My trip to the Illinois District Courthouse

It’s one thing to watch Legally Blonde and assume it’s a complete guide to the life of a prosecutor inside of a courtroom. It’s a whole other situation entirely when reality hits – i.e., the attorney is a United States Government prosecutor in a pinstripe suit, and the defendant is a convicted felon in an orange jumpsuit, awaiting the declaration of a sentence from a federal district judge that could claim the rest of his life.

It’s one thing to watch Elle Woods’ friends come into the courtroom on the silver screen, dressed in miniskirts and designer sunglasses. It’s another thing to sit in Chicago’s federal courtroom pews with the grandmother, three aunts, five cousins and two friends of a convicted felon as they sob, anxiously awaiting the criminal sentencing of their loved one.

This was the experience I had today in downtown Chicago. Some may consider it odd to sit in on court proceedings for “fun,” but because my classes were canceled at Northwestern today, I decided to visit my twin sister at “work.” I got lonely in the courtroom pews watching the proceedings all alone, so, when a family walked in, I decided to introduce myself as we waited for the next session. As we discussed their occupations, life in the city and my education at Northwestern, I sensed a somber tone hanging over them but had no idea how closely tied they were to the case about to be decided in court, let alone the magnitude of the emotional roller coaster we were about to embark on together.

As the walls of the courtroom swung open, the Honorable judge approached his seat at the bench and the defendant was ushered in handcuffs.

Tears were shed and sobs were stifled as the proceedings officially began. “Jesus,” one of the defendant’s aunts whispered behind me. With that comment, I was reminded that Jesus was definitely present in the courtroom with us, and as we sat through two hours of witness stands, inquisition and judgments, I realized that Jesus was, and is, the only hope for not only the defendant being charged criminally, but for all of us in the gallery as well.

I couldn’t help but think of the brokenness of it all as it happened – the only difference between the defendant in the orange jumpsuit and me was a series of choices made in response to unfortunate circumstances. Just because I was sitting in the audience in a professional blazer instead of standing in front of a judge in handcuffs doesn’t mean that I’m any better of a person than he is, or that I’ve never made mistakes – his mistakes just happened to be ones worthy of federal prosecution. But federal sentences don’t make any difference in God’s eyes – repentance does.

We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but the beautiful thing is, we have this hope in Jesus – that He has redeemed us in His grace and is making everything new. Nothing we can ever do will ever be good enough for His glory, but we have the choice of surrendering our lives, and all of our mistakes to Him, in hopes that He will make us new. And that will always be enough.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24

Here’s a powerful video from my friend “Odist Abettor” about the difference we can make in the world if we take a look at ourselves, examine our hearts and wake up to the world around us. He believes that it’s only when love takes action will we “change the world.”

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