I was not so fortunate as my friend in court on Tuesday. The public defender did his best "This is crazy that she's even here. All she's trying to do is make beauty out of the blight!," but this judge could have cared less about anyone's circumstances that caused them to be there and despite the officers not showing up, evidently that didn't matter to her. She wasn't throwing anything out and was even making jokes about our "contributions to the City of Cleveland."
Me being an artist with no prior criminal history whatsoever didn't buy me anything either and I doubt it would have mattered if he was there too. I'm sitting outside with a couple friends who came along for the ride and people are coming up to me saying "This is totally crazy. I can't believe you're in trouble for this. All you were doing was taking pictures and making art, what's wrong with that?"
And I explain that my crime was not so much what I was doing as who I was with and what that appeared to be to an officer with certain ideas of who white girls should be hanging around with.
I'm thankful at least that he's off free, though he doesn't see it that way... "This isn't fair! How do you get in trouble and I don't? You're a white girl, you're supposed to get away with it. I'm a black man, they're looking for any chance to throw my ass in jail."
It is what it is I guess...
So I sat around an hour waiting to go to the probation office, and then I sat for another hour waiting there as ESPN droned on and on about Brett Favre and I was glad I had a volume of T.S. Eliot poetry in my bag to keep me company and texting him while getting hit on by men old enough to be my father. Sure, I'm going to give my phone number to chronic offenders I meet in the probation office who won't even tell me what they're in there for, that's really smart.
I can't lie, this song was in my head the whole time...
I got my photo taken, had to give up all sorts of personal information about any distinguishing marks, tattoos or piercings, what languages I speak, my income level, my education level, where I work, where I went to school, my religion, if my parents are still alive, if I live alone or with roommates, how much I pay in rent and so on. I thought of that page with all the sex offenders on it that live in my neighborhood and this is the same information that they have to volunteer as well.
I signed an agreement saying that I'll report to a probation officer once a month for the next 90 days, that I cannot leave the state of Ohio without permission, that I can only associate with "law abiding citizens."
And there's a part of me that is still laughing at the Kafka-meets-rust belt absurdity of all this, laughing because I am powerless to do anything else except call it as I see it and because laughter is always more healthy than bitterness. I may not go to certain places that I've gone to but that doesn't mean that I will bend under the weight of institutional racism and stop hanging out with who I hang out with because the powers that be don't care for it, and it doesn't mean that I will stop creating or loving this place.
And I think about those who've come before me who've been unjustly accused, who've done the right thing and lost decades of their lives, who've spent time in prison for crimes they didn't commit, who got on the bad side of powers far more ruthless than the ones that I exist under. I'm not Jesus or Joseph or Gandhi or Martin Luther King. I'm not Aung San Suu Kyi or Nelson Mandela. What I'm dealing with isn't quite so bad.
I am thankful that God is a God of not just justice, but also mercy, that He doesn't discriminate and that we are all equal in His sight and that while we're all guilty, if we confess what we've done, we're forgiven and it's like it never happened. That doesn't exist in this life. It's all until you screw up again and even then an expungement isn't quite erased.
To think of the embodiment of all that going into a political and religious system that was profoundly corrupt, bloated, and generally wrong humbles me. It's hard for me to feel superior when I see everyone as guilty of something... me for my indiscretion, those in power that take bribes and throw their weight around and harass those they are in theory supposed to protect and serve, the apathetic bureaucrats that create statistics, all of us who've screwed up somehow and gotten caught.