I spent three hours last night at the municipal courthouse, called as a witness to the prosecution in a traffic-ticket case: the driver who caused my accident in January is contesting her didn’t-stop-at-a-stop-sign charge. I’ve been trying my best to put this crash behind me—we finally got our car back a couple of weeks ago; our insurers are still in arbitration, but the lion’s share of the liability rests with the other driver’s insurance company. And yet I was summoned, so I had to go take part in this anyway.
That aside—I was just one of many people packed into the courtroom last night, and since reading was forbidden, I got to observe a remarkable cross-section of humanity. Contested parking tickets; charges of “simple assault”; shoplifting; domestic violence; car-windshield-smashing; speeding tickets—most were sent off with a fine or a court date. Most people who were given fines had to fill out additional paperwork because they were unable to pay right away; one young woman, who could barely make herself heard or understood, told the judge she works twenty hours a week for minimum wage at Kmart; her fine was more than $500. The judge grew frustrated at the girl’s inability to even fill out the paperwork correctly—where it asked for her name and address, she’d written “N/A.” Sitting through fifty or more of such exchanges was interesting at first, and then like having my teeth pulled very, very slowly.
The judge metered out justice. I watched the girls’ dinner and bedtime come and go. And then, my story shared, I left too.