By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO February 16, 2001 Patricia Humes of Monticello, a single mother turned activist for a better judicial system, broke down into tears as she talked about her alcoholic husband spending three years in prison after getting convicted of a burglary that netted him five bucks.
As the mother of an 18-year-old son who is on probation following an incident at a local pool hall, Humes spoke out against what she thinks is unfair treatment of people of color by the judicial system.
Humes was among those who talked about Better Community Justice, a grassroots effort aimed at improving the local community, during a public meeting held last Friday morning at the Monticello Village Justice Court.
The pain that parents go through when their children get caught up in the legal system is unbelievable, said Humes. Its real sad, [because] a lot of people say they are afraid of the judge, the police and probation. We need to sit down and talk to develop a plan that will help. What are the answers? What can we do to put a stop to this?
According to Jolanda Bassi, Sharron Miller and Humes, the driving forces behind a year-long look at the justice system in Sullivan County, the meeting was the first step on the road to making the legal system better serve the local community. They hope the first meeting will establish a dialogue between the community and the local justice system.
Aurora Outlaw-Scales, a paralegal intern with the village court, sat next to her boss, Village of Monticello Justice Robert Kesten.
I too know the pain of having children incarcerated, she said. I have a child doing time in federal prison and a son facing a possible felony conviction as well.
Outlaw-Scales spoke out against the glorification of gangsta and called for local law enforcement to take a look at non-traditional ways such as the fledgling Better Community Justice Program of dealing with youthful offenders.
The traditional things dont work anymore, Outlaw-Scales said. We are a village and theres an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. As a village, we need to raise our consciousness as a community.
Sandy Ceullar, of the local mediation center, is the daughter of a mother who spent 27 years in and out of state prison. She attended the meeting as the mother of two and a citizen concerned about her community.
There are a lot of young names etched outside the cellblock doors, she said. A lot of these kids arent going to make it through...the human pain of having children incarcerated is incalculable, and prison families have become a constituency in New York State.
Sharron Miller got dragged through the local legal system when her son Andre Simmons was falsely accused of being involved in gang activity and later convicted in an unrelated incident outside a pool hall.
Since then, she has been active in community/judicial system relations and dialogue.
I feel our young people are in trouble, and we need to do something to save these kids, said Miller. What we need to do is bring both sides together.
A couple of local judges listened attentively to stories related by mothers of children in trouble with the law: Town of Fallsburg Justice Bart Rasnick and Robert Kesten, the man who sits on the Monticello bench.
According to Rasnick, who served for 22 years with the Fallsburg PD before putting on the black robe, a lot of the problem boils down to a lack of respect for authority by kids, and a lack of responsibility by parents.
We can only do so much, he said. The kids that come before us have to do a complete turnaround and say, Its time to grow up.
As the son of former local judge Seymore Rasnick, the Monticello justice knows a lot about the strengths and pitfalls of the local system.
A lot of the youth who appear before me get their respect from doing time in the county jail, he said. How do we solve the problem if these kids have no respect for themselves or authority?
Assistant Sullivan County Attorney Glenn Rosenstein summed up his reaction to the groups first public meeting.
The community has concerns...[and] its a good starting point, but as time goes on, they need to form a game plan and focus their objectives, he said. Its going to be a long process. Nobody has all the answers, and if we did, wed all be on Oprah.
Also in attendance: Undersheriff Joe Decker, Sullivan County Probation, Monticello PD, People for Equal Justice, Joe Kelly of the local NAACP chapter, Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers, Stephan Schick of Sullivan County Legal Aid and several concerned citizens.
According to the organizers of Better Community Justice, future meetings will be held and announced when scheduled.