I am so incredibly sorry. I was so wrong. I have been preaching from my pedestal for years. I can’t help but cringe now that I think back to my ignorance. “The justice system is not just...” was a favorite line of choice as I concluded a soliloquy on my concern, rather disdain, with the justice system. Not only should I be apologizing for the lack of originality in that rhetoric but I apologize because I had no clue what I was talking about. I spoke about something that I had only an amateur understanding. I grew up around attorneys, practically in a law firm, but I was looking at some very complex issues very simplistically. I was omnipotent, to let me tell it, but really knew nothing. I was passionate and everyone else apathetic. Well, screw me, because I didn’t know squat. As I sat in my cushiony privileged life surrounded by protection and shelter I looked with contempt at all the players of the justice system, who I thought were destroying America. I held contempt for all the judges, all of them. I held it for the district attorney’s office. For lackadaisical public defenders. I held a special place of contempt for legislatures because I was just sure that they were passing laws placing the poor at a further disadvantage. I held contempt for every person that, during our conversations on the justice system, would look at me with eyes of “Erica this problem is bigger than you.” They were right. I was wrong. The problem of the legal system is much bigger than me and my superficial understanding of it. I am so incredibly sorry.
The problem isn’t that the justice system is not just it’s that life isn’t just. Therefore, any institution in this imperfect world is going to be tragically flawed. The justice system is flawed, yes. But it is not a complete failure. I pegged it as a failure. I propositioned that an entire revamp of the structure of our legal system was needed. I, little ole me, was put on the earth to single-handedly fix this corrupt system. I was to fix this system which imprisoned black men at disproportionate rates, destroyed families, and was only a means for a racist society to leave blacks oppressed. I went to law school with the notion that because I was interested in fixing this problem that it would be fixed. Again, a reflection that I have been protected and sheltered enough to think if I want something I can make it happen. Bump all the people before me that have tired. It’s a wonder that today as I sat across from a fifty year old white inmate at the county jail and had this epiphany that I did not have a complete nervous breakdown and my head blow off. In that moment and every moment since Monday when I started my first legal internship my notions about criminal defense have been disrupted.
I sit for most of the day in courtrooms that are fair. I have yet to see blatant prejudice. People who have committed crimes get chance after chance. Crimes aren’t just felonies most are misdemeanors and for those crimes people are working tirelessly on both sides to try to get plea deals for minimum sentences. Judges aren’t cold and indifferent, they seem genuinely concerned. They empathize. District Attorneys they cross the aisle and are sympathetic to a criminal’s circumstances.
I am mainly exposed to the workings of public defenders. Sadly this is where I think the problem lies. Money is green and life isn’t fair. There are much more criminals who need court appointed attorneys than ones that can actually afford a private one. It’s not the justice system that dictates this it’s just simple money, power and position. The people that need the most help, need the most attention receive fifteen minute interviews with their public defender the day they are to appear in court. They receive this kind of attention not because of an unjust system but because money talks and they don’t have any. In correlation to their economic situation, they are more likely to engage in criminal activity, violate great plea deals that their public defender gets them and end right back up in court. The public defenders are overworked, underpaid and quite frankly desensitized to all the bullshit their clients give them. They see the same clients over and over again. It has nothing to do with what happens when the impoverished criminals get in court, nothing to do with the justice system, it’s all based on the unfairness of life. It’s just life. So when a public defender said to me today “it doesn’t matter if he did it,” there lies the problem. She doesn’t care because she doesn’t have time to care. All she has time for is to see if she can get the man “time served “so she can go back to the revolving door of her two-hundred person caseload.
So, I am sorry justice system because you get a bad rep. I am so sorry to the judge who had every right to throw a bad attitude young woman in jail but didn’t because she wanted to give her one last chance to get things right. I am sorry to the district attorney who gave a young girl advice on not letting a man take advantage of her, went on to hug her as she cried after being sentenced to pay a large sum of money for a poor decision. I am sorry public defenders because you bust your asses every day and don’t see any real progress. I am sorry legislatures because instead of being informed on programs like STARR program which tries to help inmates with addictions, giving them treatment and lighter sentences, I was busy pointing my finger. I am sorry to any person that I have engaged in conversation about this and they listened to me sitting in a very ignorant position, preaching. I am sorry to myself because I am much too smart to label superficial rationales as profound. I am so incredibly sorry.
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5 years ago