We as humans seek out what we refer to as “justice.” When someone wrongs us, we can take matters into our own hands and follow the path of vigilante justice or we can choose to turn these matters over to the judicial system. We then stand in front of a judge who will hear the case and decide if it indeed warrants action.
The problem with both of these avenues, is that the justice we seek will be meted out by a man. Many factors will play a part in his decision. We like to hope that the decision will be fair, but those of us who are familiar with the court system understand the harsh reality of this flawed system.
I’ve stood before judges. I’ve seen many things; so many in fact, my heart is weighed down with the reality in which I live. Those in power hold the scales. If you don’t line up with their belief system, or fit the mold, then you are dispensable.
If you can’t afford an attorney, you will be appointed one. The question is whether or not he will put in the same work he would for a paying client. Some do, but unfortunately they are rare. The truth is, after court is convened, many of them will sit down to dinner with the same judge who just rendered a guilty verdict. They will share a few laughs, conversation and maybe coffee. In the end, they will go home to their wives and children.
I often wonder if the men and women they’ve pronounced guilty ever cross their minds. Do they know how many people are effected by their decisions? Do they care? It’s hard to say.
Many would emphatically proclaim, “Do the crime, do the time!” Maybe if the system were fair, but it has been stained and soiled by greed and corruption. Many non-violent offenders have had their lives altered drastically by the heaping helping of justice they are served. Their children and families are left to sort through the ashes.
It is hard for me to imagine holding a gavel and controlling another man’s fate. I’m quite sure it is not the job for me. I’ve seen the aftermath. I can’t help but wonder, would the days I wake up angry at the world effect my rulings? Would my history of abuse cause me to look at domestic violence more harshly than most?
I remember sitting in a courtroom years ago. I watched an older man, likely in his 60’s make his way to the front. His head was bowed low in the same fashion as many men who approached the bench. He was dressed in well worn clothing and his beard looked scraggly. From all appearances, this man was likely homeless, but who was I to judge? He’d certainly known the sting of poverty. As the judge read his charges before the crowd of onlookers, I was floored. This man had not taken a life. He was not guilty of pushing drugs. No, this man had stolen a single candy bar! He was sent away with a hefty fine and I puzzled over how he would pay when he could not even afford the item he was accused of stealing. I thought long and hard and I could remember times when I had no money and a bar of candy was out of reach. I remembered times when I would have taken that bar of candy with a tinge of guilt in the back of my mind.
You see, I am guilty! The truth is I am guilty of many things..stealing, lying, driving after having a few drinks, not wearing my seatbelt. The list could go on and on. If I throw in the thoughts I’ve had, I’ve probably committed murder more times than I care to admit. Maybe I’m wrong to assume, but I should think if we took an honest look at ourselves, we would all wear the stamp of the “guilty.”
So what makes these men and women different? Maybe they were just not on luck’s side. Maybe they were from the wrong ethnicity or social class. Maybe the judge woke up in a shitty mood and his coffee wasn’t ready on time. Maybe the woman in front of him made him think of his adulteress ex who ran off with the pool boy.
The possibilities are endless! Factor in witnesses and credibility, forced confessions, and so forth, you can see how this could spiral downhill fast. And that is essentially what we have done. We are on a fast sinking ship. We have more people incarcerated than any other country in the world. We have created a modern day system of slavery that has become an industry. We are selling men and women as if they were mere objects. We are locking them up and throwing away the key, sending some off to be executed. We call this justice as we read the newspaper’s account of their stomach contents at the time of death.
I don’t feign to have all the answers, but I know this is not it. We are an unforgiving, greedy, consumerist culture and if we don’t get a grip on things, we may face a greater rendering of justice. Maybe just for today, we could take a look at ourselves and not point are fattened fingers elsewhere. Maybe today we could choose to forgive those who have wronged us. Maybe, just maybe, if we try we can be the change we wish to see in the world. Justice is a funny thing. It leaves everyone hollow in the end. Mercy is different. Mercy brings healing and restoration. I believe this with all my heart because I’ve seen it at work.
Maybe in the future, life will present a situation that causes me to question these lofty ideals. I can not say with surety, but I do know I’ve forgiven a great many things and I don’t regret showing mercy. In the end, I see a greater power who has extended the same to me. Because of this, I am humbled and filled with gratitude. I too have worn the shackles of guilt.
Today, may the scales of justice be tipped. May they fall on the side of mercy and human compassion. May a good hard look in the mirror remind us of our own sin and the many times that a divine power has looked at us with eyes of love, in spite of our shortcomings and imperfections.
Written by: Tiffany Jackson