Yesterday was full of flashbacks to my parent’s arduous divorce process. I was at LAX Courthouse defending my plea of Not Guilty of trespassing while expressing my first amendment rights on a sidewalk in Beverly Hills. I woke up at 5 am, took an hour and a half bus ride, prepared to be subjected to the whims of our capitalist criminal justice system. I didn’t know if I would be thrown in jail, so I wore my keys on a necklace with a mother rose quartz stone some hippies gave me while petitioning for #AStarForCarrie, because the Beverly Hills police department neglected to include my keys the last time I got out of jail, causing me to over-draw my business bank account for a motel for the night.
I was at the courthouse yesterday at exactly 8:30 am, second in line to check in with the bailiff. I had not yet spoken to my public defender after calling and leaving five messages, and she wasn’t there until 9:30 am. I sat through DUI case after DUI case, anxiety causing me to vacillate between nervous twitching/journaling and staring half-catatonic into the distance. I fell asleep once and the bailiff poked me with a pencil eraser, said I can’t sleep in there. I wasn’t seen before lunch.
I felt a little bad for my public defender. She carried a stack of case folders about the height of a mini-fridge and looked persistently harassed. She didn’t seem to judge the smell of cannabis on me and I didn’t judge her fake nails. Everyone needs something to feel better. She seemed like I should be grateful she got me out of custody after I was in jail for three days. I was, but I shouldn’t have been there in the first place and I’m not sure we agreed on that. My case wasn’t seen before lunch. I went down to the cafeteria, despondent as I looked for a granola bar or something I could afford and also take the bus home. A nice black man gave me two dollars for a cliff bar. As I sat in the corner, tired and drained, I listened to a voicemail from my mom and tears started flowing. This experience wasn’t the same as what she went through trying to get the kids back from my bipolar dad, but I had been thinking about her all day. My phone ran out of battery.
I took a nap on a marble bench outside the courtroom. Back in the peanut gallery, I listened to all the bench warrants for people who didn’t show up to court, most of them Hispanic-sounding names. I would take my chances out there if the alternative was going to Trump’s ICE concentration camps too. I was there because I was Not Guilty and I was determined to exercise my right to a fair trial. I had about 30 seconds to speak with the public defender out in the hallway.
“There are some things you don’t know…” I started.
“I went to law school, I know everything,” She told me with a smile, not unlike Kevin the Security guard. I tried to explain to her the entire #AStarForCarrie story and why #OccupyFamilyGuy started, but none of that seemed to register. She seemed proud of herself for working out a “deal” where I plead guilty and I would be banned from returning to that sidewalk. I adamantly refused, as I am Not Guilty. She gave me a weary sigh, we went back to the courtroom. A homeless woman in a blue jumpsuit was seen before me. Her long blonde hair seemed recently washed. I was reminded of the film Citizen Ruth. I felt so bad for her, a single tear ran down my cheek.
Finally, it was my turn. I stood at a podium between the lawyers. The public defender said I’m not taking the deal and requested “discovery” which means security tapes and any proof of what actually happened from my accusers (still not 100% on who is standing by this charge). The prosecutor requested a “stay away” order from the location, which the judge denied while looking right at me. A smile twitched at the corner of my mouth. Trial date set for September 18th, 2019. The public defender told me “gather some character witnesses”. I told her I know some characters.
I may be wrong, but it almost felt like the judge was proud of me for standing up for myself, for facing my charges, waiting there all day in obvious discomfort while all the DUI’s took plea deals. I felt like he may have believed me. I believed in myself and I was proud of myself for making it through the day alone. The bailiff said I was free to leave. I walked out into the sunshine and waved to the bus full of inmates being taken to prison, attempting to pass on some of my hope.
I was still broke and hungry, so I found a clean-ish piece of cardboard on the walk to the bus stop, took a magic marker out of my backpack and wrote the simplest sign of the summer “Hungry & Broke”. The first guy I walked by gave me two bags of chips and a dollar. A nice black lady told me how to get on food stamps before giving me all the change she had. People gave me three more dollars before I got to a McDonalds where I devoured a McDouble and a Dr. Pepper while reading Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. A homeless guy came in the restaurant, quietly panhandling. I gave him one of the bags of chips. I didn’t have enough for the bus, so I sat with my sign on the sidewalk in the shade of a newspaper box.
A guy named Kevin with long black hair and blue sunglasses came up to me and asked if he gave me $20, what would I do with it? Wary, I asked him what he wanted for $20? He just wanted to talk. I said I would buy food and give away anything I didn’t need. He gave me $20. I told him I moved here from Virginia to be a writer, I just got out of court because I had to defend my plea of Not Guilty of trespassing while expressing my free speech on a sidewalk. THIS Kevin was on my side. He took the same bus and respected that I wanted to read my book to focus on something besides anxiety. I let him take a picture of the book. Thanks again, Kevin!
“Homecoming” is a book I read in 7th grade. It’s a young adult novel about four young children who get abandoned by their mentally ill mother in a parking lot of a mall. The oldest sister, Dicey, has to figure out how to get to the closest family member in Connecticut without starving or getting put in foster homes. After an arduous journey, the cousin in Connecticut isn’t the best fit for the four kids, as she was about to become a nun. The kids take off to their Grandmother’s house in Maryland, even though they’ve never met her and hear she’s “Crazy”. Gram isn’t thrilled about four homeless kids showing up at her farm in rural Maryland, but the kids keep working on the farm, trying to be useful… until she lets them stay. It’s one of my favorite books. I highly recommend it and the sequels.
Oh, and don’t forget to stand up for yourself, be kind to strangers, and NEVER give up hope!