Emma Hirst: Lawful Criminals

Emma Hirst: Lawful Criminals

The rules of law and all its ways,
From what exists till thus far,
Bring upon many bodies great dismay:
Biased, inconsistent, unjust they are.
The judges sit in chambers of star,
While lawyers defend some sick of heart.
Rulings rub salt in ancient scars,
While common sense lies in the dark.

When punishment no longer works,
But sentence regimes remain the same;
When statistical racism all but lurks,
Yet racist policy persists in justice’s name.
“The law is fair”, they always claim,
But please, let’s challenge the questionable prose.
Control and oppression flow through the vein,
Sacrifice eyes and ears for a haughty, aloft nose.

Vagueness and overbreadth, ambiguous statutes,
Are challenged on the face of their worth;
Yet these qualities are steeped in the very roots,
From the moment all statutes are birthed.
Designedly crafted with intention and mirth,
To construe as they wish for their needs;
Using intent, history and words to unearth,
Even more hypocrisy and ludicrous seeds.

“Tradition is Right! Tradition is True!
No room to leave it astray!
You messed up, so pay what you’re due!
The Law remains the Rule of the Day!”
Stubborn as you will, blind as you stay,
A newer Jim Crow exists in your narrative.
For however long you continue to play,
Innocent humans will die for your ego to live.

There is undeniably probable cause,
Beyond any and all reasonable doubts,
That the system you operate only because,
“Civil Obedience” must surmount,
Is suspicious, flawed, prejudice throughout –
Its bones, application and result –
Under the guise of professionalism you flout,
Justice is white, it is male but it is our fault.


Many of my studies and personal life experiences confirm the drastic and deeply entrenched injustices that exist within America’s criminal justice system. Changes need to be made to a system that fails in nearly every regard. Upon taking the class Criminal Law at Vermont Law School, I was deeply disturbed by the faulty and highly questionable philosophies with which our criminal justice system has always relied on. We studied court cases and procedures, foundational theories and philosophies, precedents for law and policy, etc. Each and every lesson was saturated in imperfections and inadequacies that clearly fell on the heads of those unfortunate enough to be victim to a brutal and terrorizing system. 

“Lawful Criminals” is my attempt to creatively express and process the oftentimes outlandish conclusions drawn from my studies in Criminal Law. I felt very little room within the class to call-in constructive criticism, or call-out blatant white supremist ideologies. So instead, I found myself during my mid-semester break passionately crafting this poem – to find my own voice and satiate my innate responsibility to say something, anything. The structure is inspired by the 14th century poetry style of the ballade, although does not quite fit the traditional requirements, such as having three fixed forms (whereas mine has five). I have always been drawn to the rhyme scheme and flow of ballades, which is what drew me to try to craft the poem accordingly.

This poem is for those whose active involvement in the criminal justice system is only perpetuating pain, fear and trauma under the guise of following law and order in it’s traditionalist, neo-libertarian, Euromerican context. Blame is no goal of mine. Instead, this poem offers a deep reconsideration of a system run by power, disconnect and inequality. I have seen the blood, empathized with the grief, carried the broken, and befriended the ostracized – all run down and trampled by our criminal justice system. Restorative Justice has introduced a journey in my life defined by compassion, healing and meaningful change. How can I show up in the world, actively defying racist, sexist, ableist, classist, homophobic norms, while also sharing space with others in ways that actually listens to their needs and meets their truest desires. This poem is an exploration of the answer to this question.