I received a summons for jury duty about a month ago. My reaction was akin to being asked to have a voluntary root canal. I didn’t want to do it at all. I didn’t want to donate even a day to this civic duty. I already donate enough time, energy and money to the Guardian ad Litem program where I volunteer to advocate for kids who have been abused and neglected. I’m in court at least once or twice a month for them, sometimes more, and visit them and make phone calls on their behalf as well. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart and I never question, for more than a minute here and there, why I continue to do it.
I tried to get out of jury duty by sending a letter documenting both my work as a GAL and the hearings scheduled for my kids during the week I was to report. Request to escape or postpone jury duty: DENIED. So I showed up. I’m a rule follower and trouble-avoider. I was still disgruntled about it the morning of jury selection. I had been coached by friends on what to say to make sure you’re not selected!
I sat on the benches with 39 other potential jurors facing the state attorneys, the defense attorney and the judge, as questions were asked by all three trying to assess the fit and willingness of the candidates. Some of the questions were practical: have you ever been a witness or victim of a crime, have you ever been involved in a crime, and are there any reasons why you would not be able to be fully attentive and impartial in considering the facts of the case as presented by the attorneys and witnesses. Then came the part where they really wanted to assess our character. Looking for those that will be able to help “land the plane” if needed, to paraphrase the lively, somewhat humorous state attorney. Then the defense attorney asked each juror, “who would you like most to interview if you could go back in time or from the present?” My mind immediately flooded with at least six names. Then I thought of several more. Several people named relatives who are deceased. Two men said Jesus. One said Moses. A couple of them named athletes. But as I listened, I heard several people say “no one”. “There’s no one I’m interested in talking to.” I guess it’s possible these people were just doing a better job than me of faking complete disdain to get out of jury duty. I couldn’t do it. I’m just me. So when they said, “let’s see who the life coach wants to interview”, my answer, “it’s nearly impossible to narrow it down to just one”. “Well tell me your top two,” said the attorney. “Jimmy Carter and Maya Angelou,” I replied. I knew right then by the look on their faces, I’d be chosen. And that’s how I became juror number five.
Two things I learned from my thirty-nine potential juror companions:
Take all measures to keep yourself and your belongings safe. Lock your doors at all times and fully insure your car. Maybe invest in a security system. Get a big dog. At least fifty per cent of them had had their houses or apartments broken into or a car stolen.
Do whatever it takes to be happy. I don’t believe everyone was just faking it. I believe this random sample of the population of the United States, in a situation most of us did not want to be in (yes, two wanted to be jurors!), revealed a near correct approximation of individuals who are completely downtrodden and beaten by the game of life, not realizing that they have control over the game.
Then there was me. I showed up as I do for everything, determined to be helpful and learn something from the situation, fair and honest, and with an attitude that hopefully brightened the day of my fellow jurors, if not the defendant. We did find him guilty, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t make his day. I did send him thoughts of love and compassion. I wondered what kind of hardships he’s endured that made him care so little about himself and others, and nurtured the terrible decisions he has made in his twenty-nine years. No one, even the bad guys, is truly evil. We all start out as innocent babies thinking the world is amazing and anything is possible. Unfavorable circumstances make some of us more resilient and cause others to fall apart. Either way, compassion is the cure. I hope that he has a change of heart and spends the rest of his life, in jail and after, making the world a better place. He may not, but that is my hope for him.