Some years ago, I experienced the madness of the criminal justice system that finds all sorts of ways to charge fees to people accused of minor crimes. Most of these crimes are drug related and go away without any jail time but would appear to be part of a money-making scheme with full cooperation from people in charge of the “justice” system. The absurdity of this revenue farce is that most of these people are poor; they have no money. You could threaten them with jail time or death, they still would not have the money to pay the court costs, jail fees, or other fees with meaningless descriptions, such as drug reform fee.
Now I don’t know how much of the cost of the criminal justice system is covered by these fees, but if it is only a minor amount, then the fees themselves would appear to be just another form of punishment. As if jail time and probation are not enough, they must add additional humiliation with fees most cannot pay. Or in the other case, if it is a substantial sum being collected– doesn’t that create an incentive for cops to arrest people to bring in the all-important revenue.
Maybe the legal crowd has a quarterly meeting to discuss the shortfall from last quarter and assign additional cops to select areas of town to bring in more revenue? Many cities have special drug cops who must bring in a ton of revenues; mostly by re-arresting the same people. Or maybe they even award bonuses to officials who have generated the most revenue.
People of means, who get caught up in this nonsense, gladly pay the fees and even thank the judge because they have just experienced the humiliation of losing control over their lives. They would pay almost anything to get out of this fix and run like hell.
With my new knowledge of the cash generating game came the experience of sitting in a court room for hours watching the shuffling of people who had no recourse, they were treated as mere cogs in some kind of strange revolving process conducted the same every day with little emotion and often little thought. It seemed to be almost rehearsed, people who had no power were brought before someone with all the power and told their fate. Sure, most likely those people broke a law or at least were accused, but no way in hell would they ever see a trial or be treated like they were of value. It went on every day all day long. An endless stream of people trapped in a madness of defeat and humiliation.
I had never been in a criminal court room before, and it was shocking. Lawyers milling around everywhere having their own conversations, a judge running through one case after another, cops shuffling in people in groups in the endless parade of misery. Never once saw a Perry Mason. It was all deals and scheduling. Most of the time was spent setting the next court date to do something that by all accounts would seem they should have been able to do at this time; but it was not time yet, for whatever that was.
Most people had public defenders who were constantly shuffling files and asking for postponements. All the lawyers, public defenders, clerks, cops and judges were obviously on one team, and the criminals (or accused criminals) were on their own (loosing) team. The court team spoke in code, often in soft whispers so as not to disturb the deal making attorneys scattered about.
Due to unpleasant circumstances, I witnessed this pattern repeated many times. Many of the defendants were street people, and over time, I saw the same people again and again. The judge would forgive some fees that had never been paid, big shock, and apply new fees. To me the street people seemed more like they were playing a role. They knew the script and performed their parts perfectly. But, of course, it was not acting just repetition that made it seem so absurd.
My time visiting court soon ended. I learned that all the respect I had for the criminal justice system was based on something I had seen on TV, and the reality was a ridiculous farce. Totally lacking in logic or humanity.
Much of my experience watching this nonsense was during the holiday season. Every year around this time, I think about all the people I saw who were treated with such disrespect. It changed me and not for the better. I fear cops in a way I never did before, and the fear of the “justice” system is imbedded in me and will never go away. Sitting in the other world, I also began to irrationally fear people in suits.
I know most people will say those people caused their own misery; but to watch them being treated as if they had no meaning is to lose some faith in humans. It is how we treat the weakest among us that establishes our humanity; we need to do better.
Some of these experiences ended up in my books. Both the Vincent Malone and Muckraker series draw on these actual court room experiences during legal proceedings in those books. However, I did not make it as strange as it actually was, because I thought it would seem unbelievable.