I have decided not to close my eyes and ears and they hurt. I have decided to show up in hard places and keep showing up. I saw hard grace recently and I will not forget it. I have decided to put my voice to the journey. I can tell you, I will need to be propped up more than once.
Today I sat in a courtroom and witnessed a man sentenced to prison for 10 years.
We stood in serpentine and waited to pass through the metal detector; boots off, watches off, belt buckles and jewelry off. It is an undressing and it feels like it.
While we wait for the judge, the stage is set mostly as you'd expect it: a white marble desk (imposing),
egg and dart relief, brass scales of justice, Oregon state seal, the buzz of bluish fluorescent lights in a stippled tile ceiling and a court reporter clicking away in the corner.
One surprise, a beautiful polished wooden map of Oregon fit together in county pieces to make the state outline. A touch of someone's hand.
The courtroom is empty now, but for the two attorneys, a newspaper reporter and the four of us. We are here today to see the sentencing trial of man convicted of prostituting a girl, to understand the full story of the young girls we have befriended at Door to Grace. Door to Grace is a non-profit bringing safe and loving family to sexually exploited children.
The defendant shuffles in between two sheriffs, his ankles chained together and handcuffs chained around his waist. None of his family is present when the trial begins.
We stand as the judge enters and the multiple charges are read: 20 counts of promoting prostitution,
3 counts of tampering with a witness.
We sit down on the long wooden benches and begin to hear things we do not understand. The girl who testified at the trial is not here today. She said all she wanted was to get home to her own child a state away. He told her he loved her and promised her bus fare for a few tricks turned. He posted her for sale online. "Just this once" turned into a week. He says he is misinterpreted and that he was the one who took care of her. He says he had plenty of money and didn't need hers. The receipts tell a different story. The cops found him sitting in a nearby coffeeshop watching the customers drive up.
My pen stops mid sentence and bleeds ink on the paper.
Some of the debate, before sentencing can begin, is whether to consider this case one very long episode of a single act of prostitution or multiple episodes by counting each purchase of sex in a car with a stranger as separate.
My pen stops again. I wonder if we're talking about the right things? A man put a price on a girl and sold her to buyers, of which there were plenty. The buyers have long gone now, taking a bit of her away forever, something that never should have been for sale.
But this wrangling over one or more crimes will determine if the sentences are served concurrently or consecutively, a big deal when you are looking at so many counts.
The defense attorney filed a 31 page brief on the defendant's behalf early that morning and now asks for 0 months.
The Deputy District Attorney called the defendant's crimes aggravated and requests 240 months. It turns out, he was on probation at the time of these crimes. He has been here before, in fact, he is classified as an 8A criminal with a previous record of 3 or more person felonies.
But he shrugged at his freedom, let go the chance. He changed his name while under supervision and added to his record, as if the opportunity was nothing. Even while on trial for prostituting a girl, he repeatedly called her right from the courthouse halls to bully her into not testifying. In truth, violating his parole means each of his sentences can be doubled and that turns into something.
The judge says,
"I will cut to the chase for you. You will serve 10 years in prison."
He seems surprised, but he does not cry or comment.
Most of his sentence is to be served concurrently so the total is 120 months. Now we sit while each of the individual counts must be read aloud with their accompanying sentences. The defense attorney explains to the defendant that he must register as a sex offender. "But I got kids", he says. She touches his shoulder and whispers that this comes with the sentence. She is gentle with him.
I walk out onto the streets and the day is sunny, not so my heart. A man will not see these sunny skies for a decade and a girl has miles of healing ahead of her.