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Criminal practice comes alive in lifelong learning course

Diverse classes offered at Linden Ponds

Created date

December 24th, 2013
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Criminal practice was unfamiliar territory for students of Jackie Evarts’ lifelong learning class at Ponds. But in her animated, conversational style, Jackie distilled the fundamentals of the district court system for a captivated audience. 

“It made the court system come alive for us,” says Sybil Bruel, who also lives at the Hingham, Mass., Erickson Living community and participated in the class. “I didn’t know anything. You always read about the federal and supreme courts, but you don’t hear that much about the details of the district court. [Jackie] gave us those details.”

Down to the details

Jackie’s “Introduction to Criminal Practice in the District Court,” was part of a diverse selection of courses offered in the fall semester of Linden Ponds’ lifelong learning program. In five, one-hour sessions, the newly retired criminal defense attorney provided an overview of the district court and the process of criminal cases before honing in on specific types of cases. 

Most state crimes are tried in district court, which cannot give out sentences of more than two and a half years for any one case. Most cases are settled against a judge without a jury trial.

 “You really don’t have anything to talk about unless you know some of the basics,” says Jackie, who began practicing law at age 40 as a private attorney largely on divorce cases with some criminal work. For the last five to ten years of her career, Jackie took on only criminal cases. “It’s what I liked,” she says. 

In casual lectures with handouts for the class, Jackie delved into topics of domestic violence, drunk driving, and drug arrests. Though she initially tried to avoid telling stories about her personal experiences, the illustrative anecdotes were a highlight for her students. 

“She had, of course, a hundred million stories relating to what she was talking about,” Sybil says. “We all loved them.”

Despite the serious subject matter, Jackie’s stories often injected humor into the discussion. One class favorite was the story of a client on trial for drunk driving—operating under the influence. He arrived in court wearing a t-shirt that read “I’m a party animal.”

“You meet a lot of characters, to say the least,” Jackie says.

Opportunity for reflection

For the students, whose exposure to law enforcement and criminal practice was largely limited to television portrayals, the class brought clarity to a sometimes messy system. It was also a welcome opportunity for Jackie to reflect on her 30-year career. 

Though she has been living at Linden Ponds for more than six years, she still worked until last year. “It’s just in the last six months or so I’ve begun to get more involved [at Linden Ponds],” she says. 

The class was a natural fit for Jackie, who taught for three years after graduating from college, and for Linden Ponds, which hadn’t featured lifelong learning courses of this kind.

“You don’t usually retire and then have a chance to gather your thoughts about it. It’s been very interesting. It’s really been a very, very good experience for me,” Jackie says.

The feeling from students is mutual. “I hear people waxing enthusiastic about it,” says Gina Herron, who lives at Linden Ponds and also participated in the class. 

Through teaching, Jackie has recognized themes in her career. “Much of what happens has to do with the need to keep things moving through the system,” she says.

Jackie encouraged questions from the class, but her career was excellent preparation for being on the spot as a teacher. “When you spend five days a week in court, you have to pretty much think on your feet a lot of the time. You have to be ready for surprises and things that are unexpected,” she says, adding of the class, “It’s been very pleasant.” 

Sharing talents

Jackie shares her appreciation for the opportunity to teach with other lifelong learning instructors and organizers. Since the fall of 2008, Linden Ponds has offered selections of courses each spring and fall. Eager students begin waiting in line as early as 5:30 a.m. for class registration at 9 a.m.

“We’re so lucky to have all these talented residents here,” says Sybil, one of three co-chairs of the lifelong learning committee. “There are so many people with so many different kinds of talents.”

Sybil adds: “I really love this work. It’s very rewarding. The people are so nice and helpful, and the instructors really work hard. When you ask how many hours they put in, it’s astonishing how much time they’re willing to give.”

Next month, registration for the spring semester classes will include science, literature, crafts, and history. Jackie has agreed to teach her course again in the fall. She hopes to bring improvements to the class, including a trip to watch local court proceedings.

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