When I started my month of grand jury duty, the spring allergy season was fully upon us. The jury room was stocked with utilitarian boxes of tissues that were thin and hard to pull out of the box. They were grainy and flimsy. After using them for a few days I got a chapped nose.
Seven of us started our jury service to county courthouse on a Wednesday. We heard a lot of identity theft and car theft cases. Then we heard a few difficult testimonies where victims cried – a slight woman with translucent skin whose husband beat her. A homeless rape victim told her story in a hardened smoky voice. I could hardly bear to watch them struggle with the damned tissue box only to dry their eyes with scratchy paper.
When I went to get my medicine at the pharmacy that week-end, I bought two boxes of super soft luxury tissues. I never buy that. I’m happy with what I get at the Dollar Tree, and even that was better than what was in the jury room. The ones I bought were labeled soothing and healing. They released easily and felt velvety against my skin. One of the allergy sufferers in the room practically danced with delight when I’d brought them in.
Each morning I saw the chaotic entry way, where everyone had to take off jewelry, belts and shoes. I got a pass to get in without being searched. I use a wheelchair, though, so I had to go in through the back accessible entrance way. It was also the prisoner entrance. If a prisoner was being taken in or out of the courthouse, I had to stand aside while armed sheriff’s deputies came out and stopped pedestrian traffic.
Once a woman walking by was so lost in thought that the deputy had to stand directly in front of her and wave his arms in her face. She seemed irritated that something blocked her path. She argued with the deputy for a while, but eventually waited like the rest of us while the shackled man was transported from the sheriff’s car to the courthouse.
The sidewalk traffic went back to normal, as if nothing happened, and I waited for the courthouse security guard to let me in the building.
It’s an older building. Many tears have been shed in the somber halls and courtrooms. In the grand jury, you don’t hear a full case, only what the prosecutor presents. I heard from police on the scene, witnesses, and victims. We had to decide if there was enough evidence to indict the person arrested for the crime. Then they’d start the process for either a plea bargain or a trial.
We heard one rape case with a juvenile victim. She was shaky and cried a lot. She wiped her face over and over, then worried the tissue in her hands, knotting and rolling it as she testified.
It made no real difference that I’d bought good tissues, but it was the one piece of the process I could soften. For myself, too. I can’t watch the victims cry and not cry myself.
I thought about the thin tissue layer between a blessed day and a cursed one — how one cursed day changes the course of your life.
But we have to breathe, even when there are irritants in the air.
Often we don’t see them, but they make our eyes water nonetheless.
All of my notes became part of the court record and I wasn’t allowed to doodle on those, but I kept a small 3.5 x 5 inch sketch book to keep track of the case numbers and got to doodle a bit on those. Ii couldn’t sketch any of the people that testified or the jury members, so I stuck to borders and a few quick sketches of things in the jury room.
|Our break area|
|Vehicle code tome|
|On the last day we had the world’s most boring Skype testimony|
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4 thoughts on “Some Notes on Grand Jury Duty”
This was so well-done. Just marvelously honed and thoughtfully written. Really a great experience to read. Thank you.
Wonderful post, Joy. (A string of cursed, thin-tissue days once changed the course of my life. Luckily, there were people along my new path who were thoughtful enough to bring me luxury tissues. While their kindnesses didn't erase those awful days, they helped me climb toward the light, rather than descend into darkness.)
Thank you, Lisa. It was such an amazing experience I think I'll be writing about it over and over.
I'm glad you got some kindness. I don't think everyone does. And sometimes, I don't think some people recognizes kindness when it comes their way. Glad you made it back to the light and are bringing your monsters along with you 🙂