But, strictly as a back row observer, F.D.D.C. felt surprisingly casual and on the chatty side. The courtroom filled up quickly, and the only place left for Daniel, Jack, and me to sit was on the back row. And it's a large room. There had to be seventy-five people in there.
The judge dealt with the defendants by case, in groups, and they brought the men and women who are being held in custody through a side door near the jury box. They were dressed in prison garb--orange or black & white stripes--the only thing I saw that resembled what I've seen on television. Lawyers were all over the place, and all but two asked for a continuance. Daniel was in the third group.
The judge took time during the second group to decide whether one of the men being held should be released to the custody of his girlfriend until his trial date in April. The couple's two teenage daughters were present, and the girlfriend was asked to testify. About her job and her relationship with the girls' father. About whether she has a landline so they can check up on him. About whether she really will turn him in if he breaks the agreed upon conditions for his release (he is not to return to using; not to break curfew). She had difficulty answering a pretty simple question about how long they had lived together. She claimed that never in nine years had she suspected him of using or dealing drugs, something the prosecutor had trouble buying. The judge decided to let him go home (I felt relieved), but not without reminding him that when he gets home, he's not in charge. His girlfriend is. He had better not move back in, thinking he can decide anything. "Do your parenting," he instructed. "Other than that, your girlfriend is in charge."
But here's what I find interesting and sad. Of the seventy-five or so people present this afternoon, fifteen or so were lawyers, all caucasian. A handful were probation officers. Most of the defendants were African American, as were most of the moms, girlfriends (two with babies, two with young children) and siblings. Those few remaining were women--mothers like myself, and their moms, who came along to support them, and a handful of teenage-appearing siblings. Jack was the only husband-type-person there, supporting me. I had about ninety minutes to study the crowd, and I swear this is what I witnessed.
There were also two female defendants who are being held in custody--a mother and girlfriend to one of the major players, both being held for money laundering. Well, there are actually three female defendants. . .but we don't like to talk about the other one.
The cases reviewed this afternoon are all being continued, which means these people won't be back in court for at least a couple of months. But what about the Fridays in between? If Friday is drug case hearing day, is every Friday like this? Lawyers chatting it up, hauling around their laptops, making jokes, calling their clients, saying the right things to the judge in respectful tones? And getting permission to delay everything?
One of the hopeful things I'm discovering as I get more involved is that this court truly appears to come down heavy on the side of strict supervision and rehabilitation. If that's what it takes for my son and his acquaintances to get their lives on track and keep them there, I'm in favor of it. It just feels like such an inefficient, convoluted process in the meantime. But I should know that. I work with people.