The courtroom relentlessly prefigures us.
When Ceci and I enter, we are eminently innocent – the youngest interns, the most nervous interns, the interns who smile the widest when spoken to, the interns who nod the most. No matter how many times we leave and enter the room, we are guaranteed a kind greeting from Juan – the stalwart and energetic bailiff. Maybe it’s a flash of a smile or a knowing nod. Once it was even a fist bump. We do our best to sit quietly, but the stakes are not very high. The General Magistrate believes we could never be a disturbance, even if we tried.
This is not the typical courtroom entrance.
We may be college students, but Ceci and I are barely older than the “youth” we see file in and out of Marchman Act hearings – youth for whom the Courthouse marks something radically different.
Though I have been to one almost every other day, I don’t know what it feels like to attend a delinquency hearing. I am not the person walking into the Children’s Courthouse for the first time – experiencing its odd blend of spacious authority and stuffed teddy bears. I am not the person who must listen to every name called in anticipation of their own. I am not the person whose lived experiences will suddenly become a matter of rigid discussion, of an official record organized according to statute and administration. Instead, I am the girl frantically putting her cellphone on airplane mode – an almost too neat metaphor for the ways in which I am able to shed the details of my life as soon as I step into the courtroom. It is the privilege – borne out of so many others – to remain anonymous, to have my choices and circumstances kept private within a space dedicated to examination. Unnamed, I sit and pay witness to the fraught and complicated process of synthesizing the remarkably complex into something deemed manageable. While I cannot know, that process appears difficult; I can imagine it would feel like a punishment in and of itself, regardless of the hearing’s outcome.
While I am always grateful for any opportunity to learn more, I think it would be remiss of me to pretend that observation – especially observation billed as an educational experience – is a neutral activity. It simply can’t be – not when the societal and political structures that have placed me in the Miami-Dade County Children’s Courthouse are the same exact structures that have brought other “youth” there too. To leave those structures un-interrogated would be naïve; to consider them inert and unchangeable would be wrong.
I cannot occupy the same space as others – with vastly different consequences – and pretend that it is apolitical.