I’ve spent the day (for work, I hasten to add) at the Magistrates’ Court which serves my local area. Tomorrow, I think I’d rather spend the day in the first circle of hell. Or any circle of hell, really.
Unless a Magistrates’ Court is in fact one of the circles of hell.
These are some things I witnessed:
- men wearing open-collared shirts and stiff new suit trousers and Converse runners and bad tattoos, their bravado as ill-fitting as the formality of their court attire.
- women thinned and wizened and aged before their time by hard living and alcohol and weed and too many children and not enough money and the weight of the world on their skin-clad shoulders.
- a young woman, huddled into her defendant boyfriend, shoulders hunched against the over-heated stuffiness of the air-conditioning and her face tight with tension. She kept touching his hand in her lap, as though to remind herself that he was still there.
- a conversation between a defendant and his solicitor – “How can I explain to the judge why you did that? You just lost control? And you regret it now, of course?” – while his mother watched anxiously in her best clothes, twisting the strap of her green leather-look handbag around and around in her fingers. Later I watched her coming out of one of the courtrooms, alone but for the solicitor. “Six months,” she kept saying, as though that would somehow force this new reality of her life to make sense. “Well, it was a serious offence,” he said gently, and his face was tired and his eyes were sad.
- a child, a little girl, barely more than four, playing quietly in the waiting area while her mother waited to have her own charges heard. (“What am I looking at? Four to eight months? Jesus, can’t you get me off?”) She alone of all of us was an innocent, untouched by the world’s darkness, looking people in the eye – the most alive creature in that place – and yet when her mother’s frustration erupted in a push that cracked the little girl’s head against the wooden doorframe, she was completely unperturbed by the sudden and – to her – unprovoked assault. Already, this little being is impervious to the violence which will almost certainly mar her life.
I left the courthouse reeking, in my mind, of the stench of human misery, human despair, which clung to my skin. Now, after a hard workout and a shower and a glass of juice and Beethoven’s first symphony on the CD player, I’m trying to remind myself that there’s light in all the darkness I saw today. The gentle, tired sadness of the solicitor and the innocence of the child, the love of the mother and the girlfriend, whatever idealism or determination which keeps the Legal Aid solicitors at their battered formica tables in the windowless, unadorned room they’re allocated. And there’s light in the fact that each of those human souls trapped in that place – whether they left under their own steam or in the back of a prisoner transport van – is a sacred manifestation of the Divine, loved beyond their capacity to understand by a Creator they may never know, but Which holds them, passionately, in the safety of Its arms.
And there it is. That’s the light in the darkness I was looking for.