There are two things I believe every American should experience at least once in their lifetimes: attend a military basic training graduation, preferably for the United States Marine Corps, and spend a day in court watching our justice system at work.
Iíve had the honor and privilege of attending boot camp graduation at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego twice as a proud dad. The graduation ceremony itself is almost anticlimactic; the real experience for me, aside from spending some time with my sons the day before the actual graduation, is the atmosphere of the base. The young men (and women, although there are no female recruits at MCRD San Diego) who volunteer to serve our country often do so with a deep sense of pride and commitment. Thatís evident everywhere on the base, and itís something that you canít fully comprehend unless you are there. Itís not a sight, or a sound. Itís a feeling, and itís one that youíll never forget.
Closer to home, Iíve had the opportunity recently to spend a fair amount of time in the courtroom at the Carroll County Courthouse. Some of that time has been fairly dramatic ó like the recent hearing in the case of Belynda Goff, the Green Forest woman who has served more than 22 years after what many believe was a wrongful conviction for first-degree murder in the death of her husband, Stephen, in 1994. Carroll County Circuit Judge Scott Jackson ruled last week that Goff is entitled to a re-sentencing hearing that he scheduled for late June.
Other days in court are more mundane ó like Mondayís morning session when I sat in for a while, waiting for a case that wasnít called before I had to get back to the office. Several inmates from the county detention center were called to appear before the court. One in particular had been assigned a relatively high bond amount. Jackson seemed amenable to considering a lower bond, until it became apparent that the defendant was not being completely truthful. The judge left the original bond amount in place, which might have served as an instructive moment for the defendant but likely failed to register.
Our legal process is fascinating to me ó this system that has been established to ensure that everyone who comes to court gets a fair shake. Of course, it isnít perfect. But itís pretty darn good.
Of course, the two subjects Iíve written about in this space donít seem to have a great deal in common but I believe they both reflect on the country we live in. Our country is greatly divided in many ways; itís properly not hyperbolic to say we are at a national crossroads. But there are moments and traditions and ideals that are uniquely American, and Iím better for having experienced and observed them.
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.