Day in CA Court Podcast: "They Didn't Even Recognize Me"
EDITOR'S NOTE: When Rudy Saenz first started taking up space in his county's courtroom, he experienced discrimination from the bailiffs. Rudy talks with the De-Bug Podcast about his less than welcoming experience in the San Joaquin County Courthouse while court watching. Rudy's court watching efforts are a part of a larger statewide movement for bail reform after the historical Humphrey Decision. Rudy Saenz is a community organizer with Fathers & Families of San Joaquin County.
Listen to the podcast below:
Full Transcription of Rudy's Interview:
My name is Rudy Saenz
I work for an agency called Fathers and Families of San Joaquin based out of Stockton.
I just want to tell you a little about myself, I’m very well informed about this juvenile system due to the fact that I was formerly incarcerated at the age of 14. I was looking at 47 years and two strikes at the age of 14. They dropped my case from adult court to juvenile which led me to take the first deal they threw at me. Which was a significant drop from 47 with two strikes to only 5 years 2 months to serve. So, I took that and ran with it. That’s pretty much where I started off.
I first got involved in the courts through De-Bug. They kind of gamed us up on how to break down the court system as far as what is an arraignment, what’s a preliminary, what’s a bail hearing and all this language. I spent so much time in the court room, I heard it but I couldn’t really comprehend what it actually meant.
I honestly believe that they didn’t even recognize me.
I first got involved going to the courthouses in September. It’s just amazing, all inspiring the way we can really empower our families just through simplifying the language. Honestly, when I first got involved in the work my father just got his cancer so it wasn’t the most appealing to be honest. I had my long hair and, I used to go into the courtroom with t-shirts, and you could see my tattoos. And I got a little backlash, a lot of backlash actually from the bailiffs just cause they see me going in there consistently. I was in there three to four days a week and they seen me jotting things down, so they looked over my shoulder. What am I doing. And eventually it came to a point where four or five days into it they told me, What am I doing? That I have to let the families pass through first. So I told them, ‘court is a public space I have the right to be here, to hold space’ and they said that’s fine that I had to wait outside until all the family that’s there for their loved one’s court case to filter through. If there’s room at the end, then I can finally funnel in.
So mind you, this is at my beginning so I still had the long hair and the tattoos, so I decided to dress more appealing. So I began with the suits and I was still kind of eh they will let me in and question what am I doing. Then I tried something a little different, tried to jump out of that insanity of doing the same thing and different. So, I decided to cut my hair. And so now I went from the long hair, short sleeves, tattoos to now I have a three piece suit on with a comb over and oh my goodness the results where drastic. It went from the bailiffs questioning my presence to openly acknowledging and accepting me into the courtroom.
I honestly believe that they didn’t even recognize me. I had some wider frame glasses, long hair, short sleeves, tattoos to now I’m coming in with thinner glasses, a nice clean comb over cut and I have on my suit, tie and all. Now it went from hey how you doing, and they even a few times misinterpreted my reason for being there and they would let me in when the courtroom was even closed, assuming that I’m an attorney.
And it’s a shame really that I had to be deceitful to get accepted, but what I would tell these bailiffs when they would see me in there looking like a lawyer almost, right I have the suit I have my bag and my haircut and I would go in there and they would ask me how you doing? They know me by name now, how you doing Saenz? And when they would ask, what am I doing I would be deceitful and bias tell them that I am here to simplify the court language to get the families more involved in the process for their loved ones and I’m doing this through school. With just that little script got me openly accepted into the courtrooms. It’s a shame that I had to lie just to be welcomed into a public space that I have the right to be in to begin with.