And then they clapped for himIt was standing room only in the courtroom. Several hundred people were squeezed together on the benches. Everyone in the room was there to appear in Collections Court because they hadn’t paid a fine.
Matthew* was called first, because he was the only one with an attorney (me). I met him a few months ago at the rescue mission and we’ve been cleaning up his criminal and credit history while he worked his way through a recovery program. He had a few minor offenses (like trespassing) but if you can’t pay the fine, Collections Court can be an endless process.
For each month you don’t pay, you are charged another $5. Every so often, the court issues a write of bodily attachment and you can be arrested. The writ adds another $200 to your account. In some circumstances, Florida law allows the accumulated fines to be converted into community service
-- and that's what we were able to do for Matthew.
That morning, Matthew had come to court to tell the judge that he had completed all of his community service. She smiled and congratulated him.
And when we turned to leave the podium, the people in the courtroom applauded him. I clapped, too.
* Not his real name.