There was a little self-help group with a shabby old office right in the center of town, and I sometimes worked as a volunteer there, answering the phone and doing other kinds of office tasks. Once in a while, we tried to also help people trapped inside institutions when they requested it, and one morning when I was there such a request was phoned in by somebody.
They asked if we could send a volunteer or two to attend a commitment hearing that was going to start in about an hour. Apparently the accused person wanted to have some sympathetic audience members there, for moral support or something like that. Someone from Legal Aid was also going to be there; I'm not sure if they were the ones who had called, or if the request had come from somewhere else. In any case, our presence was definitely wanted, so the two of us who were in the office at the time agreed to be there.
When we got there, I sensed an air of confusion in the room. Things were not going at all as they had been planned.
"We just finished setting it up," someone was saying, "and now you're telling us we have to take it all down again?"
"No, no," someone else said. "You don't have to take it down right away. We can leave it set up for a little while. The nurses will be coming by soon, and they might want to sit down for a while. But the hearing has been canceled."
It turned out a deal had just been made. The Legal Aid attorney was already there, as was the tall, quiet young man who was the subject of the hearing -- he seemed surprisingly calm considering the situation. The lawyer had asked him to agree to a compromise, and he had said he would. He would voluntarily stay in that place for a certain number of days, and in exchange the institution would not continue to pursue the commitment.
An official of the institution was also there, and he had agreed to accept the deal. So the hearing bad been cancelled right at the eleventh hour, and the atmosphere of tension that had been building all morning long left the room very suddenly.
Just then three nurses came in, eagerly sitting in the folding metal chairs that had been set up for them. They all appeared to be in their fifties or sixties, and they were all just a little overweight. When they heard about the agreement, their disappointment seemed obvious. They had wanted to have a say in what was decided, and they were a little annoyed that they wouldn't be able to. But there was nothing they could do about it now.
So that was it then. The anticipated kangaroo court had been canceled just as it was about to begin. The accused would accept a comparatively small hardship to avoid the possibility of a much larger one. He would acquiesce to live in their facility under lock and key for a short while in order to avoid the possibility of being sentenced to spend a much longer span of time there.
It could have been worse. Perhaps it would've been -- if the attorney didn't care, if us two nonprofessionals weren't there to express disapproval of a make believe trial; if there were no impediments to the bureaucracy doing whatever seemed most expedient, an irrevocable decree could have been issued by a great and powerful person, and that would've been the end of that.
But that wasn't how it happened this time. You might say the lessor of two evils had been chosen. And maybe it wouldn't be too bad. Perhaps the staff at that institution wouldn't be too abusive, and the time spent inside wouldn't be too difficult. You never could know for sure about something like that.