When You Were Dead
I work as a court interpreter of the Korean language. I work in various courts; municipal, county as well as federal courts.
Yesterday, I went to a federal court to interpret for a woman who was accused of operating a brothel. People say that federal judges are like God. They have the ultimate authority and life time tenure. In other words, you don’t want to cross them.
Some federal judges are known to be strict and even mean not just against the accused but against everybody in their courtroom including lawyers, prosecutors, interpreters, and spectators etc. Judge L. has a such reputation and I was forewarned by the defense attorney to be careful.
It was the sentencing date for Kim, the defendant. When I arrived at the court, I was surprised to see her in good spirits. I felt that she was at peace and maybe even happy? So I thought she got a deal from the U.S. Attorney (prosecutor representing the federal government) to avoid jail sentence. But that wasn’t the case she told me. She had a small bag packed and expected to go to jail right after sentencing.
So I asked her how come she looked so happy? She said she had become a Christian. She was attending church on and off but this time, it is “real” she said. “When did it happen?” I asked her. It had happened while she was in jail before she was released on bond. It was through her cell mate, a scary looking black woman, according to her, who was listening to hymns and put one side of her headphones in Kim’s ear so that they could listen together.
Then she shared her faith with Kim saying God is good and she should rely on Him. So in jail, Kim got a hold of a Korean language Bible and started to read the Bible and pray with her cell mate. When she was released on bond, she started to attend a Salvation Army church and through it found a job working as a caregiver of elderly people. The home care agency was reluctant to hire her until they saw her dedication. The director wrote a character letter for her, as well as many others; including the elderly person she was taking care of.
Before her sentencing, she asked the judge to be allowed to read her letter in court. When granted, she read out loud her letter she wrote in broken English expressing true remorse for her actions, how she started to read the Bible in her cell and go to church. She has resolved to become a different person and begged the judge to give her a second chance.
But, the U.S. Attorney argued that she should be sent to jail for a long time like her partner. The judge called for a recess for her to consider the matter. When the judge came out, I was surprised to hear the judge saying that she was going to lower Kim’s sentence outside the sentencing guidelines (Recommended range of punishment for the crime committed). Due to the severity of the crime, she cannot allow Kim to be released on probation. However, she wants to lower her period of imprisonment significantly so that she could have the second chance she asked for. Kim was sentenced to 12 months and 1 day. Judge explained that she could be released much sooner for good-time (good behavior) credits.
The judge also ordered her sentence to begin about 2 months later in the second week of January after the holidays so that Kim could spend the holidays with her family!
I rode down the elevator with the U.S. Attorney and the FBI agent he was working with in court. He was angry and told the agent to be better prepared to avoid such “embarrassment.” A little later I saw Kim leaving the building carrying her packed bag.
Before her hearing started that morning, there was a ceremony of attorneys, to be accepted to work in the federal court. It was the first time I witnessed such an occasion. Impressive credentials of each of the new attorney were introduced by representatives of the law firm they belong to and the judge formalizing their approval one by one sprinkled with some funny jokes to enhance the happy occasion. The new attorneys were accompanied by their family members, parents and children. Afterward, they took photos with the judge; young attorneys some of them holding their babies, flanked by their spouses and parents. It looked like one big happy family occasion.
It appeared that there was a sharp contrast between them and the defendants in the court room who were waiting to be sentenced. But actually, it was not. In my eyes, Kim has started to join the ultimate happy family. The judge being lenient to a fault, giving the accused a second chance, was acting like God or the head of a household.
The judge went out of her way to give Kim the lightest possible sentence outside of the “sentencing guideline” because Kim showed her true remorse and resolution to turn her life around. This case was a result of the FBI’s large scale sting operation in DFW area involving many brothel owners but Kim was the only one who would avoid harsh long-term sentences. But, I know another Korean defendant who was also converted by her Spanish speaking cell mate.
She was an older person and asked me to bring her a large print Bible. We court interpreters are not supposed to have direct contact or interaction with defendants. But she kept asking for it whenever I visited her in jail with her attorney. So I ordered it from Korea and handed it to her. I also got to see her peaceful face on her sentencing date when she was sentenced to a long imprisonment and then deportation from this country afterward.
Yesterday, I understood more clearly, why, like Kim, it is important for us to repent of our sins in front of God, the ultimate judge. God is the once who announced that we are sinners. Without admitting our guilt and embracing the deal offered to us through Christ, we would go on living like before without any hope for transformation and freedom from our former selves.
The court system and its operation is a parallel reflection of our relationship with God. I was so happy to realize that and also so happy for Kim that I broke another rule. I gave her my phone number.