Who says we only get junk mail and bills at our house? Recently, I got a jury summons in the mail. That’s what happens when you register to vote.
I was able to fill out everything online, then got a notice to show up on Monday. “You’ve got all the luck,” my husband grumbled. He’s never been on a jury or even a focus group, which he thinks is unfair.
So I showed up at the Travis County Courthouse, along with about 30 other lucky winners. A grumpy-looking sheriff’s deputy kept making announcements while we sat and waited.
“I wish I’d brought something to read,” the woman next to me said.
She looked at my lap, which overflowed with a newspaper, weekly magazine and a big, thick novel. I’m like a traveling library, everywhere I go. I come prepared for all possibilities. They could take us hostage for a week and I’d still be reading. “You want to read the magazine?” I asked. She did.
The deputy called our names and gave us numbers on the end of popsicle sticks. I was #14. Then he had us line up in numerical order, making four lines. It was kind of like being in the third grade again, waiting to go to the cafeteria. Either that or the army.
“Let’s take a break,” the deputy said. “We’ll get back in line in 10 minutes. Memorize your place in line.”
I memorized my place. I was right between #13 and #15.
“Anybody got to go to the bathroom?” the deputy announced. “Go now.”
We disbanded, we went to the bathroom, we collapsed back on the benches, grumbling and making faces. Time passed. The deputy told us that if we got parking tickets, he could fix them. We all perked up at that.
I looked around the waiting area. I wondered if this would be like the last time I was on a jury five or six years ago. We heard a criminal case. Our defendant was the most inept criminal who ever lived. He tried to rob a bank without a weapon and got caught in about 35 seconds. I don’t even think he got any money. I could relate to that. l go around feeling guilty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even when I haven’t done anything. If I ever committed a crime, I’d be a total mess, begging the authorities to haul me in.
The first day, the 12 of us on the jury were all best friends. We went to lunch together, talking and laughing. After hearing the case and beginning our deliberations the next day, though, we were hardly speaking to one another.
One of the other jurors, whose brother was in prison, chided the rest of us that we weren’t forgiving enough, the way she was. “You all don’t see the good in human nature like I do,” she announced. She wanted to give the defendant an easier sentence than even his own attorney asked for. Good grief.
Within a few minutes, we all hated her. I’m pretty sure we could have gotten together a majority vote to send her off to the penitentiary for being a brainless, self-righteous twit and let the defendant go. Instead, we had to stay and placate her, since we wanted to come up with a verdict in the next decade or so. “I’m really going against my conscience on this one,” the twit said, glaring at the rest of us. Believe me, you don’t make many friends by implying you have a conscience and no one else does.
“Fall in line again,” the deputy said. We fell in line, then marched into the courtroom.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” the judge said. The good news was that, during the hour we’d been in the waiting room, almost all the cases had been settled. The other good news was that we had to leave without hearing a case.
I was disappointed when I got to my car. I hadn’t even gotten a ticket that could be fixed. In the meantime, I’m still wondering what the bad news was. I must have missed it — just like the parking ticket.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)