Saturday, April 23, 2005

How Do You Plead?

The small-town courtroom came to order as the judge took his seat at the bench and the defendant was charged. The teenage boy sat stone-faced in his chair, his father's team of top-notch lawyers huddled around him like a pack of bodyguards. Key words sent murmers running through the assembly: "disturbing the peace," "disrespecting an officer," "possession of drug paraphernalia." Old women clicked their tongues, impatient mothers sighed, and the young criminal's classmates even chuckled. His mother buried her face in her hands and wept, while her father consoled her and shook his head with indignation at the proceedings, occasionally leaning forward and whispering in the head defense lawyer's ear.

The witnesses came forward to give testimony and gave varied accounts of the truth.

"The problem is with kids these days. They have no respect for the law," said the Sheriff. "I'm always chasing them off street corners and out of parking lots with their darned skateboards and hackeysacks. I always said it wouldn't be long before the drugs moved in, the way they drive around playing their loud music..."

The school principal blamed the education system. "We don't get enough money to do our jobs properly," he said. "We don't have the right textbooks, and our facilities are falling apart. If these kids got a good education, they could make something of themselves." As the boy sat and listened, he cooly and furtively removed his class ring, emblazoned with the National Honor Society crest.

The boys mother choked through her tears: "His father and I try to provide well for him. We bought him a new car and always try to give him what he wants. But kids around here are restless. There's nothing for them to do, and they act out in boredom. It's no wonder they turn to drinking to have fun... it's not his fault; it's not our fault." And as further evidence that the boy's home environment was not to blame, she went on to name all of the various gaming systems, sports equipment, computer gadgets, and recreational items she and her husband had purchased for their only child.

The Mayor was next, and objected to the accusation that there was nothing to do. "We have the public park and playground," he said, "and they're open until 9 every evening! And there's the ice cream shop downtown! And the bowling alley isn't too far of a drive from here. Besides, we have new businesses moving in every day. Why, how about that Dollar Store that just opened on Main Street!?" As he was stepping down, he flashed a smile to some old ladies in the front row, who whispered giddily amongst themselves.

The psychologist stepped up and asserted: "The entire region is depressed. It has a profound effect on our young people's moods. They feel trapped, and have no good role models, no mentors, no models of success in society to emulate -" Here, the bailiff interrupted the proceedings to announce that there was a Lexus in the parking lot with its lights on. The psychologist asked if he could be excused, and left the courtroom with thirty other concerned people, including the boy's father.

The boy's best friend came to testify next. He had been with the boy at the time of the arrest. "He ain't happy at home," the friend said. "He's the only child, and his parents is always naggin' him about his grades and stuff. My mom and my step dad, they don't care. And I got 7 other kids living with me at home so I don't get lonely like he does. How can you blame him for wanting to escape and get high?" But when asked why he participated in the same activities, and what was his excuse, the friend simply shrugged: "I dont know..."

"He's a great guy," oozed the boy's girlfriend, blushing. "He even said he was going to marry me. At first, I thought he was just saying it to get me to sleep with him. But he bought me a bracelet from Tiffany's, and he promised me I was the one. He's a great guy." While the girl spoke, two other young ladies got up and left the room in an angry and tearful huff.

The boy was last to speak, but he had very little to say. The lawyers asked him why he had done it. "Why not?"

As the judge deliberated, the occupants of the room talked anxiously amongst themselves. The mother's friends consoled her as she repeated her testimony to them, begging that they see how innocent she was. The old ladies prattled on about what a nice boy he had been, and how they'd seen him at church with his parents every Christmas and Easter, and how the friend went every week. They concluded, "It just goes to show..."

The judge returned and sat enveloped in his black robe with an air of authority and power about him. "This case reveals a deeper problem in our society," he began. "This isn't just about one isolated case, but a larger epidemic of degenerative culture in the youth. It must be stopped, and quickly. Why, this young man is actually more a victim than a criminal. What has transpired here is an outrage. There ought to be a law against it..."

The judge went on to speak of his own analysis of the problem and all its possible solutions. Each listener reflected upon his or her own theories, and tuned out the jabbering old man.

Meanwhile, in the courtroom next door, a different trial was underway, and had been for some time. The defendant was stepping to the stand. He had no one to speak on his behalf, but faced His accusers alone. The odd proceedings had continued on for what seemed like an eternity, with charges having never really been brought against the man. As He looked out at the angry faces in front of Him, He listened to the words being read: "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." The man's answer was that He indeed had come to testify to the Truth.

The boy's trial was ended. The judge pounded his gavel and each one left the courtroom, affirming in his or her own heart a varied version of "the truth." The testimony next door continued on... but no one from the other case stopped in to listen.


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