Juror #4967

I’m early, per usual.

They make a big deal about limited parking and arriving with enough time to get through security and check in. It’s all a breeze and now I sit in a large room, chairs lined up like eager orderly cadets awaiting occupants and orders.

I stare blankly at the art wall in front of me, still blinking off last nights restless sleep as the room starts to fill.

– – – – –

I should have stopped for Starbucks.

Armed with newspapers, books (analog and digital) headphones on, cell phone in hand for Candy Crush distractions, my fellow potential jurors mostly sit quietly awaiting fulfillment of their civic duty.

Mostly. There are always those who wish to talk, want to be heard, crave connection even in this moment. Sporadic conversations arise spanning aisles, voices pitched over the quiet readers.

This shared experience is enough of a conversation starter for some. Others look like they wish to melt into their chairs. Some simply look bored and resigned. And I sit here, observing, judging, and typing away my little thoughts on my little device.

I don’t want to connect, I just want to be.

Hurry up and wait.

– – – – –

The dry informational video, a call to arms, a cheerleader rallying the crowd for civic duty comes next. Hip hip hurrah for jury duty!

Then we are given the green light for a break and the mad rush towards to coffee shop commences. I’m near the front… I was anticipating this and didn’t hesitate. When I return to the waiting area, aka the corral of the most intriguing cross-section of this city I’ve yet experienced, a man asks me what kind of coffee they have.

I convey my ignorance with chagrin as my cup holds hot chocolate. Someone behind me laughs once, quickly muffled.

It’s hard to feel like an adult when you are drinking hot chocolate.

And back to waiting.

– – – – –

Learning moment!

Most civil cases only have a jury of 3 or 6 people. It’s only felony cases that have a full 12 person jury. Who knew?

– – – – –

Some of the cattle grow restless. More scattered conversations bloom and die out. The rustle of plastic wrap mingles with the shuffling of chairs, occasional sniffles and one fidgety guy’s tapping fingers.

Coming back from a vending machine excursion, a man to my left dives into a diet Coke and beef jerky. Breakfast of champions.

One hour in to waiting. A bit too early for the consumption of processed dried meat if you ask me, but to each his own.

– – – – –

There’s an elderly couple sitting in the front row, contemplating the art quietly. No books, no phones, no form of entertainment or distraction. Just each other.

Every few minutes they lean in, one or the other murmuring some comment or observation or endearment. They move in synch, the easy rhythm reflecting years of togetherness and comfort. They mirror each other effortlessly.

They are adorable. They give me relationship goals and hope.

– – – – –

Learning moment!

Of all the cases decided by a jury in the world, 95% of them are in the U.S.  The whole jury thing is pretty neat and very American. Go America!

– – – – –

I hear a man in the back complaining that it is too quiet in here. Not with you yammering sir, I want to growl.

I forget that silence makes some people uncomfortable. I forget that some don’t relish the peace of quiet contemplation. I forget how exposed some feel when the lack of activities and distractions force them to reflect on themselves.

(I forget how ridiculously pseudophilosophical I get when I reflect.)

Find peace in the quiet, I long to tell him. Find peace in yourself.

And we wait.

– – – – –

I’m noticing that more often than not it’s the men who are pacing, restless, fidgeting. They roam the aisles, back and forth, like caged animals. The women on the whole seem more at ease in this captivity, curled into their provided distractions and content with stillness and silence.

An hour and a half in, no one called yet, and we have our first sleeper. He looks comfortable someone in his plastic chair, cane providing an arm rest and perhaps structural reinforcement of his slightly slumped positioning.

I feel you, sleeping dude. I do.

– – – – –

Learning moment!

Women weren’t automatically included on jury lists until 1975, unless they had specifically registered.

– – – – –

At two hours in and we have our first jury called. The room comes to attention, the universal shuffling as everyone retrieves their paperwork.

Sleeping man rights himself, the adorable elderly couple seems nonchalant, beef jerky guy seems to be questioning his breakfast choice.

As the numbers rattle off, the chosen identify themselves and retreat to the doors. And as I’m left sitting here, I have to wonder… Am I the lucky one or were they?

Again, back to the waiting.

– – – – –

Second cattle call. They call the number just below mine. It’s a close miss, making me think of playing Battleship. A talkative lady behind me gets called so I’ll take that as a personal win. Silence is golden.

One more courtroom calling in the next 15 minutes. We are now going on 2 1/2 hours of sporadically interrupted waiting. The crowd begins to grow sparse, and I am just one more fish swimming in an increasingly empty pond.

Can’t help feel like I’m waiting to be picked off by the next bird with good vision.

– – – – –

I don’t make it through the third cut. Somewhere, middle of the pack, #4967. Sleeping man joins me. Adorable older couple is with me too. I feel like the gang’s all here.

As we are walking out of the corral, I hear the announcer declare they are still waiting for four more courts to select jurors. The remaining crowd utters a collective groan, thinking they had dodged the bullet but now may still get pulled. We are all winners/losers it seems.

25 people pulled for a six person jury so “your odds are good” our minder jokes with us. (If only she looked and delivered that line more like Effie Trinket…)

And into the courtroom I go.

– – – – –

In the end, after several rounds of excused individuals and several hours of intense interrogation by the judge, lawyers, I didn’t get selected. Neither did sleeping man or the half of the cute elderly couple who was on the list.

And I’m glad… It was a depressing sounding criminal case on a topic I could not be impartial on. Combined with a DA who looked like an actor playing a lawyer to the defense attorney who looked like a Batman villain with the judge with one of the most soothing, sleep-inducing voices I’ve ever heard, it was a lot to take. Too many harsh realities combined with too many caricatures for me to process happily.

Too surreal.  And emotionally exhausting.

But it was an interesting, if intense, process to sit through. And I’m glad I don’t have to do it all the time… Those bench seats are mighty uncomfortable. They really could provide some cushions for all potential jurors, couldn’t they?

So for now, here’s Juror #4967 signing out. Civic duty complete.

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