I’ve been a Municipal Court Judge since 2003, and I very rarely share stories about our court in person, much less on social media. I’ve read many things recently about how we judges need to be harder on the people appearing before us or that we are soft on crime. Without wading into that argument, something in court today touched me for some reason and reminded me there are other sides to every situation.
Today, we had a man that looked to be in his late 60’s appear before the court on a shoplifting charge. I am not one to judge a person by their looks alone, but this man had clearly fallen on hard times. He was accused of stealing a shirt and a pair of pants from a local store. The facts revealed that he had, in fact, taken the clothes and put them on in the store bathroom. However, it seems that he is currently homeless and has a stomach condition that causes certain foods to not always agree with him. He was in this store when his previous meal came through his body at such a rate that he had an accident before he could get to a bathroom. He then took a change of clothes off the rack and changed in the bathroom. Store security stopped and apprehended him before he left the store. He pleaded guilty to shoplifting, and admitted to his mistake. You could tell he was very embarrassed but he did not shy away from what happened. I suspended his fine on the condition that he not have another conviction for the next year. My heart went out to him, but he had violated the law. However, I knew there is no chance of collecting a fine from him as he quite literally lives meal to meal on the street. I absolutely hated the entire situation, and although he thanked me for my kindness, something really got to me as I watched this man shuffle out of our courtroom.
I tell this story because I live and have lived a very good life. I’ve never wanted, I have been spoiled with material things that others would love to have, and for the most part, I’ve never known true hardship. But this man, and so many others like him in this world, was probably born and raised by a mother and father just like I was. Like me, he played as a kid and did his best to grow up and be something in this world. I would wager good money he did not envision himself living on the streets. Growing up, he did not foresee soiling himself in a public place and then having to steal a change of clothes out of necessity and shame. But that’s where his life is now. It all reminds me of the old song lyric by Drivin’N’Cryin— “Abandoned by the promised land/Set sail on your own/How much longer Will the well Be dry for those Who roam?”
I probably have no real point to this story other than it affected me and made me think. Hug your kids and be grateful for what you have been given in your lives. Most importantly, please realize that there are those who want in this world. There are those who live a life most of us cannot fathom. I am not justifying criminal behavior. I am simply asking you to be aware. Every day.