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Imagine with me, if you will:  I’m sitting at Taco Bell.  This is a college town, so the line borders unbelievable at 1:36 a.m.  I haven’t been drinking or smoking, but judging by the nostalgic screams and Rack City acting as background noise, the rest of the line has.  It takes me about ten minutes to get to the point where I’m placing my order; I’m a man of simple tastes.

“I’ll have four Dorito Loco’s Tacos’ No lettuce, just meat and cheese.”

“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”

Of course the Taco Bell employee didn’t hear what I said.  You know, in 2014, with all this wonderful technology — you’d think Drive Thru’s would invest in microphones that don’t sound like you’re farting into a Styrofoam cup.

“Uhmmm..”  Cause that’s my trademark way to begin most orders, even if I know what I want.   “Can I get four Dorito Loco’s Tacos’ No Lettuce, just meat and cheese.  And a Mountain Dew Baha Blast.”

“So I’ve got four Dorito Loco’s Tacos, no lettuce, no meat, no cheese, and a Baha Blast.  Did you want the shell for the Dorito Loco Tacos?”

Did he just say ‘No Lettuce, no meat, no cheese and then ask me if I wanted the shell?

For those who don’t know what comes on this specific taco, it’s rather simple actually.  It’s meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes — oh yes and the shell.  This guy essentially asked me if I wanted a bag full of tomatoes because it was the only thing I hadn’t mentioned.  Losing patience with this Taco establishment, I get sharp with him.

“Yes.  That’s exactly what I came to Taco Bell for.  The vegetarian Taco, hold the shell.”

You ever just observe the people around you and think, “Our generations going to be the downfall of society?”

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Truthfully, it probably wasn’t his fault.  He legitimately thought he heard me order a small goldmine of tomatoes…  At Taco Bell.  Heck, some learn from the mistakes of others.  The rest of us have to be the others.

Which brings me, ever so conveniently, to my point:

What’s the importance of keeping things from being lost in translation?  

I recently went to court for the first time.  No worries, I was there for a class reporting project.  But fair enough, it was an extremely eye opening experience.  For all the people who complain about the inefficiency of our legal system, go sit in a courtroom for 2 and a half hours and observe the speed with which a judge can power through the unlawful.  It was one of the weirdest feelings.  Here I am, a 23 year old, watching other 20 year olds be served years at the big house like they were lottery numbers.

“Five years, with a minimum of 30 days served without parole.”

“A year, no parole.”

“Extended sentence.  Three years, no parole.”

I sat there, in the back of the courtroom, just watching this Judge give out sentences without any kind of feeling.  And I didn’t understand.  Now, I get it.  These were people who broke the law.  There were even some extreme cases; in fact, I was there to observe a guy, who’s name I won’t mention, who stomped a woman to death after having sex with her — honest to God.  The District Attorney is pushing for the death penalty.  It’s a pretty surreal case.  If someone would have asked me what I thought I’d be doing when I chose Journalism as a major, just a year ago, there’s no way I would have even fathomed this.

I’ve been in plenty of debates about criminals, capital punishment, and the slack/hardship with which the unlawful should be treated, but it’s a whole different ball game when you’re in person watching these people be told what happens next.  Most of them didn’t even get a chance to speak.  This Judge seems like a Drill Sergeant I sat there thinking.

“Stop smiling, I’ve got a mind to throw you in cuffs right now.”

“Take your hands out of your pockets when you’re in my courtroom.”

“You’ll take that hat off in court or you’ll get out of my courtroom.”

Just some of the things that seemed common place as he addressed these people taking the stand.  And yet, one of the most fascinating things that happened throughout all of the proceedings was the portion that took place just before the alleged would plea guilty or not guilty.

The Judge would ask them if they understood what they were being charged with.  Everyone of them would say yes.  He’d then ask them to explain it to him, to which they would usually be directed to a piece of paper by their lawyer, which they read off to the judge.  Some would have multiple counts, others would have just one but they would always be some lengthy description, which the accused undoubtedly had a firm grasp of.

After they finished reading their accusations, the Judge would then ask them if they knew the punishment for such crimes, to which all of them proclaimed yes.  He’d then ask them to explain it to him, which they would.  The punishments were just as lengthy as the technical jargon used in the crime, so once again the lawyer would give them a sheet of paper to read.  And then, finally:

“And how does the defendant plea?”

Every single one of them, in the 2 and a half hours that I was there, pleaded guilty.

During a recess in the court, I went out to use the bathroom.  When I was returning to the courtroom, I saw the judge, out of his gown, with a cup of coffee in hand.  He actually didn’t seem so intimidating when he wasn’t dishing out sentences.  Being a journalism, I thought, What the hay; the worst thing that could happen is he doesn’t want to talk to me.

So I approach him, and let me tell you, he’s actually cool as all hell.  Our conversation was brief, but he was funny, witty, and not at all the guy who I had just observed in the courtroom.  I decided that it was best not to ask about anybody specifically because it might violate some kind of legal code.  I don’t know, I was nervous, didn’t expect to run into him, and had no idea what to really ask him.  I only knew that I should at least try to act like a journalist.  So I asked the dumbest and most obvious question I could think of.

“Why do you make them explain the crime and punishment, even though they said yes to understanding it all?”

“So nothing gets lost in translation.  Everything has to be on the record, and everyone has to know what everyone’s talking about.”

I kind of laughed and sarcastically — but lightheartedly cause I was still practically sweating — said, “That makes sense, I guess.”

Then in parting, the Judge added:

“You ever read Bury Your Dead?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“The night is a strawberry,” he said and then walked off.

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