Judge Verda Colvin Reads the Riot Act of Love to Troubled Teens

Judge Verda Colvin

Judge Verda Colvin

Bibb County, Georgia, Superior Court Judge Verda Colvin did not know she was being filmed as she read the riot act to a group of troubled young people as part of a “Consider the Consequences” program meant to show kids what will happen if they embark upon a life of crime, and to equip them and encourage them to make better choices in life.

She was simply speaking to them from her heart—and from a wealth of wisdom and experience about the direction these teens and pre-teens were going, and where it would most likely end out.

In other words, she read them the riot act.

But it was the riot act of love.

“I don’t want you to come in my courtroom and I have to sentence you as an adult at the age of seventeen,” she told them.

You can read all about it here: ‘You Are Special’: Judge’s Emotional Speech To Troubled Teens Brings Courtroom To Tears, and you can watch the nine minute video below.

By now, millions of people have seen it. Though she didn’t know her impassioned speech was caught on tape, it has gone viral.

And for good reason.

Powerful truth spoken from love

Judge Colvin’s words speak for themselves. Nothing I can write will do full justice to her powerful message spoken straight from the heart and from her own lifetime of experience and hard-won wisdom. Here is the video:

In her speech she addressed our spiritual life and journey here on this often dark and troubled earth. Here are some of the things she said that particularly struck me:

. . . Or you can have the ultimate experience. You can be in this body bag. And the only way somebody will know you’re in here is by this tag that’ll have your name on it.

The part of the speech caught on video starts out by laying it right on the line.

How often, as we go about our day-to-day life, do we realize that we are making decisions and taking actions that will have life-or-death consequences?

As with the lives of crime that these kids were flirting with, this could mean physical death and the end of our lifetime here on earth.

But we are also making decisions and taking actions that will affect our spiritual life or death. Do we want to be truly alive and human? Or do we want to throw away our life on useless and destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and living?

What do you want to do? That’s the question you have to ask yourself. What do you want to do?

In other words, our life is in our own hands. We don’t have to just float along and get pushed around by other people and by outside events. We can think about our life, and make a decision about what we want to do with our life.

These kids might not think they have a choice. Many people think they have no choice; that they’re stuck on a road that leads to a dead end.

But it’s not true. We are human beings. We have self-awareness. We can ask ourselves this critical question: What do I want to do with my life?

And then we can do something about it.

Be somebody! Anybody can be nothing. It doesn’t take anything to be nothing. Be something! Do you understand what I’m saying? Care about yourselves! The fact that you’re shedding tears means you want to be better. You want to do better. Do it! The only person stopping you is you. Do better than you’ve been doing. Do you understand me?

It’s easy to just go with the flow, and fall into the careless, self-destructive attitudes and behaviors that the people and influences around us are pushing us into. It doesn’t take any guts or any character to follow the crowd and throw away our life.

But if we care enough about ourselves and our lives to put out some effort, we can be better than that. We can be better than what we are right now.

If we’re dissatisfied or upset with our life, the only person stopping us from changing it is ourselves. We have the power to change it.

That’s not to say it will be easy. There will be plenty of resistance and plenty of obstacles to overcome. But when we put our mind and heart to it, we can move ourselves toward a better life. And the very act and effort of overcoming that resistance and pushing past those obstacles turns us into a stronger person, better able to achieve success in life—however we may define success.

You need to get some goals. . . . I’m telling you, if you don’t make a goal for yourself, society is going to make one of these two options a goal. (She points to the body bag and the defendant’s stand.)

Society does have goals for us. And though a body bag or a defendant’s stand may not be society’s default goal for all of us, if we have no goals of our own, our default will be something similarly uninspiring, such as a dead-end job and a life of oppression and depression.

That’s why we need to wrest control of our life into our own hands and set our own goals, not let society, family, or friends determine our goals for us. Our goals don’t have to be something lofty. But they have to be something that we care about, something that we believe in, and something that we can achieve through focused effort and work.

Having a goal gives us something to work for. It also gives us a definite, positive direction to travel in. Without goals, we are leaves blown in the wind. With goals, our life has direction and purpose.

You’re going to have to make a decision if you’re going to do something different. And don’t use your family situation as an excuse. You hear me? Don’t use that as an excuse! I don’t know what’s going on in your lives. I don’t know where you live. But don’t use it as an excuse. Anything either of you all are going through, somebody else went through who’s successful now.

It’s easy to throw up our hands, make excuses, and blame our situation for our struggles and failures. And if we do, we’ll just continue on the same downward path.

It’s true that many of us were born into tough situations. But blaming our situation is abdicating responsibility for our own lives. It’s requiring other people, or the world, to change before we can change.

But we don’t have any control over other people. And we certainly can’t control what the world does.

The world is a big, stubborn place. It’s not going to change so that our life can get better.

And our parents and the people in our neighborhood have made their own decisions about how they’re going to live. They’re not all going to change so that our life can get better.

For our life to get better, we must make our own decision about what we want our life to be. This means that no matter how bad our family was or no matter how bad our situation is, we can’t use that as an excuse not to do something better with our own life.

When we stop making excuses and telling our hard-luck story, and make a decision for ourselves about what we’re going to do with our own life, we can begin the process of moving toward something better. As Judge Colvin points out, plenty of people have been through what we’re going through, and have gone on to live a good and successful life.

Change is possible for us no matter who we are and no matter how bad our situation is.

You are special and you are uniquely made. And nobody else can do what you’re supposed to do in this world. Nobody else! And if you don’t do it, we won’t have it! I continue to believe one reason why our society is so messed up is because some people who were born to do certain things just dropped the ball. They didn’t do it. And so for every person who didn’t do what they needed to do—because they were given unique gifts and talents—we’re missing something as a society. And if you all continue to go the way you’re going, those are seventeen more gifts we’re missing as a society.

Judge Colvin is very wise. What she says here drills down to the meaning of life on this earth. God does instill into each one of us unique gifts and talents so that we can do something in society that nobody else can do. These gifts are what we uniquely were created to do. And if we don’t offer those gifts to the world, they won’t get done.

Oh, someone else might step in and try to cover for us. But they won’t do as good a job as we ourselves could have done, because that’s not what they were created for, and that’s not what their experience prepared them for.

Even if our life has been a constant struggle, trial, and mess, that very experience could be preparing us to help other people who are going through the same struggles. Instead of just throwing up our hands and yelling, “My life sucks!” we can be learning from the experience. We can learn how to make it through the particular kind of mess we’re in. And that’s precisely what will make us able to help others who are struggling through the very same mess.

Helping others doesn’t necessarily involve imparting wisdom. We may become skilled at solving practical problems to make life easier to bear. Wise advice such as Judge Colvin offered to that group of young people can be very powerful, but it is not the only type of wisdom. So if you’re not a philosopher like Judge Colvin, don’t discount yourself. Maybe your gift to the world is how to navigate social services or stretch a grocery budget or get people’s cars back on the road.

In parts of her speech not quoted here, Judge Colvin spoke of her own difficult upbringing, and how she was able to rise above it and make something of herself. She herself is now a living example of someone who is special and uniquely made, and whose experience and struggles put her in a position to reach out to young people who are now going through the same sorts of things she did when she was growing up.

And you know what? If nothing else, if your parent ever did . . . has your parent did one thing that you’re happy about in your life? Has your parent . . . Raise your hand if your parents have done at least one thing that you’re happy about. Just one thing. (Many hands go up.)

She goes on to speak about how much pain and grief parents feel over their children who go in a bad direction and get themselves in trouble.

But I want to focus on her words about that one good thing these kids’ parents did for them.

Of course, their parents probably did a lot more than one good thing. But there is power in every good, thoughtful, and loving thing we do for another human being.

And when we do a good, thoughtful, heartfelt, and loving thing for a child or teenager, it has an especially powerful effect. You see, these childhood experiences of love and understanding are stored away deep in our soul. And they become a great store of love and goodness that we can draw on later in life when the going gets tough.

When it feels like everything and everyone is against us, those lasting impressions and experiences of others loving us, caring about us, talking to us, and giving us thoughtful guidance when we were younger often resurface in our minds, or they provide a subtle undercurrent of positive support that helps to carry us through.

So don’t pass up an opportunity to say a kind word to someone, whether they’re a child, a teenager, or an adult. If you have an opportunity to bring a little ray of light and love into someone’s life, do it! You may never know the positive effects of that little encounter rippling through that person’s life.

And especially if you are a parent, make sure your children know you love them. Don’t just say it to them. Show it to them by your actions and by the time you spend with them. You may be both literally and spiritually saving their lives later on, when their road gets rough.

The video ends with these words:

That’s how much your parents love you—that they care. And when I see you all hurting, it makes me hurt too. Because I don’t even know you all personally, but I love each and every one of you. And I don’t want you to come in my courtroom and I have to sentence you as an adult at the age of seventeen. I don’t want that. I don’t want to experience that myself, and I don’t want you all to experience that.

By this time, several of the kids were wiping their eyes with tissues. And at this point, Judge Colvin herself took a tissue from one of the attendants, and walked back toward the door.

That’s what I mean when I say she that read those kids the riot act of love.

Judge Verda Colvin has made her choice in life, and is living her life and doing her job with a clear head and a loving heart. She is offering her unique gifts and talents to society. And if she hadn’t been there in that courtroom, with her particular life experiences, gifts, and talents, those seventeen troubled kids in that courtroom in Georgia would never have received her life-changing message.

All of us can learn a powerful lesson from her words and her example.

That’s why the video went viral.

For further reading:


Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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Posted in Current Events, Spiritual Growth
3 comments on “Judge Verda Colvin Reads the Riot Act of Love to Troubled Teens
  1. Travis says:

    You truly have a gift, Lee. Thank you for all of the work you put into this website. Many of your messages are so simple, yet powerful. I really benefit from reading your posts. Again, thank you.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Travis,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words, which I appreciate very much. I’m glad you’re gaining some benefit from the posts here!

  2. […] four stitches. In Bibb County, Georgia, a Superior Court Judge “read the riot act” to a group of wayward teens in an effort to curb their bad […]

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