Transcript

48:

Justice
Transcript

Originally aired 01.03.1997

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Act One. International Justice.

Ira Glass

What's it take to put the past behind us? What's it take for a whole country to do it? Consider this story. After World War II, the Nuremberg trials documented German war crime atrocities and the Holocaust. But Germans didn't accept it. Historians have noted that, as far as the Germans were concerned, Nuremberg wasn't real justice. It was just a bunch of outsiders coming in after the war, imposing victor's justice.

It wasn't until the 1960s, when the Germans held their own homegrown war crimes trials, that the Germans were forced to face what they'd done as a nation during the war. And even that wasn't enough. As one writer put it, it took an accumulation of a million school visits to concentration camps, 1,000 books, the Hollywood television series, Holocaust, a vast molecular reckoning between generations that's still going on.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our program, how to come to peace with the past, stories of people running toward and running from the truth and shame. Act One, International Justice, an entire nation coming to grips with the past--or actually, not coming to grips with the past. Act Two, Juvenile Justice, criminals face their past-- juvenile criminals. We have a report from Scott Carrier. Act Three, Everyday Justice, ordinary New Yorkers confessing their sins, quietly, in public. Stay with us.

Act Two. Juvenile Justice.

Ira Glass

Act One. Well, ever since the end of World War II, there's been this idealistic notion kicking around that when nations do horrible things, the best way to deal with it, to put those things to rest, would be to have a court somewhere, a court for war crimes, for crimes against humanity. And now, for the first time since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of World War II, a court like this is actually in session. This is the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Just like the Nuremberg trials, this is justice administered by outsiders. These trials are happening far from the Balkans. They're in the Hague, in the Netherlands. There are lawyers and judges from Egypt, and France, and Sri Lanka, and Canada, and lots of Americans there. Kitty Felde is a familiar voice to public radio listeners for her coverage of the O. J. Simpson trial and the Rodney King beating trial, but over the course of the last year, she spent several weeks in the Hague, watching this new form of justice take place.

Kitty Felde

Gabrielle Kirk McDonald is arguably the most powerful African-American woman in the world, but you've probably never heard of her. McDonald is the presiding judge for the first international war crimes trial in half a century. As she sits in her judicial robes week after week inside the courtroom, it becomes clear that Judge McDonald is like most Americans when it comes to things foreign. We can't read the maps.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

Mr. [? Doko ?] was from [? Boski-- ?] [? Boskisamic, ?] maybe, was he? Somewhere up there, as I recall.

Kitty Felde

We don't know the history, and we have the devil of a time pronouncing the names.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

The witness, Mr. Gros-- Grovs-- Grovesdenat--

Woman

[? Grozenich ?], yes, your Honor.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

Anyway, he testified.

Kitty Felde

But Judge McDonald also brings to the tribunal another American attribute-- her idealism.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

I love the law. I like solving problems, and I think, for, certainly, a racial minority, I think that the use of our laws in the United States is the way that we bring about equality and inclusion.

Kitty Felde

And McDonald isn't the only American working at the tribunal.

Alan Tieger

By the time you left [UNINTELLIGIBLE], about 90% of the Muslim community had been killed, forced out.

Kitty Felde

Prosecutor Alan Tieger is on loan to the tribunal from the Department of Justice. About two dozen American lawyers, investigators, and other experts have been seconded-- or loaned out-- to the tribunal, their salaries paid by the US government. Americans make up the largest legal community at the tribunal. The contingent is so large, some complain that through sheer numbers, they're turning what's supposed to be a brand-new legal system into something that looks a lot like US Constitutional law.

Most of the Americans are here out of a sense of moral conviction. Alan Tieger, like Judge McDonald, was a civil rights lawyer. He was one of the prosecutors at the federal Rodney King beating trial. His parents were Holocaust survivors. The prosecution's chief investigator, Terree Bowers, says he came to the Hague to do work of significance to humankind. But from the start, his new job presented challenges he never faced in his old position as head of the US Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

Terree Bowers

I mean, when we went into Tuzla, we flew into the airport, and the next morning, the Serbs started shelling the airport. So we weren't even able to get out. Where you have to dodge artillery, and some areas you just can't get into, immediately, we knew that we were up against an enormous challenge to put these cases together.

Kitty Felde

There were all sorts of challenges. And one thing in particular that Americans, and other non-Yugoslavs at the tribunal found so very difficult to understand-- the now familiar stories of neighbor turning against neighbor, almost overnight. Judge McDonald asked witness after witness about this, over and over again.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

I guess my question, and perhaps it's not a fair question, I don't know that you could give a complete answer, but perhaps you can help me to understand since I am not from that area, how could you explain that some of the atrocities that we've heard have been committed? How can you explain that something like that would happen, given your background, given your experience, knowing that Serbs and Muslims lived together, went to school together, intermarried? How did it happen?

Kitty Felde

She never found an answer that satisfied her. And as the trial wore on, she and other judges found themselves searching for something in their own experiences to explain it. And that raises this question, what does it mean when people with one sort of history are trying and judging people with a very different sort?

Man

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is now in session. [SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE] Please be seated.

Kitty Felde

It was back in May of 1993 that the United Nations Security Council set up the tribunal at the urging of the US and Western Europe. At the time, NATO was resisting pleas from the Bosnians to come to their aid in the war, and cynics suggested that the West set up the tribunal simply because it was easier to commit lawyers than troops.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

Some people feel that the tribunal was created as kind of an apology because the world community wasn't doing anything.

Kitty Felde

Again, Judge McDonald.

Gabrielle Kirk Mcdonald

I don't care. I don't care what their reason was. The point is that we have been established. And I think that we're making a contribution.

Kitty Felde

But to see just how difficult it is to make a contribution, consider the case of Witness L. The tribunal allows witnesses who fear for their lives to testify behind closed doors, their identities secret. Witness L explained to the tribunal that he was a guard at one of the Serb-run prison camps, where he witnessed the tribunal's first defendant, a Bosnian Serb karate teacher named Dusan Tadic, commit more crimes.

The prosecution had other witnesses who told of Tadic delivering brutal beatings, but L was the only credible witness who saw Tadic rape and kill people. L testified about one incident where 10 elderly men were taken into the infamous white house, the scene of most tortures at the Omarska prison camp.

According to L, Tadic pointed to him and said, "Come here and perform the killing of these 10 prisoners." L answered, "Why me? Why do I have to do it?" Tadic apparently grew impatient. L said Tadic approached the prisoners and shot two of them in the head, point blank. It was dramatic, damning testimony, the strongest brought forward by the prosecution.

Unfortunately, it wasn't true. Two months after L's initial court appearance, prosecutors had to stand before the court and admit that L had lied on the stand. He had never been a camp guard. He'd never witnessed the alleged atrocities. He'd never even seen Dusan Tadic in person until he walked into the courtroom. Prosecution investigator Robert Reid told the court L was a Bosnian Serb soldier. He said he'd been caught by the Bosnian Muslim army, and then was coerced into testifying.

Robert Reid

He said that after his initial interview by the military, he was transferred to Sarajevo, where he spoke with police interrogators for seven hours a day, for about one month. The purpose of these conversations was to train Witness L to give evidence against [UNINTELLIGIBLE] Tadic. I then asked him why he'd pleaded guilty to something that he had never done, and he stated that he'd been threatened that if he did not cooperate with the Bosnian authorities, that he'd be executed.

Kitty Felde

In the weeks since then, the prosecution says it's uncovered new evidence that shows the Bosnian Serb government didn't coach Witness L. At this point, it's unclear what to believe of his testimony, and the whole episode raises disturbing questions for the Americans and Western Europeans who first pushed for the establishment of the international criminal tribunal.

If these trials were designed to get at the truth, they were being tainted by a witness who lied. If they were trying to bring justice to the victims, it was those victims-- the Muslims, in this case-- who were fabricating evidence, trying to swing the verdict their way.

Man

The accused, would you rise, please, and state your identity, Mr. Erdemovic.

Drazen Erdemovic

Drazen Erdemovic. I was born in Tuzla in 1971. I'm a Croat by nationality.

Kitty Felde

Thus far, the tribunal has only handed down one sentence. It's a case where no one disputes the basic facts of the crime. This was the case of Drazen Erdemovic. It's a story of a man who risked his life and his freedom to tell the world the truth about what he'd done.

Erdemovic is 25, a baby-faced kid with acne scars. He's Croatian. His wife is a Serb. They have a young son. Erdemovic was trained as a tool and dye maker. But by the time he had learned his trade, the war had broken out, so he became a career soldier, and served with all three armies during the war. But he says he chose combat units that conducted reconnaissance missions and manned border checkpoints, jobs where he didn't have to kill anyone.

Until July of 1995, that's when his special battalion of the Bosnian Serb army, the 10th sabotage unit, was ordered to a farm field near Pilica. It was shortly after the fall of Srebrenica. The UN had set up a safe area there, where 25,000 Bosnian Muslims had fled for protection. But when the Bosnian Serb army attacked, the tiny UN force didn't offer much resistance. In fact, UN peacekeepers helped load Muslim men onto buses that took them away, never to be seen again.

Erdemovic and his unit had been given instructions on how to kill large numbers of people in a short period of time. And then the buses started arriving. The first group of 10 wore blindfolds, their hands tied behind their backs. Erdemovic and his comrades were then ordered to shoot the prisoners in the back.

Drazen Erdemovic

I was sorry for those people, simply. I had no reason to shoot at those people. They had done nothing to me.

Kitty Felde

But Erdemovic emptied his rifle again and again, killing as many as 100 of the 1,200 killed that day.

Drazen Erdemovic

Your honor, I had to do this. If I had refused, I would've been killed together with the victims. When I refused, they told me, if you're sorry for them, stand up, line up with them, and we will kill you, too.

Kitty Felde

Erdemovic's unit was then ordered to a nearby town where, perhaps, 500 other Bosnian Muslims were being held inside a meeting hall. He and his unit were ordered to kill them as well. Erdemovic says, this time, he did refuse, saying, wasn't there enough blood? Weren't there enough dead people? Erdemovic says he didn't care what happened to himself anymore. He told American prosecutor Mark Harmon, "I didn't want to become a robot for extermination."

Mark Harmon

Are you able to estimate how many people you killed?

Drazen Erdemovic

I don't know exactly. I can't estimate. But to be quite frank, I'd rather not know how many people I killed.

Kitty Felde

Erdemovic's refusal to kill again did not go unnoticed by his comrades. A few days later, in a bar fight, one of them shot him four times. Erdemovic says it was because they knew he couldn't keep his mouth shut. And he couldn't. Erdemovic says after the massacre, he couldn't sleep. He stayed away from home and drank. After he had partially recovered from the gunshot wounds, he says he finally decided to tell his story to the war crimes tribunal. But there was no tribunal representative anywhere nearby.

So he went to the American embassy in Belgrade. They gave him a list of news agencies. He called the first one on the list and told his story to a stringer for ABC News. Unfortunately, the phones were tapped, and the reporter's tapes were confiscated at the airport. Erdemovic was quickly arrested, but not before he had talked to another reporter with the Paris daily paper, Le Figaro. His story of the Pilica massacre was translated and retold all over the world. Erdemovic eventually made his way to the tribunal, where he told his story again.

Drazen Erdemovic

I just wanted the truth to be known, and for someone to understand that this actually happened, and how these people had lost their lives. Because as we heard today, nobody knew about the place of Pilica, that a crime had happened there, and what kind of crime. Perhaps that's where most people were killed. And to have someone believe me, that I really had to do it, that I didn't want to do it, that's why.

Kitty Felde

Judges deciding his case had a difficult time understanding how Erdemovic got himself into such a no-win situation. Why didn't he just flee the country? Erdemovic explained, you couldn't get a passport until you'd completed your military service. And by then, the war had broken out. Egyptian judge Fouad Riad questioned why he kept enlisting in the army.

Fouad Riad

You pleaded very much the cause of peace. At the same time, you happened to join all the fighting groups during this war. Wasn't there any other way to express your belief in coexistence?

Drazen Erdemovic

How shall I put it? We were forced to join the army. I had received those call-up papers. I had no one to turn to. Who was I? I was just a simple Drazen Erdemovic with nobody who would listen to me.

Kitty Felde

Erdemovic grew increasingly frustrated at the judges' questioning. He cried several times on the stand. At one point, he and the French judge Claude Jorda began shouting at each other in their native languages, neither one waiting for translation.

Claude Jorda

[SPEAKING FRENCH].

Drazen Erdemovic

I was against the war. I didn't want the war. I had no motives. I had no motivation to go to war. Is there anyone here who can understand me? My wife is a Serb. Was I supposed to hate her because she is a Serbian? I apologize, but let me explain this to you. I do understand this, but this is the 12th time that I'm repeating my story, the story of how my life has been destroyed. Please try to understand me. This is the 12th time I'm doing this.

Kitty Felde

Erdemovic even pulled up his shirt to show the two-foot scar on his belly, the result of several operations to repair damage done by his comrade's bullets. Judge Jorda was unmoved.

Claude Jorda

I understand that it is painful for you. We understand that you were caught in a storm, but that is not a reason for us, just like that, to say that these many, many people who were killed simply will be written off.

Kitty Felde

Prosecutors say they never would have known what had happened to those 1,200 victims if Erdemovic had not come forward. Yet the tribunal judges sentenced him to 10 years behind bars for his role in the killings, dismissing his claims that he had no choice but to shoot. The judges said they only had his word on it.

So here, the tribunal has sentenced its first war criminal, a kid they have in custody only because he chose to come forward and tell his story. And yet, the colonel who gave the orders to shoot hasn't even been charged with a crime. And while General Ratko Mladic, the military men at the top, has been indicted, he, like dozens of other indicted war criminals, remains a free man.

Is this justice, punishing only the small fish? Louise Arbour, the Canadian chief prosecutor at the tribunal, gets angry when Erdemovic is described as a little fish.

Louise Arbour

How small a fish can you be when you're prepared to admit to the killing of 100 people? By any national standard, this would be the biggest crime in the history of that country. And so I find that level of cynicism a bit disconcerting, that people are saying, well, don't waste my time with mere killers of hundreds, I'd like to see killers of thousands.

Kitty Felde

Which brings us to the biggest problem facing the tribunal. Unlike most criminal justice systems, the tribunal has no police force of its own. And so it has no way of bringing fugitives to justice. The Yugoslav tribunal has indicted 75 people so far. One has died, seven are in custody, and the rest are working and living free in the former Yugoslavia.

Under the Dayton Accord, the Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian governments are supposed to hand over indicted war criminals living in their territories. With rare exceptions, this hasn't happened. Under Dayton, NATO troops are also authorized to make arrests of any indicted war criminals they encounter. The joke at the tribunal is that NATO troops have to cross the street not to run into them.

If the international community doesn't follow through with its commitment to the tribunal, if indicted war criminals are allowed to remain free, it sends exactly the opposite message from the one Americans at the tribunal were hoping to send. It says, essentially, that future Karadzics and Mladics can commit any atrocities they want, and the world won't bother to bring them to justice.

The Dutch, like most Europeans, are not a particularly church-going people. Every small town boasts of a beautiful cathedral, but it's usually empty. When a holiday called [? Tweede ?] Pinksteren rolled around one Monday, none of the locals in the court knew it was, and we foreigners had to consultant a liturgical calendar to find out it was the second day of Pentecost.

So here in the midst of this rather secular society is a trial about another society, where religious divisions became a matter of life and death. And in this setting, those who come to work every day at the tribunal are the truly faithful. The world community won't arrest the criminals they indict, those who fought the war don't seem particularly interested in the truth about it, the international media ignores what they're doing, but still, the lawyers and the judges come in and examine evidence, they work on their cases, true believers in the idea that the rule of law is the only way to create a lasting peace.

Sitting there day after day, I remembered an old Islamic proverb that says one hour of doing justice is worth 100 in prayer. They come to this brick temple of a courthouse every day to do their praying by working for justice, even if no one hears their prayer.

Man

[PRAYING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE]

Ira Glass

That story by Kitty Felde. There's this remarkable essay about war crimes trials and national truth commissions by Michael Ignatieff, in the current issue of Index on Censorship. Ignatieff is writing a book on truth and national reconciliation, and he's examining the war crimes trial in the Hague, and the one in Rwanda, and the truth commissions in Argentina, and Chile, and South Africa, the situation in Ireland. And in this essay, he writes, "It's open to question whether justice or truth actually heals. For one thing," he says, "what you see as the truth depends on who you are."

He tells this story. In June of 1996, he was asked to chair a discussion of historians from Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. And all of these had been people who had opposed the war. Most of them, in fact, had been close friends before the war. And they hadn't given in to the national hatreds inflamed by the war. They'd remained friends. It was about 30 people.

Michael Ignatieff

And I got them around a table, and I asked them, at one point, don't you think it would be possible for you all to get together and produce a history of the war that is a simple narrative of how this catastrophe happened to your three societies? There was a kind of deafening silence after I made this liberal, well-meaning proposal.

And people then just said, a common history is impossible. We couldn't do it. We couldn't even agree what events should be included. We couldn't even agree on when the war began. I mean, some people think the war began in June 1991 when the JNA tanks marched into Slovenia. Other people think the war began in '85 and '86 when Serbian nationalism began to take off.

Even simple factual questions become, in other words, questions of attribution of responsibility and questions of guilt. I mean, it'll take generations, and I'm not sure that outsiders can do it. It's like a family trauma. And as a family, they will have to talk it out. But it will take 30, 40, 50 years.

Ira Glass

So what do you make of this notion of the Americans and the other foreigners who are holding the tribunal that, OK, we're going to get at the truth?

Michael Ignatieff

Well, I don't want to be cynical about that, because I think juridical truth is terribly important. And here, I think, outsiders can play a limited role, because an outsider can say, here are the forensic facts about certain war crimes, and we can establish them. An international tribunal can establish what war crimes happened, where, by whom, and to whom.

There's no guarantee that that truth will then reach out through the society at large, but at least it constitutes one kind of place, somewhere, where honest men can find what actually happened.

Ira Glass

Right, but it's just a first step.

Michael Ignatieff

Absolutely a first step. And it would be naive to think that when the tribunal winds up its work in so many years' time, and all the volumes of evidence are published, that this is of itself going to make much difference. I mean, the really scary thing is the sense in which in a lot of Serbian society and Croatian society, the conclusions and even the evidence of the Hague are discounted before it's even heard, as being, you know, this kind of alien enemy, nobody understands this but ourselves, that kind of line. You know, no one understands the Serbs but the Serbs, no one understands the Croats but the Croats, no one understands the Muslims but the Muslims, and therefore, anything that an international tribunal says to them has to be wrong.

Ira Glass

It's such an interesting contrast to a place like South Africa where, as you point out in your essay, you have former adversaries actually sitting down trying to create a government, trying to create a nation where all sides are represented. And so when they sit down and hold a truth commission themselves, not outsiders but they, themselves, because they are ready to reconcile and have been part of a process of reconciliation, there's a place for that truth to go. It can actually have an effect. There's a readiness for it.

Michael Ignatieff

Yes. The tragedy in the Balkans is that, at the moment, there's no place for the truth to go, because the regimes that are in power, all of them-- and I include the Muslim side-- are not regimes which really allow, and welcome, and let the truth circulate freely. And until they are, the Hague tribunal will be crying in the wilderness.

Ira Glass

In his essay, Michael Ignatieff raises this question. To come to terms with the past, do entire nations have to go through the same psychological processes that a person goes through when they face the past? In other words, does there have to be a moment of admitting the truth, of admitting guilt, of feeling shame? We look at a few of those moments, in a very different setting, in a minute, when our program continues.

Act Three. Everyday Justice.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you radio monologues, miniature documentaries, found tape, anything we can think of on that theme. Today's program, what puts the past to rest?

We are at Act Two, kids. There's a program in Tucson, Arizona that says, basically, the reason teenagers do so badly in the juvenile justice system is that they're tried and convicted not by their peers-- that is, by other teenagers-- but by adults, outsiders. Scott Carrier visited a Tucson courtroom set up with the premise that teenagers would be tried and convicted by other teenagers.

Scott Carrier

I'm guilty. One minute into the first trial the prosecuting attorney stands up to examine the witness. She's beautiful, a knockout blond in a tight black cashmere sweater. She's maybe 17, but in teen court, everyone has a role to play, and she plays the prosecutor very well.

Teen Prosecutor

Why didn't you go to your room, was the question that your attorney asked you, and you can't answer that? Why didn't you go to your room? You have no idea why you wouldn't go to your room?

Teen Defendant

No.

Scott Carrier

The boy on the stand is 12, still with baby fat, hair slicked back to look cool. His crime was to file a false report to 911, said his mom was hitting him.

Teen Prosecutor

Do you know what 911 is used for?

Teen Defendant

Umm, sort of.

Teen Prosecutor

What is it used for?

Teen Defendant

To help people.

Teen Prosecutor

It's an emergency-only type of phone call, like if there's an intruder in your house, or someone really is abusing you to the point of where you're scared for your life. Do you think this fits into an emergency? I mean, now that you can think about it, do you think that you should have called them?

Teen Defendant

No.

Scott Carrier

The mother tells me her son is a Tohono O'odham Indian, that she adopted him when he was five, and that he's always been angry-- angry at her, angry at a lot of things. They got into an argument. The boy said, "Why don't you just hit me? Go ahead, hit me." And she did. She slugged him in the arm, and the boy called 911.

There are about 250 teen courts in 30 states around the country, and their number is increasing rapidly, because they seem to work. In Tucson, the recidivism rate for kids who go through teen court is only 8%, compared with 37% for kids who go through regular juvenile court for similar minor offenses. The social workers, judges, lawyers, and the policemen who work and volunteer for teen court are convinced that it's a good program. They surround the kids with attention, try to show them that they care, that there's a whole community that cares.

But if you ask them why it works, they usually say it's the jury process of having the kids explain themselves and their actions to a jury of their peers, other teenagers, and then hearing their response, that this has an unusual, even amazing, rehabilitative effect. In this case, however, this part of the process seems to be more about shame.

Teen Prosecutor

Are you aware that you provoked your mother to hit you? It sounds to me like you provoked her, didn't you?

Teen Defendant

Yeah.

Teen Prosecutor

Why would you want your mother to hit you?

Teen Defendant

To see what she would do.

Teen Prosecutor

Why?

Teen Defendant

I don't know.

Teen Prosecutor

So it was like an experimentation. You were testing your mother to see if she'd actually hit you?

Teen Defendant

Yeah.

Teen Prosecutor

Why would you do that to somebody, especially your mother?

Scott Carrier

In theory, if things were to go as planned, the boy as offender, as breaker of the law, should tell the jury that he recognizes his responsibility for the offense and its consequences, and apologize, and say he'll try not to do it again. But instead, up on the stand, he decides that maybe he wasn't so wrong in calling 911, that this wasn't the first time his mother hit him, and she hits his little brother, too.

This is a mistake, and in her closing argument, the prosecutor asks the jury to remember that the boy is not sorry, that he isn't admitting his responsibility.

Judge

Would the bailiff please take the jury to the jury room?

Teen Bailiff

All rise.

Scott Carrier

The jury is comprised of eight teenagers. Seven of them have been in teen court before as defendants, and they're serving jury duty as part of their sentences. The eighth juror is a girl who's doing this for credit at her private school. She's eager to be the foreman of the jury. She speaks right up and asks if there are any objections to her being the foreperson, and no one objects, of course, so she gets right down to it.

Teen Foreman

I think he should get the self-esteem workshop, because it really seems like he needs that. He called 911 for really no reason, and because of kids like him, kids who--

Scott Carrier

They launch into a discussion where they say all the things that adults usually say about teenagers.

Teen Juror 1

The way he acted in there, it's not acceptable. I think he doesn't have respect for anything, and he doesn't take this seriously.

Teen Juror 2

I don't think his parents hit him enough, or something. He does what he wants, and he doesn't even listen to his mom or nothing. And he has, like, a real bad attitude. And like, he don't care what anybody thinks, and I think they should hit him, just to show him.

Teen Juror 3

I think that he needs to respect his parents more, which he doesn't, so when his mom says to go to his room, he should do it, instead of saying, hit me, mom, hit me.

Teen Juror 4

Everyone's saying he should have respect for his elders, but I mean, we don't know what happened before he started provoking her. Like, I don't know, I mean, like if she started cussing at him or something, I mean, she should have respect for him, too. It's both ways.

Scott Carrier

This girl is 13 years old, and really petite. She's been in teen court twice already, once for possession of marijuana, and again for hitting her mother-- domestic violence.

Teen Juror 4

We don't really know what really goes on in that house. We can't say that that was the first time he was hit. Maybe he got hit a lot of times before.

Scott Carrier

She's the only jurist to try to see things from the boy's point of view, most likely because she's been there. She really is his peer. She gets into a lot of trouble, and fights with her mother. She argues for the defendant, but the others will have none of it. He's guilty and he's not sorry. He needs to be taught a lesson.

Surprisingly, it turns out that the petite girl, even though she seems to understand the boy, she's willing to punish him just as much as any of the others. I ask her how she would help the boy, and she says she'd put him in juvenile jail.

Teen Juror 4

Probably send him to juvie for maybe a couple days.

Scott Carrier

Have you been to juvie?

Teen Juror 4

Yeah, for just a couple hours, though.

Scott Carrier

Why is that a good thing? Why would it be a good thing for him?

Teen Juror 4

I don't know, just keep him away from his parents for a little bit. And that way he could see that if it happens again, he'll know where he'll be.

Scott Carrier

I've been told that teenage juries are notoriously more harsh in their sentencing than regular juvenile court judges, that perhaps this is because teenagers are being asked to act as adults, and they know from experience how adults act in these situations. Adults punish. Or perhaps, the kids, from experience, know what really works is to make it hurt.

The organizers and administrators of teen court try to discourage the idea of punishment. They try, instead, to encourage corrective sentencing that will help the kids, teach them, not hurt them. There's the minimum sentence, consisting of jury duty, letters of apology, and a basic course in responsible decision-making.

But the jury can, if it decides the defendant needs additional corrections, require that he perform manual labor, such as painting over graffiti, or making him attend and successfully complete a self-esteem workshop, five one-and-a-half-hour sessions in which they learn skills for non-violent problem solving, and increasing belief in internal versus external control-over-life events. Topics include identification and expression of emotions, anger, safety planning, and personal power.

In this case, the case of the false report, since they cannot send the boy to prison, they send him to self-esteem workshops, two for good measure, and give him a day's labor in the community garden.

The next trial concerns a 13-year-old who was caught with a smoking bowl, a marijuana pipe out behind the school. He's been suspended for five weeks, and his dad tells me this is excessive punishment, not constructive at all, because his son is just missing out on his classes, just sits at home all day. He says he thinks the teen court system is a good thing, better than the juvenile court, but basically, he just doesn't like seeing his son put through the wringer by anyone other than himself.

On the stand, his son says he's sorry, that he knows he did something wrong. He gets emotional, nearly starts crying, and I look over at his dad, and he's just hating it. His son is 13 years old and big for his age. His son is 13 years old and starting to be a man, and his son has just been shamed in public.

This time, in the jury room, nearly everyone is in favor of letting the defendant off easy. The private school girl wants to send him to self-esteem classes, but no one else seems to agree.

Teen Juror 5

That doesn't have nothing to do with this. I mean, he doesn't have low self-esteem. Obviously, he doesn't.

Teen Foreman

But she said the self-esteem workshop is not just self-esteem.

Teen Juror 5

Oh, I know, but all that's going to be, it's five classes, all that's going to be is something where he sits there and watches the clock the whole time.

Teen Foreman

They make everybody participate.

Teen Juror 2

Like, if I saw him on the street, just the way he looks, it doesn't look to me like he has low esteem. But she knows that he gets high, so now he has low esteem.

Teen Juror 4

I'm pretty sure that all of us, except for probably one person, have used marijuana, so we all know how it feels, and do all of us have low self esteem? No? OK, then.

Scott Carrier

There's a jury monitor in the room, a professional social worker who's overseeing the deliberation, and it seems like things are not going in the direction she'd hoped for. She tries to move the kids to a decision by taking a vote. She counts four in favor of self-esteem and four against. But I count four against, one in favor, and three who will not say one way or the other.

It turns into a discussion about who needs self-esteem, how to measure it, and that maybe they don't even know what self-esteem means. Then the little girl comes up with an idea. She asks if the defendant has ever tried to commit suicide.

Teen Juror 4

I'm wondering if he's ever tried to commit suicide. I mean, people that try that probably have a low self-esteem.

Jury Monitor

So you want me to go ask him?

Teen Juror 1

Yeah, because that's what you call low self-esteem.

Jury Monitor

OK, I'll be right back.

Scott Carrier

While the social worker's out of the room, I ask the kids what they really think about marijuana.

Teen Juror 2

You know, if you had a party or something, [UNINTELLIGIBLE PHRASE] drinking, I think drinking messes you up more. You have more chances of dying than getting high.

Scott Carrier

What do the rest of you think? You've been busted for marijuana.

Teen Juror 5

She sells it, man.

Teen Juror 4

I don't anymore. I mean, you can't really think bad about the people, because there's lots of different people that use it, and different reasons, and just different stuff.

Teen Juror 2

[UNINTELLIGIBLE] even the president got high.

Teen Juror 5

He did.

Teen Foreman

He says he never inhaled.

Teen Juror 2

Well, he can say it all he wants, you know he did.

Teen Juror 4

He says that if he had a chance, he would again.

Teen Juror 3

Yeah, he probably would.

Teen Juror 2

Yeah, and that's the president.

Teen Juror 5

I'd smoke a joint with him.

Scott Carrier

So is this a bad person? Is this guy a bad person for smoking?

Teen Jury

No.

Teen Juror 2

I'm not judging him because he gets high, that's nothing. I don't even care.

Teen Juror 1

It's his own problem, it's not ours.

Teen Foreman

But it's not just his problem, it's society's problem. We are part of society, and we're brought in here so he doesn't grow up doing it and become a bigger problem for society.

Scott Carrier

The one girl who's an outsider here, the one who goes to a private school, she doesn't let up, and it becomes clear that everyone else is turning against her.

Teen Foreman

I'm the only kid in my neighborhood who doesn't do it. I go to a private school, I go to a Catholic parochial school--

Teen Juror 2

Exactly, I don't go to a private school, I go to--

Teen Foreman

And I'm the only kid in the eighth grade who doesn't do it, because I have better stuff to do. I want to go to college. I don't want my brain to turn into mush.

Teen Juror 2

You know what, but if you get high one time--

Teen Juror 5

That's a stereotype.

Teen Juror 1

It ain't going to hurt you.

Teen Juror 2

I don't care, I've done it, you know. And I do it, but I still, I'm going to graduate this year, and it's there. I'm mean, it's stupid maybe that I do it, but that's your opinion, whatever [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Teen Juror 5

Same here, man. I mean, I've smoked it through high school, and I'm still graduating this year.

Teen Juror 3

Just because he smokes weed doesn't mean he's going to have a bad life like she said.

Teen Foreman

But do we want to take that chance?

Teen Juror 3

Chance of what?

Teen Foreman

Of him growing up smoking weed a lot. Weed is the gateway drug.

Scott Carrier

The social worker comes back in the room and tells them that the defendant has never tried to kill himself, and because his self-esteem seems intact, because his crime is one most of the jurors have committed themselves, because they are united against the private school girl, they give him the minimum sentence.

In the third trial, a 14-year-old girl is on the stand for physically assaulting a former friend. The former friend had been spreading a rumor that she, the friend, had slept with the 14-year-old girl's boyfriend. She said the boyfriend got her pregnant.

The 14-year-old told her to stop, but she did it again to another boy, and another girlfriend. So the 14-year-old girl went over to her house, pulled her by her hair off the front steps and into the yard, and punched her in the face. Her defense attorney tries to get her to say she's sorry, that she won't do it again.

Teen Defense Attorney

Why did you do what you did?

14

Bad temper.

Teen Defense Attorney

What are your feelings now about what you did?

14

It really doesn't bother me, because I did it, and can't take it back, so.

Teen Defense Attorney

Thank you, no further questions, Your Honor.

Judge

Cross-examination.

Teen Prosecutor

Thank you, Your Honor. You lost your temper and got into a fight, right? Because she provoked you? Now, if I walked up here like this, and I started talking massive crap to your face, would you hit me because I provoked you?

14

Maybe.

Teen Prosecutor

Maybe. It doesn't bother you now that you got in a fight?

14

No.

Teen Prosecutor

No. Why?

14

Fighting's an everyday thing. It doesn't really make a big difference. It happens, then it's over.

Teen Prosecutor

It happens then it's over? Everyday thing?

14

Yeah, it's not nothing. It's not like getting shot, or stabbed, or dying. You just get a few marks, maybe.

Teen Prosecutor

It's against the law. Whether there's a gun, a knife, or dying involved, fighting is against the law, just like smoking, just like everything else, just like killing. It's against the law. It shouldn't be done. That's why you're here today. Can you tell this jury that you're not going to fight again?

14

No.

Teen Prosecutor

No further questions.

Scott Carrier

This trial has a different jury. When they debate, no one mentions the statement by the defendant, that in her neighborhood, fighting is an everyday thing, no big deal, really. It either just flew over their heads, or it doesn't make any difference to them.

The most important thing to them is that the defendant feels no remorse, has suffered no shame. And like the first jury, somehow they're certain that shame is the essential ingredient, the first step in changing the criminal into a good citizen.

Teen Juror 6

She doesn't feel bad about it at all, you guys, so.

Teen Juror 7

Give her mandatory--

Teen Jury

Yeah, mandatory self-esteem, the [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Teen Juror 8

How many jury duties, one?

Teen Juror 9

I think she should have more, like three.

Teen Jury

Three, yeah, three.

Teen Juror 7

She's got to learn from other people.

Teen Juror 9

She doesn't even care, like, she just sits there like-- I think she should go to the self-esteem workshop a couple times.

Teen Juror 8

You know, you can give her two self-esteem workshops.

Teen Juror 9

Can you really?

Teen Juror 8

Yeah, two workshops, maximum.

Teen Juror 9

I think we should.

Teen Jury

Oh, do that, do that.

Teen Juror 8

Yeah, give her two.

Scott Carrier

Most members of the jury have already been through the workshops. They know what the right answer is. They get excited as they write the comments to the defendants.

Teen Juror 6

Yeah, she needs to hear it. She needs to feel somewhat bad about it.

Teen Juror 9

OK, we feel that there will be people that lie and cheat your whole life, to you--

Teen Jury

But you can't beat them all up.

Teen Juror 6

You have to grow up.

Teen Juror 8

Use your mind, not your muscles.

Teen Juror 9

All that's good.

Scott Carrier

After they deliver the sentence, the defendant comes down off the stand, and I ask if she wants to talk to me for a little bit, but she looks at me as if she'd like to rip my throat out, like, where's my knife when I need it. She's not been shamed. In her neighborhood, fighting is an everyday thing, a way of life, a way of staying alive. Nobody understood what she was saying.

I follow her out of the courtroom and down the hallway, to the room where she'll have her exit interview. I watch her sit down at a long wooden table, surrounded by social workers and police officers, and her body is there, but she is gone, checked out, no longer present for the proceedings. She just isn't going to listen anymore. I can go in and sit down and watch as the administrators try to see whether she understands her sentence, as they try to get through to her, but I don't.

Act 3.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Everyday Justice. Well, the impulse to confess, to admit the truth, to state your shame, is so important and so basic that, of course, people do not need a trial to make them do it. In 1980, a New Yorker named Allan Bridge set up a telephone line he called the Apology Line. People could call and confess to anything. They were recorded. And you could call and you could listen to other people's confessions recorded on the line.

Over time, the whole thing turned into a little community of confession. People recorded messages responding to each other's apologies. Mr. Apology, Allan Bridge, would leave messages responding. And sometimes he would actually contact callers off the line. Here's some recordings from the line.

Caller 1

Yes, I'd like to apologize because I broke the town hall windows. I flooded the basement. I broke windows on the back of a store uptown. I feel pretty bad about it because I did so much vandalism. I'm only 16 years old. I did so much vandalism, if I was caught, I'd be in juvie hall for a pretty long time, I'd say.

I'm sorry for harassing the Republican officials, making the bomb threats and the death notices. I'm sorry for the terrorism, the firebombing that the guy paid me to do to some guy's house. I'm sorry for-- ah, what else?-- the burnings in the streets of Smithtown, Long Island.

I'm sorry for the way I'm calling right now. I'm calling by way of a phony credit card. I'm sorry for harassing the teacher in school. I feel bad about it. I'd like to have a new lease on life. What else? I'm sorry for harassing a lot of people, for causing pain to my family. I felt so sad I was sick, I was sick by it. That's all I have to say. Yeah. So long.

Caller 2

Hello, I'm Israeli. I want to apologize. I don't know if even what I did was wrong or right, but when I was in Israel six months before, I killed six Arabs at night with a gang of other Jewish settlers. And at the time, we thought we were-- I believe still, we're fighting for our homeland, to keep it from the Arabs, but perhaps now that I am here in America, I realized that maybe killing is not the right way, and I want to apologize. Thank you.

Caller 3

Yeah, I want to apologize for something. And maybe, my guess is it's too late to apologize for it, but I want to apologize for it now. My mother was bedridden for a while, and she used to get social security and welfare, and I had no job, and I had no way of making money. And when she was hungry or thirsty, I used to make her give me money to give her a drink. Like, she'd have to give me $5 for a glass of water, $10 for a sandwich.

And now she's passed away, and I can't say I'm sorry to her, because I know what I did was probably the most horrible thing in the world. And I'll never be able to say I'm sorry to her. And I hope I go to hell and burn there for this, because it wasn't right. And if there's somewhere that she can hear me, I just want to tell her I'm sorry. Thank you.

Caller 4

I've never told anyone this, except my shrink. I accidentally killed my younger sister when I was a very small child. And it's haunted me all my life, because I didn't really mean it. It was just a game to me. I was really too young to realize what I was doing. And I was putting her head inside a plastic garbage bag and putting a rubber band around her neck, just to see her face turn blue. And I guess it was a lot of fun.

And I didn't mean anything bad to happen, but I guess I didn't realize what would happen if I did this too long. And she suffocated. And I hid the plastic bag, and I went out of the house. My parents weren't home. And they never found out. They thought it was crib death, they never found out I did it.

And you know, I've never been able to tell them. I think it would hurt them worse than losing her, to find out that I did it. I kind of wish my parents could hear this tape, but I guess they never will.

Caller 5

Hi. I'm a runaway, and all I want to say is that I'm kind of sorry that I left. See, I'm 15, and I saw your number in the newspaper. And when I saw it, I had to call, because it's like, I mean, you walk around on the streets all day long, just looking for someone who just might say, hey, want a place to go? Come with me. There could be food and everything. And they won't ask for anything back. That's all I want. I guess I take up too much time on the tape, but I've just got to talk.

Ira Glass

The Apology Line doesn't exist anymore. Mr. Apology, Allan Bridge, died in August of 1995. When he did, the line was deluged with hundreds of messages from its regular callers, grieving. His wife Marissa says it was never clear what the Apology Line had meant to people. For years, people had used it to talk about all sorts of experiences.

Marissa Bridge

I think that maybe the word apology means something bigger than just saying you're sorry. Or at least, maybe not the word, but the line came to mean to people a place where one could go and bring their feelings, to confess, not necessarily about doing something wrong, but to confess about having a feeling.

Ira Glass

When he was alive, would you ever call the line, or be tempted to call the line?

Marissa Bridge

I called the line in the beginning. When I first knew him, before I moved in with him, I called the line from time to time.

Ira Glass

And you'd apologize for stuff?

Marissa Bridge

Well, yeah, sometimes, but more to get his attention than anything else. So he wouldn't forget about me up in Washington Heights, where I was living.

Ira Glass

What would you apologize for back then? Do you remember what you would say?

Marissa Bridge

They were all like, you know, just to get his attention. Things like, I'm really sorry I was flirting with another guy, or something like that, all very much part of the mating game.

Ira Glass

And once you actually had a real relationship with him, you wouldn't call the line, and you didn't feel the need to ever?

Marissa Bridge

No, but one thing that really struck me was after he died, I really turned into an Apology Line caller, someone I would define as Apology Line caller. And the line was over, so when I really needed the line, it wasn't there.

I was just completely lost, and I would have loved to have been able to call the Apology Line and have someone like Allan on the other side, very sympathetic and understanding, to help me get through it. But unfortunately, that didn't happen. So I'm a much darker person than I was before he died, and I think that I understand the callers and the line much better than I even did before.

Ira Glass

He died in this scuba accident where he was hit by a jet skier, who then fled the scene and wasn't caught. Have you thought about the kinds of people who would call the line, who used to call the line all the time, who had done bad things to other people, and hurt other people, and you know, then would flee the scene and nobody would ever know? Have you thought about those jet skiers in terms of that, in terms of the people who used to call the line?

Marissa Bridge

Yes. In fact, the person that hit him would also be a prime candidate for the Apology Line, because we think that he knew that he did something, because there were witnesses that saw the accident, and they saw someone on a jet ski hit him, they circled around once and then took off, so yeah.

Ira Glass

But you can imagine those people actually calling the line. If they would've called the line, if the line had existed for them, what would've happened? What would Mr. Apology have said if he were around to say it?

Marissa Bridge

I think he would be pretty pissed off, but he would forgive them. I think that's how he would have gone for it. I think he would have been angry that he was hit. That was a total accident, but I think that if they would have apologized for hitting him, he would have forgiven them, because I think that forgiveness was a big part of his personality. I think he really believed in the power of forgiveness, and everyone can be forgiven if they're sorry. I think that's something that he really believed in.

Ira Glass

Marissa Bridge, Mrs. Apology.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alix Spiegel, Paul Tough, and myself, with Peter Clowney and Nancy Updike. Contributing editors Jack Hitt and Margy Rochlin.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

For information about the Apology Line, you can call this number, 212-255-2748. If you'd like a copy of any of our programs, call us at WBEZ in Chicago. They only cost $10. The phone number, 312-832-3380, 312-832-3380. Our email address, radio@well.com.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who reminds you that--

Teen Foreman

Weed is the gateway drug.

Ira Glass

Sure is. I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

Teen Prosecutor

Now if I start talking massive crap to your face, would you hit me because I provoked you?

14

Maybe.