Happy Friday! From now on, every Friday morning I’ll be posting roughly 1700 words of my book. I’m planning on self-publishing it, but I could use some help and “accountability” in getting it edited and ready to publish. What better way than to post it here? I’m sure you’ll be able to spot any errors or give me some feedback! Use the comments to say your piece. I’d really appreciate any constructive criticism.
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And, without further ado…
A jury duty summons came in the mail. It was just your average, everyday jury duty summons, nothing to get worked up over. I’ve gotten them every year since we moved out to the desert years ago. Every year I open the envelope, write down what day I’m supposed to call and find out if I will be going to the courthouse the next day. Every year the recording says I’m not needed.
For me, a jury duty summons is irritating. I get aggravated and vocal about how inconvenient it is. Why do they tell me a month in advance that I MIGHT need to come to the courthouse and then make me call the night before just to find out if I won the lottery of a day sitting in a crowded room with some of my weird neighbors? Why not just tell me I will be going for sure right then? I can plan on it. What if I had a job and needed to get the day off? It’s not any trouble for me to go in, I’m a stay-at-home mom. I am bothered that other people might be put out by it. But that’s not what is making me irritable. It’s fear and old memories being dredged up.
The last time I got called into court for jury duty was when we lived in the city. That courthouse was huge and there are so many people. It feels anonymous going in there. I sat in the big comfortable jury waiting room with free water, wi-fi, TV, and vending machines, and read my book. It was kind of nice really. I had three children at home at the time. My step-daughter was starting Junior High School and my two boys were six and five years old. We were homeschooling the boys, so they were home with me and my Mother-In-Law all day. Going to jury duty at that time was kind of like a vacation from regular life. I didn’t mind going in. There was something else bothering me.
Two years earlier I had been falsely accused by the District Attorney and had to defend myself. The charges were dropped after a year and nearly $30,000 in fees, but the time was traumatic for me and I still held some bitterness toward the system for bringing the case against me and for pursuing it so ferociously. The look on the D.A.’s face as he walked out of the courtroom after dropping the case for lack of evidence still stuck with me. Laughing a bit, he looked at me and told me maybe they’d get me next time. I was terrified. They’d watched my house before they arrested me for weeks. I had no idea they were there. Would they be watching me now? How could I know? I hadn’t done anything wrong, but everything they presented was true and led them to believe I was the one that robbed a woman at gunpoint and tried to steal her car. How could I know they wouldn’t pick up more pieces of my life and arrange them in a picture that looked different than the one they took them from?
Two years had gone by and I was still upset by the whole situation. We were still in debt thanks to the police departments job. They had taken a gun handed down from my husband’s father as evidence. We never got it back, not that we ever used it. It had sentimental value.
And now here I was sitting in a courthouse, waiting for them to call my name. I’d been there about an hour when my group was called to a courtroom. We sat listening to the case overview and they passed out a thick questionnaire for us to fill out. We were told to answer all the questions honestly and completely and then return them. We could leave after we were done and were to return in the morning to the same courtroom. I’d have to get my Mother-In-Law to watch the boys again and take my step-daughter to school as well.
I started reading the questions. Most of them were easy and straight forward questions like what’s your background, work, family relationships, etc. Then came ones I never considered. How do you feel about the justice system? Do you think it’s fair? Would you convict someone on what the law is and not how you feel about the law? How could I answer these questions truthfully? I knew the minute I gave my honest answer I’d be asked to leave. If I always answered that way, I’d never be on a jury. And what about that defendant? Shouldn’t he have someone like me on the jury, that might look at the case more fairly? Should I lie and then hold up the deliberation if I got that far?
I couldn’t lie. I knew that. I answered the questions honestly. I don’t believe the system is just. I think most people believe that if you were truly innocent, you wouldn’t be able to incriminate yourself and I learned firsthand that that’s not true at all. I think the general population thinks as I used to; that the Miranda Rights are to help the criminals, not protect the innocent. They get in the way of cops getting the bad guys. After my experience, I think the police arrest anyone they can get their hands on for a crime just so that it looks good on paper. If you arrest people and have a high conviction rate in court, you’re keeping the people safe. Right? It looks good in the annual report. It justifies the money they spend. But crime isn’t being deterred. It’s only being punished, and it doesn’t matter who is punished. Don’t get me started on how I used to feel about Defense Attorneys. We all knew they were the scum that help criminals get out of trouble. I also know from my experience that those that have enough money and a connection to someone that can help are more likely to get out of the trouble, innocent or guilty. All of this, in my opinion, made me a better juror than I was before the incident. I used to think like most everyone else. It is how the system conditions us. If you’ve been accused, you probably did something, and you’ll have to prove to me that you didn’t. The law doesn’t really work that way and now I know why. I wrote all of this down, handed it to the bailiff, and walked out to my car.
When I returned to court the next day, all the potential jurors were standing out in the hall. Before they opened the door and let us in to sit down, they read a list of all the jurors that could go home right now. I was on that list. My heart sunk. They’d never let me on a jury. I was too honest and principled, I thought. And then I was angry. They knew last night when they were reading those papers who they were going to send home. Why didn’t they call us? It would have saved us all a lot of time. I went home and I wasn’t sent a summons until a few years later when we had moved out to the desert.
Since then, I think I’ve been called about six times. I get the paper, I call the number, I’m excused. I feel like I’m forced to participate in some ugly lottery. I haven’t been to the courthouse out here until now. When I got the summons this time, I wrote the date on my calendar. As always happens when I get that summons, I started thinking about my case.
One of my sons asked me recently why I write so much down. I keep a journal and a calendar and write details I want to remember about each day. Plans we’ve made, dinners, where we’re going are all on the calendar. And I tend to go back and write what happened if we do something unexpected. I keep track of the weather, what birds I see, what got cleaned, or what I planted in the yard. It’s a little obsessive and I’ve gotten more detailed over the years. I jokingly tell the boys that someday, all the electronic records will be lost and they will only have my journals and calendars to recreate what it was like to live in the early 2000’s! I also keep receipts filed and easy to recall. Sometimes I start to think it’s a little unhealthy and stop writing. A few days at most can get by before I run back and fill in what has happened on my calendar.
Thinking back, I realize what I’m doing. When the detective was at my home on the day I was arrested, he asked me what I was doing “on the day in question.” I swear! It was just like a “Columbo” re-run or “Law & Order” episode! I showed him my calendar. I usually write down everywhere we go, I told him. I have girl scouts on Fridays and Bible Study on Wednesdays, etc. There was nothing on those days. Nothing at all. Later, my lawyer asked me about that calendar. The DA was using it for evidence. He asked if I had anything else that might point to where I was on that day. I searched my journals. Those days were also empty. They only thing I had was an instant message conversation on the computer between a friend and me. I printed the record of it. It haunted me that I had no alibi for that day. But why would I? I’m a stay-at-home Mom! I was at home making dinner, doing laundry, and chasing kids! How could this be happening?! Writing things down is a symptom of my recurring thoughts, a kind of PTSD thing. It helps me feel safe.