Everyone here knows that the only time I wear my clergy shirt is when I am at a protest. I call it my penguin suit. So, everyone knows that I am serious when I put on the collar.
Yesterday was one of those days. I attended Bradley County Juvenile court. As I sat in that bleak place I understood depictions of Hell that don’t require an afterlife.
The days we saw courthouses as a Democratic center of communities is far behind us. As with most civic entities these places of law are institutional centers of commerce and efficiency. They are cinderblock buildings with exposed ceiling beams and piping. Much like malls or mega churches the architecture is cheap and about the lowest common denominator. The quotes on the wall are institutional comments and restrictive. Everything about these places screams the depressing reality that these are for a function, they are not about care, empathy or hope.
I wish I could spend a week counting the amount of times the words Wal Mart come up and how many times that company presses charges against minors.
I also would observe how many people were asked, as minors, if they understood their rights? There was the child whose both parents were incarcerated and could not be with him. In a orange jump suit an officer held onto the belt that cuffed his hands. 13 years old, without a guardian, “Do you understand your rights?”
There was the eight year old standing next to her brand new Foster parents. She had, with an older brother, broken into a house with 5 other children. There was that question, “Do you understand your rights?” She nodded her head yes while inside I heard a voice scream “No!”
I won’t even get into the depressing details of the case I was there to attend. Suffice it to say that if we did not have a friend who was an ex con our minor in court that day would never have been able to say “yes” to the judge’s question about rights and have been truthful.
For all our rhetoric in the church we don’t really love children enough to know about how they end up when theirs aren’t well manicured existences and easy redemption narratives.
“How will we make the budget?” “We need to get new blood in this place!” “How will we survive?” Are our questions. While across town children who should be teaching us about salvation are alone asked, “Do you understand your rights?”