The Beat Within: When the Jury Says ‘Guilty’

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This essay was originally published by The Beat Within, a justice system writing workshop.

I sat there quietly, listening to him lie. He was telling everyone in the room about me. Who I am. The kind of guy I am. The kid I was.

I screamed and shouted silently, violently, insides rioting. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to.

The courtroom was silent. Attentive, studious. As was the stenographer. Her fingers moving at superhuman speed. The paper she typed on looked like receipts at a grocery store. I listened to the D.A., on the P.A., tell the shoppers that I lived in the express lane. That I purchased the price of this life with the cost of the hereafter.

I screamed and shouted silently, violently, insides rioting. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to.

There was a huge flag, an American flag in the courtroom. It represented “freedom.” There was another flag on the opposite side. A state of California flag. It too was big, it represented being UNITED, but being DIVIDED. Like my state of mind. United but divided… Just like the people in the courtroom. There was a plaque of the scales of justice between the two flags, directly above the judge.

I wanted to speak up. Instead, I screamed and shouted silently, violently, insides rioting. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to.

They asked me to stand. They ORDERED me to stand. The foreman of the jury stood. All eyes were on me. All ears were on He. The silence was louder than any sound I have ever heard. Then he spoke “guilty!” People screamed, sighed, cried and cheered. But I heard nothing. That noise was much more silent than any other stillness I’ve ever experienced.

I wanted to speak up. Instead, I screamed and shouted silently, violently, insides rioting. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to.

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