BY-WAYS -11/20/41 - Day at the Courthouse

It's a far cry from the beautiful wedding of two weeks ago to the sordid divorce court of this week. But come with me, and see the seamy side of life - and thank your lucky stars that your home is not broken up or disgraced. Our small writers' club decided to have a "field day" every now and then, to go out and gain first-hand knowledge of conditions - favorable and otherwise. Our first trip (last Tuesday) was to the Court of Domestic Relations. This court, according to its title, should help couples learn the art of getting along together. Instead, it has become an instrument that severs the tie that is called the Holy Bond of Matrimony. There was a steady stream of plaintiffs, flanked by loyal relatives and character witnesses. These plaintiffs, with one exception, were asking unconditional release from their mates. The exception was an elderly man, asking for the custody of a child. His voice was so low that I could not hear his story. The defendants did not appear. Many of them could not be accounted for - so long had it been since they ran away from their responsibilities as bread-winner and partner in child raising. There was the trim, sleek little colored woman with cannibal ear-rings, mother of nine children, whose husband ran out on her four or five years ago. There was the sweet, appealing little blonde, whose husband abused her and failed to support her. There was the quiet, refined woman of 50, whose husband is a gay Lothario among other women. (The judge asked this woman to wait two weeks, in the hope of reconciliation). There was the earnest young doctor, who was married in Europe, came to this country - to Cleveland - alone, and sent for his wife a short time later. She fell in love with a German on shipboard (a German spy, maybe) and never came to Cleveland at all; just stayed in New York. Case after case, in steady and rapid succession - each one requiring about five minutes. That included the evidence of one corroborative witness and one character witness.

Yesterday's (Wednesday's) paper shows scenes from that very court-room; the white-haired, kindly judge; the tense young witness. The newspaper goes on to say that increased prosperity has brought on more divorces. A young woman knows she can get a job and can get along without that shiftless mate. It takes trouble sometimes to bring couples closer together. It became rather tiresome, hearing only one side of a divorce case. We left before 11:30, went to lunch, where we tried to masticate the evidence.

We decided to visit the Criminal Court in the afternoon. That is a fairly new building - and oh, so frighteningly large. To our disappointment, court had adjourned for the rest of the day. By luck the foreman of the Grand Jury came by. He is a friend of one of our members. He arranged to have an expert and kindly guide take us all through the building. First, we went down to the basement, where we had to pass the "electric eye." This electric eye detects any base metal about your person. In other words, it is impossible to hide a gun, saw, file or any weapon or tool about one's person. The little green bar of light in the machine turns and dances like a compass needle when bobby pins and small metal objects are passing through. But for a knife or gun it turns red. You can't fool the electric eye. One tender-hearted member of our group balked at the idea of visiting the prison cells. I think - I hope - we all felt a tremor of fear and revulsion - but we all went. That place has haunted my memory ever since. Human beings penned up like cattle. I do not mean that our prisoners are not well-treated. I know they are. And the guards there, though quite gigantic in stature, are so kindly, you just know that, down in their hearts, they say of some criminal, "There, but for the grace of God, am I." We took the elevator to the 12th floor. (The top floor -13th - is used for storage space). The kitchen, clean and neat, is on 12th. Large trays, filled with freshly baked and iced cakes, refute any notion that our prisoners live on bread and water. Just to give an idea of what it means to feed all those prisoners, awaiting trial, the 45-gallon coffee tank is filled (and drained) three times a day. The "trustees," who help in the kitchen were seated around a long table in a large, unguarded room. The jail authorities wisely separate the juvenile delinquents and first offenders from the hardened criminals; every type of criminal is locked up in this jail - from auto thieves to murderers. We did not see the psychopathic cases - thank goodness.

One boy peered at us through the heavy mesh, and said, with dismay, "Oh, there's nobody there that I know." Another group of young men looked at us sneeringly, and one of their number whispered in disgust, "P.T.A." I couldn't help but think P.T.A. stands for Parents-Teachers-Absent in your young life." Oh, those young men - so very young - already launched in a career of crime. One very young man - so new in crime, and conscience-stricken, only the night before - wrote a note with a piece of soap on a mirror. "I would rather die than bring disgrace on my folks." He made a noose of his bedsheet, and took his own life. The jail provides every need, including spiritual comfort. There are three chapels there - beautiful chapels - Catholic, Protestant, Jewish; in each one some men seeking spiritual comfort. If their fathers and mothers had taken them by the hand in childhood, and led them to the church of their faith, they wouldn't need this prison chapel today, would they? What can we do to keep these young boys (and girls) from going wrong? We take care of them after they go wrong. Why don't we take care of them first?

Florence B. Taylor.

Next -11/27/41 - Thanksgiving. The Wedding Gown