Diane Tran, the 17-year-old honors student from Willis, Texas (one hour north of Houston) has received an outpouring of support from concerned individuals, activists and nonprofit groups around the nation. According to KHOU.com, Tran was ordered by Judge Lanny Moriarty to spend a night in jail and pay $100 fine after receiving too many unexcused absences due to exhaustion from working a full-time job and part-time job and studying for AP classes. Tran works both jobs to support her two siblings since their parents divorced and abandoned them.
HuffPo is now reporting that judge has set aside the contempt of court order, meaning that Tran will not have to report a criminal history to any future employers or college admissions offices. Additionally, Tran’s lawyers and many activists in support of her cause are pushing for a expunged record, and some are even calling for Judge Moriarty to be removed from office. It’s not hard to see why. The guy is kind of a dick.
Before you go sauntering down Devil’s Advocacy St. and saying to yourself “Well, Texas has truancy laws, and the judge is simply upholding the law,” I urge you to watch Moriarty’s response to the KHOU reporter (starts at 1:30)
Moriarty: If you let one [student] run loose, what are you gonna do with the rest of ‘em? Let them go too? A little stay in jail for a night is not a death sentence.
Reporter: Do you think it’s a case where justice can be tempered with mercy?
Moriarty: Probably so, yes.
Reporter: Can anything be done to revoke this?
Moriarty: It probably could.
Reporter: Will you [do something]?
Moriarty: I haven’t thought on that issue because it turns me really soft.
And there you have it, folks. That’s grade-A dickage right there. A person who is paid to deliberate on cases involving young people with care, taking into account extenuating factors, and dole out fair punishments revealed that he’d rather appear as a hardass than a namby-pamby, so he threw one of the shiniest examples of hardworking American youth in the slammer. And, so what? It’s not like it was the death sentence or anything. Be grateful for that. Congrats, Moriarty, you just made an example–of how the system continues to keep the optimistic and well-intentioned down.
We as a nation, and my home state of Texas in particular, keep trying to fix the education system by defaulting to the justice system, which tends to do irreparable damage to a young person’s social and economic future and effectively ensure that she will be denied the opportunities for further education, the escape of spectacularly crappy situations and the waning but inextinguishable hope of attaining something better than what you’ve got.
We keep explaining to young people the wonders of bootstrapping, and then when someone dares to try and fails at it, we decide she just hasn’t had enough negative reinforcement, throw her in with “the rest of them” losers, and proceed to force-feed them shit sandwiches. Mercy? Probably could, but it’s no big deal.
Yes, this appeared to be the only way: containment, appearances and the dollar-store Halloween costume of justice. But Diane Tran deserves more than what the school and government authorities have given her. And all the kids out there with their noses to the grindstone as well as the curbside kids who are watching–wondering if the hard work and the bullshit hurled their way is worth it–deserve to know that it is.