Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Special Kind of Justice

I sat in court with a friend waiting for his case. As it turned out—three hours later--he was the last to be called. But the intervening time wasn’t wasted.

There was a woman returning for a review of her case for possession of a  controlled substance; a man brought from Rikers for second degree assault only to be told that the DA wasn’t ready; a father who lied to authorities about his developmentally disabled son—he owed $170,000; a young man (incarcerated) and woman (not) who disabled a video surveillance camera; a woman released for possession of cocaine; a man sentenced to 2 ½ years for heroin possession; a man convicted of assault-reduced in charge, released; …it went on like that for the rest of the morning.

Multiple times the accused spoke no English and the court-appointed translator raced ahead of the judge in off-hand summaries to a bewildered defendant. In all cases you felt embarrassed for the public humiliation as their stories were aired. I lost count of the women and men, clothed in orange “DOC” (Department of Corrections) jumpsuits and their ill-fitting cold weather jackets who sat cuffed and then were quickly dispatched when justice was done with them. Of the 17 that morning half had made a round trip from jail for nothing. Their cases were postponed.
Everyone was poor. Most could not understand the vocabulary the judge used and answered in barely audible grunts. The gallery filled and emptied with teary mothers and girlfriends. Sometimes rows of stern looking young black men sat on whole benches…emptying exactly when a friend was convicted only to be replaced by another young platoon a few minutes later. This was a society dispensing with those who had not played by the rules but more to the point, here, functioned on the street where these rules seemed contrived for those on another planet. You wouldn’t find their fellow citizens here…those who could afford an attorney or savvy enough to settle out of court.  


  1. Dear Bishop Packard:

    I would like to have a conversation with you. Could you contact me at with a phone number or e-mail address? Would very much appreciate it.

    Best wishes,

    Todd Gitlin
    Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University
    Author, Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street

  2. I would like to speak with you both. We have much to discuss.

    Yours in Christ,

    John Baker