Tara McKelvey,

Tara McKelvey,

A weeklong electronic journal.
Feb. 25 1998 3:30 AM

Tara McKelvey,

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9:53 a.m.
       Greg, a skinhead on trial in Warsaw, looks 10 years older than the last time I saw him. He's lost weight. His cheekbones are starting to push through the skin.
       We're in a pale-yellow courtroom lit by sputtering fluorescent bulbs. Strips of paint have peeled off the ceiling. Looks like the whole thing may collapse--further evidence of overloaded, underfunded Polish courts, as if any more was needed.
       It's been three and a half years since Greg was arrested. They're nowhere near a verdict. In Poland's Criminal Procedures Code of September 1996, a two-year limit was placed on the time a person can spend in prison before sentencing.
       Three months later, a clause was added to allow judges to juggle cases. Trials drag on for years.
       The lawyers put on their robes.

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10:05 a.m.
       The judge enters with a silver eagle hanging from his neck. He has a big belly and reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh.

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10:29 a.m.
       A tall man in a fake-leather jacket and black, spongy shoes testifies. He's a 36-year-old mechanic with an 8-year-old daughter.
       He was boiling potatoes over a campfire in August 1995. Greg and two buddies approached him:
       "Making soup?" one asks.
       They kick him in the face. Then they pick up the pot and douse him with scalding water. Bash his head with the empty pot. Leave him in the woods. When they find him later that night, they break five ribs, pour methyl alcohol on him, and strike a match.
       He spends 29 days in the hospital with third-degree burns.

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11:20 a.m.
       "I wasn't there," says Greg, narrowing his eyes. He rocks back and forth. Shoves his hands in his pockets.
       "He's changed," says the mechanic. "But he was there."
       Under cross-examination, though, the mechanic falters and admits he's only "50 percent" sure Greg was there.
       Why'd he change his testimony? Maybe he's scared, testifying under the menacing glare of Greg and four of his skinhead buddies in combat boots sitting in the spectator section.
       Or maybe the mechanic isn't sure Greg was there. He was drinking the night he was attacked. The case starts to look more complicated.

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11:59 a.m.
       I run around the corner to Time Cafe for coffee and a croissant. "What's Love Got to Do With It" is playing. The waitress dances while making crepes.

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12:44 p.m.
       The mechanic is sitting next to me on a courthouse bench with an unlit cigarette. I write down his address and arrange to visit Thursday so I can find out more about the night he was attacked. I need to know if Greg was there. I watch the mechanic walk up the stairs. He limps.

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4:05 p.m.
       I bring home blueberry muffins from Dunkin' Donuts for Lidia Jean (age 7) and Juliet (age 2 1/2). Our dog Toto (age 1) stares at the remaining muffin, then walks away nonchalantly.

Tara McKelvey is writing a book about young people in eastern Europe.