“Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak, for the legal rights of all the dying. Open your mouth, judge in righteousness, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
Every once in a while, we have what some people would think of as a normal day. You know, hanging around the office, sitting at desks, filing, scanning, making the obligatory phone calls, typing stuff. This was not one of those days.
There is a homeless population in our fair city that seems to thrive on the good will of tourists and charitable citizens. They hang around Main Plaza, the bus stops, various cash and carry stores, the public library and the bathrooms at Whataburger. Sometimes you can find them on the Express buses, trolling for cash from well-heeled suburban taxpayers who they think won’t recognize them. (Note to these bus-types: I ride the bus. I know who you are.) Occasionally, they are given citations for misdemeanors such as aggressive panhandling, public intoxication, interference with traffic flow, etc. The hapless folk who are on the receiving end of the P.I. citation usually end up in “the tank” at the county jail to sleep it off until the following day when they are released back onto the streets.
One such recipient happened to find her way into our office last month, and she had a sad story to tell. She had been picked up for public intoxication and released the following day without her purse. She was heartbroken because the purse contained the only picture she had of her young adolescent son, now living with relatives due to her present lifestyle. Robert made some phone calls and found her purse, along with the discovery of nine more outstanding warrants with the city. We took an hour out of an afternoon to drive over to municipal court to find out what could be done to help this young mother who seemed incapable of making good choices. Robert spoke with the prosecutor and the judge, who agreed to hear her case. It was then set for, ironically, Good Friday.
By the time April rolled around, we had learned a few more things about this homeless woman, one of which was that she had given birth five times, the last time only three months previously. All of her children had been placed in foster care or adopted. She had a drug habit, and although she could read perfectly well and had legible handwriting, she couldn’t seem to rise above life on the street. Her warrants were all a combination of public intoxication and/or aggressive panhandling. She was supposed to come up with $100 before her court appearance, but how this was to be accomplished, we had no idea.
As we pondered these things over eggrolls and soup on Good Friday, the faint sound of a drum beat could be heard above the din of the Chinese tango playing in the little restaurant. The solid glass storefront was a window onto Main Street, and as I watched with curiosity, the drums growing louder, there appeared two Roman soldiers carrying a sign that read, “JESUS, EL REY DE LOS JUDIOS.” (By the way, in this town, se habla espanol. Muchisimo.) Next came the trumpets playing a tune that sounded like something right out of Ben Hur, and people clothed like 30 A.D. Palestinians. Who were these people, and what were they doing? The passion play, for that was what it was, continued down the street, complete with Jesus carrying his cross, the two thieves in chains led behind, a small garrison of soldiers whipping the prisoners, crowds thronging around, shouting in Spanish, and even an appropriately pompous Pontius Pilate. They were headed down another block or so to the cathedral where the mock crucifixion would take place. Here was a sobering reminder of what day it was, and the horrible price that was paid for all of us. Right here on Main Street was the story of the Gift so freely given.
We didn’t know it at the time, but another gift was about to be given, this time to a young homeless woman with a very checkered past and a rather bleak future. When we got to municipal court, which was practically deserted on this Good Friday, Robert met with the prosecutor, received the state’s offers, accompanied our client before the judge, and made the case that this person was in no position to pay any fines or fees; in fact, she would have to re-offend in order to do so. The judge questioned the woman for a few minutes, then gave her answer: if our client would agree to the conditions set by the court, all nine citations would go away. Poof! Gone! Free! Did she understand? She said she did. We hoped for the best. It was her decision.
Just today we saw the woman from a distance as we ate lunch across the street. There she was, back with her most recent boyfriend whom we had met previously, lugging a large suitcase with all their possessions bulging from its tightly zippered compartments. They met up with a character who looked as if he had just stepped off the set of Mad Max and the three went on their way.
Maybe you will find yourself downtown in the near future and think, “who are all these people, and what are they doing?” They are just ordinary people, on what seems to be an ordinary day.