They knew this was for real when they saw the guards with guns and the inmates chained together, and they were stunned into silence.
We’d prepped our 8th graders pretty thoroughly for our field trip to the county courthouse, so they understood the need to be serious and respectful. When Judge Jasprica introduced herself to them as “the real Judge Judy – not the one on TV,” they weren’t even sure if they could laugh.
We also had the privilege of witnessing one of Judge Steiner’s last days on the bench before his retirement. Having heard him preside over “drug court” on previous field trips, I knew he would directly address our students, and perhaps have the people appearing before him address the students, too.
As we filed into the galley, we saw a young woman with her back to us, huddled over paperwork with her attorney. Judge Steiner asked her permission for us to listen in and then had her introduce herself. Her name was Sarah, she was 22 years old, and she’d been using meth since she was 13 or 14. The court was working with her to help her regain custody of her young daughter, who was currently being raised by grandparents.
Last fall Sarah had been sent to Spokane for in-patient drug rehab in lieu of going to jail. On the way there, she and her boyfriend had done meth on the bus, and she’d arrived at the treatment center already high. She was still allowed into the program, but she chose to leave after 38 days. Since she was no longer in a program, the judge now had the right to send her to jail. When he asked her why she’d left treatment, she said she was homesick and wanted to come back. After questioning her on her commitment to stay clean so she could have her daughter back, the judge chose to allow her to try outpatient treatment instead of going to jail.
Once back at school, I asked the students what they thought of Sarah. “I don’t think she’s ready to give up meth, even for her daughter,” said one student, a sentiment echoed by several during our discussion. A few students felt the judge should have just sent her to jail. They all admitted they were shocked when she turned around to face us: “She looked way older than 22!” Some of them commented on the telltale sores around her mouth, recognizing it as a sign of meth use. Not one of them felt she’d appreciated the grace she’d been given, and someone suggested we should pray that she would have a change of heart and be able to give up doing drugs.
Not only was the field trip a chance for career-building opportunities, it was also a valuable lesson in the real-life consequences of drug addiction. While I was proud of the students’ behavior at the courthouse and their interest in everything they encountered, I was most impressed by their insightful perceptions of a meth addict. I hope that lesson stays with them.