A Georgia judge brought a courtroom full of at-risk youths to tears when she described what a life of crime could lead to and the torment it would bring their parents, mixing brutal honesty and compassion during a speech meant to set the kids straight.
“What do you want to do? That’s the question you have to ask yourself: what do you want to do?” Judge Verda Colvin said to a group of children, ages 9 through 17, as part of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Department’s “Consider the Consequences” program.
As part of the early intervention program designed to show children and teens the possible consequences of their actions, the participants were given an eight-hour jail tour and a stern tongue-lashing by Colvin.
The judge did not mince words when she described the fates the kids could face if they continued to make poor decisions.
“You can have the ultimate experience; you can be in this body bag,” she told the group, holding up a large white bag in the courtroom. “Listen to me; the way you’re going, you will go to jail or you will end up in this body bag. The only way someone will know you are in here is by this tag with your name on it.
“Stop acting like you’re trash.”
She went on to describe what she called the reality of life in prison, saying that those incarcerated could look forward to “somebody raping you in the middle of the night, and there's nothing you can do but just lay there because guess what, everybody got to get their turn.”
Colvin expressed her frustration with constantly seeing young men of color in trouble, saying: “I am sick and tired of seeing people who look like you and I (black) come in my courtroom, and I have to sentence them to prison,” she said.
“And then you hear them fussing on TV about African Americans being in the prison system. Well, guess what, if you don't do what it takes to go there, you won't be a part of it,” said Colvin, the first African-American female Superior Court Judge in the Macon Judicial Circuit.
“You already know the game. If you know they [the police] come into your community more than they do in other communities, then guess what, you've got a heads up. So that means you've got to do what's right, right?”
But Colvin’s speech was not just a scare tactic, as the judge reminded the group that they have something more to offer this world than what landed them in the courtroom.
“Who thinks they’re better than nothing?” she said as the children raised their hands, some reluctantly.
“You were slow raising your hands. Let me tell you both something. You are special. And you are uniquely made and nobody else can do what you’re supposed to do in this world. Nobody else! And if you don’t do it, we won’t have it.”
The single mother also appealed to the group to consider what they’re putting their parents through by acting out.
“Let me say this to you as a mother. If your parent has done at least one thing that you’re thankful for, don’t do this to them. You’re killing them. You’re killing them,” she said.
“When my son got in trouble at school—I’m going to tell you all something that you probably don’t realize—I returned back to my office and closed the door and cried. Because I wondered if I failed him,” Colvin continued as court officers passed out to tissues to the children, many of whom were crying.
“And all parents go through that. But that’s how much your parents love you... And when I see you all hurting, it makes me hurt, too. Because I don’t even know you all personally, but I love each and everyone one of you,” said Colvin, who by that point had also begun to tear up.
“And I don’t want you to come to my courtroom and I have to sentence you as an adult, at the age of 17. I don’t want that. I don’t want to experience that myself and I don’t want you all to experience that,” Colvin said as she grabbed a tissue for herself and she walked out of the courtroom, leaving the group to think about her words.
Video of the talking-to has been viewed on Facebook more than two million times, as viewers praised the tough-talking judge.
“This is an awesome woman and the best lesson these people/kids could have,” one person wrote.
“They need to hear the real deal, life is not a joke. Play with it if you want to. Great advice Judge. Be blessed kids,” another commented.
“Judge you are amazing. I hope you reach each and every child you talk to. We need more Leaders like you!”
The “Consider the Consequences” program was created in 2015 to encourage youths to foster positive behavior and provide tools to them to achieve goals. It also serves as a resource for parents to develop disciplinary techniques.
Lieutenant Ellis Sinclair told 3WMAZ that some of the participants in the session caught on video had been involved in “property damage, stealing cars and smoking marijuana.”
Each attendee was asked to write an essay explaining what they learned from the experience. They were also encouraged to write an apology letter to their family to make amends for past problems.