deeneythumbnail1.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY

TODAY I SAW a long line of people waiting to turn their cell phones in at the Criminal Justice Center. That’s the first stop on the way to criminal court; everyone stands in a line that snakes through the lobby for five minutes before handing over their phones to a white guy in jeans and a sweatshirt who stands in front of a big box with hundreds of sliding compartments. He’s usually listening to classic rock radio but today he was singing the Eagles fight song while furiously snatching phones and handing out numbered plastic chips corresponding to the drawers he stuck them in.

The next line is for the metal detectors. Rather than pass a wand over every guy who comes in wearing a belt they make you take your belt off and run it through the machine with everything else you brought. A lot of dudes coming into CJC aren’t exactly the kind to wear well fitted jeans and it’s kind of funny to watch them shuffle through the detector holding a handful of Phat Farm, trying to keep their pants from falling down.

“Get them belts up here!”

An older black woman in a Sheriff’s Department uniform with short blond-tipped hair sits behind the machine hollering at the crowd while watching the conveyor belt on the screen in front of her.

The elevator banks at CJC just before 9 am are like a New York City subway platform at the height of rush hour. There’s a mad press towards the doors as an up arrow lights and a bell dings when one of the six cars arrives. If you’re not aggressive and willing to fight your way to the head of the pack it might take you ten minutes to get upstairs. Once you get to the upstairs you’ll see groups of uniformed cops standing around shooting the shit and looking over the paperwork that they keep stored under their hats between court cases.

The benches in the courtrooms up stairs are tagged to shit. Some of the tags are elaborate name writings gouged into the wood. They must have taken time and attention to complete, which couldn’t have been easy in a room full of cops, court officers and Assistant District Attorneys. I guess that’s a high point in a tagger’s career, putting his name on the back of a bench in criminal court. It’s certainly ballsy, if nothing else.

Court convened when a jowly bald white judge appeared. He was wearing big, round glasses with thick metal frames that looked like they were in style maybe 12 years ago. On one side of the room were the young assistant district attorneys, two white girls and a white guy who all looked fresh from the Ivy League in black suits and thin wire frames. At the table next to them were the public defenders, two black women in suits and a white woman in a miniskirt and satin blouse with big blond hair and fake French nails who sounded like Tacony.

Outside in the hall before court convened the white public defender was sitting on a bench, flipping through a copy of Us Weekly and talking with a young black woman about Lance Armstrong.

“He’s such a dog, it’s unbelievable. He’s hopping from star to star now. What about the woman who raised his children, who nursed him through the cancer?”

Once court was in session it was like a game of verbal hot potato between the judge, the court clerks and the lawyers. Legal jargon bounced around the room as they processed administrative duties between cases. When a case came to trial more often than not the ADAs flipped through a stack of files, whispering among themselves before saying,

“Judge, the Commonwealth is not ready at this time.”

The judge cried out,

“Dismissed! Lack of prosecution. Previously marked must be tried.”

There were third year law students working with the public defenders and one of them, a tall, good looking and athletic white guy with a strong jaw and wearing a blue suit went before the judge to try a case. His case was also dismissed for lack of prosecution. The judge laughed and advised him,

“You should retire now. Go out on top, it’s all down hill from here.”

The room laughed politely.

After the ADA’s announced a few more times that they weren’t ready to try a case, leading to its dismissal for lack of prosecution, two heavily tattooed young black girls in curly weaves, belly shirts and knee-high suede boots whispered to each other:

“Damn, it don’t seem like the Commonwealth is ready for shit.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Deeney is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PW, City Paper and the Inquirer. He focuses on issues of urban poverty and drug culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *