What is it like for York Prep students who, after reading Walter Dean Myers’ novel Monster about a Manhattan teen on trial for felony murder, encounter up close the reality of the criminal justice system? It was an eye-opening experience, according to members of Ms. Smith’s 8th Grade English class after their field trip on October 15 to the Bronx Criminal Court.
Upon arriving at the Bronx Criminal Court, students were greeted by their tour guide, Officer Tina Perez. Officer Perez introduced the group to Sergeant Tony Toleco, who briefly described his career as a member of the NYPD and explained the arrest process. Next, students met a senior district attorney who quizzed the class about the court system process and the difference between misdemeanors and felonies.
Afterwards, students listened to arraignments of young adults accused of trespassing and drug possession and then were escorted to the holding cells to observe what it was like to be imprisoned. Students learned that 350 individuals were arrested and placed in the holding cells during the previous weekend and that all individuals accused and held for a crime must be brought before a judge within 24 hours for their arraignment on the charges.
The group was then able to witness a homicide trial in which a man was accused of reckless driving which resulted in the death of the victim. If the man were convicted, he would be sentenced to 7 ½ to 15 years in prison. In reaction to the courtroom, eighth grader James L. said, “I thought that all courts were more violent because when I watch law shows on TV, it is very intense in the courtrooms.”
To conclude the tour, students met with The Honorable Alison Tuitt, a Supreme Court Justice in Bronx County and a parent of 12th grader Reggie. While the group sat in an empty courtroom, Judge Tuitt explained her career in law and answered the group’s questions.
As the class walked to the subway station, James M. commented, “This experience demonstrated how much work and dedication it takes to enforce the law.” The trip was an enlightening, real life experience that indelibly heightened the criminal justice forces at work in Monster.