Heidi Hirvonen, senior
I have never much fancied myself a troublemaker. Yet California State Law might beg to differ.
On Nov. 11, my mother escorted me, clutching a faded speeding ticket in a damp palm, to the Santa Rosa Juvenile Court, where I was to be evaluated and dealt with properly. I felt shy and abashed, as well as inclined to double-check my pockets for any kitchen knives I may have unknowingly stashed in my pants that morning, thanks to the many threatening warning signs lining the walls. I felt like a dirty criminal. And I couldn’t help but imagine that the neatly dressed man with the pressed shirt who entered the building in front of us was a murderer or rapist. Only later did it occur to me that he might actually work at the courthouse.
All of my meekness and weakness quite abruptly dissipated when we rounded the corner where Courtroom 14 was located. For there, sitting on a cement bench fashioned to line the wide walkway leading to the courtroom, sat at least seven other families: mothers and fathers who sat close to their sons and daughters, whispering things in their ears and smiling forcedly. The bench was raised about a meter or so off the ground, so that even the burly teenage boy closest to me and his oversized father sat with their feet dangling above the ground. I was so struck by this image that I had to stifle a giggle, and a prim looking woman with a son who wore pants a size or so too small gave me smile that was both sympathetic and scolding. Confused, and a little embarrassed again, I took a seat next to my mother, and swung my feet around like a kindergartener at the time-out bench.
We waited about half an hour before we were let into the courtroom. Families continued to arrive, so we would scoot down the bench every couple minutes–one big scooting unit of strangers–to make space for the other juvenile delinquents and their families to sit. Women in business suits occasionally strutted down the walkway in front of us, and we absentmindedly scrutinized them the way that airplane passengers – who have nothing better to do – stare down fellow plane-mates returning to their seats after a turbulent excursion to the restroom. Finally, we were let in to the courtroom. The lady who welcomed us in asked us to leave behind any weapons and avoid putting our hands in our pockets. I was grateful that I hadn’t hidden a machete in the folds of my clothes.
Our commissioner was a modern fairy godmother. Spunky and witty, she lacked the wand, but she didn’t lack the power to transform even the most rotten pumpkins into silver carriages, if you catch my drift. I watched in amazement as she bargained with teens she knew by first name, as they had been in court so many times. She dismissed the case of a young man who was returning to court for the second time as an unlicensed driver who was caught transporting passengers.
“If you pass your permit test by December 20,” she said to him, “I will dismiss this whole case.”
Am I missing something, or is this punishment utterly absurd? Ordering someone to take a permit test doesn’t much sound like a punishment to me.
The commissioner made a deal with me too. She offered me the opportunity to take a four-hour driving class for teens, or pay up.
My mother, naturally, was grateful. I felt short-slighted. Personally, I didn’t want to pay the fine, but I couldn’t believe the cases that this commissioner was letting off the hook. Worse yet, the teens who she let walk away unscathed merely grunted at her. I didn’t hear a single thank you, not a single courtesy address.
While I would really rather not be $375 broke, I would prefer to pay the price if it would mean that others were given the punishment they deserve as well. Ten hours at a puppy shelter just doesn’t cut it when you’re driving your friends to school without a license. I am on that road, and I refuse to be the sacrifice for bad discipline. I’m not surprised that some of my peers in that court had been there before; they will continue to commit these minor–but potentially fatal–crimes until they are reprimanded properly.