ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Justice…part 1 of who knows how many?

So, again for those who know me in person, you all know that I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. I was on a jury here locally this summer for someone accused of a crime (actually, 4 crimes: kidnapping plus criminal sexual penetration times 3). This young man had been arrested in March of 2013 and did not come to trial until August 2015. Meanwhile, he had been kept on house arrest for 19 months.

Now, this was not my first brush with the criminal justice system. I’ve never been arrested, myself (I go to all the wrong parties). But, in no particular order, I witnessed a fatal car accident in which the police were accused of chasing down the driver; had a friend in college who disappeared and whose husband is serving a sentence for kidnapping and murdering her; an in-law who was arrested and jailed for a drug offense; an in-law who was shot and killed by a spouse who also went to prison; a friend who was accused of sexually assaulting a minor (this friend was found not guilty of everything but is still treated as though he were guilty); another person in my life who was accused of stalking a woman. Anyway, I disclosed what needed to be disclosed; but I think you can’t get to be as old as I am without knowing people who these things happened to. Also, I think that at some point these things level out; you really do look at everything with an open mind.

And let me clarify: some of the above were guilty, and they absolutely did what they were accused of doing. Some were innocent but paid for being accused. And that’s mostly what I’m hung up on at the moment.

I keep falling into telling the story of the young man whose jury I was on, but I would really rather cut to the chase. No, he didn’t do it; no, he wasn’t a predator; and yes, a young woman can decide to have sex with a boy she met two days ago and then get mad about it. The horrible part of the story is that he was accused of attacking this young woman and found not guilty after he had already been kept in jail and served 19 months on house arrest.

The police introduced video of his first interrogation. Another horrible thing; the police in this video implied that they were talking to him about taking money (which he knew he hadn’t done), accused him of being gay (which he knew he wasn’t), and told him lies that they had both video and audio of the incident. He told them that the video and audio would clear him of any wrong-doing, and would prove that everything was consensual, which wasn’t the narrative they wanted to hear. And you can see it on the video as this young man realizes that he is in very deep trouble.

Similarly, my friend who was falsely accused of assaulting a student (friend: 5’9″, limited mobility due to back surgery; student: over 6′, rodeo rider, not even friend’s student) was arrested and put into lockup with many other men who were told that he was a “child molester.” I’ve known him all my life and didn’t need to be assured that he had done nothing wrong, but when he went to trial the accuser recanted on the stand.

My point with both of these stories is that not only had the accused not done anything wrong, it was impossible for him to have done what he was accused of doing. And why were both of them deprived of due process and punished for crimes they were only accused of committing?

From here, I’ve been debating the question of what justice really means. Say either of them was guilty, would it have been justice for them to go to prison and be abused in there? Justice was served eventually, but one of them had to leave town and the other one maybe should, since so many people are bent on punishing him by continuing to tell the false story and getting people riled up about him. The best I can do? Not only do I not know what justice would be, I don’t know why anyone trusts the police.

And how it all ties into the book: the Polish Home Army had its own justice system, with its own courts, juries and executioners–about 6,000 executions carried out during the Nazi occupation, according to some sources. Is it justice or terrorism? And can justice from a corrupt official like the Nazis be justice? And what does the American system of justice, in which people have been held without charge and without trial for years at Gitmo, in which you can be secretly arrested and held in a secret prison, say about America?

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How do I do it? I don’t do all of it!

So, I’ve been taking my time on posting on the blog. Mostly because I’m editing and re-writing and deep into getting the book ready, and doing some research. But mostly my Mom life has taken over. My youngest is in dance and gymnastics (and choir and orchestra) and has something every day. My middle child has quit gymnastics but is still doing hockey and band; she and I have big plans for cross-training, should we ever get off our behinds and go to the gym. For my oldest it’s all music.

I’ve written before about my extensive volunteer commitments: marching band, yearbook, VBS. And I’m still married to my husband, although he is gone quite a bit. For my blog this time I considered writing a little about some issues we’ve had with extended family, or about how burned out I’ve gotten on the old volunteer commitments while still being excited about the newer ones. Instead, I thought I might write about commitment.

Maybe I’m thinking about this because I’m old, crotchety, and think the younger generation lives in “planned obsolescence”–not just with their electronics, but with their friends and marriages and other relationships. Except that it’s not just young people who think about their lives that way. And while I think it’s healthy to think about changing your life, and making your world better, I also think that sometimes we do things because we are obligated. Only it’s a bigger idea than that, even: that there’s a kind of achievement in duty, maybe?

Take the marching band, for example. A little over a year ago I agreed to take on uniforming the band. This meant being in charge of uniform fittings and alterations and getting them cleaned. It’s a big job, but it’s finite. Somehow this job evolved into being “the lady in charge of all textiles.” So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been doing the World’s Largest Craft Project: 600 square feet of banners to frame the marching band show and help carry the theme (“Celestial,” or something similar). The fabric I ordered for the project has just arrived, a week later than anticipated, so I’ve had the stress of dealing with that and getting different fabric and getting all of it decorated and ready to go on the field. Additionally, I’ve been altering band pants because the band Won’t. Stop. Growing!

All of that would have been completely unbearable if it hadn’t been for the extensive help I’ve had. It’s not just me; it’s a whole team. I can even tell the team that I’m worried that people will blame me if things don’t go right (high winds meet 5 by 10 foot banners). And do you know what they say? Every single one of them says “No one thinks it’s your fault” and “We’re all in it together” and “Everyone knows you’re doing the best you can.” I was told six times today how pretty the banners are. It’s the most supportive volunteer environment I’ve ever been in. So even though it’s stressful, my efforts are appreciated and I at least try to be supportive of everyone else.

Contrasted with the other volunteer job I do that’s causing me grief…

I’m on a board of directors that has regular, annoying arguments. Complicated ones that involve Policies and Decisions. And it’s ridiculously unpleasant; every few days something new blows up. This is a board that is centered around a kid’s activity. The particular job I do isn’t onerous, but it eats my time. The time I’m supposed to be using to finish my book and start the next one.


I agreed to do it.

And that’s what it has in common with the marching band. I’m just not the kind of person who turns her back on a job I agreed to do, or on anything I agreed to do. Whether it’s a volunteer job that I’m tired of, or a friend who is passive aggressive at me, or even those days that I think, “I’ll just divorce him. I’ll be so much happier.” Or even if one of my kids is stubborn and hard to deal with–I don’t quit. And in my heart, I think people who DO quit–“It’s too hard, it’s not what I expected, it’s not fun!!!” should be ashamed of themselves.

So, a couple of last thoughts from my Mom life, and then I have to go live it.


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