Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
No matter where I go, I always meet someone that has a story about being in my court. Usually as a juror or a student, and not as a defendant – those conversations are much different! Most people like to talk about some of the creative punishments that I handed down, but one conversation I had was the result of a different kind of “Poetic Justice.”
Early in my career on the bench, I began to see that traditional type punishments weren’t always effective on certain groups of offenders. This was particularly true with young people, as I began to get to know some of them far too well for their frequent run-ins with the law. Many of the teenagers that ended up before me had minor infractions, but didn’t seem to recognize the troubled paths they were headed down. So, I need to get their attention in a creative manner.
Among many things, I often required probationers to get a job as part of their requirements of their probation. But, this wasn’t working. Most of the young people wouldn’t do it; then I would put them in jail and they definitely weren’t learning the responsibilities employment teaches from behind bars. So, I came up with Judge Poe’s Court School.
Court School was my approach to educating young offenders on the court system and giving them a first-hand look at where they were headed. My probation officer, a former school teacher, ran the program, and I was the principal of the program. It was my goal to get their attention early so that they could make better choices later in life.
Each student had various responsibilities, but one was to keep up with the defense strategy of the defendants. What was their reasoning for committing the crime they were accused of? And, so on. At the beginning of every program, my “students” were always on the side of the defendant regardless of the evidence. As the course progressed, they began to understand the process more and their perspective on personal responsibility began to change.
Another important aspect of this course was reinforcing consequences. If they were late for a class, they had to attend an additional three; if they missed a class, they spent a day in jail. After a few days of observing the sentencing phase in my court, I didn’t have too many late arrivals or absenteeism.
But, there is always an exception. This one young lady had to take the class three times before she finally got it. Years later, in one of those conversations I frequently have about being in my court, she came up to me and asked if I remembered her. Of course I did she was there for a long time. She thanked me for not cutting her any slack and giving her the opportunity to see where she was headed if she didn’t start making better choices in life. Today, she holds a PhD. and is a productive member of our society.
This kind of approach didn’t work for everyone, but I found that the more opportunities young people have, the better their chances are of changing their course in life. And this is true of kids from all backgrounds, in-and-out of the court system.
On May 15th, I am hosting my very first Youth Conference for high school students in the 2nd Congressional District. I want to take the same concept of education and opportunity that I used in my courtroom and extend it beyond those that need re-direction.
The event will feature speakers with diverse backgrounds and have them tell their stories, share their challenges and obstacles they overcame to get to where they are today. We are all faced with challenges and choices, some more difficult than others, but the understanding that each person is responsible for their actions and their own pursuit of the American dream is best building blocks we can give to our children. Making good choices now is the path to success in the future.
This year’s conference will feature former NBA basketball player Elvin Hayes, Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Landry (U.S. Army Retired), and former astronaut Richard Hieb.
Our greatest resource in this county is our children. As a community, we are bettered by the contributions of our neighbors and there is no greater place to plant that seed than with our young people.
And that’s just the way it is.
Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02) will host the first annual Youth Conference for the 2nd Congressional District on May 15th, 2010 from 9:30am – 12:30pm at the Dayton Community Center located at 801 South Cleveland Street. Participants are encouraged to RSVP to either District Office: Kingwood – 281-446-0252; Beaumont – 409-212-8711.