Friday, February 17, 2006

An American Duty

I was excused from jury duty today. I was excused from jury duty yesterday. Of course, the first day I was called in, I was chosen with another 12 lucky folk.

I've been reading a book written by a friend and neighbor who just moved away last weekend; and I'm sorry I never really got to know her that well while she was here. I have this "thing" about getting real chummy with close-proximity neighbors. I have seen friendships end and it can get kinda awkward when they are, say, across the street. I don't know why. I've never had any problems, but I've seen some ugly stuff. Some people just have to talk about everyone else. My mom always said (and yours too, I'm sure!), "If you don't have anything good to say about a person, don't say anything." And, I've learned over the years, "If they talk about someone else behind their back to you, they will talk about you behind your back to them." I truly try to act on the first and stay clear of the latter. I do catch myself sometimes getting pulled in, of course; I'm only human. But overall, I'm good, especially when it comes to a neighbor. I try and keep any negative thoughts to myself. (Unless they totally mess with me, then all bets are off! hehe--kidding) I do, however, let new neighbors know that I would be there if they needed me for anything. There is a difference, ya know. Anyway, Dianne and I went out a couple of times before she moved, and I feel we have established a friendship. Now that she is hundreds of miles away, we can be friends (according to my "friendly neighbor rule"). She's really a great person. After reading her book, "Whose Face is in the Mirror?", I don't know why (or perhaps I can see why) she is such a kind and fun-loving person. She has totally been through hell and back. Her book is an auto-biographical look into her second marriage which was both physically and mentally abusive. I told her I wish she had told me about it when my bipolar friend was here. She too is in an abusive marriage and is still with the guy after 30 years. Perhaps if Ms. BP had read this book, it could have helped her to free herself from this abusive relationship which, I know, did nothing but aggravate and set off her manic episodes. I wish any woman or man would read this book and seek the help that is truly needed to get out of such a relationship. It sounds like it is more common than most of us think, unfortunately.

So, there I am, in the courtroom a good 30 minutes early complete with book, yarn and IShuffle in tow. I whip out my book and begin to read as all the possible jurors-to-be come filing in. It's some tough stuff to read through, but I'm at a part where Dianne is leaving the SOB. I'm enthralled in this part when a guy comes in and sits next to me. We greet each other and he asks what I'm missing in order to be here. "Well, I'm a stay-at-home mom." (I'm always torn between SAHM and Home Manager--it depends on who's asking.) I wonder sometimes if that answer equates in their mind to "stay-at-home-mom = bon bon eater." There was no time to ponder that thought because no sooner than those words escaped my mouth that the court clerk announces they are about to begin. The judge enters. All rise (I love that part, so formal and respectful). Then, it's bam, bam, bam, three cases are postponed and given another date. The judge then says the case we are trying today is a case of child abuse against a six-week old baby. It makes my stomach churn. Do you ever think in your mind that so much of who you are has brought you to this place for a reason? This was one of those moments. Here I am, a SAHM, reading a book about abuse and sitting in a courtroom about to hear a case on child abuse. "Oh, please Lord, don't put me on this one. I don't know if I could handle it." I really felt myself beginning to panic. The judge then says that the clerk will read 23 names, randomly, and those read are to take seats in the jury box. "Number 1, John Doe; Number 2, Rosa Schmoza." Joy. Number two right out of the box. Major yuk. "You're going to have to pull yourself together Rosa, this is your duty," I think to myself as I walk through the courtroom into the "box."

Yes, it is our duty. And, of course, once I got settled in to Seat Number 2, I did calm down and became totally fascinated with the process. I knew I was put there for a reason. There were 22 other prospective jurors that were brought up to the box and we all answered various questions both personally and as a group. For some reason, they were on me like white on rice. I've been on a jury panel before and I'm always amazed at some of the questions asked. Total psych 101. But, being quite a shy person, I despise being the center of attention. I think I did pretty well though, cheeks on fire, but my answers were coherent and honest. Prosecutor: "Mrs. Rosa, how old are your children?" Answer: "16 & 12." "Mrs. Rosa, how old was your child when he first walked?" Hmmmm, that was a long time ago, on the spot, sweat sweat sweat, think Rosa, think...."12 months, he's a boy...grin." "How old was your son when he began to crawl?" Even tougher to remember...."I think about 7 or 8 months." "And, Mrs. Rosa, how old was he when he began to hold Cheerios and eat them?" With that one, I had to grin. The teenager was always known to us as the Cheerio Kid. We would leave trails of Cheerios wherever we went. Those little things are life savers. "Ok, concentrate, Rosa, don't giggle, remember where you are--'probably about 8 months, sir.'" There were several other questions that I was asked specifically. Then it was time for the defense: "Does anyone have bumper stickers on their cars?" Hand up. Am I the only ONE in this whole group to have bumper stickers ALL over my car???? Am I the only one here to have ANY bumper stickers on their car??? Geesh Louise!! "Mrs. Rosa, what bumper stickers do you have on your car?" The only one I could remember in detail (thought process at stand still, again) was "I 'heart' My Family." Oh yea, "and 'No Violence, Know Peace', a couple of peace signs and miscellaneous high school football stickers." I knew as soon as the words "love my family" came out, I would be chalked in as one for the prosecution. Nope, I wasn't going anywhere. I was going to be one of the 13 "chosen" to stay on this jury. (I totally forgot to mention all my other stickers, the "God Bless the Freaks," "Normal is Relative," "Yin/Yang" and one other--would those have made a difference in my selection?) Regardless, by now I know I'm supposed to be here.

So, needless to say, the stay-at-home mother of two who really loves her family--and is not afraid to post it on her car--is chosen to be on this jury. Ok, so here's the time frame: We started (with a prayer, which totally surprised me--I don't remember that in Virginia) at 9. Three hours to choose the jury, done by 12:15. We break for an hour lunch and return at 1:15. Opening remarks by the prosecution and defense are pretty quick and are finished in no more than half-an-hour, 1:30. The now ex-wife is called as the first witness. I brace myself for what I know will be a tough case. The prosecutor asks her questions for about half an hour. The second question in was regarding how the husband felt when she told him she was first pregnant. Her statement of his response was kind of a shock and I even noticed the judge looking over at him to see his reaction. I thought it was a fair question showing the man's character right off the bat. It did kind of make me feel distaste towards him, but my mind was still open. Now, the defense attorney's chance to ask her questions. He gets up and asks that the jury leave the courtroom. The judge shoos us off to the jury room. We wait, and wait. Two o'clock, two-thirty, two-forty five. We are finally asked back into the courtroom. The judge, who is no older than me and has a really kind face, begins to tell us why we had to wait so long. He was going to have to declare a mistrial and reschedule this case for another date and with another jury. The judge felt that after hearing the answer to the husband's first response to the pregnancy, we would be unable to get that response out of our mind and therefore not be able to judge him fairly. There was no way he could dismiss such information and remove it from our minds. Well, yes, that's true. But at the time, the prosecutor did not object to the question and didn't we need to know at least a little bit about this guy's persona who was being charged with abusing a 6-week old baby that now has brain damage? I really didn't understand that. Obviously, I don't understand the law.

So, to say the least, all of this has humbled me. I am thankful for this experience. I am thankful that I have never been abused. I am thankful that I am not an abuser. It truly goes back to "I really do love and appreciate my family," the ones here in our home, the ones in New York, the ones in New Jersey, the ones in Virginia, DC, Maryland, West Virginia, New Mexico, California, Texas and Georgia.... the ones by choice, the ones not, each and every one of them. I am blessed by them all.

I look forward--with pride--to serve on a jury next week if called upon. It takes moments like these in our lives that make us realize just how lucky we are. I am truly one of the fortunate ones.


Shell said...

Wow..I've never served on a just like that. Once I was on a drunk driving case that lasted 40 minutes. I was almost selected on a murder case of a policeman and I hoped I would not be because the jury would be sequestered. I ended up not getting chosen, which was good. The case ended up taking 8 weeks! (and my son was little then.) Whew!

Oprah was on trial here for the famous beef trial. I wish I could have been on that jury. She won, which was good and I think almost all of the citizens here thought so too. She was there three months.

Rosa said...

I remember Oprah's--who doesn't? I think that one did come out fair too.

I feel bad for the family of "my case" though that has to wait another year or so and then have to dredge up all the horrible details and relive such a horrendous event all over again. I'm sure the mother went in thinking (and thanking) this is finally going to be put behind them and would be able to just move on, and then it's rescheduled. How hard that must be on her.



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