There are moments in life where, unless you were there, the emotions that somebody describes to you are difficult to understand. The painstaking details, the brief stillness that prevailed and the sudden rush of contradictory emotions, my descriptions would do little justice to my true experience.
On December 17, 2014 at approximately 1:40 PM, the federal court case that I had been a part of as an intern concluded on a guilty verdict. Mr. Pendergrass, a former Captain officer at Rikers Island had been accused of denying medical care to an inmate (Jason Echevarria), who passed away after swallowing a soap ball. Rikers Island, without a doubt, is an institution plagued with corruption and inmate abuse, and from numerous hospital forms, it was obvious that Echevarria had a serious mental condition since the list of objects he swallowed in suicide attempts were perennial. Furthermore, because the engulfing of Echevarria’s body via chemical burns had occurred over the course of several hours, it was evident that other officers at the jail complex were or at least should have been aware of this slow deterioration of his body. And from a positive prospect, Pendergrass should have merely seemed as a scapegoat.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. It didn’t matter that Rikers Island reeked delinquency in every way, it didn’t matter that Echevarria was mentally ill because he already passed, and lastly, the jury could’ve cared less about whether other officers could’ve done something themselves simply because we needed someone to blame. This trial was so specific to Pendergrass, his actions or rather lack of, his negligence to a dying inmate…what others did or didn’t do were rarely the point.
After approximately 5 hours of deliberation, the jurors pronounced Pendergrass “guilty.” And that’s when the emotions, we kept so hidden outside the walls of the court room, surged in. Mrs. Pendergrass’s wails, the coldness of the room, the jury’s ephemeral feelings of sympathy, Sam’s remorse and heavyheartedness and our reality.
This internship by far was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Excited to just be in a courtroom and listen to how a trial is conducted was all I could be in the beginning. How surreal the experience was and how influential every word, every gesture, and every look the attorneys made only hit me half way through. And only then did I realize, I want to be a part of this.
Whether we were part of a better world on this day, whether how much justice was done, or whether how much the truth truly prevailed can sometimes only be based on the way we view our world, who we are, and most importantly, who we could be.