Pride, Panic and a Pamphlet: A Tale of Jury Duty

It’s not a stretch to say I haven’t been myself over the past few days.

By this time, I’m usually a month into the school year, having gotten to know my students and their parents, who are full-swing into a pretty spectacular kindergarten program. Report cards are being thought about in their most preliminary stages, and I’m getting a read on how the year will go.

Instead, I’ve been a jury member in a criminal case.

So slight difference in mindset.

Now, I had zero idea of what the process would be like going in.  You get a letter saying the process of selection could take a week, so you’re already faced with a time-based uncertainty, and your ability to give excuses to get out seems pretty limited.  Basically, unless you are in the law enforcement community, would experience financial hardship, or have booked a trip somewhere, you’re not getting out of it.  Of course, I got the “useful” advice of “Just pretend you’re racist” as a way to get out and, not that I would have considered it, but you don’t really get the opportunity to do that.

During selection, you’re in large groups and a judge will ask you if you have a reason to get out, and there were some definite gems.  A CEO claiming undue hardship for his company.  Someone pretending to not speak English to the judge after I clearly heard them having a conversation on their cell phone in the waiting room.  Vague injuries and illnesses that had no doctor’s backing, in spite of the initial summons saying you kind of needed that.  Eventually, the members of the court get a chance and, after maybe a question, you’re decided on and BOOM, there you are.  A juror.

Then, the fun starts.

Even though the whole thing is done now, and you’d think I’d want to tell everybody about the craziness that I experienced, I can’t.  And don’t.  And won’t.

Legally, I can’t talk about the most intense part, which would be after we were charged by the judge to make a decision.  12 people, drawn from different backgrounds and experiences, literally asked to decide on the fate of a person’s freedom.  We’ve all heard the phrase “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” by now.  It might sound benign when you hear it, but when faced with conflicting facts and narratives, it’s a hard standard to meet, especially when you’re stuck in a room with a dozen different versions of “reasonable.”

I don’t use the word “stuck” lightly.  You can’t discuss the case outside of the room.  Everybody has to be present when the case is being discussed, so that means a bathroom break is a break in the conversation.  You’re shuttled from the room by court officers for meals, short breaks and, in this case, a hotel.  There is a poetry in not having your freedom while you’re deciding if another person will lose their freedom.

Let’s talk about that hotel.  After hours of debates and discussions, some of which can get heated, you might want nothing more than to retreat to your favourite TV show, or the words or arms of a loved one.  You don’t get that chance.  You’re stuck with the same people, having to turn off your “jury mind” and reestablish your “social mind” with people who are, in spite of knowing something about them during the process, are still mostly strangers whose names have become numbers.  You’re bonded by the process you’re in, but when you get back to a hotel room which has had any form of communication stripped from it, and your only way of communicating the words “I love you” are through a Court Services Officer, who will read messages to and from you verbatim… I don’t use the terms panic attack and anxiety lightly, and they were definitely both experienced after hours in a quiet hotel room.  Exhaustion and an escape via Scott Snyder’s Batman: The Court of Owls were the only thing that got me to sleep.

Mentally, I’m not keen to type the details of the trial, either.  It was a confusing mess, which forced everybody in the room to work their brain at every conceivable angle, and any attempt to repeat what we had to figure out wouldn’t do it justice.  There’s a reason we were locked up for days figuring this thing out.  There’s a reason it’s actually been hard to get back into the mental swing of things days later.

Even near the end, as we excitedly came to a consensus about the charges, any excitement slowly ebbed away.  We knew from the start that our decision would either deprive somebody, who we would have to know beyond a reasonable doubt, was guilty, of their freedom, or serve to revictimize those who were affected by the crime, with even the perception of justice not being done.  Even though we’re not saying it to their face, a “Not Guilty” verdict essentially says “There is a reasonable doubt about your victimhood.”

So, yeah, after the verdict was delivered, there was no celebration.  Consensus didn’t equal contentment.  And as we returned to the room, the therapy pamphlet pictured at the start of this article was the first thing we saw on our desk.  I’m holding on to it for a while, because even though I have a support system, and writing this little entry has been cathartic, I might need an adult who gets what the heck I just went through to get me through it.

Still, even feeling the stressful after-effects of the experience, I do have a sense of pride.

I’m proud to have made it through an experience that few of us will actually have to go through.  At the end of the day, I was a part of administering justice, which was messy and didn’t feel good, but was definitely important.  It’s hard to feel proud of the money leaving your paycheque to pay for social services, and I’m too old to go to war, so this is how I was able to give service back to this amazing country.  A small price to pay.

I’m proud of getting through the challenge.  In the judge’s final address to us, he essentially said we were asked to do a job none of us were trained for.  He stated we did it admirably, and while I don’t know if that’s a stock line he uses for everybody, I felt we did okay, too.  It’s hard to work with twelve people you do know, let along twelve you don’t.

I’m proud I didn’t pretend to not speak English or be racist.  I’m proud enough that, if anybody in the future says “Why didn’t you?”, or says they’re going to, my response is probably going to indicate how proud I am to have done what they’re too scared to do.

This has been a crazy, unfamiliar few days.  The phrase “I’m glad to have been a part of it” may not be an effective summation of it, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.

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