There’s An Elephant Sitting On Me

There is more than one kind of poverty.

When you direct a non-profit that is neck deep filling in gaps in rural poverty, lines blur as much as your eyes do from the stinging tears you constantly find yourself fighting back. The last few days my eyes are red a lot.

The elephant sitting on me is this concept of expediency versus justice.

I visit juvenile court as well as the adult court quite often. Empower Youth is there for victims but unfortunately most of the time we are there for those who are the alleged perpetrators of the crime. Many times, I come to the courthouse to do little more than say with my presence, “You will get through this. You can do better. I see you.”   In the last year, I have noticed that truth, innocence, guilt, upbringing, politeness, organized defense or offense, and intelligence are not completely the motivation for a trial moving along as much as it is the expediency of poverty.

Let me explain. I am in a lot of conference rooms. In those rooms, the attorney for the defense will present a break in the case that could push the case quite possibly to the side of dismissal or to lesser charges but in order to take this road, time is a factor. Poverty is more than a reduction of finances. When you are the working poor, poverty is also a reduction of time. Every day a parent goes to court, a day is lost from their job. For some parents, that’s an automatic HR ticket. For some parents, 8 tickets in 1 year and you are fired– no questions asked. The current family I have been working with has been to court 4 times. 4 tickets. As I sit in the hall waiting to be called back, I’ve always railed at the fact that most of the time only one parent is even present for the court. Court is a lot of information thrown at you in 15 minutes and decisions are required in 5 minutes as to which way to go next. Children and adults who do still have two parents contributing in their daily upbringing would benefit from both parents being present and having a moment to weigh everything out. However, not only is there the unexcused work absence or personal day at stake but there is the loss of wages that make it nearly impossible to take off for extended times.

All of sudden, as was my experience recently, a decision has more to do with loss of work during a case than it does with the ability to financially get a second opinion.

And so I have wrestled all night. The decision of innocence or guilt faints at the motivation of expediency and financial cost.

However, all is not lost on the expediency of poverty because I do know many folks within our juvenile court system who bring justice, compassion, fairness, mercy, and discipline to the courts every day. They bring wisdom into case after case and as I struggle I have begun to pray even more fervently that they would be blessed with peace and discernment as they come face to face with each student and family in their courts. The one thing I have learned over the years of visiting juvenile courtrooms is that the terms victim and perpetrator are not accurate. In juvenile court, every child or youth is a victim.

I used to worry about what people thought when I would be sitting with a youth that was guilty of such a horrible act of violence, theft, or vandalism. It is a hard place to sit. Empower Youth was not founded because our world is pretty. Empower Youth was founded to take students where they are and elevate them to where they are created to be. Empower Youth wants to help each student uncover purpose and motivation to be better…to be a leader if the gifts are there for that… but perhaps most importantly for each student to be seen as worthy of friendship, family, and community.

In the middle of all that Empower Youth is doing to build relationships through big events and creating a ranch where nothing is so broken that a broken youth can’t fix it, I just wanted to bring us all back to center and clarity.

There is a familiar Scripture that talks about how a shepherd will leave ninety-nine sheep to find the one he is missing. We are still about that one child.

Yesterday court went long. I missed the second half of a work team. I am thankful I didn’t get an HR ticket for taking a half day for court.

Lori Conley

Executive Director

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