Judge Joe Will

05/20/2021 3 By BuddyCushman

Sometime early in the 1990’s I was living in Florida and working in Deland as a “Delinquency Case Manager”. That was a formal, human service-y name for a juvenile probation officer – employed by the State of Florida. At any given time I had 20-30 kids on my caseload, almost all of whom were good kids in court for being kids and being screwy and a tad stupid – and a few likely already had a bed with their name on it up in Raiford.

Two or three times a week I’d be in court presenting a written report, sometimes called forward before the bench to explain something I’d written and advocated. Every once in a while there was a mean judge in the Deland court. No sense of humor, a short supply of tolerance, and easily agitated in the legal sense. Most days, though, the person in the black robe up on the dais behind the bench was a guy named Joe Will. Judge Joe Will. Young, easy going, a positive demeanor, a good listener, and, oh, tolerant and with a good sense of humor.

The rare occasion when Judge Will’s affect slid into a darker realm was when the same kid was back before him for the, say, third time in two months. Or when a kid was yawning when being given a break. Or turning around and making faces at his friend during the middle of the judge’s explanation of the immediate facts of life. Or before him because they (he or she) was profoundly blowing off his/her parents, to the point of abusiveness. On those occasions I would watch as Judge Joe Will leaned forward ever so slightly up there from behind his bench and said words to the effect of, “Son (or Young Lady), the next time I find you standing here in front of me in this courtroom, you and I are going to have a “Come to Jesus Meeting.”

Maybe that’s a common enough phrase – a come to Jesus meeting – but I had never heard it and I began hearing it often enough that it kind of imprinted itself on my brain. To the point where I would use it myself here and there over the rest of my human service career – and on occasion with a family.

The idea of a “Come to Jesus Meeting” has drifted into my mind the last week or so. It was there this morning, in the recliner, with my second cup of coffee. As a question to me. Is it the time for a “Come to Jesus Meeting?”

I vowed, after I’d recovered sufficiently psychically and physically from the word divorce, that my leaving of my marriage and my home these last 11 years would be with both grace and dignity. Nothing else. Brokenhearted but not all-the-way broken. Devastated but opening, every day, to help…getting what I need. And doing it, I honestly feel, with grace and dignity. Now I understand, here this Thursday, where the “meeting thing” is coming from – lots of hard advice and shared opinions from friends and acquaintances about taking better care of myself. Me with a lot of through-the-night awakeness playing scenarios and conversations in my mind. Enough so as to the point I’m surprised not at all that Judge Joe Will has strolled back into my world – this five-plus week world – me with a whole bunch of not knowing what’s what. And with what those don’t-drink-today people call “Letting go and letting God.”

I’m feeling my way along, sometimes through the dark, trying my best to be someone with grace, someone acting with dignity, no matter what. It isn’t clear to me, here and now, where the other stuff fits in between and alongside grace and holds hands with dignity. Or if it doesn’t. Look up “Clueless” in the dictionary and there’s my picture.

Judge Joe Will was a real good guy. He invited me to lunch once. He chewed me out in open court another time when my court report recommendation for a young black kid who’d been caught firing beebees at street lights be a 1000-word essay on B.B. KIng. I thought it was cool, Judge Will’s not so much.

Anyway, this morning Judge Joe Will came to me to say “Hi” and I said “Hi” back and that’s all I can tell you.