“Case number 113498976, please approach gate 6,” a booming voice came over the speakers. I stood, my shackles shaking as i waddled towards the correct gate. A guard approached and did a quick pat down, then opened the door to the courtroom. It was just like in the tv shows, large and official looking, but dated. I was pushed towards a chair and was sat next to a sweaty man in his late fifties, wearing an old, ill fitting suit. ‘Looks like they went all out for my attorney’ I thought.
The Judge walked up and and banged his gavel and the room fell silent, “Please be seated, Mr. Veroa vs The City of Houston, everybody seems to be here, lets begin,” he barked out. I sighed, looking around the room I was looking out at a bunch of official looking men and women giving me an angry look. I looked at the sodden carpet and zoned out for most of the time, I was in the wrong, I knew that, but I was hoping for a reduced sentence, or a sympathetic vote from the jury acquitting me.
Several people took the stand, a security officer in a sling and a cop with a broken nose were there the longest. I didn’t need to listen, I knew what they were saying, that I was a dangerous, violent homeless man who posed a threat to society and should be made an example of. I started to think of prison. It was where I would inevitably be. The cell here would be luxury compared to what a state prison would be.
I was thrown out of my thoughts when my lawyer elbowed me softly, “I’m sorry, what was the question?” I asked the Judge. “Do you want to give your side?” he asked with an annoyed look on his face.
“Yes sir, I would,” I stood up and walked to the stand. The chair was heavy wood and uncomfortable. “On January 12th, I took food that was not mine from the store. I ran from their security, and pushed a cop at the exit leaving the unpaid merchandise outside the door. I then ran from the police and was caught later. I did try to resist arrest and I did state that I would make sure the arresting officer got what was coming for him, but it was in the heat of the moment, and I was not intending to follow up with the threat, I was just upset.” I finished looking around the room. There were a lot of shocked faces, angry faces, some I couldn’t read, but I hoped that since I gave an honest testimony, they’d be more forgiving.
“Alright, please return to your seat sir,” he directed at me then turned towards the lawyers, “any other witnesses?” he asked. Both my lawyer and the opposing lawyer just shook their heads and the lawyer banged his gavel, “Jury will meet and decide the fate of Mr. Veroa and this case will resume when they’re ready” I was once again pushed around and back into the cell I was already acquainted with.
It felt like a long while before the officer returned, but definitely not enough time for the jury to be ready. “Up.” was all he said as I was once again pushed into the courtroom. My lawyer had ketchup on his suit and looked like he was already looking forward to his next meal, not even acknowledging my existence. “Jury have you made your decision?” the Judge queried. A lady in the closest seat to the Judge stood up with a paper in her hand. “Yes your Honor, we the Jury find the Defendant, George Veroa, guilty on all counts and recommend the maximum sentence of 10 years in addition to his pending charges in prison.”
The room was spinning. What had just happened? I pinched myself, ‘Ow’ i was unfortunately awake. I wasn’t listening to what was going on in the room, I was pushed back out and into my cell. I could spend my life in jail?
“George!” I snapped my head to the voice. The Judge was standing there, his usual annoyed look was once again staring at me. “I’m sorry, it’s just a lot to take in,” I gave a half smile more for myself than him. “I’m able to give you an option, we’re doing a new program, and I feel you would be a good candidate for it. I gave you the option in the courtroom and you didn’t respond, so I figured you were thinking about it.” He signaled the guard over and he opened the cell. He walked in and the guard locked it behind him. “Listen,” he says as he sits on the bench next to me, “This program will get you out of a prison, but it is a prison of itself. I am not able to get you any details, as that’s a part of the program, the surprise element anyways. It is part of a new program the state is trying to alleviate the inmate population. With your other pending charges, you’re looking at a lot of hard time, and I for one don’t think prison is gonna ‘reform’ ya for the better.” He pauses and hands me a piece of gum.
“You’re not a bad guy, you’ve had some bad luck, made some wrong decisions, but you’re smart, and that’s why I’m giving you an option, instead of just throwing you in some jail to rot. This is the best of a bad situation. You’re 24, George, you shouldn’t be in a cement 10 foot by 10 foot room for eternity. Please let me help you.” His eyes were caring, ‘he doesn’t seem to be fibbing, but what does he mean, not a prison, but still a sort of prison’ I pondered for less than ten seconds before saying, “How is it not a prison?” I figured he would just ask for a yes or no, but he gave an actual response. “You won’t be in a prison, jail, or anything like that, there’s no manual labor or prison guards, it’ll be some… partial freedom.” He flashed a quick smile and stood up. “Well?” I looked at him, stood and offered my hand. “I’m in. Thank you sir,” I said as we shook on it.