As soon as I sat down today in the visitor’s gallery of Children’s Court, I saw the handcuffs on the floor. Actually they’re ankle cuffs, one end anchored to the floor with bolts and the other to be put around the ankle of the person who is in custody.
The last time I’d been in court, I had watched the teenage girl I was the advocate for being led from a side door by a guard, shown where to sit and then latched to the handcuffs on the floor. She had been a new teen when I’d met her two years before, jumpy, impulsive, and endearing. She was still attached to skateboarding as a thing to do, adored her family even though they had pretty much let her down for years, and wanted to be a doctor.
Now she looked just like her mother – right down to the jumpsuit and the handcuffs on the floor. She was in detention, incarcerated; she was a juvenile inmate.
When a person is in custody and in court, she’s not permitted to talk with anyone besides her attorney. No greetings to family or friends or advocates who show up.
Nonetheless, she looked over at me. I tried to make my eyes turn into text messages. I wanted her to read what I was thinking because I wanted to communicate with her but I was stuck because I didn’t really know what I was thinking.
Yes, I did. I lie.
I wanted to convey a message to her of compassion and expectation. I know you can do better than this, I wanted my eyes to say. We can figure out a new plan.
Instead, I was overwhelmed with sadness and defeat, my eyes filled with tears. I shook it off, pretending that I had a cold, forcing a fake cough. All business, that was to be my demeanor, despite how stuffed up and sick I am with this darn cold.
I glanced at her again but she had looked away, stared straight at the judge who, I know, had come to like her and probably felt like crying himself.
Nothing that had happened in the past two years had changed the course of history. The boulder that was her family and the foster care system and her world as she knew it was rolling down the hill and nothing, nobody, no idea, no plan, no goodwill, no tears could stop it.
It was as if, with the handcuffs on the floor, she had gone to another place where I couldn’t travel.
I was done. Close to being done. One of them.