Volume 34, Number 1

Judge Calabrese, Arraignments

One third of the people 
who come here we will never see again.
One third will be here
in and out for the rest of their lives.

Those are the ones you can leaf 
through the papers 
in your sleep, as, after fifteen years here,
you do in your dreams at night.

But it is the other third
that is the tough part, 
the third that could go 
either way. 

My favorite part is 
when Judge Calabrese leafs through
sixteen pages, looks up for a moment
at the defendant’s face
and then back at the paperwork, 

Because he does wonder.

He has seen a million of them, 
but every case is new,
every case has some twist to it, 
something a little out of the ordinary, 
there are curve balls to consider, 
a mountain of pages to leaf through,

whether it is a community tie 
conspicuous in its absence, 
or turning the pages 
a pattern that suddenly 
leaps out at you,

the CJA report, priors, corroborating affidavit, 
employment or lack thereof, 
the whole question of not just 
where he is coming from, 
but where he is going to, 

if bail is really needed, 
what bail, in a city where most can’t afford 
a new refrigerator, let alone the $1,000
which the DA to protect their own butts
always asks for,

all leading to the crucial question
of questions, 
which one of the three 
he is, 

which side of the paper to staple,
bail or ROR,
and with a twist of the wrist
which of the bins to throw it in,

and then the next case is called,
and I as the court reporter take it down, 
like cans on the assembly line, 
but this is real life we are talking about,
this is this kid’s future,

a month at Rikers Island can scar a kid for life,
a month on the street 
without the human services he needs 
can be another setup for failure, 

no one will notice 
except the family of the defendant 
and that ghost of justice, 
if there is still one in the building, 
that might continue to haunt you,

but if a defendant is released 
only to commit the same crime again 
who knows where you will be 
after the NY Post witch-hunt 
and the Police Benevolent Association 
gets through with you—

but that is the line you walk, 
that is the dance you do, 
sworn to do justice as a judge
in Brooklyn Criminal Court, 
AR 2, 

and this is just one kid
whose life depends upon 
the right decision,

and no sooner than that 
another one comes along, 

and which of the three
will he or she be? 

There are 120 cases on the calendar
that the judge will hear today,
if we are lucky to go home 
by five or six or seven o’clock,
so be careful, but be quick
because for each case 
you have about four minutes.

—Chris Butters