Journalists spend a lot of time in courthouses.
Sometimes we have to interview people at their weakest and most vulnerable moments. Regardless of the often false stereotype placed on the industry, witnessing another at their lowest isn’t something that gives me joy. All of us have made mistakes, and my heart hurts right along with the rest of the courtroom. Journalists are human, too.
Time after time, I sit in the gallery and I watch people in pain, people who desperately need help because most of them are in the situation they are in because they chose a path that includes drugs, which leads to gripping cycle of addiction.
I sit there while the accused throw themselves on the mercy of the court, seemingly humiliated and disappointed in themselves. I watch spouses cry and parents hang their heads in shame.
I also see those who still appear to be proud and untouchable, almost like the cuffs around their wrists are medals, a badge of sorts. Others wear smirks that either are a defense mechanism, or worse, maybe a hint at a remorseless heart.
And there are days like last week, when humanity shines, even through those who are shackled together, visible gang tattoos and violent allegations over their heads.
It was a moment when even the most hardened were softened.
On the second row, a young mother cradled her infant. The baby, in all of its sweetness, cooed and ooohed, quietly but audibly, making tiny baby noises as the court went about its business.
I was enamored. I tuned out the attorneys and focused on the child’s big eyes and precious sounds. I caught myself tilting my head and smiling at the little one.
When I looked up, I saw about 10 grown men, hands bound with steel and deemed a danger to society. They all were looking at the baby, too, their heads tilted, their smiles wide and their spirits light.
An innocent child in the newness of life, an endless supply of dreams at its disposal.
Repeat criminals, some facing decades in the penitentiary, to be locked away in a concrete closet while the world keeps spinning without them.
It is almost as if those men could feel their own childlike aura rumbling inside, trying to make its way to the forefront again, past all the hurt, likely self-inflicted.
There for expungement for a prior offense, the mother’s name was called. She handed the baby to her husband. She walked forward and stood in front of the judge as he congratulated her and wished her well in her new opportunity. An obligation fulfilled. A record erased. A fresh slate. A new baby. A limitless life.
Just in time for Mother’s Day.
It’s not up to a journalist to decide someone’s sincerity or guilt. In a courtroom, we simply are the eyes and ears of the public. Of the dozens on the docket, I don’t know who is guilty or who is not. I just take notes on what happens in that historical chamber of justice.
However, one’s humanity makes it difficult not to weep for potential that may have been traded for an orange jumpsuit. It is hard not to look at a precious baby and pray it makes good choices in life, that it will receive the guidance from a mother who knows how much it hurts to fall, yet has a tale of strength of what it is like to rise.
No one is perfect. Not all the accused are guilty. Not all the guilty are malicious. Not all those who are not guilty are innocent – in the people’s court, yes, but in life’s court, there is a different measuring stick.
As the doe-eyed babies make their way through the journey of growing up, they will be shaped by those around them. I still choose to believe that every child can accomplish anything in this world he or she dreams. I want to see the light and believe everyone has one.
It’s up to us to make sure our light keeps out the darkness. It’s up to us to recognize that we all still have a speck of an innocent child cooing inside our souls, and it is our own decisions which sometimes relegate an open road of possibilities to a cold, bare 6x8 cell.
As I looked back at the infant peeking over its mother’s shoulder, again I glanced toward the inmate seating. In an ultimate comparison of life – it was if they were wishing they could start over fresh, but their faces told another story -- that they believed it was too late.
It’s never too late. Ask the young mother who is setting a new kind of bar for her child. We learn from choices, and we learn for every bad choice, there are 100 good ones to make in their place.
“Thank you, your honor,” she said, as she turned to take her baby back in her arms again. Smiling proudly, she cradled the little one close as she took steps forward, absolved of her debt to society.
It was a choice to celebrate the best kind of Mother’s Day.