About Us

Contact Us

Friday, July 26, 2002


If people were made of paper, this just might work

By Scott Harrison



Ocean Blue

I get yet another serving of the system.

I go to court for a quick check-in and a referral so I can get into an anger management treatment program. It should take twenty minutes. I go to 850 Bryant, second floor. I stand in line with my paperwork with the other men.

A man points to the top of the outer doors of the courtroom: “You see those?”


“Those are two powerful magnets so if someone in custody tries to make a run for it they switch on the magnets and trap them. Those are powerful magnets.”

“It would be kind of embarrassing,” says the other man.

When my turn comes, I’m told to take a seat in the courtroom. I thought they’d give me another paper and let me go. All right. I don’t want to test the magnets. Anyway, I sort of want to get a review of what the court is up to. I take a seat and watch. I wait for my case to be called.

A black man in custody has been pulled in for a warrant. He is wearing the all-orange jumpsuit of an in-custody prisoner. He also has a new charge to fight down in another courtroom. What charge? The bailiff checks the number with the Penal Code. They have charged him with not wearing a seatbelt.

Later a young black woman wearing all orange stands before the judge. She was arrested because she missed her last court appointment. She explains that she was at a housing appointment trying to get a place for herself and her children to live. Judge Harold Kahn gives her a stern fatherly warning not to miss any more court dates.

This is roughly my 24th court appearance since my wife Khadija broke the window in our kitchen. I’ve been told that I’ll do a year in the San Francisco County Jail if I pick up a phone and call her. The order I was given says I can’t talk to her for three years. It has been nine months.

The judge works his way down the computer printout. One case after another. A long list of progress reports, continuances, and so on. Each case seems to be just put off and put off again.

Judge Kahn comes to my name, Scott Harrison. I stand and walk up front to the podium. “Do you have a progress report?” he asks in his no-nonsense tone. Well of course not. The judge in Courtroom 15 has taken me out of one program and I’m not allowed into the other one. Without getting into another program, my probation officer has assured me, I will do six months or a year in the county jail. So I stand before the judge in Courtroom 18 trying to think how I could explain all this. I want to ask, “Don’t you judges ever speak to one another?” But before I say anything, a public defender tries to explain.

The judge asks the parties to approach the bench. Which means everyone but me. The courtroom probation officer, the deputy district attorney, and the public defender go up and stand close to the judge. I am out of earshot. They talk and talk. What can they be talking about? The judge stands up and goes into the back room. He comes out with a piece of paper.

The parties return to their usual places. The judge says: “It is against the statute to be transferred from domestic violence counseling to anger management. I will pass on this matter until Mr. Harrison has had a chance to talk with counsel.”

Later, back at my chair, the public defender says to me: “You basically have one of two choices. You can request a conflict attorney to work on getting your plea withdrawn or go to a domestic violence program in San Mateo that might admit you.”

“I’d like to get a conflict attorney to withdraw my plea.” I tell him.

When this request is presented to the judge, he responds, “No, you already requested that. It was denied.” He gives me three days to get into the program in San Mateo.

I say to him: “I’ve completed thirty-one weeks at King Center. I might be able to get readmitted there. Your honor, I can’t begin to explain the particulars of my case. I know this is not the place for that but I did not commit any domestic violence.” In all these months I’d never had the chance to say those words in the courtroom.

The judge makes no response to my little statement. He does soften a bit and says that readmission to King Center would be acceptable. He gives me three days to enroll and return to court.

The judge goes on to the next case and I walk out of the courtroom, past the powerful door magnets and over to the elevators.

I am amazed. I know that Judge Harold Kahn has no particulars about my case. I’m just another face floating past him. He did get a bogus letter about me a few months back from Mrs. Frye, the counselor from King Center (I had said to her in group, “Don’t you think you’re being abusive?” and she had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at me). I know they have to catch the bad guys. I know they can’t let the slippery fish escape. When Judge Kahn makes his decisions about my case, he has the advantage of working in a state of unblemished ignorance concerning me, my wife, and what happened to our marriage, so I can’t exactly blame him. I know he means well. I know he thinks he is protecting society from me. I’m sure in his eyes I am yet another slippery fish trying to slip from the jaws of justice and he, the Honorable Harold Kahn, is not going to allow it. But what gets me, what I’m left with, is that now, after nine months, I never but never can talk a bit… explain a bit... set a few parameters around the truth. They just keep treating me like canned ham that needs to be boxed and shipped. What reason would the canned ham have to speak!

Maybe I’m recovering, because I’m not totally upset and thoroughly indignant about this new setback. Oh hell, this is so typical of them! Utterly typical. Why, after all these months, would I expect insight and intelligence? And I know what they are doing to me is nothing compared to what they are doing to others. It is not a justice system; it is the Ministry of Cruelty and Red Tape. People who have not gone through it cannot understand.

In contrast to this is the utterly fake TV reality that people are injected with. The cop shows, the lawyer shows, and all their compassion, drama, and justice. The evening news, with its violence and fear mongering. At the end of the day, the only thing people want is more law and order. This is what they get but they are still too busy watching TV to see it. To see any of it.

I’ve been TV-free eight years now. If my life were inside a TV (between ads for laundry detergent and new cars), a lawyer would come to my rescue. Just after the new breakfast cereal reunites the family in smiles and love.

When I return to my apartment building, the English woman who knew Khadija is backing down the stairs very slowly with a baby stroller and her very tiny new baby. She converted to Islam and wears loose baggy black. Her hair is covered with a black scarf. She is very large now. She brings the stroller down ever so carefully, step by step. I have only seen her three times since Khadija moved out. We haven’t exchanged any words. She married a Muslim man who works at one of the hotels downtown.

I say, “Hello. Can I help?”

“No. Thank you” she answers.

“Good bye then,” I say as I put my key into the lock and open the door. I close it gently behind me.

I feel so much pity. To be a young mother who has converted to Islam just before America goes berserk. To live in this neighborhood with all the homeless, the alcoholics, the crack addicts, and the junkies. To walk down the street with her brand new child, with grown men living in doorways. She must bridge her English background with her husband’s Middle Eastern background and make it work on the poor back porch of the richest nation on earth, a nation that has just gone stark raving insane. Billions spent for smart bombs to achieve peace.

I wonder if she sings English songs to her child for his afternoon nap? I picture her alone with her child, the television set, and the telephone. Her husband works to the bone daily, coming home worn out and beat.

So here I am, in my apartment in my broken brown chair. In the end, after everything that has happened, I realize that it would have been easier to just pretend I was Muslim. I don’t believe what it says, but if I had just pretended. If Khadija wasn’t just out to rob me and if in her heart of hearts all she really wanted was for me to convert… if I had just gone along with that charade, then maybe we’d have a child by now too. Maybe my opinions extinguished the children we would have had. Maybe my opinions erased our children before they were conceived.

I wish I could have just said to the Muslim woman out in the hallway, “ I really did love Khadija. I wish we were lucky as you are lucky. I wish we too had a child now. Our children could have played together.”