Ok…so I got a little side tracked. It’s been weeks since I posted Part 1 and it is NOT Friday, but I do the best I can with what God gave me.
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.
I hate to be a beggar, but please share the post if you like it. Each Friday story post will have a link back to this one for those who want to start at the beginning.
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To start reading this story from the beginning, click HERE.
The day to call on my summons came and went. When I woke up the next day at 4 am, I stumbled to my coffee pot and picked up my book. I sat reading and waking up until 5 am when I went to make a note about something I read. That’s when I remembered I was supposed to call about jury duty! I sat down and called that minute and found out I had to be there at noon. And that is when I started to feel sick.
There was no getting out of it. I had to show up. Maybe they’d just let us sit there all day and then send us home. That’s happened to me before. I had to call the women’s center that I volunteer for and tell them I wouldn’t be there. They’d have to find someone to replace me for the day. I got ready to go and headed out the door feeling very queasy. All the memories started coming back one at a time.
The courthouse here is much smaller than the one in the city. It was pleasant, obvious where I needed to be, and air conditioned! I brought my knitting. I figured we’d be sitting around doing nothing for a while and I really can’t read when I can hear people talking. We were shown a video about how great being on a jury is and how it is our duty to perform this task as a citizen. Everyone seemed gloomy about being there. Some people knew each other. Some had been there before. It’s a small town, so you’re bound to see someone you know. I didn’t, but I knitted away. I expected to be there for a few hours and not be called. About an hour later we were all moved to the courtroom. I hadn’t been in a courtroom in ten years and this one was so much smaller than the last one. The judge talked and talked. The woman next to me said the judge said this every time. They went over a bunch of questions and then we took a break. When we got back, several people were excused and I was called to replace one. We all answered questions about ourselves, out loud, in front of everyone. I was terrified. I’ve never been much of a public speaker and this was ridiculous.
Then it got worse. They asked if I’d ever been accused of a crime and would that influence how I performed my duty. I had to tell them I had been accused in the past and that the case had been dropped. I tried to form coherent sentences about why I believed I was capable of being fair on a jury because of my experience, not despite it. After all, I knew that both sides of an argument can be wrong, even the accusing authority. The prosecution was required to prove that someone was in the wrong, not the defense. I thought it came out well. I wish I could have recorded it and heard myself. I have a feeling I think like I’m a lot clearer and steady that I actually am. My own experience as a defendant years ago brought that to my attention. The judge moved on to other prospective jurors.
A few minutes later, another question made my stomach lurch and compelled me to raise my hand and speak. I don’t know if you had positive experiences with speaking up in a classroom when you were a child, but I did not. I’ve always been a bit shy and nervous which has always attracted the henpecking that children do in school. I was sick in class once when we were required to read our essay out loud. I never lived that down. All the acting classes and performances I did through high school never cured me of my fear of the classroom situation. That has stuck with me until this day. I’m not afraid of public speaking, I’m happy to stand up in front of a group and answer questions or perform, but put me in a situation that looks like a classroom, no matter how compelling an argument I think I have, no matter how much I desire to speak up and tell people what I think about the topic, if I have to raise my hand and speak, forget it. I shake from fear and feel sick. Deep down I desperately believe I have something important to add but just cannot bring myself to put myself back in that classroom situation. And here I was, in a courtroom, as a prospective juror, with a lawyer asking the whole group a question and I felt passionate about my answer, sure that my answer needed to be heard.
“Does anyone here feel that if they disagree with the law in this case that they couldn’t give a verdict of guilty?”
I shook as I began to raise my hand and realize that no one else was volunteering to answer. I would be asked to speak my mind. It all happened in slow motion. At the same time as I was raising my hand, I was trying to formulate my words so I would be clearly understood. I’d already heard the sentiment, “Well, I may not agree with the law, but it is the law and if I’m judging someone whether they broke it or not, I’d have to say he did.” The question had been asked in a few different ways. I was a little confused at times. It didn’t seem to be presented clearly. I felt led to answer in a certain way, like he was fishing for that answer. The last way he said it I felt was clear enough for me and I had to answer.
“I’m not speaking of this case specifically, but in general. If I don’t believe a law is just or right, I cannot convict someone of breaking it. After all, it used to be against the law to let black people eat in a white restaurant.” The lawyer just nodded and moved on to the next question. I knew at that moment I would not be on that jury. As I sat there another hour, I heard over and over again from almost all the other jurors, they may not think the law is right, but it must be there for a reason. I couldn’t believe it.
At the end of the day, several people had been dismissed from jury duty but I remained. We were all asked to come back the next day to continue picking a jury for this trial. As I drove home that afternoon, I was proud of myself. I had stood up and said what I believed was right and I wasn’t summarily dismissed. Maybe, just maybe, the system wasn’t as corrupt as I imagined.
The next morning, I got up and got ready for the day. I was now sure I’d be on this jury. It’d be my first one and I was looking forward to it. I readied myself for a long day in court. One hour later, I was driving home angry and disappointed. I had been the first to be dismissed that day. Once again, I had rearranged my schedule and worked in time to “do my civic duty” and the court disrespected my time and effort, called me in so that they could dismiss me immediately. It was ridiculous.
Driving home, I grumbled and complained to myself. All those people in that courtroom would really uphold and convict a fellow citizen on a law they believed to be unjust? Really? If any of them thought for one minute about what they said, they’d see what they were doing. These same people would think it was a shameful response of the Nazi soldiers to say, “I was only doing my duty, as I was ordered to do.” They’d hold those people responsible. How far will they go? If a lawmaker in our country made it illegal for a segment of people in this country to hold a job and be paid, would you go to court and convict him of trying to support his family? Where would this “I’m just following the law.” thinking g o? I’m seriously shaking just thinking it through again and tapping it out on the screen.
When I got home, I did what all good Americans do these days, I posted on Facebook. I know. It’s not monumental but it’s all I could think to do. I did get some positive response from it. Some of my friends understood what I was trying to say, but the percentage was pretty low and I wonder if I made public poll how many people would agree with me. I’m thinking it would be even lower.
And that’s why I’m here typing this story out. Once again, I began to wonder why I should even bother making that statement, answering the way I did. I’d never be put on a jury if I did. But what if one person in that room heard me and thought about what I said? What if one person read my post afterward and reconsidered their position about “following the law”? What if more people do the same thing by standing up for our constitutional rights and being the biggest check and balance in our justice system? To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, “Why it may even start a movement! And most of you are too young to know what a movement is!”
This story is just the beginning. I’ve always felt that someday I’d write my experience out for the world to see. It was painful and life changing for me and, until now, it hurt too much to rub those wounds and remember, to reflect on what happened and what could have happened. But this last experience with the justice system has finally encouraged me to take off that bandage and look at the old scar. The wound has healed. There is a scar to remind me of what happened and I refuse to cover it up and hide it any longer.
Next – “Out of the Blue” Chapter 1