In 2005, after working for 15 years as a court reporter at the Bronx Criminal Court, Oscar Garzon began teaching others the art of documenting what judges, lawyers, defendants and witnesses say during court proceedings. He now heads the associate degree program in court reporting at Plaza College in Queens. Garzon, 58, has decorated his office with stenotype machines, which look like old-fashioned typewriters with only 22 keys. He has trained thousands of students on these machines, helping them reach 225 words per minute, the typing speed required for graduation. In his free time, Garzon, who performed music to pay tuition for court reporting school 35 years ago, sings salsa, merengue and other Latin music.
DO YOU ENJOY TEACHING?
I love teaching. I love sharing my knowledge and everything. It’s one of the beauties of the job when you can share your knowledge with a new student that can absorb it.
IS IT NECESSARY TO HAVE BEEN A PRACTITIONER TO BE A TEACHER?
To work more efficiently, really teach the reality of what court reporting is, there’s nothing better than having been a court reporter. You know, it’s like a doctor, if you read a book, it’s not the same as if you were a doctor when you go into the classroom to teach.
WHAT’S THE MOST FRUSTRATING ASPECT OF THE JOB?
To have a student that’s stuck, and you try everything and anything and just can’t get them to cross that barrier.
WHAT KIND OF BARRIER?
You know, students have to gain speed. To gain speed is very difficult. Sometimes students just get stuck, let’s say, at 160 words a minute, and they just get stuck there. … They practice, and sometimes it’s okay. You practice four hours a day, try practicing five hours a day and sometimes that does it. … Sometimes we have to say, look, leave everything alone. Don’t think court reporting, do whatever. … We’ll come back tomorrow, the next day and we’ll start fresh. …
I tell them my story. … I was in the same position. I almost quit when I was almost finished. … I came back and I did it, and here I am. I’m telling you my story, so please don’t quit. Go work harder.
WHAT’S THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT?
When students actually finish. I see them start and finish. A lot of students lose their self-esteem and lose trust in themselves that they can do a skill, and I’m there behind them. I say, ‘No, I know you can do this.’ … And it’s really rewarding at the end when I can see the students graduating and that smile in their face. They say, ‘Whoa, Mr. Garzon, you knew I could do it, and I did it.’ That is, the most rewarding part of this job.
YOU HAVE SOMEWHAT OF AN OUTSIDER PERSPECTIVE ON THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE?
Working as a court reporter, you get to see … people who fall into the system because they were with the wrong person, they were in bad company. … I saw a lot of injustice with that. People fall into the system needlessly. … That’s one of the harshest things that I learned that I [would] like … to change. Being a court reporter, you get to hear all the cases and see what’s going on and get to see the justice and the injustice that’s done.
WHAT WOULD MAKE YOUR LIFE EASIER AS A COURT REPORTER?
If we asked for anything easier, it would be for people to be quiet while everything is going on. … You have clerks yelling, … stamping papers because the case is finished, … court officers yelling out to the crowd. … Everyone’s just hollering, hollering. We have to learn to tune that out because there’s really no quieting people down. … If it was a good moving courtroom, it would have to be like a church. Everyone’s quiet, just the attorneys speak, and that doesn’t happen. … It’s not realistic, not in a court, not in the court system.