Door Number One

A B and 10 days
or a plea of not guilty,
says the Judge,
judge, my client says
he does not understand
Ok, let us make this simple
for you, Mr. Martinez,
the judge says
pretend there is door number one
and door number two
what is in door number one, judge
the defendant asks
well, in door number one,
you plead guilty to trespassing
and take the plea
of 10 days
which, with the the time
you have already served
is 8 days
and then you will be out
but that will be
on your permanent record
but what if I am innocent,
he asks the judge
then you should choose
door number two,
what is door number two,
well, door number two
is you plead not guilty
because you are innocent
the case will be adjourned
so you can go to trial --
I choose door number two, judge
--in which case
I will rule on bail today,
which if I set bail,
you will not be able to leave
until you pay --
--but what if I am innocent
and you set bail
but I have no money
the case will then be adjourned 
for three weeks
and if you have the money 
you can go home
that is, IF I set bail,
if you don't have the money 
you will stay 
will there be a trial
on that day
if I go to door
number two, judge
the People will need time
to prepare their case,
yours is not the only one;
the court can’t say
ok, I plead guilty,
door number one,
he smiles,
the judge smiles back,
OK, door number one, Mr. Martinez
are you pleading guilty
because you really
and truly are guilty
no, to tell you the truth
I am innocent but
I am pleading guilty
because I need to get out
for my job before next Thursday
again that is not the way it works
listen to me, Mr. Martinez
listen to me
you can’t plead guilty
on door number one just
because you want to get out,
you can only plead
if you are guilty,
what is it going to be,
Mr. Martinez,
door number one
in which you plead guilty
and do your promised
sentence of 10 days
which is really 8 days
or door number two
in which you plead not guilty
and the case is adjourned
to another day for three weeks
this is a court of law
this is a court of law
this is a court of law
you can’t have
it both ways
Ok, I plead guilty,
door number one again
door number one again,
the judge says,
somewhat wearily
are you pleading guilty this time
because you are guilty
and not because you want
to get out by next Thursday
Yes, I am guilty
Ok, is this the truth
the whole truth
and nothing
but the truth
are you pleading
freely and voluntarily
yes, I plead guilty
this time
freely and
it is not because
I just want to get out
by Thursday
the court accepts your plea
and sentences you to
the time promised
of 10 days
which is 8 days
and you will be out by
next Thursday
--now before I pronounce
your sentence
do you have anything
to say --
can I say anything?
Yes, sir,
that is your right
under the
U.S. constitution
yes, Judge
no offense to you
or the court officer
and the court reporter
but this system
really sucks
you spend more time
in jail if you plead innocent
than when you are guilty
I am not guilty
but I have to plead guilty
what kind of sense
does that make
there should be a
door number three
and not just door number one
and door number two
that is all I have to say
I will hear you on bail,
the judge says, angrily
--Judge, says the Legal Aid,
my client is not familiar
with the procedure, --
-- Judge, says the DA,
we renew our request for $1500 bail
In light of the defendant’s plea
of not guilty
--wait a minute, says
the defendant
--Judge, says the legal aid
--this case will be adjourned
to February 22,
the judge then says,
you will be there at 9:30
--and your bail is $1500
only when he sees the officer
guiding him toward the pens
does the defendant understand
then shout
this is fucked up man,
I am innocent, I can’t pay that
if lady liberty could see
how much this system sucks 
he says, pointing
to the portrait on the wall --
someone in the audience
someone in the audience
the judge orders
order in the court
the clerk orders
order in the court
the kid repeats
there should be a fucking
door number three
where is the justice
lady liberty over there,
would turn over
in her grave
several more in the audience
then more cheer,
it happens in waves,
the judge says court will not proceed
until it is quiet
more people start yelling
where is the justice where is the justice
there are 50 more cases
to call
there are 50 more cases to call
order in the court
if the court is not quiet
we will be here all day
that finally
shuts everyone up
no sooner than
our people’s hero has disappeared
another prisoner is hauled out
from the bowels of the pens
stumbling and blinking
in the aging chandelier’s light
something about jumping
a turnstile,
lady liberty looks out
from her portrait on the wall,
radiant and yet
to the scene
that is going on,
the kid is still yelling
in the back pen,
this is fucked up
this is fucked up
you can hear the door clang
something in the air
has changed
“Do you know what,”
I whisper to Jerry, the officer,
arranging the next row
of dockets on the bench,
“You can’t make
this stuff up?
No, what Chris?”
“No, do you know what,
Jerry?” I whisper,
“Do you know what?
The kid was right.”



Chris Butters has been published in Paterson Literary Review, Chiron Review, Blue Collar Review, Home Planet News Online and He is the previous coproducer of WBAI-FM's weekly Arts Express radio show in New York City. He recommends the Police Reform Organizing Project.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Friday, April 3, 2020 - 09:26