The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Doing Time in the Waiting Room
Alene Taylor

During one of my first visits to Family Court in New York City, a lady came in with her two daughters. They placed one in handcuffs and took her away as the other screamed and cried, trying to pry her sister away from the officer. I felt the bonds between them breaking. I thought to myself, “This is not a place I would like to visit on the regular.”

Unfortunately, I’ve been back many times, maybe 13 or 14 times in all. I personally don’t like the place because there’s always a lot of confusion and it’s a sad place to be.

It’s not the courtroom so much that I dislike. Sure, the judge and officers can sometimes be rude, and if you’re in the courtroom, you’re already having a bad day. But, at least in my case, when I’m in court, my opinions always seem to get heard and everyone seems to be on my side. (I think that’s because they dislike my mother.)

Drama All Around

For me, it’s the waiting room that I really hate. In the waiting room there’s always drama. It seems like a movie in the making. Sometimes it’s the children acting bad to their parents. Once a woman was trying to place her son in a home. After his court appearance, he started to beat on her. He hit her as if there were no limits. He acted like he was the parent and she was the child. Outside the courthouse, these kinds of outbursts are not normal, but inside no one seemed to care.

Usually it’s the parents who are acting bad to their children. Every time I’m in the waiting room, I have to listen to parents start to talk about their out-of-order children. They talk about their kids as if they’re not there. They talk about how their kids are worthless. They say to each other, “He can’t do anything right. I wonder why I even put up with it.”

Some parents are so ridiculous, they make it seem as if the kid was a problem child as soon as the parent gave birth. It makes me just want to shrivel up and die.

I Just Sit and Cry

The worst of it is that I have to be in the same room with my mother. Since I’ve been in foster care, I haven’t had regular contact with her, so the waiting room is the main place we see each other. The more I look at her, the more upset I get. Even my lawyer seems to be on edge when he’s around us, thinking that maybe she’ll get so mad that she’ll attack me.

image by Duran Rivera

Whenever I go to the courthouse, I’m nervous already because I don’t know what to expect. My whole life might be changed by a person who only knows me from what a piece of paper says. My stomach begins to hurt and I feel like vomiting. I’d like to get in and out of there as fast as I can.

But usually I have to spend the day in that waiting room. The shortest time I’ve ever sat there was three hours, the longest was eight or more. Most of the time I’m basically stuck there all day, often until closing.

No one tells you how long you’ll have to wait, because they don’t know themselves. And if you ask for information, you just might get a nasty answer.

But the thought of having to sit in that waiting room so long increases my pre-court jitters for days. It gets to the point where I feel as if there is no way possible that I can prepare myself to handle whatever is going to happen.
Once there, usually I turn off my brain to keep from going crazy. But sometimes I can’t help it and I cry. I cry for a long time, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, yet no one seems to notice or care.

Let Some Happiness In

After all the experience I’ve had in family court, I think one small thing they could do to make it a little easier is to make the waiting room a better place to be.

With just a little bit of money, they could put a recreation room in the courthouse, with pool tables or board games to occupy the clients’ time. There could be one room for the kids, and another for the parents, so if they didn’t want to see each other, they wouldn’t have to.

I think they should also create a room for a counseling service where people could just drop in while they waited. The social workers wouldn’t be assigned to any one case. You’d just be able to talk to counselors about what you’re feeling without a file with all these accusations in front of their noses.

If they found something that relaxed the clients, maybe people would act out less often and there’d be fewer bad vibes all around. If that happened, when you went to family court, you could concentrate more on just staying OK with your own troubles.

*Note: Since this story was published, in 2001, New York City has worked to greatly improve Family Court waiting rooms. See: Teen Space: A Room of Our Own: Family Court Just Got a Whole Lot Friendlier, by Taquan Pugh, from 2010. Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions, unfriendly family courts are the still the norm.

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