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611: Vague and Confused

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Prologue

Ira Glass

Saturday morning, Chicago, four days after the Department of Homeland Security officially released its new policies on deporting undocumented immigrants. This is a workshop for the people targeted by those policies at the Mexican consulate. And it's packed. They had over 100 seats in this room, and when those filled, they added a second room. And then a third. People stand in the back.

Carlos Valera Paulino

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Good morning to all of you, says an official from the consulate, Carlos Valera Paulino.

Carlos Valera Paulino

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

Truth is, we didn't expect this many people.

Carlos Valera Paulino

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

But we understand the situation is worrisome, and that's why you're here.

The president has been saying over and over that his new deportation rules are targeted at drug dealers, murderers, gang members. But if you simply read the guidelines, they say in black and white that's not what they do. The enforcement priorities now include all kinds of people who are not drug dealers, gang members, or serious criminals of any kind. Nearly anybody who's undocumented is covered. And it's been widely reported some of these non-criminals have been picked up already.

Lots of people don't know this, but Chicago is a very Mexican city. Over half a million people with Mexican roots, a fourth of them undocumented. And the consulate sees itself as their ally. We care about you and your kids' future, one official says to the crowd, which is definitely not the message they've been getting lately from the American government. The consulate convened this panel explaining, OK, here's how to plan for the possibility that you'll get detained and deported. Like, OK, if you're taken, what'll happen to your kids? How do you plan for that?

Lawyer

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

A lawyer explains how to sign over the power of attorney to somebody to take care of your kids. Or how to make somebody their temporary guardian. Another speaker explained what to do with your home and bank accounts if you're deported. Yet another-- what if you own a business here in the States? An organizer named Erendira Rendon told the crowd that if immigration shows up at their door, don't let them in unless they have a signed and dated judge's warrant. Usually they don't. And she made the crowd practice in English what to say through the door.

Erendira Rendon

OK, practica. I do not consent to your entry.

All

I do not consent to your entry.

Erendira Rendon

I do not consent to your search of these premises.

All

I do not consent to the search of these promises.

Ira Glass

The little girl sitting near me said that last one as, "I do not consent to your search of these promises."

Erendira Rendon

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

I know it's hard, the speaker says, and that's why you have this. She holds up a packet everybody got. One page has all these same messages in English in big letters. She tells them that if immigration shows up, hold this page against the window. Don't put it up right when you get home today, she says.

Erendira Rendon

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

[LAUGHTER]

Ira Glass

Just put it on the fridge, or leave it by the door. After nearly three hours of presenters and Q&A, one of the last stragglers in the room was one of the moms, Cuca. She talked to one of our producers, Lilly Sullivan. Cuca says it's been hard watching how the possibility of deportation has affected her kids. She has two daughters. The older one is one of the DREAMer kids, covered by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, so presumably, she's safe for now. But that could change. She's 19 and a sophomore on a full scholarship at a prestigious college they asked us not to name here. The younger one is a citizen, born here, just 11.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Interpreter

And I've explained to her what could happen.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

And she asks, what am I going to do?

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

And I tell her, you go with me. I won't leave you.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

I won't leave you anywhere. You're my daughter, and you go with your mom.

Ira Glass

That's Lilly translating. Cuca recorded the workshop to play for her husband later to help them plan. The family sat down and mapped out a few different scenarios.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

What happens if they deport one of us? What does the other one do?

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

We've talked to our daughters, and they know the plan.

Whitney

I think it was my mom who called my sister and I to the living room.

Ira Glass

We talked to Whitney, Cuca's older daughter, at their apartment.

Whitney

She said, OK, we need to talk. We had to figure out and agree on if somebody gets deported, who will go back with them and who will stay.

Ira Glass

In their first conversation, they all decided that, if one of them was sent to Mexico, all four of them would go. But then later, Whitney's mom, Cuca, started thinking, you know, maybe Whitney should stay in America, finish college. So that became the plan. The other three would go. And then Cuca realized, oh, to set up a life in Mexico, they're going to need a lot of money. So she began to wonder, if she were deported, was it a good idea for Whitney's dad to leave with her and give up his American income?

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

So I said no. It can't be that, if I go back, he goes back. He has to wait and get some money together--

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

--to at least get a bed and light and gas. Basic things that we need to live.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

And in the situation where he's deported--

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

Jeez. It gets really complicated, you know?

Whitney

For me personally, it was devastating to have to have that kind of conversation and process the fact that we were having that conversation.

Ira Glass

Seems like it was even harder for her little sister, Naomi, the 11-year-old, who kind of zones out in video games or just cracks jokes whenever the family starts talking about this stuff. The reality of having to relocate to Mexico, a country she's never set foot in?

Naomi

Hoo, boy, was I freaked out because I thought that I couldn't take anything over there. Yeah, so at first I was worried about not having any snacks, not having any computers, not having any LEGOs, not having anything fun. So yeah. Some of those LEGOs, they don't even make anymore, like the SpongeBob LEGOs. I'm a big fan of SpongeBob. So yeah, that was the part that I was mostly freaked out about. Yeah. And school. I mean, would I continue? Yeah.

Ira Glass

She said actually she could barely remember anything anyone said in these family discussions about their plans. Couldn't remember how she felt. When her mom prodded her a little, she's said--

Naomi

Ehh, [INAUDIBLE], yeah, OK, so my dad was serious. And like, I don't know. My mom also-- yeah. I think I'm starting to remember now. Some of us actually were crying. Yeah. Yeah, and I'm just thinking about stuff, like is there going to be a snow day? And I'm praying to God, please be a snow day.

Ira Glass

She means like the next day in Chicago. That's what she was thinking about during this tense family sit-down. And this is pretty much how she talked about her feelings with us until Lilly started asking about this one conversation that Naomi had with her mom, just the two of them talking about being deported.

Naomi

Then I heard about the plans, which I kind of feel now worried. What would happen to my sister? Yeah. So that's something that I worry about.

Lilly Sullivan

You worry about what would happen to your sister? What do you worry about?

Naomi

[CRYING]

I wouldn't see her for like two years or more. We're-- we're a fam-- we're a family. I want to stay together, not be separated. [CRYING]

Yeah, that's-- that's the part that right now I'm worrying most about. Yeah.

Ira Glass

For now, the family is preparing just in case. Getting the last few official documents in hand, getting Naomi Mexican citizenship in addition to her American citizenship, so it'll be easier to move her to Mexico, if needs be. And they have this system that, when one of them leaves the house, when they get to where they're going, they call to say that they safely got there. Cuca worries most about her husband. He goes to work in the suburbs.

Cuca

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Lilly Sullivan

When the phone rings and I see his number, I'm like, oh, OK. He arrived.

Ira Glass

For all these things the family is doing to prepare for the worst, the truth is, it's still not clear how much danger they're actually in. It's still not clear how aggressively the Trump administration is going to be deporting people under the new rules that they've just adopted. So much is still in the air.

And one place you can see that is this hotline that a church set up in West Chicago, the Faith, Life, and Hope Mission. Erica Velasquez is one of the volunteers who answers calls-- on her personal cell phone, by the way. She told me she's getting 60 to 70 a day, and that it's driving her husband nuts. Some questions that she gets are totally random. One green card holder, who's in the process of becoming a citizen, wondered if having a tattoo could endanger his chances.

Erica Velasquez

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Translator

And they ask me, Erica, I heard that now, if you have a tattoo, they're going to interpret that as if I'm a criminal or like I'm in some kind of gang. So am I not going to be able to work it out?

Erica Velasquez

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Translator

It surprised me. I didn't know what to say.

Ira Glass

People call, asking about the food stamps. The new guidelines say you can get prioritized for deportation if you receive government benefits you shouldn't have. So if the parents are not citizens but the kids are citizens, can they argue that the kids are the ones getting the food stamps? Are they OK?

The guidelines also say you can get prioritized for removal if you committed or just been charged with any crimes at all. And people call asking about what they thought of as minor offenses on their records-- traffic tickets, DUIs-- would they now be prioritized for removal?

I talked to one of the lawyers who spoke at the consulate, Salvador Cicero. He's a green card holder himself. He says one of the new guidelines he finds most chilling is the one that says to prioritize for removal anyone who quote, "in the judgment of an immigration officer poses a risk to public safety or national security."

Salvador Cicero

Yeah, that is the scariest thing, I think. If, in his discretion, you pose a threat to public safety. What does that mean? Does that mean that if I am loitering, you are a threat to public safety. You're out. I mean, how wide is that power? It's incredibly vague, and that is a problem. I mean, as it reads, it hasn't been further defined as of yet.

Ira Glass

So for the moment, green card holders, undocumented immigrants-- nobody knows what to expect. And that uncertainty has led to a lot of fear. Cuca's husband, Ignacio, told me he's become paranoid. He'll see a truck with weird lights on the highway and worry that it's immigration.

Well, today on our show, we have a program about rules and what happens when they're vague and randomly enforced and you can't predict what's going to happen to you-- even if you're in a tropical paradise. That's the first half of the show. We're going to Hawaii. In the second half of the show, we have the rules in a very different sort of paradise. We're talking about the New Jersey suburbs.

From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Stay with us.

Act One: That’s Just How I Rule

Ira Glass

Act One, That's Just How I Rule.

I remember once visiting Hawaii and hearing about this island that, as outsiders and as white people, we were not allowed to go to. It was just for native Hawaiians, I remember being told. People sometimes call it the Forbidden Island. It's real name is Niihau. And even if you're from Hawaii, apparently it's a mysterious place.

Adia White

I pretty much knew nothing about Niihau.

Ira Glass

This is Adia White, a public radio reporter who grew up on Maui.

Adia White

In school, we learned a lot about all of the other islands. A little bit about that history. But for Niihau, they pretty much told us nothing.

[HAWAIIAN MUSIC PLAYING]

The little I knew about it was that it's a piece of the original Hawaii. That's what everyone kind of thought about it, right? Like on Niihau people live as they did before Hawaii was colonized. It's what it's supposed to be like.

Ira Glass

So for instance, it predates the kind of Hawaiian music that you're hearing right now. You can see Niihau on a map. It's to the west of Kauai. About 70 square miles or so. A lot smaller than Maui or Oahu or anyplace in Hawaii you normally hear about.

Growing up, Adia didn't know what to picture it was like there. But she figured--

Adia White

Like an original-- a traditional Hawaiian village where it was governed by native Hawaiians. They decided who could come and who could go. They decided who they wanted to invite and how they wanted to live.

Ira Glass

So about a year ago, she started looking into what happens on Niihau. And she learned that it is not that at all. It's basically a family of white people who own everything and run the place even though they don't live there. They set the rules, which seem to be unwritten. And some of the rules are administered in an unpredictable sort of ad hoc way.

One of our producers, Sean Cole, joined Adia in reporting the story this fall. You can't just go to Niihau and interview the islanders. And even the ones who leave Niihau and move to the other Hawaiian Islands, they're pretty tight-lipped about life there. But Sean and Adia found a handful of people who were willing to talk to them. Here's what they learned.

Sean Cole

How Niihau got this way isn't a secret at all. Basically, back in the 1860s, when Hawaii was still a kingdom, the king sold the island to a white family for $10,000 in gold. They wanted to ranch cattle on it. And there was a community of about a thousand native Hawaiians living there. According to the family, before the ink was even dry on the contract handing over the land, the king looked at them and said, the day may come when Hawaiians are not as strong in Hawaii as they are now. And if that day comes, please do what you can to help them.

Adia White

That day, of course, did come, and the family has tried to keep their promise to the king all these years. And the way they interpreted helping the villagers was, let's preserve this place to be just as it was in 1864 when we bought it. So this is the last place on Earth where the language everybody uses every day is Hawaiian. They learn it as their first language and they speak an older form of Hawaiian than you hear anywhere else. Also, the lifestyle there is pretty spartan.

Tuti Sanborn

No running water, no electricity, no bathrooms. So it's outhouses that we use, yeah.

Sean Cole

This is Tuti Sanborn. She lives on Oahu now, but her family's from Niihau and she lived there every summer as a kid. She's the kind of person who uses phrases like "feel the aloha" in earnest and gets away with it.

Tuti Sanborn

So as the evening approached, we'd gather all of the lanterns and refuel them with kerosene. I remember my mom's kitchen. There was a kerosene stove in it. I remember doing that kind of stuff. I remember going to the wells to gather water.

Sean Cole

Tuti and the other Niihauans we talked to all described the same thing. No paved roads, no streetlights, one-floor houses with tin roofs, big yards, horses in the yards, peacocks and wild turkeys and pigs roaming around. And they fish and hunt for their food a lot of the time.

Adia White

There's a church in the center of the village, and a kind of meeting hall. A little school. But no stores or anything. In fact, no one uses money on Niihau. There's no formal medical care there, either. No law enforcement. The pastor of the church settles any disputes that flare up.

These days, they have solar panels to charge their phones and iPads and a few trucks to drive around the island. But mostly it's Hawaii circa 1864. Christian missionaries had been in the islands for decades by then. People told us that church attendance on Niihau is mandatory. Also, the family that owns Niihau, the Robinsons, are famous abstainers from all vice, and they've always required the residents of the island to live by those same values.

Tuti Sanborn

No alcohol is allowed. No smoking.

Sean Cole

No drugs. No guns. And if you're caught, say, drinking or doing drugs, you can get kicked off the island, which feels like a weird phrase to be saying out loud about real people.

Adia White

The Robinsons insist that they're simply protecting the villagers from all the awfulness of the modern world, just like they promised the king. The oldest members of the Robinson family are Keith and Bruce. They're brothers, both in their 70s. There was a documentary made about Keith in 2005 called Robinson Crusader, about his work to preserve endangered plant species. And he talks a little about Niihau in it.

Keith Robinson

I haven't seen any aircraft crashing into skyscrapers here. I haven't seen any plagues of AIDS here. As far as I know, there isn't one case of AIDS on the island. We have no drug problem. If there is any kind of a social problem here, the elders of the village sort it out by themselves. And if they can't handle it, they come to us.

Sean Cole

If this sounds like an oddly colonialist sort of project to have lasted into the 21st century, with white people setting the rules for native Hawaiians, I want to be clear. The villagers on Niihau are American citizens. They just happen to live on an island that's privately owned by this family. They can move away anytime they want. But if they want to stay, they have to respect the rules, that this is a regulated paradise. And people do want to stay. Everyone we spoke to who lived there, including people who have plenty of criticisms of the Robinsons, they all said they loved it.

Sean Cole

Did everybody really go to church on Sunday or do they try to--

Tuti Sanborn

Yes.

Sean Cole

--sneak out of it?

Tuti Sanborn

That was the only, only social event of the island besides parties, if they had parties.

Sean Cole

What were the parties like? Were they drinking juice?

Tuti Sanborn

You know, the parties were two weeks long.

Sean Cole

What?

Tuti Sanborn

Two weeks-- every day. And on Sunday. And on Sunday. It's an island full of aloha. So they'd have the parties for two weeks. So when they ordered food, they ordered a lot.

Sean Cole

They have canned goods and other foods shipped over from Kauai to supplement the fishing and hunting. Or they go to Kauai and shop themselves sometimes.

Adia White

A couple of the rules on Niihau seem a little more arbitrary than the others. Pulani Kahokuloa says his dad was kicked off the island when Pulani was 13, and Pulani left with him. That was 30 years ago. He could go back today, except for one thing.

Pulani Kahokuloa

I have to cut my hair and shave.

Sean Cole

What?

Pulani Kahokuloa

(CHUCKLING) Yeah. That's kind of ridiculous.

Sean Cole

No beards are allowed on the island. And no long hair on the guys. Pulani's a real ponytail, backwards-ball-cap kind of dude. And his sons have long hair, too. They'd all have to get haircuts if they want to go back.

Pulani Kahokuloa

I don't know what's the reason, because I had uncles that showed me older pictures when they were young. They had like Elvis hair, like whoosh, like long hair.

Adia White

So it's a new rule.

Pulani Kahokuloa

Yeah, it's a new rule. It's a silly rule.

Sean Cole

Pulani has a really hard time with the haircut thing. He kept coming back to it during our interview. We'd be talking about the rules in general and his distaste for them, and then he'd say something like this.

Pulani Kahokuloa

Especially the silly one of cutting hair. That one. That's the mean one that blows everybody's mind away when they ask me, how come you cannot go back to Niihau [INAUDIBLE]? Oh, he's got to cut his hair. What? No way. Hawaiians had long hair back in the days. We looked like cavemen. I'd say, yeah. Well, not today. You gotta cut the hair.

Sean Cole

It really bothers you.

[LAUGHTER]

Pulani Kahokuloa

It does.

Adia White

And there's a rule that Tuti Sanborn violated. It's a little more nuanced.

Tuti Sanborn

[SPEAKING HAWAIIAN]

Leimana Kanahele

[SPEAKING HAWAIIAN]

Adia White

She wanted to document what life was like on the island. She was worried those traditions would be forgotten. So she writes about the island sometimes. And she did a series of TV interviews with her family, asking them what they remembered. Just innocuous stuff.

Tuti Sanborn

I did one with my dad on saddle making.

Leimana Kanahele

[SPEAKING HAWAIIAN]

Tuti Sanborn

I did one with my sister. I did a few.

Sean Cole

In a way, she was doing the same thing the Robinsons were doing-- trying to preserve native Hawaiianness. Capture it in video amber. But the Robinsons didn't see it that way, and now she's not allowed back on the island. To them, the interviews, the articles, all of that violated what you could call the first rule of Niihau. You do not talk about Niihau.

Adia White

This punishment-- barring some people from the island, even people who left by choice-- this was the thing the Niihauans we talked to were the most bitter about. Tuti's sister, Doreen-- everybody calls her Auntie Deer-- has been barred from moving back to Niihau because she spent too much time away. She lived on the island until she was about 30, but then she moved to Kauai to take care of her mom, who had a stroke.

After her parents died, she wanted to move back, but she couldn't, she says, because of Leiana. Leiana is a matriarch of the Robinson family, and she's the one you have to call when you want to go back to visit or to live full-time again.

Auntie Deer

She said when we come here and stay here like one year or two years, we are considered outsiders. That hurt me. In my heart, it was like-- it was broken. My heart broke. I said, how can she say that? Because I was raised there. When I was born, I was raised there. She said that we belonged here, not there. I broke down, cried, and said, oh, how can that be? Because it's like the island is calling me to go back there.

Sean Cole

And it doesn't help that you can see Niihau from Kauai. Driving up and down the road that runs along the ocean, Niihau is a clear mountainous hump just a hop across the water. It feels so reachable, like you could just take a boat there yourself. But of course, you can't. It's private property.

Adia White

The younger of the two Robinson brothers, Bruce Robinson, is considered the main boss of the island. But as he's gotten older, the day-to-day management of Niihau has shifted to his wife, Leiana, which was really exciting for the villagers because Leiana's one of them. She's native Hawaiian. She was actually the daughter of the pastor on Niihau, 30 years or so younger than Bruce. Tuti Sanborn remembers when they got together.

Tuti Sanborn

Honestly, I thought, oh, great. Now we have our own that's in a place where she can make changes, and make good changes, and don't have to rule over our people so strictly, yeah? But no. She's just like the Robinsons. She treats the people just like the Robinsons have treated the people.

Sean Cole

Which is?

Tuti Sanborn

Strict. I thought it would change, where she would allow me to go. It didn't change at all. It got worse. Yeah.

Sean Cole

Tuti says she's asked Leiana a bunch of times if she can go back to the island. The way it works is that the Robinsons have a military surplus barge, like in Saving Private Ryan-- the kind where the front drops down. They ferry livestock with it, and fuel, and other supplies. And people who want to go back to Niihau can ride over on the barge. Only 20 or 25 people can fit on board. The trip takes a couple of hours. And they run pretty frequently, maybe three times a week. You just have to call and schedule it in advance.

Tuti Sanborn

And I remember calling on one occasion and she just said, oh, sorry, not at the moment. We cannot accommodate you right now. Their usual comment or response is, the barge is full. [LAUGHING]

Sean Cole

Like of other people going?

Tuti Sanborn

Right.

Sean Cole

And things.

Tuti Sanborn

Sorry, the barge is full. There's no room. There's no space.

Sean Cole

You're laughing because that doesn't seem true.

Tuti Sanborn

Yeah, because I know who goes. We all talk to each other and let each other know.

Sean Cole

How many times did you ask and how often?

Tuti Sanborn

Like three, four years consecutively I tried and was denied. So I just kind of stopped after that. Actually, no. I tried going to someone else. I would ask someone that's influential in my family, can you go ask Leiana that I want to go to Niihau? Still got denied. And I'm like, whatever. You're still my cousin. You cannot change that.

Adia White

This is something we hadn't thought of, but it was so obvious once people pointed it out. On an island this small, everyone's going to be related in some way. So this dynamic between Tuti and Leiana, it's a family dynamic. They're cousins. In fact, people use the word ohana, family, to describe the whole community of Niihauans, both on the island and off.

But while Tuti is technically a member of the ohana, Leiana doesn't really consider her that anymore. And there's no court of appeals. No due process. Leiana and the Robinson brothers had the last word.

Sean Cole

Contrary to what Auntie Deer told us, there are people who move away from Niihau to Kauai for a couple of years who are allowed to return, but those folks are more tied into Leiana's inner circle. And as a result, they're really hard to interview. This is an important point. The people that you're hearing from in this story, they're a pretty self-selecting group. They talk to us because they either felt like they had nothing to lose or because they have some sort of issue with how the island is run, if not with Leiana herself.

Adia White

With all this policing of who can come and go on the island, and all the people banned from moving back, we wondered how many folks are left living on Niihau. Again, the whole point of this project is to try to preserve a place for native Hawaiians-- their culture and their language.

Sean Cole

But even this most basic fact-- the population of Niihau-- was hard to pin down. Right before the Robinson's ancestors bought the island in 1864, again, there were about a thousand people living on Niihau. That's according to the census. And they were worried what was going to happen when the haoles, the white people, took over. In fact, the villagers wrote two letters to the Hawaiian government begging to buy or lease the island themselves, but nobody listened to them. Over the next four years, 700 people moved off of Niihau.

Adia White

The latest census from 2010 says there are 170 residents on Niihau. But Pulani Kahokuloa told us the community has really dwindled since then.

Pulani Kahokuloa

Let's just see. Right now there is 1, 2, 3-- at least five families are left on Niihau.

Sean Cole

So how many people is that?

Pulani Kahokuloa

About 21, 25 people?

Sean Cole

Wait, what? There's only 25 people left on Niihau?

Pulani Kahokuloa

Yep. Just about. But you can try and confirm it with Leiana first. She might give you another different number.

Sean Cole

I should say, by this point we had already started trying to get a hold of Leiana. I left a voicemail at her office. And then a retired reporter I got in touch with on Kauai told her we were working on this story, so I left a second voicemail. In any case, we've asked several people how many villagers are left on the island of Niihau and the range that keeps coming up is between 35 and 50.

Even a grocery store clerk on Kauai who grew up on Niihau said there's almost nobody left there. He wouldn't go on tape, but when we told him what we were doing, he said, does this mean people will get to go back now? Is that what the story's about?

[PHONE RINGING]

Answering Machine

This is Ira Glass, This American Life. Leave a message. [BEEP]

Sean Cole

Hi, Ira. It's Sean. Contrary to popular belief, there is cell service on Niihau. I am on Niihau. I'm standing on just the wildest beach that I've ever been to. By wild I mean kind of like wilderness. It's like this weird, untamed beach with these lava outcroppings in it. And the water is this unreal multicolored organism. It's just fantastic here. So I thought I should call you from Niihau. And I'll see you soon. All right, bye.

Adia!

Adia White

There is one way outsiders can set foot on Niihau.

Sean Cole

Oop. Animal poop. Just like everywhere.

Adia White

Back in the '80s, the Robinsons bought a helicopter partly so they could respond to medical emergencies on the island. And to offset the cost of it, they started offering tourist trips to Niihau. Not to the village. You still really can't get anywhere near the village. But anyone with $440, who's not afraid to ride in a helicopter, can take this half-day tour where you soar above the island and then land for a few hours on its northernmost beach.

Sean Cole

It's a beach the villagers use themselves, though they stay away when tourists are around. So there were no people. Not a single building in sight except this one weather-beaten pavilion with a storage hut across from it. So miles of empty beach. And then, behind us, this baking landscape that is not beach, but red dirt, also vast, dotted with scrubby brush and dry grasses. It was like a piece of a foreign planet had fallen into the middle of the Pacific. Adia and I agreed it was unlike any place either of us had ever seen. It was kind of like we had discovered an island.

Adia White

On the flight over, the helicopter pilot acted as a tour guide, pointing out sights, talking about the wildlife on the island. He told us that Niihau had been deemed by some the quietest place in the world. Although, as he pointed out, it's not clear how they measure those things.

I wouldn't call this the quietest place in the world at all.

Sean Cole

It's not quiet.

Adia White

It's really loud here.

Sean Cole

It's very loud here.

We spent four hours roaming around on the beach, which didn't give us any more understanding of what life was like there. So here's some other stuff we learned.

First and foremost, it's been hard for the Robinsons to keep this place going. The ranching business is mostly unprofitable. They've tried other sources of revenue-- making honey, manufacturing charcoal, neither of which worked. They also run hunting safaris, where people pay to shoot the wild pigs and other game. And there are the helicopter tours, of course. But really, the most stable source of income on the island thus far is one that won't sound traditional, nor Hawaiian. Military contracts.

Adia White

There's a Navy radar facility on the island, and a recent contract provides for 19 full-time-equivalent jobs. Also, various Navy exercises have been carried out on the island. The Robinsons seem to be proud of their contracts with the military. Keith, the older brother, talked with the villagers about working with the Navy at a public hearing that was held on Niihau back in 2015.

Keith Robinson

Without that money, frankly, your community, your jobs would not have survived. It's just that simple. For the time being, US Navy is your source of income that keeps all of you going here and which keeps us going and allows us to pay the taxes on this place.

Adia White

The villagers are paid to maintain the radar facility-- and the ranch, for that matter. They live rent-free. We heard that some receive food stamps and other public benefits. As to the question of whether military contracts are compatible with the mission of preserving native Hawaiianness, Keith has said, it's a lot more compatible than tourism. The military is stealth, he said, and it doesn't leave litter behind.

Sean Cole

We tried a couple more times to reach Leiana to get her take on everything we'd heard, and it started to seem like a dead end. And then on our last full day on Kauai, a little before 9:00 AM, my phone rang. It was her.

I know what your name is, she said, but I don't know what your mission is. I explained as best I could, but I was nervous. In our minds, Leiana had been built up into this towering intimidator. But finally, she agreed to speak with us. Meet me at the helicopter office in an hour, she said. Somehow, both of our voices became very high when we got there.

Sean Cole

Hi. Good morning. Aloha. How are you?

Adia White

Leiana's decidedly not a towering intimidator. She's maybe 5' 4", with long, dark hair, plaid shirt, jeans, and boots. She was very gracious and pleasant with us.

Sean Cole

Do you want to join us over here?

Leiana

Sure. Uh--

Adia White

But as soon as she saw the microphone, her eyes widened. She said she didn't want to go on tape. So you're not going to hear her voice in this story. She said she tries to stay out of the media, if possible. She doesn't feel like she should be speaking for the whole community.

And she clearly doesn't have a lot of time for sit-downs like this. During our visit, her cell phone wouldn't stop ringing-- and the office phone, too. She's the point person for everyone now, she said. But she said she'd try to answer any questions we had. And then she said, you can phrase the answers however you want.

Sean Cole

We told Leiana who else we'd talked to, and as soon as we said the first name, Tuti Sanborn, she did a kind of epic eye roll. Well, Tuti. I mean, she said, but she stopped herself. OK, OK, she said. Who else? Pulani Kahokuloa, I said, and she got tense again. You're all the way over here, she said, gesturing away from herself. She said our story was clearly one-sided. And that's why we came to you, I said.

Adia White

And so we got into it. Leiana said there is a limit to how long you can be away out of the community and still be let back on Niihau. She can only accommodate so many people, and she has to make choices. She said, I don't know what Tuti's purpose is for going home. She's crossed a lot of lines.

Sean Cole

What lines, I said. She said, people of the village don't want her being the voice of the people, meaning all the ways that Tuti documents life on Niihau for the rest of the world. And then she gave us this one example that really stuck in her craw that Tuti hadn't mentioned.

She said Tuti had worked as a consultant on an episode of Hawaii Five-O, the new rebooted version that's on TV now. In the episode, a college professor is murdered after sneaking onto Niihau to steal a rare plant. There are aerial shots of Niihau in the show, although the scenes in the actual village looked like they were filmed somewhere else. Tuti herself plays a village elder.

Tuti Sanborn

[SPEAKING HAWAIIAN]

Adia White

Leiana said, it's not her right to be their point person on Niihau, especially a big production like that. They should have come to us. I've worked with Jurassic Park, she said. Which is true. There's a scene in one of the movies of the Robinsons' helicopter flying over one of their properties on Kauai. And so Leiana felt cut out of this one. Why is this any different, she said. Why are we killing each other?

We did a little fact-checking on this. For what it's worth, Tuti was not the point person on Niihau for Hawaii Five-O.

Sean Cole

We asked Leiana about the haircut rule-- Pulani's big favorite. She said they don't like tattoos on the island, either, or piercings, or hair dye. All of that stuff has gotten really out of hand, she says. And she says church attendance on Niihau is not mandatory.

Adia White

Pulani's complaining caught her off guard, and she refuted him on pretty much every point. She gave a much higher number for how many people are on the island than Pulani did. Not 25. More like 125. And she told us, sometimes it's the community who doesn't want someone to come back on the island, in which case, they'll tell her, and she'll deliver the news. She's fine with being the bad guy, she says.

Sean Cole

"You interviewed a whole different group than my group," she said. "We may be of the same blood, but they're not with me. I have to listen to the community. If you take a hike, you take a hike. That's all there is to it. They've given their heart elsewhere, so why should I waste my energy for these people that have come to the table to say blah, blah, blah, blah, blah over these people that have dedicated their life to going back to the family? It's a really-- you can put it however you want to."

Also, we finally got to talk with someone who is part of that close-knit group of Niihauans Leiana talked about-- Pulani's sister, actually, who also didn't want her voice on the radio. She said, "we like Niihau the way it is. And I believe the Robinsons are keeping it that way. They're really good people. Honestly, if you were the owner of an island but you live on Kauai, would you pay for the fuel for the barge to send people over for free and not charge for each box that they ship to Niihau? That means a lot to us. They really do take care of the people. I can't believe you guys came all the way from the mainland."

Adia White

Thinking about all the rules on Niihau and the way they're implemented, at some point, I started to wonder. Should they even keep it going? When we were talking to Pulani, who clearly has a lot of problems with the way the island is run, we asked him about that. And he told us this story about his brother Iaone.

Iaone's married and has kids. He lived on Niihau all his life until he decided to try to make a go of it in modern life. So he moved on to Kauai with his family and got a job driving semi trucks-- delivery trucks. But he used to complain to Pulani about how expensive everything was. And then one day, he just disappeared.

Pulani Kahokuloa

And I got a call from his boss asking me, oh, where's your brother? I was like, I don't know. You should tell me. He works for you. And he was like, oh, he didn't show up to work for three days now. No call, no show, no nothing.

Adia White

So Pulani calls one of their sisters, who also lives on Kauai, and he says, do you know where our brother is?

Pulani Kahokuloa

She started to laugh. She said, he went back. I said, what do you mean he went back? Yeah, he went back to Niihau. He picked up his family and went back to Niihau. When I finally talked to him, he said he was just over it. To him, it was harder to pay taxes, buy a car, keep up with the registration, rent a house, pay for the electricity, the water, gas. And not getting nowhere, living from paycheck to paycheck. He said he was more happy back home living off the land, living each day for that day. Because next day, it's a new day.

Sean Cole

So he had a harder time abiding by the rules--

Pulani Kahokuloa

Of modern life than to the rules of the island of Robinson. He said he can put up with that.

Sean Cole

And Pulani later told us his brother Iaone, he's back living on Kauai now. He broke one of the rules. Pulani didn't say what it was, but Iaone was asked to leave Niihau, and he hopes that one day he'll be allowed back.

Ira Glass

Sean Cole and Adia White. Coming up, the head of one of the biggest financial institutions on the planet, a homeless guy, and one of our own producers all get called in on the same day in front of the same judge and the same set of rules. Who comes out on top? That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.

Act Two: A Dave in Court

Ira Glass

We have arrived at Act Two of our program. Act Two, A Dave in Court.

A little while ago, one of our producers, David Kestenbaum, broke one of the rules that we in our country have decided all to abide by. He made a left-hand turn by a sign that says no left-hand turns. As a result, he ended up spending the day in the courtroom of this one judge. This judge who applied the rules with a fastidious consistency that's sometimes lacking on privately-owned Hawaiian islands. We thought it might be nice to end our show today by seeing what that's like exactly. Here's David.

David Kestenbaum

If the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, this is basically the lowest. It's a municipal court. This one is for two towns in New Jersey. Still, the courtroom is an intimidating place. Wood paneling, wood seats, a giant official seal on the wall. In front of that, the judge's bench, which is raised like this physical reminder of who is in charge. There are a couple dozen of us here to have our cases heard.

Bailiff

All rise for the honorable Clarence Barry-Austin.

David Kestenbaum

Judge Clarence Barry-Austin walks in, black robe. And if you're hoping to be home in an hour, it's not going to happen. Here's how he starts.

Clarence Barry-austin

Now, the information I'm about to communicate to you will take a few minutes to do so, perhaps more than a few minutes.

David Kestenbaum

I know the word few can mean more than three. In this case, it means 22-- which is longer, by the way, than this entire story will be. He gives this long list of rules and information and more rules.

Clarence Barry-austin

I have to accept your guilty plea. I have to evaluate that plea to determine that it is an acceptable plea of court--

David Kestenbaum

The judge wants people to know all this stuff for their own protection, but he has another reason, as well. There is this much grander mission that he's on, though it doesn't come up until minute 20. And it's easy to miss.

Clarence Barry-austin

It is important to the court that you leave here fully understanding our procedures, our protocols, and the circumstances surrounding your particular case. Whether you are happy with the result is less important to you. Really, frankly, it's less important to me--

David Kestenbaum

He wants people to leave the court understanding how our legal system works. I talked to Barry-Austin about this. Months later, we sat down to do an interview. He says it's part of their training for municipal courts because, for some people coming in, their little traffic case could be their only contact with the legal system ever-- the only time they're in an actual court having their case heard, with all that wood paneling around them.

Clarence Barry-austin

That's one of the things that we talk about, the fact that it's important that they have a good experience, and a fair and an impartial experience here because this is where people will determine what they think of the judiciary as a whole.

David Kestenbaum

Everything. Like up to the Supreme Court, like all the cases they read about in the newspaper.

Clarence Barry-austin

Absolutely. They get a sense that judiciary functions in a fair and impartial way-- and a compassionate way.

David Kestenbaum

What makes this mission hard is that I and all the people around me here are on a mission of our own, and it is not the same mission. From what I can tell from our chitchat on the way in, a bunch of us are here because we are sure we should not have gotten the ticket. I fell into this category. We want the judge to waive the ticket, or at least reduce the fine, or something.

Clarence Barry-austin

Put your left hand on the Bible. Right hand raised.

David Kestenbaum

Case in point-- and by that I mean case in point. This is a guy who we'll call Jeff. Jeff is upset about his ticket. He parked his car on the street overnight, which is not allowed. There are signs for it all over town. But he is pleading not guilty. So they have this little mini trial. He doesn't have a lawyer or anything. It's just him.

Clarence Barry-austin

This procedure's a little different than you may be accustomed to.

Jeff

I know, Your Honor. I've been coming here for about 14 years now.

Clarence Barry-austin

You've been coming here for about 14 years?

Jeff

Grew up in this town.

Clarence Barry-austin

OK. You've been coming to court for 14 years?

Jeff

Well, you know, with school. I went to school at Seton Hall.

Clarence Barry-austin

All right. Well, I just wanted to--

David Kestenbaum

I think Jeff is just trying to establish that he's a local. The kind of person who deserves a break. He launches into his defense, which is that he lives basically right on the border between two towns. In one town, it's illegal to park on the street overnight. But in the other town, it's legal. He says there are no signs showing where the border is. Though when he lays all this out, the whole thing gets a little garbled because-- I saw this a few times when people go to court-- they sometimes try to use legal terms like they've seen on Law and Order or something.

Jeff

--this one, and that's why I came here, Your Honor. To actually show evidence that there's no actual proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, for an individual that goes in there, like myself-- I've been living there-- to know that that particular side of the street where the border is between two towns, to know exactly if he was parking in South Orange or in North.

Clarence Barry-austin

As I indicated in my opening statement, parking tickets are a little different.

David Kestenbaum

Judge Barry-Austin is very patient with him. He told me people often come in just wanting to be heard, so he listens. But also-- this is the mission, remember-- he wants the guy to know how our system works, how the law works.

Clarence Barry-austin

Let me just inform you that motor vehicle rules of the road don't require intent. Criminal laws require you to intent to violate the law. Motor vehicle laws don't require intent. So if you parked illegally-- even if you don't intend to park illegally, if you are, in fact, parked illegally, that's a violation.

David Kestenbaum

Jeff plows ahead anyway. He enters 11 photos into evidence. He runs through them one by one. Photos of the street signs, and the lack of street signs. Close-ups of street signs. A photo of a fire hydrant, for some reason. Of a car parked in the same spot he was parked in on a different night. That car didn't get a ticket. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes. And then the judge issues his ruling.

Clarence Barry-austin

Your defense really is not an approved defense. I'm satisfied that all the necessary proofs are in place for me and supports a finding of guilty of this particular offense. The fine for the offense, sir, is $60.

David Kestenbaum

Jeff went off to pay his fine, pretty clearly feeling like justice had not been done here.

David Kestenbaum

How do you think he felt at the end of that?

Clarence Barry-austin

I'm sure he felt frustrated.

David Kestenbaum

Didn't you have some discretion? I mean, this guy, he's walking in there super frustrated. He's lived here his whole life. There are no signs there. Could you have given him a break?

Clarence Barry-austin

I could have suspended his fine, yes.

David Kestenbaum

Oh, you could have?

Clarence Barry-austin

I could've.

David Kestenbaum

Why didn't you?

Clarence Barry-austin

Because he violated the law. People go through stop signs and say, I didn't see the stop sign. What would make his situation different from anybody else who said, Judge, I didn't know?

David Kestenbaum

Barry-Austin was born in Guyana. Neither of his parents went to college, but he told me he wanted to work with the law as long as he can remember. He liked arguing things, sorting through the logic of things. He has faith in the idea of laws, that rules, words on a page, can be clearly applied to the real world. And yet, even here, with these little cases, you see how hard that can be-- like with this one man.

He'd gotten a ticket, I think, for being too far into the intersection when he stopped for a red light. His English isn't so good.

Man

Yes, something I understand.

Clarence Barry-austin

Now, is it a hearing problem or is it a language problem? Do you understand English?

Man

No, no, no. No problem with hearing, no. It's OK.

Clarence Barry-austin

You can hear OK? You hear everything I'm saying?

Man

Yes, OK.

Clarence Barry-austin

Do you understand everything I'm saying?

Man

Yes. Understand something.

Clarence Barry-austin

What language do you speak, sir?

Man

Ukrainian, Russian, Polish.

David Kestenbaum

The guy just wants to plead guilty. But the judge, admirably, wants to make sure the man clearly understands what's happening. So he tries to get an interpreter. The courts are set up to do this, though the mechanism seems a little low-tech.

[PHONE DIALING]

The judge calls up an interpreter service, basically on a speakerphone in the court.

Machine

Welcome to LanguageLine Solutions. For Spanish, press 1. For other, press 2.

[BEEP]

[HOLD MUSIC PLAYING]

David Kestenbaum

The judge tells them he needs a Polish interpreter. And after a bit, a woman comes on who speaks Polish. The judge has to swear her in.

Clarence Barry-austin

Do you solemnly swear--

David Kestenbaum

This all takes time. Everyone in court just has to wait. Then the judge starts over with the man. The woman on the phone translates for the judge.

Interpreter

[SPEAKING POLISH]

Man

It's not Polish language.

Clarence Barry-austin

Didn't you say that you would prefer to speak in Polish?

Man

Ukrainian. Ukrainian, Russian, no problem.

Clarence Barry-austin

I thought you said Polish, no problem. Didn't you say that?

David Kestenbaum

The judge has to do the whole thing again. Find a Ukrainian interpreter.

Interpreter

[SPEAKING UKRAINIAN]

David Kestenbaum

This went on for over a half an hour. Even with the interpreter, the judge isn't convinced the man totally understands, so he schedules the trial for another day. All this to try to resolve a minor traffic violation. I found it grueling, and also impressive.

Most of the cases didn't take that long. The judge cranked through 27 different defendants in a little over five hours. There was a guy who'd been caught with a small amount of marijuana. And weirdly, a case against the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in America. I thought maybe he'd blown a stop sign or something, but it was about a property that hadn't been kept up. And it turned out neither he nor the bank had any connection to the building, so it got dismissed. And then there was one woman who'd been in a minor accident. She testified that the other car had quote, "appeared out of nowhere," which I'm pretty sure violates the law-- of physics.

Some people did seem OK with how things went. One man, when his case was over, told the judge to have a blessed day. Another man who had pulled into a handicapped spot apologized. The most fascinating case of the day, though, the one where you saw just how hard it could sometimes be to apply the law, was this one.

Clarence Barry-austin

Just speak up. Say who you are, name and address.

David Kestenbaum

The guy says his name. Then, for address--

Homeless Man

I don't have an address.

Clarence Barry-austin

By that, are you asserting that you're homeless?

Homeless Man

Yes, sir.

David Kestenbaum

The man's wearing a long-sleeved button-up shirt that is too big and untucked. He's standing with his legs really far apart, as if maybe he'd worked out that that was the most stable way to stand to keep from falling over.

Judge Barry-Austin goes through the papers. He sees that the man is in for basically drinking in public. It's an open container violation. The ticket was issued years ago and never paid.

Clarence Barry-austin

Which has gone back to 2013.

Homeless Man

Yes. It took me a little while to get here. Sorry.

Clarence Barry-austin

I don't know how to take that, but I hope you don't mean that to be funny.

David Kestenbaum

The prosecutor has recommended that the whole thing be dismissed. But Barry-Austin is not on board. He looks down at the ticket. The court had tried to get the man to appear many times.

Clarence Barry-austin

I mean, there are multiple times. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 that I can quickly count. The court has expended an enormous amount of time, effort, and expense in just trying to get him into court.

David Kestenbaum

I'm willing to dismiss the original ticket, he says, but shouldn't there be some penalty for failing to appear in court so many times? At this point, the homeless man, unwisely, speaks up.

Homeless Man

I've been homeless for approximately eight years, sir.

Clarence Barry-austin

OK. But at the same time, you did get the ticket, did you not?

Homeless Man

I got the ticket and I lost it or threw it away. I don't know what I did with it.

Clarence Barry-austin

[SCOFFS]

You see what I'm-- you lost it or you threw it away? You know, it's just a total disregard for the process. That's what's bothering me, OK? I mean, being homeless doesn't prevent you from at least abiding by the process of the court.

David Kestenbaum

Of course, the judge is all about applying the process of the court. A woman steps up to testify on the homeless man's behalf. She says she knows him because he comes to her food pantry. He volunteers there, too. She says he comes in three days a week, four hours a day.

Woman

It's a lot of work, and he needs medical care. He has seizures. I've witnessed them. He's going to the hospital. I take him home from the hospital.

David Kestenbaum

She says she's been trying to help get him on Medicaid, but someone told her he can't be on Medicaid because of this outstanding ticket. I later learned that's probably not correct. But that's why she brought him in.

Woman

So we're trying to go through all the processes, and it's taking a long time.

Clarence Barry-austin

So if I'm understanding you correct, it wasn't even at his initiative that he's here today? It's at your initiative?

Woman

Because he forgot all about it. I'm sure he did. And he shouldn't have.

David Kestenbaum

This is where the mission gets tough. Judge Barry-Austin goes back and forth about what to do, just thinking aloud. I don't see how I can let this go, he says. He can't just not show up for court so many times and there not be any consequence. On the other hand, he recognizes the guy will have a hard time paying a penalty. There will probably be additional cost to the court to try to collect it. But in the end, he decides to issue a $50 fine for failing to appear. And then, almost as an afterthought, he asks this.

Clarence Barry-austin

Does he get paid at all for his work at the--

Woman

They're all volunteers. We'll pay court costs, whatever it is, sir.

Clarence Barry-austin

The program will take care of that for him?

Woman

We'll take care of it, absolutely, because he needs medical help.

Clarence Barry-austin

All right. OK. Um...

David Kestenbaum

Barry-Austin was just trying to apply the law-- the law that he believes in. And yet, he was in a bind. He decided to issue this fine to punish a guy for not showing up in court, but now the guy wasn't even going to end up paying the fine because now it's going to come out of the budget of a food pantry. What to do?

When I interviewed Barry-Austin about this day in court, it was a couple months after the fact. He was curious how it came out, too.

Clarence Barry-austin

How did it turn out? Do you recall?

David Kestenbaum

What do you think you did?

Clarence Barry-austin

What would I have done? I don't want to venture a guess. Tell me how it worked out.

David Kestenbaum

Here, I'll play it for you.

Clarence Barry-austin

All right. You know what? Since I don't want to impose that cost upon the program. I don't want to impose it. I'm going to suspend it.

David Kestenbaum

He lets it go. No penalty. Barry-Austin told me this is one thing that thwarts him occasionally-- human kindness. The usual way it happens is that someone, an adult, will be assessed a fine, and then the person will look to the back of the courtroom and an older parent or grandparent will come forward to pay it.

Clarence Barry-austin

Why are you paying? It's his. I mean, he's not a child. He's a grown person. Why are you-- I can't tell you not to pay. And I won't tell you not to pay. But it just irritates me. I always tell my kids, I will never let you fall and crash and burn. I will always be that last resort that you have to. But you have to learn lessons from the things that you do. And the rules are the rules.

David Kestenbaum

The rules are the rules. I have just one more case for you.

Bailiff

State versus David Kestenbaum.

David Kestenbaum

That's me. Before I play you the tape-- which is excruciating for me to listen to now-- remember, I was one of the people who was convinced they had been wronged. I'd made the left turn, sure, into a parking space. But I had no idea it was illegal. There is a sign, but honestly, you can't see it until after you've already made the turn. And given that, the penalty just seemed unfair. $85 plus three points on your license. After it happened, I would pass by that spot every day on my way to work, and every day I would be filled with outrage that I'd gotten the ticket.

I'd been compulsively running through what I would say in court in my head for weeks. So that day, I dressed up. I wore a tie. I had my manila envelope with photos in it, and data. I'd measured the distance from where I'd made the turn to where the sign is. I was nervous to be there in court, but I also felt like, I'm a rule-follower. If there's a sign that says no left turns, I don't make a left turn. So I felt like, I'm not against these people, the judge and the prosecutor. There'd just been some sort of mistake. We were going to sort it out. I see now how stupid that was.

When I arrived in court, I'd waited in line to see the prosecutor, who'd looked at my driving record, which was clean, and he'd offered me a plea bargain. I'd plead guilty to a lesser charge-- obstructing the flow of traffic, which did not come with any points-- and he said I could explain to the judge about the signs. Maybe he would reduce the fine. That seemed great. It seemed like the way the system was supposed to work. I knew it. These were my people. We all want the same thing. Here's what happened when I got before Judge Barry-Austin.

Clarence Barry-austin

Good afternoon, sir. Your name, your address, please.

David Kestenbaum

David Kestenbaum.

It started according to plan.

Clarence Barry-austin

You also were charged with making a left turn into a parking space on Sloane Street?

David Kestenbaum

That's correct.

Clarence Barry-austin

Prosecutor's moving to amend that to a violation of Title 39:4-67. Again, obstruction of traffic. You understand the amendment that's being proposed?

David Kestenbaum

I do.

Clarence Barry-austin

And you're pleading guilty to obstructing traffic through the maneuver of making a left turn into the parking space?

David Kestenbaum

[INAUDIBLE]

If I had been paying more attention to Judge Barry-Austin's 22-minute introductory speech, I think I might have avoided what came next. Remember this?

Clarence Barry-austin

I have to accept your guilty plea. I have to evaluate that plea to determine that it is an acceptable plea according to the standards and the guidelines that I have to follow.

David Kestenbaum

I was not paying attention at all. When I stood in front of the judge, he told me he had to establish a factual basis for my plea. I was pleading guilty to obstructing the flow of traffic, so he asked, did I obstruct the flow of traffic by making that left-hand turn? If I had just answered yes, I would have been fine. But I didn't remember any cars. And I was still hoping that, when he understood my situation, he'd give me a break on the fine. So here's what I said when he asked, were you obstructing the flow of traffic?

David Kestenbaum

There were no other cars around, but I understand it would impede the flow. Yes.

Clarence Barry-austin

No. No, it doesn't work like that, sir.

David Kestenbaum

I'm sorry.

Clarence Barry-austin

It doesn't work like that. I need a factual basis. If there was no other vehicles then--

David Kestenbaum

There were other vehicles in the area.

Clarence Barry-austin

No, no, you-- you can't acknowledge to me on the record that there were no other vehicles and then say that you impeded traffic. I can't accept that.

David Kestenbaum

Can I give a fuller explanation?

Can I give a fuller explanation? God, who talks like that? Me, I guess. I'd started doing that thing I'd seen other people do. I tried to use legal language I had no business using.

Clarence Barry-austin

I mean, I'm not going to allow to just totally disavow what you've already said. If you want to explain it to me in a fashion that would bring you within the violation, I'll listen to that. What I don't want you to tell me--

David Kestenbaum

I'm going to tell you this because I just want to make sure we're understanding each other.

Clarence Barry-austin

All right. Go ahead.

David Kestenbaum

I was coming off the circle. I went into the parking area. I made a left-hand turn. To my recollection, I do not recall any traffic coming in the opposite direction.

Clarence Barry-austin

So you don't recall that, in fact, you impeded the flow of traffic in either direction?

David Kestenbaum

If impede the flow of traffic means there has to be a car present there at the time, then no.

Clarence Barry-austin

OK, then I can't accept this as a-- there is no factual basis.

David Kestenbaum

I-- I-- I-- I apologize.

I am a person who is used to speaking in public. It's, like, my job. But I could barely think straight. In my head, this went on forever, though apparently it was 3 minutes and 45 seconds, according to the tape. In the end, he refused to accept the plea bargain.

David Kestenbaum

You know how nervous I was coming into court that day?

Clarence Barry-austin

Well, now I do.

David Kestenbaum

It felt strange, but we talked about my case a little.

Clarence Barry-austin

I have to hope that you'll be satisfied with the outcome, but--

David Kestenbaum

I wasn't satis-- I wasn't satisfied with the outcome.

Clarence Barry-austin

That's not my driving motivation. It's more that the process work, and that you're satisfied that the process worked. Even if you are dissatisfied with the outcome, that you're satisfied that the process worked.

David Kestenbaum

I certainly admired your desire to apply the law in a clear way.

Clarence Barry-austin

Well, that's the job.

David Kestenbaum

I told him, genuinely, I thought he had succeeded in his mission with me. It seemed fair. I'd learned something. He said, OK. One victory for the day.

Ira Glass

David Kestenbaum. He's one of the producers of our show.

[MUSIC - NAS FEAT. LAURYN HILL, "IF I RULED THE WORLD (IMAGINE THAT)"]

Credits

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Susan Burton. Other staff, Zoe Chace, Dana Chivas, Sean Cole, Neil Drumming, Karen Duffin, Stephanie Foo, Chana Joffe-Walt, David Kestenbaum, Seth Lind, Miki Meek, Jonathan Menjivar, Christopher Swetala, Robyn Semien, Lilly Sullivan, Matt Tierney, Nancy Updike, and Diane Wu. Music help today from Damien Graef.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder, Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, before going into public radio, he trained for years in the space program as an astronaut but decided not to go on his mission to the International Space Station when he learned about everything he was going to have to leave behind.

Naomi

Like not having any snacks, not having any LEGOs, not having anything fun. Yeah.

Ira Glass

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