I know too much about the justice system to trust it. I’ve seen the inherent racism in the laws that are seemingly passed exclusively to warehouse black and brown people in prisons. Like the country is saving us all up for some purpose they may need later, letting us loose on some kind of monstrosity we have yet to see. Hey, that makes as much as sense as any other explanation I hear for the passing of laws that seem to be created specifically to put impoverished brown people in prison.
I also know that poor people in general are often fast tracked into jail. They are told that they may as well admit guilt to a lesser crime, and take a few years in prison rather than argue your innocence and spend the rest of your life in prison. I’m not law-guy, but that seems a bit harsh. Take the 5 years, we’re doing you a favor. Oh, you wanna prove you’re innocent? Alright, 35 years in prison!
Seems vindictive to me.
But then, the justice system isn’t really about justice, is it? It is about revenge, for the most part. I mean, come on, we STILL have a death penalty? We seem to be a backward ass nation that doesn’t know what real civilization smells like when it wafts over from the Atlantic or over our northern border. And, yes, I’ve heard the arguments for it as a deterrent. Which is totally true! Look at all the people NOT getting murdered in Texas, a state that seems to be trying single-handedly to drag us back into the Bronze Age. I swear, if it weren’t for that Jesus fella (supposedly) getting nailed to a cross, I could see them trying to pass some kind of crucifixion law.
Wait… If people in Texas WEREN’T getting murdered, how could they have so much fodder for their death chambers?.. Interesting… I doubt it even makes the news over there anymore. We just accept it: the state is killing people for revenge. I was once asked by someone trying to prove their draconian point: What would YOU do if you saw a man killing your mother?! As they folded their arms in victory without even hearing my response. Which was: “Oh, I’d kill him, of course!” But I am a terrifically flawed man! Full of insecurities and rage! Ever been in the car with me? I’m a motherfucker! I scream, I yell. I threaten torture in front of their children. I once went around and cut off an unmarked cop car! I am not the example our society should aspire to. Our society should aspire to something much better than I, an angry nut. But we don’t. We are a nation of angry nuts. Like the Brazil nut. That fucker refuses to be cracked to allow you the sweet sweet meat inside.
Needless to say, whenever I get one of those notices in the mail to report for jury duty, I throw that shit out. For years, I did this. I didn’t care if you warned me against it, I knew I had a great excuse: I live in an apartment building! My postal carrier delivered it to the wrong mailbox! Hey, if they delivered my neighbors’ checks to me, they could fuck up jury notices as well! I could never figure out how to cash one of those checks without it getting back to me somehow…. Well, one day, I got a red notice. A red one. This seemed serious. Red is a serious color, also one of my favorites (I am a bit of a commie, you know). This one I opened. They weren’t fucking around this time. If I didn’t report, I would be arrested. In essence, “Show up, or some guys are coming.”
So. I showed up.
Can I just explain what a great job these fucking assholes at the jury place, whatever the fuck it’s called, have? They are such fucking assholes. And I don’t think they can actually get fired. I’m pretty sure that if the fuck making the announcements decided to rape me in front of everyone in that room, he would probably get a monthlong paid suspension. I tried to ask him a legitimate question after his announcements, he literally shook his head and said, “I already said everything, you’re not allowed to ask me a question.” As pissed as I was at him, and as much as a fantasized about slowly torturing him to death Wu-Tang style (remember, I am a flawed man), I was in awed jealousy of his job. Man. I wish I could get away with being such a piece of shit, and never ever worry about being fired. Seems to me these fuckers should be a little less miserable. Fuck, I have to pretend I give a shit about your life at my work, and I wake up suicidal everyday. I wonder if there are any openings at the Compton courthouse.
Yup. Compton. That’s where they sent me. I get the idea that they were sending me there to punish me, since I live in Los Feliz. “We’ll teach that yuppie fucker to ignore our notices!” Ha. Little did they know that I can only live here because I’ve lived her for 16 years, and as such, my rent is quite low for the area. Also, I have no problem with brown people. Ahem! I am one! And I never once felt like I was in danger. Well, whenever I walked by a cop, of course. I mean, if a kid from Compton shot me, he’d probably get caught at least, if a cop shot me, he’d get a monthlong suspension with pay. They get those a lot. Suspension. With pay. You call them vacations.
Well, it came time for prospective jury selection. We had to sit in the courtroom as the judge, defendant, prosecutor and public defender evidently did judicial shit. Looked like they were wasting time to me. The defendant was a young black kid, looked like he had turned eighteen about twenty minutes before, and for the first time, I was scared for this kid. I didn’t know what he did, but he looked scared. He had a look of fear on his face that must have been there for weeks leading up to this moment. A dire, dulled fear. He knew what lay ahead, as did I. Prison. It’s a scary fucking place. I have a friend in prison and I’ve visited him. It’s a collection of buildings built on crushing fear. This kid was going there, I could tell. And it broke my fucking heart.
Everyone has a suggestion as to how to get out of jury duty. Pretend to be racist, is one of the most popular. While I can act, I refuse to act like a racist unless it’s a good script and for a good reason. I couldn’t do that. Whatever happened to this kid, I didn’t want to be a part of it. If I didn’t get out of it, I’d be the one fucking hold out like Henry Fonda in “Twelve Angry Men.” Though much less righteous. I’ll hang this fucking jury for all the people I KNOW have been railroaded into prison. Yeah! (Remember how flawed I am?)
I decided that my only way out would be truth. An ally I both love and hate.
As they sent us out of the courtroom again to discuss, I thought about what I would say in the interview process. I had heard they often ask if you have any prejudices. I had a speech rumbling around in my mind, here it is, as best as I can remember it:
“Prejudices? Yeah. I got prejudices. I don’t believe we live in a society that believes in anything BUT prejudices! Anyone who is poor or not white, or god forbid both, know exactly this truth! Our justice system is the worst culprit. I thought it was ‘innocent until PROVEN guilty,’ but we know better, don’t we? It’s ‘guilty, now try to prove your innocence!’ I mean, just look at these two lawyers! One has a client whose family can barely make rent, let alone hire a private attorney, and the other represents a client that is one of the richest nations in the world! I read somewhere that the average budget for a public defender per client is $200. The prosecution has an unending coffer in which to dip his dirty hands to put anyone in prison, guilty or otherwise. Look at the difference in style each lawyer has! It seems obvious that the system favors the prosecution by virtue of the salary they each get. The prosecutor is perfectly groomed, and wears a rather expensive looking suit, while the public defender wears a crumpled suit that he’s obviously been wearing for days! Hell, he looks like he’s been sleeping in it! It’s his one and only suit. The prosecutor is wearing his first-Tuesday-of-the-month-suit, which is of course different from his second-Tuesday-of-the-month-suit! You make the prosecutor rich for sending people to prison, and make the public defender poor as punishment for daring to give the accused his constitutional right to counsel. Granted, maybe this particular public defender is just a slob, I don’t know…
“So yeah, your honor, I have prejudices. I have prejudices against the prosecutor; you, who sit in judgement and allow this to happen every day; but mostly, I submit that the strongest prejudice I have is against the entire judicial system itself who will, without a second thought, send me or anyone without money to the hell that is prison simply because you, and all your colleagues, and all your rulers have deemed it the right place to send those who have the audacity to not have the money to be free.”
Right about there I imagined the judge would hold me in contempt or the people would rise up and start a revolution. Most likely, the former.
None of that happened.
As we waited outside the courtroom, the young kid’s family came out. Crying. Shit. Instantly, I knew what had happened.
They called us back in to inform us that our services were no longer needed. The kid was gone. All of the prospective jurors seemed rather ecstatic. Not me. I knew where that kid was going. He was obviously talked into taking a deal and a shorter sentence rather than fight it and risk a long sentence. No matter if he was actually guilty or innocent. The judge, the prosecutor, the rumpled public defender and I were all going home. The kid… He was going to where fear is painted on the walls and pain is a scent he will have to learn to love.
Before, I thought I knew too much about the justice system to trust it. Now. Now, I knew I knew too much. And I will never trust it.