I was covering a sentencing hearing at the Bibb County Courthouse last year when a noise caught my attention.
It was a packed courtroom, and I was sitting two rows from the back wall.
A woman was hunched over, scratching the arm of our bench with something I couldn’t see. I assume she was using her keys since security rules don’t allow knives in the building.
Minutes later, a man sitting behind us told her to stop. She replied that she was nervous.
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Later, after the judge had sentenced a man to prison and the courtroom had begun to clear, I walked over to see what the woman had been doing.
There were just scratches.
Writing about the court system in Macon for a decade, I’ve often noticed drawings and etchings on the pews — but only seen someone actually doing it that once.
Having not seen the drawers and etchers in action, it’s amazing to see how many names, designs and gang graffiti tags now deface the pews.
There are references to Macon’s Mafia and Bottom Side Gangstas street gangs.
“Saw Off,” I assume a reference to Martin “Sawed Off” Kendall, a Mafia gang leader, is etched in the back of a bench in the courtroom where he was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2016 after pleading guilty to having cellphones and a shank at the county jail.
I’ve seen crosses and stars, trees and a baby.
One of the most intricate carvings shows what looks like a man standing with a hand in his pocket. Another figure is standing on his upper arm.
The man’s second hand is missing. I wonder if the artist ran out of time or was caught, unable to finish.
If caught defacing public property, these folks could be charged with a crime.
People of all walks of life visit the courthouse. While many of them are ordered to show up to answer for criminal charges, there are also people who need a judge to settle a divorce, domestic dispute or other civil case.
The courtrooms often are packed with people who are just there to support someone else.
The county’s drug, mental health, veterans and child support courts also use the courtrooms, as do other groups.
While juror seats and some other courtroom furniture were replaced last year, it’s unclear how long the benches have been used or when they might be replaced. It’s possible that they may be refinished by someone performing community service work.
The courthouse is a place where a certain decorum and respect are expected. It’s a place funded by taxpayers where life-changing decisions are made.
Folks are sent home for dressing too skimpily or, say, showing their underwear.
Ringing cellphones are confiscated, and loud gum smacking might elicit a warning.
I can only imagine what would happen if a budding artist was caught in the act.