The Courtroom Experience
The Brooklyn Treatment Court differed from the other courts in the survey
in the size of the geographic area and population it served. More importantly,
in consideration of the courtroom experience, the Brooklyn Treatment Court
also made use of a large number of treatment providers rather than the
single or several providers employed by the other drug courts. This resulted
in a courtroom experience in which participants were less likely to know
one another from the streets:
- You dont know hardly anybody.
- You dont necessarily belong to the same groups.
- Its usually a bunch of strangers.
- Sometimes you run across someone you know.
- When I used to come to court, the program I was in, like maybe 12
of us would go to court the same day. So we all got dressed up. It was
a good thing.
Some participants noted that the experience of coming to court was very
disagreeable in the beginning:
- In the beginning, when I started coming here, my attitude was, Go
to hell. I didnt want to come here. I didnt like coming
here. . . . Then I see my life is getting a little better, then I started
to enjoy coming here. But at the beginning . . . I look around and everybody
clapping for me like that because I complete something. . . . It become
enjoyable, something to look forward to. . . . Now I want to come and
do it; I want to show then Im clean and Im not doing what
I did before.
- I use to hate coming down here once a month giving urine. I use to
argue at him: Why cant you fax my urine over there? . . . Like
I want to see the judge every day. . . . So I hated coming down here.
. . . And then . . . as time went on and I got to Phase III . . . they
gave me something and Im going to give something back. But I hated
it. . . .
Other participants simply did not like the experience:
- The courtroom . . . I despise cause I have to do it. You gotta
do this or suffer the consequences. Then you get there, you sit there
all daymight have a little laughfor me I cant wait
till the courtroom day is over.
Many spoke of the experience of going to court as making them very apprehensive:
- You know you have to go to court once a month, so if you mess up,
like I said, its on you. So you gotta be nervous when you go to
court but if you dont do anything, you gonna be all right. So
I didnt have no problem going to court.
- Ive been to court so many times, its like a nightmare.
I know that my urine is clean but I dont know what I was doing
when I was getting high. So I dont know if they got everything
in their records. . . . So every time I go to court, its like,
What are they going to say now? And I know Im doing
everything right but I dont know 20 years ago what I did. Something
might come out where they say they gotta send you to jail.
- Theres a sense of unsureness, like a rush, that keeps you tense.
Until the moment the computer reads out that everything is okay.
- When I first got into the program every time a court date came up
I was paranoid because I wasnt doing very good.
- In the beginning, when I first started this process and I knew I had
dirty urine, I still come to court and was always scared, worried. I
couldnt go on living like that.
Many seemed to appreciate the experience and view it as intended to be
- Theres something else, though. Everyone thats affiliated
with the courtroom itself . . . they understand our addiction. They
have some knowledge we are addicts and that we are subject to do things
that other persons might not do. Even the court officers. . . . Nobody
in the courtroom likes to see you go to jail. They all know we trying.
- Well I loved going to court because my name stayed up on the screen
all the time. . . . I loved it, coming to court.
Some commented that the courtroom experience was an important learning
experience for them:
- Watching the others, its like looking at myself sometimes.
. . .
- I wish they could know what I know and this is what I see in front
of me now when I go to court.
- I have seen a lot of my peers get rearrested that completed the program
. . . and I say to myself, you never forget where you come from because
you can always go back.
Regardless of whether they had a positive or negative opinion of the
drug court, Las Vegas participants viewed the drug court courtroom experience
as an event of critical importance. Several participants described their
great nervousness about attending court, and many other participants expressed
- I generally sleep very little or not at all the night before court.
. . . Sometimes I have hypertension, my blood pressure goes way up.
- Oh God, I get scared. [Many people responding at once to agree with
- Yeah that helps me, cause I shake like a leaf even if I know
I did everything Im supposed to do. I still have fear running
through my veins the minute they call my name. . . .
The comments of the Las Vegas participants suggested that they learned
a great deal by sitting in court and watching the cases of others who
were appearing before the judge:
- The first time he told me to expect to sit there and be one of the
last ones to leave because by my being new he wanted me to actually
see what was going on and I saw one person put in jail and then he hollered
at a few other people for messing up and then he complimented people
for doing good, and I saw this happen. I mean it was good for me to
see the first time, but now that Im doing good I want to be my
own person. I shouldnt have to sit and watch all these other people,
you know, and their problems. I should just be able to go in and get
on out of there. . . .
- You see different stages. . . . You see what could happen to you.
I mean its like me graduating, I could look back at peopleyou
knew a lot of people grew. . . .
- You learn from other people. . . .
- You see them graduate and you want to be there so they quit treating
you like youre the scum under his shoe . . . and when you see
them people get 4-week reviews thats where you want to be because
they come in, you did good, you got my money, yep, all right, bye, have
a nice day. . . .You know you going, Hey, that way easy, well
thats where I want to be. But, then again, it works both
ways, you see what you can and cant do. . . .
- Its like therapy. Some people be like that. That could be you.
- Then you see people goin to jail.
- When you see it all the time it keeps it fresh in your mind. Hey,
you know hes going to throw your butt in jail if you dont
do what youre supposed to do.
- For me I think its a lesson to be learned, because a lot of
the questions I have in my mind are being answered right there.
Some participants thought that the experience was negative and that the
focus group members were not being honest about how they felt about going
- I dont agree. I think that most people in there, . . . theyre
looking at that going on, thinking, I dont care about these
people. I dont care if theyre going to jail. . . .
Its more that you dont know what theyre going through
and you really dont care because you just want to get on with
your thing. . . . You want to get your name called and out the door.
. . .
- I dont care about Joe Blow you know.
Miami participants expressed mixed perspectives on the courtroom experience
in their drug court. For some, it was a source of apprehension:
- Scary for me because I dont want to go to jail. I was there
for about 12 hours and I dont want to go back to that place. .
- Oh, I take 175 milligrams a day. . . . I suffer from anxiety and depression.
I have to take tranquilizers every dayif I go in that courtroom
I have to take two tranquilizers cause I get like this.
Others believed that the experience was basically helpful.
- I dont mind because Im clean and he just tells me, Good
job sweetheartIll see you when I see you. And its
just like a 10-minute thing and then. . . .
- I like it because were all the same. . . . We all have the same
problem and I think the judge is aware of that. . . . He is very compassionate.
If you cross the line, you get the consequence for it. . . . On the
right path, he encourages you.
- Im saying its good. When you go there and the judge say
youre doing fine and you got another 2 whole weeks to come back
and then you graduate I see everybody get up and start clapping.
- For me its a trip. Everybodys like all nervous and theyre
all worried like, Im gonna get arrested, and then
theres times like when somebody graduates and for those that are
sitting in the crowd, and we do clap, maybe were clapping like
oh cool, all right . . . but to see the person whos graduating,
theyre like so hyped up, theyre so happy with themselves
and theyre so exuberant at that moment, yknow, and I just
say to myself, Dang, I cant wait till Im up there.
. . and Im the one saying, Yeah, Im out of here.
I think its a really good motivator.
- I enjoy watching them. I have a good time. I laugh. He makes you laugh.
Some of the things people come up with. . . .
One expressed a more impatient view, earning nods from other participants:
- Like after I finish here, I dont want to see that place ever
Although there were different opinions on the courtroom experience among
Portland focus group participants, their preoccupation with going to court
and the courtroom experience itself was a recurrent theme throughout the
focus group session. A number of the Portland participants felt anxious
and nervous about going to court:
- For myself, I felt paranoid. Even though the first time I came into
the program I had smoked marijuana, for the 2 weeks before that I had
probably 10 clean UAs [urinalyses] and had decided I wanted to do it
again with some friends and took a puff. But I knew what might happen
to me when I went to court. It was constant, constant, constant in my
mind. . . . I go in the first time I had ever screwed up. I went to
jail for 2 days and that woke me [finger snap], so that every time I
go there [to court], I feel kind of anxious.
- Im doing good but every time I go, Im just nervous, every
single time, I dont know why but I just hate going there, but
I do like to sit and listen to some of the stories being told.
Another said that it was an invasion of privacy in court when the judge
discussed her personal business in front of everybody else:
- Yeah, every time, even if Im doing good, Im paranoid
standing in front of a whole bunch of people discussing your personal
business, like when they found out I was pregnant. Did I want everybody
to know my business?
Some participants felt that going to court was an inconvenience because
it could conflict with work schedules. One participant disagreed and argued
that, really, going to court is not much of an inconvenience when you
are doing well:
- I dont know how much of an inconvenience it is, because I know
since Im doing well I dont go to court. I go to court every
6 weeks. Its not a big deal, I mean, and if you are responsible
when you first start the program its 2 weeks and you do a round
then its 4 and now Im going every 6 weeks.
Some noted that going to court is a learning experience. Most agreed
that positive feedback from the judge is very important to them. One participant
said that it was because he had to attend court that he was successful
- Ive been arrested 29 times. I dont like going to court,
but this is different somehow. I dont think I would have graduated
if it hadnt been for the court thing. . . . This is the fourth
treatment program and its the only one thats done anything
and I think thats because I had a hammer over my head constantly.
Some Portland participants complained that the evening session is overcrowded
and that going to court takes up a lot of time because there is so much
- I did not really like it [going to court] because I had other things
to do besides run to court. I dont have all day to sit up in court
until 5 oclock in the evening, even though I knew I was doing
good and everything but still I have other things to do.
One participant said that it was difficult to find someone to look after
his/her child when he/she had to go to court.
These themes were repeated in the San Bernardino groups:
- Sweaty palms, sweaty palms.
- When they call your name and you gotta sheet. . . . By now people
see that red spot by your name and when youre dirty, youre
dirty. . . . The day before when you have to go for the test, thats
when its scary. Thats when its scary, when you go
out there and you have to be honest. As long as youre honest.
. . .
- It feels like . . . I walk through this door and . . . paranoia. I
see some people, they think they was doing good, and bam! At the last
minute, we get the box.
- I think its scary for me because even though I know Im
not going to jail cause I been doing my program, the fear is still
there. . . .
- You get weak in the knees. [Intense laughter from the group.]
- I know that Im clean but I still have butterflies in my stomachjust
the thought of going to the courtroom, it makes me nervous.
- Its like, y know, I used to break into stores or lift
stuff, and when I went out I would be worried about the alarm going
off. Thats the worst sound. Then I stopped doing crime when I
was in the program. But every time I walk by a store or in a store,
even if Im doin nothin wrong, Im afraid the
alarm is goin off. It doesnt make sense, but I wait, my
heart starts goin faster, I wait for it to go off for no reason.
When I go to court, it feels like that even when Im sure I did
what I was supposed to.
Some participants thought the experience was constructive:
- As long as your tests are clean, you dont have to worry about
- I think it gives a lot of clarity. It makes you think of the good
job you did.
- At first, I didnt think nothin. . . . When I see them
go to the box, it gives me more power, like, damn, Im not like
them. . . .
- Its a learning experience for me. You just learn what to do.
When you see somebody doin right and they get patted on the back,
you think, I want to be like that next time I come. Or when
you see someone get the cuffs slapped on them, you thinking like, Oh,
I aint going to do that. I dont want to be that person.
Seattle focus group participants freely expressed feelings of apprehension:
- Oh yeah! Very nervous. Sometimes I have panic attacks.
- When I got there I was scaredI was rich okayI felt she
wasnt going to take me. Like I wasnt going to make it and
I needed it. . . . I been there with her in that courtroom. She had
to put me in jail because of my own stupidity.
- To me, any time I enter the courtroom, even today when there isnt
anyone in court, this fear of the unknown. . . . You have no control
over what happens when you walk into that courthouse.
- Im always real nervous in court because . . . she does have
a lot of power and can do just about anything she wants. And then there
is the sense of relief when you get out and it wasnt as bad as
Many participants expressed the view that the court experience was helpful
- I was relieved. I like structure, see. So to have that structure
in the drug court was like . . . YES!
- If you have personal issues and they know it, theyll wait and
call you up last because they dont want to embarrass you or make
a big production of it with a courtroom full of people . . . That really
makes me feel good. The respect they are showing.
- Me, its when they call me up first I am relieved because that
means I was doing goodits called the Express Card. If youre
doing good, like your urines are clean, youre going to all your
groups . . . then you get an Express and youre up there right
away. In and out. Its better than waiting all day. Its called
drug court clout.
- You take regular court. You cant say nothing unless you are
spoken to. Here in the drug court you are given the opportunity to help
in your own case. You can talk to the judge. Youre treated like
a human being. Here, youre making a decision for yourself. Cause
its your life, not theirs.
- But comin in, them turnin around and smilin and
givin you the thumbs up and really all of them, were talking
the clerks, the typist, the people from TASC, everybody is involved,
is totally into your success, and they will get you for your failures.
I mean they all care about you. I think its like a family thing.
- The judge begins to know when youre lying. She knows when youre
- It gets to where I know everyone on a first-name basis and they know
you and not only does the judge know whats going on in your life,
she remembers. . . . It makes me feel like on.
As in the other sites, some participants did not appear convinced that
the courtroom experience was positive:
- You gotta sit through all the people comin from jail, sit there
for hours, man, seriously. . . . The longer you sit there, the worse
your punishment is goin to be.
- I feel like Im on a soap box. . . . Going to court is a pain.
Back to The Courtroom Experience
Chance: Perspectives on Drug Courts