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
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
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
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