By MATT MYGATT, Associated Press WriterMon Mar 31, 2:00 PM ET
Marlene Chavez stood before a hushed courtroom, acknowledging the consequences of her second drunken-driving offense. Among the spectators were hundreds of teenagers who hung on her every word. “I lost a lot of things,” said Chavez, 43. “I left my vehicle in the impound so that I don’t do drinking and driving after that. And I lost my house. I lost my kids to their father so that they can go stay with him because I had nowhere to go.” Chavez had already pleaded guilty. Now a judge gave her four days in jail and a $500 fine. But her sentence came with an additional indignity: It happened in a high school auditorium, where 400 students stared as she lifted one leg, then the other, to let jailers shackle her feet. Guards also wrapped a chain around her waist and handcuffed her. When the hearing ended, she was escorted out of Belen High School, about 30 miles south of Albuquerque, and locked up. Magistrate Daniel Hawkes brought his courtroom to the school in hopes that the proceedings will show students the dangers of alcohol, especially in the weeks leading up to the prom and graduation. Hawkes, whose program is unique in New Mexico, also sentenced two people at the school last year. He brings with him a plywood court bench emblazoned with a New Mexico Supreme Court seal. The makeshift courtroom also includes U.S. and New Mexico flags. Ed Chavez, chief justice of the high court and no relation to Marlene Chavez, said he would like to see the program go statewide. When the hearing began, 18-year-old Angel Mendez didn’t realize the seriousness of the proceedings. But after watching Marlene Chavez and four other repeat offenders get sentenced, he changed his view. “I thought it was pretty shocking just to see them like that. I didn’t think they would have them in shackles,” he said.
Oh, SNAP! Bad enough to have to stand inside a courtroom for sentencing, but to be sentenced in front of a crowd of teenagers in a high school auditorium…. well, that’s just plain torture. I hated standing on stage during assemblies to be recognized for something good. I can’t imagine what it would be like to look out at those snarling little demons while being sentenced to jail time. Yikes!
This is a pretty cool little program. I support the idea of bringing reality to kids. When you’re young, you don’t always consider the conquences of your actions (Uh. When you’re older you sometimes don’t either. Just look at the unaffordable mortgages out there that are getting bailed on, but I digress…). I think it stems from that feeling of immortality that young people have. Nothing has happened yet, so I may as well push my luck and do what everyone else is doing.
Tennagers often live in this sort of unreal dream state. Maybe that’s fueled, in part, by popular media. Big problems get resolved in thirty minutes – deus ex machina; nobody stays hurt or disfigured. Understanding that people get hurt, they go to prison, they spend their remaining days in a wheelchair, they die,…these concepts don’t really seep into the young mind. There’s always the standard reply, “So what if I die? Big deal.” Instead of, “I can put my best friend in a hospital bed for the rest of his life and destroy his family if I drink & drive with him in the passenger’s seat.”
There’s also the added bonus of teaching kids a bit about courtroom procedure — something I hope they won’t have to learn about first-hand.
In addition to providing value to the students, it may help act as a deterrent for adult violators. (Because, yes, we’re all guilty of doing stupid things as adults too — me included.) I know I wouldn’t want to stand up there while the popular girls snicker at my outdated haircut.
Tenth grade all over again, plus you have to go to jail! Ack!