By Tatiana Sanchez
Kendall Smith rises as the bailiff calls her name. Her hands are tucked into her back pockets to conceal the handcuffs around her wrists. She is 17 and looks it. She was arrested at her home last week for failing to show up in court. Now she stands before Judge Sheryl Parker who will decide whether Kendall will go home or go to jail.
It is pouring outside Brooklyn Supreme Court and the courtroom feels gray. Kendall wears jeans, a cream colored beanie and a look of indifference. She pleads not guilty. Her attorney, a frazzled young woman, is trying to convince Judge Parker to send Kendall home.
“She’s in school full time at Brooklyn Academy of Global Finance,” she says. “One week before her court date Ms. Smith found out she was pregnant and got scared. She regrets not coming…”
Kendall has one friend in court, a friend her age who sits right behind her. The judge halts the proceedings and Kendall is ushered into a back room. She returns five minutes later with her hands now cuffed in front of her.
The judge notes the testimony of the arresting detective, who said that Kendall is an otherwise cooperative young woman who checks in with him twice a day. The judge, however, appears dubious.
She mentions that Kendall has been in trouble before, and has previously been sentenced to a year in jail. “Certainly Ms. Smith is familiar with this part,” she says.
She sets bail at $7,500.
“Will your client need to have her card marked ‘medical attention required,” she asks the attorney.
The attorney replies that she will.
A court officer approaches and takes Kendall by the arm. Kendall turns to face her friend.
“I love you,” Kendall says.
The friend says, “Call me.”
Jason Pagan walks into court with his father and with 21 missed curfew calls. His behavior has not improved since his last court date. He tested positive for marijuana on January 31. He’s committed an adult crime but his baby face and small frame tell a different story. He is only 16.
Jason recently entered the Center for Community Alternatives youth program but has only attended one session. He has several absences from school and his grades are suffering.
Quiet snickers are heard amongst the onlookers sitting behind Jason. His progress report is so poor, it’s funny.
Jason’s attorney, Joseph Donatelli, addresses Judge Parker in a desperate hope to salvage his client’s case. He speaks in a thick Brooklyn accent.
“Your Honor can I please approach the bench?” he asks.
Waves of their private conversation trickle over to those in attendance. Judge Parker raises her voice to an angry whisper.
“Is his father here today?” she asks. “Does he know that he hasn’t attended any of these sessions?”
Jason shifts in his seat. He looks down at his bright blue sneakers. His father slumps over in his seat.
Jason is charged with robbery in the first degree. If he doesn’t improve his behavior soon, he may face up to 10 years in jail. The judge tells Jason he has until April 15th to clean up his act.
“It’s really up to you,” she says. “If you don’t want to do this, let me know. On the other hand, if you do want to do this, you’re gonna have to work harder at it, because this behavior is inappropriate.”
Judge Parker sends Jason home with his father. He is dismissed for now. He keeps his puppy dog eyes on the floor as he turns to leave the courtroom. He walks with a tough guy’s swagger. Jason’s father leads the way. He looks like a taller, older version of his son.
They linger in the passageway as Donatelli discusses the case with them. Jason’s father isn’t pleased. Though his words are muffled by the closed doors, his tone of voice is angry as he confronts his son.