Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Here Comes da Judge...

     As I promised, I will explain about Sissey's summons to court.  She'd only been in town four weeks, and here she was, standing before the judge in the Lancaster County Family Court.   All four feet and ten inches of her, wide-eyed and innocent.
     Sissey in court? There's just no way. This is the kid who gives her parents a curfew, who personally monitors speed limits, and who never lets me order off the kiddy menu.  She once acidentally left a Kay-Bee Toy Store with a yo-yo in her lap and was horrified when she discovered it on the elevator. In a panic, she wheeled herself back into the store and confessed her crime, convinced she was going to be sent "down the road" until she turned 21.  The dreadlocked teenager manning the register just grunted, pointed to the shelf, and turned another page of People magazine, but Sissey was convinced she was gonna do the time for doing the crime.
     This was the first time either one of us had ever been in a courtroom, except for that one time in Richmond when I got two traffic tickets back-to-back. I got busted driving to Maybuery Elementary School. When the blue lights flashed behind me,  I pulled over, thinking the cruiser would pass by on his way to capture some criminal. Turned out, I was the criminal. He  nailed me going 35MPH in a 25MPH zone and gave me the first ticket at 3:05.
     I got the next ticket  at 3:10 as I was easing back onto the road. From the same officer. When I saw the blue lights flashing again, I thought I must have forgotten to get back my driver's license or something. I rollled down my window and dropped my jaw when he whipped out that pad and asked for my license and registration again.   Seems he thought I pulled away going even faster that when he pulled me the first time. He gave me a  SECOND ticket for going 45MPH in a 25MPH zone! Then he had the nerve to tell the judge  that I tried to run over his foot as I peeled away.  I'm a PTA mom, for heaven's sake, and a Presbyterian. This cop was making me look like O.J. Simpson in a Land Cruiser.  "Book her Dan-O. Add assaulting an officer to the charges." I think the shocked look on my face convinced the judge I was not a terrorist. Maybe Sissey, in her hot pink wheelchair with tears streaming down her face as Mommy faced the slammer, also softened his heart a little.  I was fined, but set free.
     And that was the last time Sissey and I were ever in court. Until today.
     All purses, cell phones, backpacks and weapons had been left in the car. We had been security checked, cleared, and ushered into Family Court.  The attorneys had arrived, taken their positions at the appropriate tables, and defendents and plaintiffs were seated. The bailiff stood and announced "All Rise for the Judge...." 
     A familiar shaky feeling rose from my stomach to my throat when  those black robes flowed out of the  chambers and up to the bench. I glanced at Sissey, reached out to squeeze her hand,  and took a deep breath. We faced the judge as court began.
     "Get a grip, you nimwit," I had to tell myself as I shook my head to clear it.  I was having flashbacks to my only brush with the law, trying desperately to save my poor skin from the pokey. We were only here today as part of a Community Service Project, but if you've ever been in a courtroom before, you can understand how intimidating it can be.
      Her University 101  professor had sentenced all the students in his class to a 10 hour volunteer project, and Sissey was completing her hours in court.  The judge, a family friend, had offered to let her sit in his courtroom as he conducted Department of Social Services and Department of Juvenile Justice cases.  I can guarantee you that we got more of an education in those 10 hours in court than in the last 12 years of school. Sissey and I sat in shock as we witnessed the effects of the breakdown of the family unit, illegal substances, and poor parenting.  In between cases, he brought Sissey thick slices of chocolate cake , let her sit at his bench, read her passages from Pat Conroy's new novel, introduced her to all the cops, and showed her how to swear in witnesses. That certainly made the experience much more pleasant than our last time before a judge! 
     At the end of the week, the judge freed her on good behaviour, then paroled her back to college life for the remaining four years. She left a college-educated court expert on the importance of effective parenting skills and obeying the law. She gave me a great big hug on the way out, and whispered, "Thanks, Mom." I knew she "got it" now, all those times when "No" from Mom and Dad seemed so silly, so stupid, so old-fashioned.
     "Thank you, Judge," I whispered right back, "for giving her the best education she'll ever get."

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