Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Week Four - Thank You for Punishing Me

You've been convicted of a crime, but the judge recognizes that this is your first offense. Instead of sending you to jail, he hands down an extremely unusual punishment. What's even more unusual is, after it's over, you come back to thank him. Why?

My Creativity
I stood there beside my lawyer waiting to hear what the judge would say. I'd just pleaded guilty to theft. It was stupid really. I was desperate to own the newest Gucci purse. I thought for sure it would help me get a job. I really wanted to be the editor of a fashion magazine. Now I'll be lucky to get a job at all.

"Please rise for your sentence," commanded the bailiff.

I stood beside me lawyer and took a deep breath. I think everyone in the courtroom was able to hear the pounding of my heart.

"Given that you voluntarily pleaded guilty and that this is your first offence, I don't think that a fine or jail time is warranted. Nor am I convinced that it will teach you any lesson."

'O'kay,' I thought. 'I can handle some community service.' I just hopped that it wasn't cleaning graffiti or picking up trash at the side of the road.

"It is unfortunate that greed and vanity got the better of you," continued the judge. "I believe that what you need is to learn the difference between needs and wants," the judge paused. "It is for this reason that I sentence you to spending three nights and four days of living on the street."

I remember looking at the judge and thinking that it must be a joke; perhaps I was being punked. Immediately my lawyer began spewing words about rights and humiliation; to be honest I'm not even sure what they were. I touched my lawyers arm, "It's alright," I whispered. "I'll do it."

I wasn't even given the opportunity to go home. I was stripped of my belongings, make-up, wallet, keys, and the likes before being dropped off at a homeless shelter. There was already a line forming in front of the locked doors. Apparently even homeless shelters had business hours.

The experience was nothing like I expected it to be. I'm not even sure that I could call it humbling or eye opening. There doesn't seem to be a word to describe the world I found myself in. I went from a promising business women to what felt like a begging street animal. In fact, there were times when I was even treated at such. People walk by without looking, or yelling at you to get a job. The odd person might drop you some spare change or offer you leftovers from their meal, but it seemed to happen less often.

Getting food wasn't the only problem. Apparently there are only so many beds available at the shelters; hence the line up on the first day. If you don't get there in time for a bed, you are left to find comfort on the streets. You can try your luck on a park bench or bus shelter, but you may end up spending the night in jail instead. I understand how that could be appealing to some of the regulars. There are of course back alleys and abandon buildings available, if you don't mind boarding with mice and various insects.

By the end of the second day, I would have done almost anything for a bath. I found myself in a gas station bathroom trying to bathe as best as I could. Without much soap, hot water, or space it wasn't easy. At least I was somewhat clean. In many ways it only mattered to me. People on the street don't judge one another. There are no pressures to explain yourself, to look a certain way or to act a certain way. It is about survival.

As I spend my time outside, I watched people. Always in such a hurry. Always on the phone. Living in a world where only they belong. How could I have been part of that world? On the streets, I met people other homeless people who wanted to help me; people who offered to share with me from what little they had. People watched out for each other. It was an actual community. In someways it seemed to contain elements of humanity, such as manners, that we seem to have lost.

I got through my time, because I knew that I would be going home. I held on to that hope. What hope did many of the others have? At the end of my sentence I went home to clean out my closet and my pantry. I was one person, why did I need so many extras? Before going to the homeless shelter, I stopped at the courthouse. I wanted to thank the judge for reminding me what life is truly about.

Note: Sorry that it is a little late this week. I decided to be sick. I would like to have taken more time on this story to have done some research on how the judicial system works and also to really understand what life in like for a homeless person. Without that research, my piece is missing a certain honesty to it.

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