My Y&G Story
Before I was a witness in a restraining order trial my sophomore year, my understanding of a courtroom was limited to Jack Nicholson barking “You can’t handle the truth!” in A Few Good Men. I confidently took the witness stand and, despite my confusion with the legal process, knew that my honest recounting of the excessive emails, calls, packages, and frightening night-time appearances on my porch would ensure the court rule in my favor, giving me peace of mind and, above all, safety. Instead, my heart sank when the judge firmly stated: “I’m not going to say he wins, but I’m going to say that I don’t think you have convinced me on the subject.” The case was dismissed.
I was struck by the harsh reality that understanding of facts beyond a mere understanding of the law played a significant role in how the verdict was reached. I replayed the trial in my head countless times, consumed by the fear that the outcome could have been different. Was I assertive enough during cross-examination? Could my answers have been more detailed? Did the judge doubt my recollection because I was 15 at the time?
These questions led me to participate in the Bench Trial program of the YMCA’s Youth & Government statewide model court where, as a prosecutor, I began to understand my real-life trial and what my real-life stalker had done to make the evidence point in his favor. Initially, I struggled to convey arguments that, while accurate, seemed to fall flat when I practiced with peers. I directly questioned my witnesses, but was often interrupted by “Objection! Relevance,” or “Hearsay!” I was baffled, still, that the truth may not have been truthful enough to convince a judge. It was then that I realized that although honesty is at the core of justice, the system itself is far more complex, and relies on strategy, creativity, and leverage. It was baffling and yet, it was extremely fascinating.
Once I shifted my focus, I was able to recognize that the facts of a case and the tactics necessary to communicate a convincing narrative go hand-in-hand. To win as my stalker had, I worked tirelessly to ensure that my arguments were airtight. I pored over my case files countless times with different colored highlighters, practiced responses to cross-examination questions with my roommates, and prepared a roaring closing argument. I confidently entered the familiar courtroom and, instead of crawling into the witness box, sat at the desk. My months of preparation and hard work culminated in being awarded “Most Outstanding Prosecutor.”
I will never understand the mindset of the judge the day he made his ruling on my case but, through model court, I have been able to contextualize my real case, as well as cope, through a creative, educational outlet. A mock trial might not have an impact on the real world, but a chance at a do-over, even in a fictional capacity, allowed me to stop obsessing with my original trial and to regain my confidence and a stronger value for both honesty and the court. Life is not always going to rule in my favor, and I’ve learned that justice is not achieved by aggression, rather through diligence, determination, and an ability to interpret all sides of an argument. I hope that I never return to another courtroom in similar circumstances, but I know that whenever I may need to stand up for myself again, I am confident that I will be prepared to tell the truth and argue for it.
Building values-based leadership and civic engagement in California’s youth is important to me. That is why I am proud to volunteer for California YMCA Youth & Government.
California YMCA Youth & Government has provided outstanding statewide educational and social experiences close to 100,000 middle and high school youth for more than 70 years.
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