Sociology Field Trip 2020

Taylor Jones, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, February 18th, I went on Mr. Clarkson’s Sociology field trip to visit the Hancock County Courthouse and Jail. We were dismissed from our 1st block classes and congregated by the athletic entrance so Mr. Clarkson could take attendance before we got on the bus. The bus ride in itself was pretty boring, but after twenty minutes or so, we arrived at our first destination: the courthouse.

I’ve ridden past this building several times as a kid, not knowing the beautiful architecture that is held inside of it. I always called it Cinderella’s castle due to how tall it was and the huge clock at the top. Before getting off of the bus, we dropped off our phones in a basket Mrs. Ruble brought along because the use of cell phones while at the courthouse and jail is prohibited. 

“It was really weird not being able to check the time during our visit because my phone wasn’t in my pocket,” said Lydia Jenson, 10.

The courthouse is immense. Our first stop was on the 3rd floor where the Circuit Court is. This courtroom is the biggest of the three courts in the building because it is the only one required in Indiana’s Constitution, which was  written in 1851. Judge Scott Sirk talked to us about the history of the court and what kind of cases he gets. His cases are typically probate, criminal, civil, juvenile, and domestic relations.

The next courtroom we went into was Superior Court II, where Judge Dan Marshall, who deals with traffic infractions, misdemeanors, and Class D felonies and small claims, had just finished all of the cases he had scheduled for the day. So we did not get the chance to sit in on some cases. We also talked to Prosecutor Eaton, who was very intelligent and straight to the point with what he was saying. He talked about what exactly a prosecutor is, they decided if there is even a case to begin with to bring to court.

After our talk with Judge Marshall and Prosecutor Eaton, we headed over to the jail for our tour. Mr. Clarkson decided to split us into groups based on gender, so I went off with the girl’s group that was led by Mrs. Ruble and JCO Nathan Johnson. 

The jail was an interesting place to see because it wasn’t what I expected. There was a class in session where three women were getting their GED’s, and an inmate in an orange jumpsuit just kind of walking by himself. JCO Johnson asked him where he was going then sent him on his way. In the kitchen area where some trustees, trusted inmates who are more behaved or trusted than the other inmates, were helping the staff put lunches together. Johnson told us that their job in the kitchen keeps them busy and out of trouble, which is a very good thing.

We also walked through a few secured doors before we reached the rec room which is made out of solid concrete. It used to have padding on the walls, but a few inmates tore them up, so it was all removed. There was one basketball goal with no net and no basketballs, so male inmates ball up their shirts and play that way. On the walls there were many things written, mainly in toothpaste, and we all had a laugh at some things written like “treeman hearts treewoman” which is peculiar within itself. 

JCO Johnson took us down to where the trustees live separated from the rest of the inmates. It looked a lot nicer than the cell blocks even though it was dirty. They made a few couches out of the extra beds, and chatted while a movie played on the TV. They also have two showers and their own washer and dryers. 

Our last stop after the jail was to go back into the courthouse to speak with the judge of the Superior Court I, Judge Marie Castetter. She took over the position after Judge Terry Snow retired a year early. The cases she hears are serious felony criminal cases, divorces, juvenile delinquency, automobile accidents, estates, foreclosures, and evictions.

I really enjoyed my trip, even though I wanted to sit in on some court cases. The process to go was fairly simple too: get permission slips signed by a parent as well as my teachers in my first three classes of the day, and bring in three dollars to pay for transportation. I feel like the trip helped me understand the legal system more than I did before.