Observations From a Visit to Criminal Court

In the Court Room
From flickr, By Old Shoe Woman

This is part of a series of journal posts for my drug court project seminar. Enjoy!

As part of my drug court seminar I’ve visited the Pittsburgh’s county criminal court twice.

Courtrooms aways surprise me with their informality. Somehow the serenity of seing justice done doesn’t comport with florescent lights. People are chatting, talking, the adversarial system looks awfully cosy before the judge enters.

And then everything shifts. The power dynamics solidify and rise to the top. the judge controls how we hold our bodies, where we look, how we talk, and to whom. The bailiff’s voice articulates the control the judge projects–“All rise for the Honorable—”

I watched a man sentenced to prison for selling cocaine, and then skipping bail to Texas for eight years. The process was scripted, but I could feel the current of empathy running through the judge’s voice as she walked the defendant through his sentence.

I desired more knowledge, more information to be my own judge, but wanted to have faith in the court process, that the judge was doing right. Even having faith in the court, while the next defendants gossiped in the back of the courtroom, I was deeply troubled to watch a man sent to prison for years. Courts are always so sure and cleansing and uncomfortable.

Inspirational Quote:

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”–Confucius

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