Friday, September 12, 2014

Out of Sight Punishment

Yesterday I had the singular experience of sitting in a court room for three hours with an acquaintance to see if he would end up going to jail or just be allowed to pay a fine and walk out. I've only been in court once before which was a civil court but the experiences were about the same. The first thing anyone with half a brain realizes is that it's not a place to fuck around. You are expected to show respect for the process of our legal system and the position of judge: if you don't, you're not going to be in that room for long. Sitting in both civil and criminal courtrooms is like watching a film of what not to do with your life. The sheer boredom is bad enough but being around that kind of power is a little scary and unsettling. There is an appeals process in our court system, but that doesn't mean you won't have to sit in jail for a good bit of time waiting for a more merciful or understanding judge and that is not a position I ever want to be in.

In days gone by, punishments for offenses were a public matter which I believe was probably a deterrent to making bad choices. Today unless you choose to go to a courtroom or visit a jail, most of that side of life is hidden from young people. I have never stolen anything from a store in my life because I saw my sister steal a pack of gum from the supermarket when she was around 5 or 6. Our mother's reaction and the repercussions of my sister having to go back to the store to apologize made such an impression on me that theft subconsciously was off the table. Before we had the media bombarding us with images and daily casualty statistics, wars were far bloodier and people seemed to be more stoic about loss of life. Without extensive media coverage you were left with written articles and maybe simple news stories but nothing of that conveys the horror properly. Veterans either don't talk about war or they talk about the glamorous parts which furthers offsets the reality of battle.

While we could simply be becoming softer as a society, I feel that we get passionate about what we are confronted with directly in our eyes like what happened in Ferguson. Part of the success of the civil rights movement is because they were able to get national media attention directly putting it in everyone's faces. Out of sight is out of mind for most people and hearing an anecdote passed from one person to the next does very little to effect change. When my children get a little older, I'm going to bring them to a courtroom for an afternoon because they need to see that there are consequences to actions and feel the weight of the power and authority that our legal system has. I'm not trying to scare them but instead show them that there is a world that remains hidden until you cross a line and it's not a world you ever want to be part of. People blame video games and entertainment for violence in youth but maybe it's just the fact that just like the one sided war stories of veterans, they aren't being exposed to the reality that jail, war, prejudice etc all have a very real and very ugly face that they should be forced to gaze into.

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