Last Thursday, Ryan and I went to the United States District Court in Fort Worth, Texas. This was our first field trip of the school year.
This field trip was sparked by a book series that we read over the summer, the Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer Series by John Grisham. We read all 6 books and Ryan and I both thoroughly enjoyed them (we hope that he writes more of the books!). Ryan wanted to share his thoughts on the series so I asked him a few questions:
Is this series for boys and girls? What age?
CAN BE FOR BOTH, AGES NINE AND UP.
Which book was your favorite?
CAN REALLY SAY I LOVED THEM ALL.
What did you think of Theodore Boone as a character?
I LOVED THEO. FINDING HIM RELATABLE. HE IS A GOOD KID BUT IS NORMAL TOO.
What do you mean by that?
HE REALLY DOES THE RIGHT THING BUT HE PUSHES THE LIMITS AT TIMES.
What traits do you think that Theo and you share?
HE IS MATURE AND HE IS A GOOD STUDENT.
Why did you like the series so much when you usually gravitate towards Fantasy novels?
BECAUSE THE STORIES WERE SO INTERESTING.
Ryan has been interested in the law and court since then. I looked up the contact information for the District Courthouse and reached out via the website. I got an email reply indicating that since it was just Ryan and me that we could observe at any time. The email suggested that I call the day before to find out what would be on the docket for the day that we wanted to go. I did this and found out that there were to be 3 sentencing hearings and 1 revocation hearing. I asked the woman on the phone what she thought of the sentencing hearings and if they would be good for our first time observing court. She seemed to think that it would be good to watch. She also mentioned that the following week, there would be a high profile civil case that would have a packed courtroom and overflow to another room (and possible protesters), so it might be best to try for Thursday like we planned. I agreed since I wanted it to be less stressful for Ryan, especially for our first time to observe.
As we were getting ready in the morning, I gave Ryan the option to wear khaki shorts (since it is still close to 100 degrees in Fort Worth) or khaki pants. He replied: SEEMS THAT PANTS WOULD BE APPROPRIATE.
We arrived in downtown Fort Worth and it took me a few minutes to find public parking. There are no electronics allowed in the courtroom, so I left my phone in the car (which meant no pictures) and Ryan did not bring his iPad or iPhone (which he almost always has as background noise).
We went through security and got up to the fifth floor a bit early so we used the restroom and waited outside the courtroom. We were let in about 10 minutes before 10:00 am, the time that the hearings were scheduled to start. Ryan and I found a seat on the left side of the courtroom. We had been sitting just a minute or so and a man behind me got my attention and very politely asked me why were in court that day. I replied that we were there to observe the hearings. He mentioned to me that we would likely want to skip his client’s hearing, which was the third one on the schedule for the day. I asked him if it was because of the sensitivity of the case and he replied yes. I decided that it would be best to follow his advice, especially since he went out of the way to approach us about it. (I later found out that I am very glad that he approached us as the case was not a good one for a child to observe or for me to observe for that matter.)
Shortly after we sat down, the three convicted people entered the room. They were wearing orange jumpsuits and each had their arms in chains. I wanted to make sure that Ryan was observing everything, so I mentioned this to him.
I asked him if he had any idea why their jumpsuits were orange.
SO THAT THEY CAN BE SEEN.
I commended him on his answer.
The first hearing was for a young woman who was convicted of possessing and distributing drugs. She was arrested in July of the previous year and actually gave birth to a baby boy in prison in November of last year. Her family was in the courtroom to support her. Ryan was very quiet and attentive through the hearing.
When we got home, I asked him about it.
TOO SAD. MEANINGFUL TO KNOW HER BACKSTORY.
I asked him about the crime of dealing drugs he replied.
HARD TO THINK THAT.
The second hearing was for a man who was convicted of armed robbery. He had not had an offense since 1985. He had fallen on hard times and was living out of his car. Apparently, three people close to him died within two weeks of each other (his mom, his first cousin, and a childhood friend) and he fell back to crime.
I asked Ryan about this case once we were home too.
I THOUGHT THAT HIS WAS A SAD STORY TOO.
After that was done, we headed out. I could tell it was beginning to get hard for Ryan to sit and since the lawyer had given us the warning about the sensitivity of the third case, it was time. Ryan did amazing in the courtroom. Since we have been working on his tolerance of sitting in RPM lessons, at the movie theater, in church, and at home watching television, this paid off. I could not have dreamed of taking him to a courthouse a few years back because he would have been disruptive. This was important to him.
I asked him about sitting quietly (without electronics) for 45 minutes.
MOSTLY HARD BUT I WAS EXCITED SO I TRIED MY BEST.
I asked him if anything surprised him about the courtroom.
THE PRISONERS SEEMED SAD.
I asked him about his first court experience.
LOVED IT. DO YOU CARE TO DO IT AGAIN, MOM?
I answered that we could do it again. I also told him that my plan was to reach out to the judge in the courtroom to see if he could interview him about his job.
Ryan replied: REALLY COOL TO MEET HIM.
I ended up calling later that day and I got the judge’s secretary. I introduced myself over the phone and I explained that we were in the courtroom today and that I was confident that the judge would know who we were (there were not many people in the courtroom and Ryan was the only child) She replied, “Oh you were the one with the little boy!” I have to assume that it is unusual to have a child in the courtroom to observe (other than family members).
She was going to relay the information to the judge and took down my phone number. I am truly hoping that Ryan gets the opportunity to talk to him, even if it is for 10 minutes. I will keep you guys updated (I am sure that we will blog about it if it happens).
I asked Ryan if he had any other thoughts about his first court experience.
MOM, MOSTLY IT IS COOL BUT SAD TOO.