a true sentence about things that were. And I don’t know things that have not happened yet. So all I can do, all I can try to do is tell it like I think it was. And you, dear reader are left to wonder if that is really how it happened.
The story is one we hear told over and over again. Indeed, I said as much to the judge. “Your honor, you have heard this numerous times in this Courthouse. My client’s mother was a crack addict who has been clean now for 6 years. Her father was incarcerated and she never knew him.”
The Judge said “Your client needs to learn to make better decisions.” And I wanted to stand up and say “Yes, your Honor. But how? Who will teach her?”
Who will teach her now?
The judge, of course, is doing his job well. I am not angry at his decision nor do I consider it to be terribly unfair. I don’t like it and wish it had been different. I asked for it to be different. I asked for it to go my way. I laid it out. I tried. I tried. But I am the pit stop on the way to the end. I am the hand holder, I am the one to try to make it easier, this inevitable conclusion of the things that have been done. I am only one person in this woman’s life. I am one person 20 years too late.
I could not teach her. By the time she got to me, the damage had been done.
I don’t envy judges. It is, I think, a thankless and probably less than satisfying job.
Doesn’t it seem so glamorous to sit in a flowing robe and sit above the well? To be called “your honor”? Doesn’t it have a feeling of other worldliness to be called Judge?
And yet, really, my job and the job of the Judge are not so different. We both are caught up in this hopeless cycle. What will be the sentence? How long? That is the question. Over and over and over again.
Dear Judge. I know. By the time they get to you, it is far too late. Even I can help a little bit. I can tell my clients what they should and should not do once they are arrested, once they are indicted. I can tell them how to make it better for them and then they choose.
And their choices. Well, that’s where we come full circle, isn’t it?
You, Judge cannot help them make better decisions. You could not tell them right from wrong. You were not there to hold out hope to the young girl whose mother smoked crack and whose father was in jail. You were not able to tell her “There is more out there for you. Do not lose faith. This is not your only way. Believe me. Believe me. Please.”
Neither was I.
I was making other choices. Some good. Some bad. And but for the Grace of God. . .
The religion in which I was brought up has the concept of purgatory. All people will go and suffer for their sins. The choice of how long is up to you. Â Perhaps a Judge views his sentence not as hell, but as purgatory. A temporary place to go while you get your shit together and come out better, with a clear vision of the heaven that is sleeping in your own bed again and hugging your children who have now grown without you near them.
I don’t know.
I have not yet asked a judge these questions. How do you feel when you are the end of the line? There is nothing left for you to do but tell them how long their time in purgatory will be.
And Court is adjourned. And we leave and walk away.
I feel that the ending of this post should be sharper. That I should write a sentence with such clarity that it will make you sit back in your chair and gaze off into the horizon, contemplating my words and how they’ve left you breathless and bewildered. Â But I can’t. Because if I did it would not be a true sentence. And if I did, it would not be the truest sentence I have ever known.
I think, though, that that sentence has not yet been written. Not by me anyway.
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