April 28, 2007
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer
Leila Parisi hadn't learned her lesson when she was arrested for underage drinking in September. But she had by Friday, when she appeared before Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa Cofield to read an essay about what she had learned from her brush with the criminal justice system.
"I will not be back," Parisi told Cofield during her second appearance in Hartford Community Court.
Cofield accepted Parisi's apology and gave her a big hug to show her support. Their emotional exchange set the tone for Cofield's experiment to teach underage drinkers a lesson before they get themselves into real trouble.
Parisi was one of more than 100 college-age youths arrested in March and charged with underage drinking and loitering at Temptation at Asylum, a Hartford nightclub.
When students first appeared in her courtroom in March, Cofield gave one month to those who agreed to her lesson plan to complete a homework assignment, which included reading "From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Struggle with Teen Drinking," or "Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood" and writing an essay. They must also successfully complete community service assignments in the coming weeks at a Boys and Girls Club in Hartford and at a ball field in Bloomfield before their charges are dismissed.
About 90 percent of the students who returned to court on Friday were young women.
The rest of the students appeared before Cofield earlier this week.
Sade Holley, a student at Manchester Community College, was so nervous when called upon to read her essay that her voice was hardly audible. She admitted that she had her first drink, a wine cooler, at age 15. But she said she has never been a heavy drinker. "I was a kid that could go out heavily on soda and still have fun," said Holley, who told the judge that she works two jobs to support herself.
Holley said the book she read increased her fears about what might happen to her if she got too drunk and blacked out. "My biggest fear is getting raped by someone," Holley said tearfully as she accepted a hug and a tissue from Cofield.
Cofield said she hoped all of the students would learn from writing their essays and those written by their peers.
But perhaps the most cogent lesson unfolded when Cofield put aside the series of alcohol cases to arraign nine women who had been arrested Thursday on prostitution charges in Hartford.
Some of the defendants were as young as 18, and others were old enough to be the mothers of the students who watched from the courtroom benches.
They were arrested Thursday night when the Hartford Police vice and narcotics detectives and patrol officers conducted a citywide prostitution sting.
Cofield took a different approach with the hard-core defendants who has been arrested before and admitted in open court that they had abused crack cocaine, cocaine and heroin.
She set bails ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 in cash.
She asked each of the nine defendants to consider counseling and drug treatment by the time they return to court May 30.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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