I sit stationary, staring straight ahead, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone around me. My eighteen inches of allotted space has been diminished to about ten inches, thanks to the large, smelly woman assigned to the seat on my right. To my left, a nervous young girl who is either high on drugs or scared to death--probably both.
"This your first time?" I whisper, barely moving my lips.
The young woman nods slightly, presumably too scared to risk making any sound.
"You'll be fine. You get used to it after you've been here a few times."
The woman to the right of me starts hacking violently. Her shaking, oversized posterior has the entire wooden bench vibrating. I stifle a laugh as my new friend, the scared young girl on my left, inches over to give me a little more room. The out-of-control hacking is joined by some rather impressive wheezing.
Oh, come on now. Does she really think that's going to work? The old I'm-too-sick-to-be-here, get-me-to-a-doctor routine? Been there, done that. Doesn't work.
The smelly, fake-phlegm woman is handed a throat lozenge and tissue. Miraculously, her coughing fit stops before she even opens the cough drop.
Nice try, lady. But you'll have to come up with something better than that to fool these heartless old pros.
The nervous girl on my left starts cracking her fingers. I watch her out of the corner of my eye, amazed. She cracks each finger three different ways. If we both, God willing, manage to get out of here with 'time served,' I'm going to ask her to show me her finger-popping technique.
The room grows palpably restless. Both the wooden bench and various body parts start to creak as anxious detainees shift in their seats. We've been held in these cramped quarters for well over an hour without food, water, or access to restrooms. I know this is part of their game--wear down our defenses so we won't be able to think clearly when questioned.
Nervous Nellie on my left takes the opportunity of amplified room noise to whisper a plea to me, as if I can do anything about her situation.
"I don't belong here. I tried to tell them that, but they wouldn't listen. My mom tried to help, too, but they told her I was eighteen and had to take responsibility for myself. I'm scared."
Okay, maybe I misjudged her. She most likely is not on drugs--just a terrified young girl thrown haphazardly into a scary adult world. The victim of one of those random acts where you have no idea how you ended up in this predicament.
I decide to help her out--be her mother in abstentia. After all, I had an eighteen-year old kid once. And by the luck of the draw, and maybe a bit of grace from God, he had managed to stay out of this situation.
"It's not that bad--I've been here a few times." She scoots closer to the wall and looks at me as if I've suddenly become a leper. "Hey, I don't belong here, either. Some of us are just unlucky in life."
A telephone rings at the front of the room. I know from experience that it's getting close.
"Listen carefully to the judge. Give him your full attention and total respect. Maybe he'll cut you a break. Don't give him more than he asks for--keep your answers short. Too much talking gets you in trouble. And throwing in a 'sir' or 'ma'am' always scores points."
"I'll be praying for you. I've learned from my various experiences here that God will use you in His way, even if it's not what you want."
"All rise." The bailiff calls the courtroom to order and the judicial process begins. I listen raptly as each person is questioned, silently cheering when I hear a response I know will not sit well with the judge. Sorry, buddy, you just sealed your deal. You won't be going home anytime soon.
As the afternoon wears on, hope rises. Neither Nervous Nellie nor I have been called forward. Fake-phlegm has just finished being questioned by the judge.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that our jury has been selected. The rest of you are relieved of your civic duties for another year."
Nervous Nellie finally breathes. "That's it? I can go home?"
"Yep, you can go home. Now, about that finger cracking technique of yours..."
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