15 July 2011

Life Lessons From Courtrooms

Courts are a foreign land to me. While several of my friends are lawyers, I've never been summoned to jury duty, never sat in the gallery, never stepped foot in a courtroom. Until last Friday. That's when I was witness for the state of Maryland.

Without going into details about the case, I'd encourage anyone to be willing to help their neighbors. Too often, it's easy to stay locked away in our homes, clueless to what's happening in our neighborhoods. It's easier to just ignore what's going on around us. My seeing suspicious actions, discussing it with a neighbor, and sharing it with police led to me receiving a court summons. But it was the right thing to do.

However, it's not the court case, which has been postponed for now, that I wish to discuss. What was eye-opening for me was what unfolded while seated in the gallery awaiting the trial for which I had been summoned.


Several cases were on the docket for that morning in this district court, and all had in common the life-impacts of alcohol and drug abuse. With each passing case, the judge in one wording or another reminded each defendant how their decision to abuse alcohol led to other poor choices and brought them to this courtroom. 

One case stood out in particular. The defendant was escorted in by an officer from a forward door. He was wearing an orange prison outfit and handcuffs. He was seated to await his turn while the case before him received the judge's ruling.

When it was time for his case, an older woman was soon called forward by the state attorney to read a prepared statement. The words were well crafted and yet clearly designed to expose the deceit and destruction this man had brought into the lives of her family.

His history of drug abuse was unknown to the parents and grandparents of his young girlfriend. Maybe she didn't know the extent of his addiction when they met. Maybe she was like many young girls who either want to rebel or are so in love with a guy they don't care about his dangerous addictions or habits.

Soon, she was doing drugs but not while she was pregnant with their child. Yet, this new family wandered into seedy places in Baltimore to get drugs, exposing the child to drug deals that could easily have ended poorly.

But the man's primary crime was stealing over $10,000 in jewelry from the grandparents. Of course, the reason for the theft was to get more drugs and sadly much of the jewelry will never be recovered.

The judge articulated to the defendant something even more poignant than the grandmother's read statement. She explained to the imprisoned man how stealing from a store is impersonal. How that action steals profits away from a business that often the thief doesn't know the owners or employees. But a home robbery is more devastating. It violates a sanctuary. Home is where one should feel safe. And in this case, he was trusted enough to be in the home as the young girl's boyfriend and father of their child.

Yet, he violated that trust. The cost wasn't just the monetary value of the jewels but more importantly he stole memories from this older couple. Her wedding ring represented decades of marriage back to when it was given. Each ring, each bracelet, each necklace had a memory. Some jewelry was passed down by long-dead relatives. Perhaps they were the only physical reminder of them. They represented a special time, place and event. Keepsakes that were meant to be given to the older couple's daughter, granddaughter or even their great-granddaughter.

Memories that now cannot be replaced.

This case yielded destruction on so many levels. Unlike the cases before it where alcohol abuse led to poor decisions that may have cost a defendant money, time in court, and some embarrassment...this case's drug abuse impacted more than one person. The man's choice to try drugs led to his addiction which led to his incarceration. The young girl's choice to explore her attraction to this man led to her being introduced to drugs, having unprotected sex, giving birth to a child, and bringing that child to drug deals. The child is growing up without a father and may never be allowed to know him. The young girl's mother and grandparents have been exposed to theft and fear.

It's easy to lay blame and guilt on the man or perhaps even the young girl. Fact is, we've all made poor decisions. At the time, you may have felt justified or entitled to your choices and decisions. And you may have even tried to blame someone else for your actions.

Your choices may not have landed you in a courtroom or jail cell but what you've said or done - or not said or not done - has impacted others. Sometimes dramatically. May God grant us wisdom and discernment to be responsible for our actions and learn from them.


Do you recall a time in your life when your poor decisions impacted others? How did you resolve it? Or did you? Share your thoughts below.