It was Friday, a school day, and once again I was stuck in court.
I wore ripped jeans, a baggy hoodie and a slightly muddy pair of converse sneakers. It was meant to be a joke – they were the same clothes I’d worn breaking into the bottle store.
The stiff-looking lawyer they’d assigned me didn’t seem to get the punchline though.
‘This is your third time meeting Streisand,’ he whispered to me as he ruffled through his case notes, ‘You know what she’s like.’
I ignored the twat and looked around the small courtroom. Two eyes glared back at me. The bottle store owner was trying to be a tough guy. I snorted and glared back until his stare shifted away. I glanced at the police prosecutor, some old dude with a big moustache, and then up front where the court-aide was getting to her feet.
‘All rise for Judge Streisand.’
I heard heels clicking on the oak floorboards. We stood. The lawyer was sighing. My feet started to heat up. I moved my weight from one foot, and back to the other.
I’m done for.
The clicking heels grew louder and more prominent, and then bursting through the double doors was Judge Margaret Streisand. She had a hawk nose, hawk eyes, and a hawk’s brain.
‘Scared?’ my lawyer whispered.
I shrugged. ‘She just acts like she’s disappointed in me you know? No one else does that.’
Judge Streisand didn’t look at me as she strolled past. Instead, she said hello to the police prosecutor, checked in with her court staff, then pulled out a stack of paperwork from behind her desk. I wanted to run away. I could feel my muscles tensing up.
I won’t make it through the door, I thought, But so what? I shouldn’t have come in the first place.
The judge finished consulting with whoever needed consulting, gave her paperwork a slight rustle, then declared court open. I shut my eyes.
‘Mr Danny Frey.’ She boomed from the front of the room, ‘I thought we’d made a deal.’
I opened my eyes. Everyone was staring at me, ‘Sorry miss.’
‘Sorry? Sorry works the first two times you come to court. As they say in the U.S – third strike and you’re out.’
I stared at the picture of the Queen, and the Union Jack that sat behind her desk; trying to avoid those eyes.
‘Anyway….’ She shook her head, ‘Let’s hear what the police have to say.’
As per usual, the police prosecutor mumbled his way through what had happened. There was security footage of a group throwing bricks through the bottle store windows before helping themselves to what was inside.
One of the youths was wearing the same jersey I’d been found in. Three bottles of scotch had also been found on me (there’d been a fourth but I disposed of the evidence at a party the night before). The total cost of the theft ran to around £2000 – not a big deal, but the fact that I’m not rich and this was my third time sort of made it a big deal.
When the prosecutor had finished, the bottle store owner spoke. Then my lawyer spoke. Then the police prosecutor said something which my lawyer refuted and they all descended into a technical-term festival.
I was struggling to stand still. I needed to run or have a fight or jump off a pier or something. My eyes flicked about; I noticed a rather large woman walking through the court doors. She wore a white hat with a red cross on it and when she caught Streisand’s eye the judge smiled which was something I’d never seen before.
The red cross lady squeezed into one of the aisles and stared at me. She looked like she wanted to smile at me or something so I turned away and pretended to watch my future being decided. When I looked back she was still watching me.
Back in the realm of court decisions, things were happening too fast for me to keep up. The judge finished with the police, my lawyer, and the liquor store owner, and concentrated her full attention on me. I gulped again, wondering if it was still too late to run.
‘Mr Frey,’ she said, ‘The police and your lawyer have mentioned that there were other youths on the scene with you.’
I stared ahead, not looking at her.
‘Mr Frey,’ she repeated, ‘You could cut the time of your sentence if you were to add a few names to our list.’
I stood silent, she had to ask me again, ‘Well?’
‘I don’t rat.’
‘Even for a reduced sentence?’
‘Even for a reduced sentence your honour.’
She gave a sharp nod.
‘How old are you Danny?’
‘I’m seventeen your honour.’
‘Well right now you’re not making many smart moves. This is your third offence and what’s stopping you from committing another?’
She paused, waiting for me to speak, I just crossed my arms and stared towards the ceiling. When I didn’t answer she looked across at my lawyer, ‘At the moment your jail sentence is looking like six months in juvenile detention.’
I tried to keep a straight face, but inside I was kicking myself for not bursting into tears or something. A few of my mates had been to juvie and they all came out colder.
Streisand stared around the courtroom, ‘Six months of juvenile detention, there’s no telling what a young man will learn there… It could scare them off a life in crime, give them a deterrent. Or it can harden them. Push them over the edge.’
She paused like the narrator of a play… letting her sentence roll out to fill the courtroom.
‘But Mr Frey, I also have a second option on display today.’
Judge Streisand turned to the large woman in front, the one who’d been watching me.
‘Donna Appleby from the Red Cross has alerted me to a new youth program they’re running.’
The judge pulled out a sheet of paper and read from it, ‘The scheme takes young juvenile delinquents to places where they can do some good. In two weeks, Donna will be heading to Turkey to work in a refugee camp housing people affected by the Syrian civil war.’
I stared at this Donna woman; she was nodding along. Then her eyes flicked to me and she smiled. I pretended I hadn’t made eye contact by turning back to the judge.
‘In five months, you’d be finished Mr Frey, so this is shorter than your juvenile detention sentence, but still long enough to have an impact on your life.’
She peered over her glasses at me, ‘What do you think?’
My lawyer put his hand up like he wanted to say something, but I beat him to it – anything was better than juvie.
‘I’ll do it.’
What could have been a smile twitched on her lips, ‘Is our police prosecutor happy with that?’
The policeman consulted with a deputy before nodding.
‘Very well then,’ said Judge Streisand, ‘I hereby hand Mr Frey over to the Red Cross.’ She hardened her tone, ‘If you ever turn up here again Mr Frey, you’ll be serving everything in full. We want you to be able to contribute to society Mr Frey, but this is your last chance to come clean.’
I nodded, ‘Thanks, your honour.’
Then my lawyer and I were walking out of there, halfway down the aisle the Red Cross woman stepped out in front of me.
‘Nice to meet you Danny,’ the woman gave a big wide motherly sort of grin, ‘Our plane leaves from Heathrow the Monday after next, I’ll be in touch.’
‘Thanks,’ I grunted, and as my lawyer and I walked off I was thinking about the bullet I’d dodged. There were worse prison wardens than the Red Cross lady.
But one thing made me pause for a moment as my lawyer hailed a cab.
Where the hell is Turkey?