It all started for me a little more than a year ago. In early 2013, I got a small white envelope from the Mass. Jury Commissioner’s office. Never a happy event.
Here I am retired now, going on 66 pretty darn soon, and I only needed to get to the age of 70 in my state to be exempt from serving on a jury. Seventy… four short years away. So do you think the government could have just left me alone for those four little years and let me go quietly into the night (my 70’s and beyond) in peace?
Of course not.
(And then there was the little matter that Paul also got a notice of jury duty and he had put it off for about 8 months to the end of March of this year… two weeks before he was to report, he got a postcard saying he was not needed at all, that they had enough jurors, so he didn’t need to come in. Hrmph!)
But for me there was even worse news than just jury duty. I opened it up and scanned down the notice with my name (hoping I’d opened someone else’s mail by mistake) and having determined that they’d tracked me down again (ah, yes, I’ve had jury duty many times before this), my heart began to sink.
But it wasn’t in the basement just then – no, not until my eyes lighted on the words near the top that stated I was being tapped for Grand Jury Duty!
There is nothing grand about the electrical shock feeling that went through my whole body at that moment. It was sudden and painful – as if I’d been struck down by lightning.
You see, the only time I’d ever come into contact with any mention of someone having grand jury duty in my life before was many, many years ago when my sister-in-law told me she had it. We used to talk on the phone now and then – she lives about 10 miles away from my city – and she would tell me how she had to miss work every Wednesday, all day, to drive here to Salem and attend Grand Jury Duty. FOR THREE MONTHS! I can remember her telling me how dismayed she was at having to miss work and the general hardship it caused her to drive the 10 miles each way and deal with Salem traffic and all. I did have sympathy for her but I just never knew how much I should have had!
I’d only ever gotten the plain old jury duty which, in my state, they call One Day/One Trial duty. You come in and sit in a room filled with your fellow citizens, of all shapes, sizes, and health issues, usually in a stiflingly hot overcrowded room on hard chairs, etc., and you read your book, waiting, waiting, waiting for them to call a bunch of you into a courtroom where they need a jury of 12 or 8 as the case may be.
I did this several times over my adult lifetime until one time I got seated on The Jury for a trial concerning a man charged with Driving While Under the Influence.
It turned into a two and a half day affair for us. We spent the whole morning getting “impaneled” or seated on the jury of 8 and as luck would have it, I was chosen foreperson! I had no idea what to do.
It took us a whole afternoon and part of the next day to hear the case presented by the lawyers. The following day, once the case was given to us, the jury, we deliberated for the second half of that day and couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict. We had one holdout. Oh he was guilty all right, of driving while intoxicated, but there was one young woman, about the same age as the defendant, and she thought he was “cute” and did not want to convict.
It took us another four hours the following day to convince her that she needed to put her sympathies for this guy away and do the right thing which she eventually did. He was guilty and lost his license for a year.
I was so scared to death by this whole ordeal because the defendant and his lawyers had our names and addresses! They knew who we all were! I didn’t sleep for months and months after that trial, thinking they would get me back. It totally freaked me out.
Anyway, back to the present. This lovely building (on the left) is where I spent all of this morning:
In the Salem District Court Building. After waiting for an entire year for my chance to be included in a Grand Jury. You can put off your service for up to a year, which I did last year – until April 7, 2014 – which, at that time, sounded like forever into the future.
Heh – the future came today. Not a day has gone by in all this time of my waiting when I haven’t thought out how I was EVER going to do this. Most of you, if not all of you, by now realize I have physical limitations and that just making a trip out my front door, down the driveway, to the mailbox is an event in my life these days. A very painful and slow event and one that I try to get Paul to do at every chance I get.
So I have been fretting over this day for over a year. And today I awoke to the stark reality that I would have to get up very early (for me), get dressed in clothes I never wear because they are all uncomfortable as all get-out, pack a lunch (peanut butter and jelly) and take my purse with me, not to mention my handy-dandy walker which has saved me so many times these last months. And off we went. I don’t drive so Paul had to drive me. I hadn’t been out into the City of Salem for close on a year, maybe a little less, and things were so different looking for me. It was very busy and downtown was a zoo of cars and trucks. We found the courthouse, which was just built a few years ago and I’d never even seen it before today!
Inside this is what faced me. Yikes! I got through all the metal detectors OK, walker and all, and made my way up the elevator to the 3rd floor to where the jury pool was meeting. The room was almost full already. Turns out that those people were there for regular jury duty and the Grand Jury people, who were supposed to check in at 9 a.m. just had to share the room and what remained of the folding chairs with all of them. There were well over 100 people in that room and the heat was on high! Natch.
All the officials were nice to me though, me and my walker and my bag and my coat… sweating like a pig! I just put my walker down near the back door of this room and sat on the seat in the walker… but oh my, it did not feel too comfy at all. Standing up for me more than 15 minutes is not good. My spine is crumbling and the pressure on nerves is extremely un-fun. So I sat on my walker until they were ready to check us in. I was second in line when they finally did that. I got #21.
Now, I had read all up on Grand Juries before I went, and I learned that they need 23 people for a grand jury. Oh great, I’m #21. Figures!
So there I sat. The regular jury pool were called out to various other courtrooms for trials that needed a jury and then the lucky ones who didn’t get picked would come back and sit. Then they needed ALL the rest of them for a big trial so out they all went. It was by this time around 11:15 or so but it felt like I’d been there for three weeks.
Paul was home with a phone plugged in down in the basement where he was working so I could call him when I needed a ride home.
Around noontime, we all ended up in The Courtroom, see below…
Yep, that’s it. That’s where we all were; me with my walker sticking out at the end of an aisle. I was the only one with a walker or any assistive device, too.
We had all filled out questionnaires prior to this, and they had made multiple copies for all those involved in the choosing process including the judge.
Well, as I suspected, the first 25 potential jurors were called out including me as #21. I took my walker and made my way thru the maze of this courtroom up to the juror chair that was all mine (on the left hand side in the photo above) and fumbled around a while trying to get my walker situated so other people could get by. Of course, every time I did anything, the whole place was watching me! I was mortified… and hot!
After 25 of us were seated in the juror chairs, feeling like our lives were now over for the next foreseeable future (we had been informed that the Grand Jury would last for three months and we had to go THREE DAYS a week – for three months!), and after much rustling of the paperwork at the front of the courtroom near the judge… I heard someone say “#21” and knew that had to be me… a lady called out my name and number first thing, and I said “here” and she said “Please come over to the sidebar and speak with the judge.”
Up I got, the guard had to retrieve my walker from the corner, and I hobbled over through the maze of seats and cords etc. to the far side of Judge Lowy’s area, and he leaned way over to talk to me so no one could hear. He had read my questionnaire about how I have serious pain when I sit on a hard surface or stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. He looked truly sympathetic. I thought he would just be stern and say “you must attend!” as he had said before that almost no excuses were taken to get out of it.
Before I could understand what he was saying to me, he said “You are excused!” I wasn’t sure what he had said… I must have looked incredulous, so he said it again! He also leaned over some more and told me that if I EVER get jury duty, just plain old one-day jury duty, again, I can call the number on the notice and tell them my story about the pain, etc., and I will not have to come in. He also said that I should NEVER have had to go through all this today either, that I should have called and told someone (the reason I didn’t was because the handbook said that you needed to have a doctor’s note for any medical reason to be excused!)
I was about to cry at that point, tears were filling my eyes, and I just looked at him and said “But I didn’t have a doctor’s note!” (I don’t “do” doctors), and he said, “That doesn’t matter… you should have called anyway!”
What? I’ve just spent an entire year stressing and obsessing about this day when I would have to serve for three months on a grand jury, and 1, 2 or 3 days a week (turns out it was three!) all for nothing?
Yep. So they said I could go.
I had to confirm that with the guard – “Out? I can go out of the courtroom?”
“Yes,” he said, “you can go home!”
And outside I went. I sat on my little walker’s seat, put my coat back on, and with my hands totally shaking, managed to dial my little flip-up phone (not a smart phone) to call Paul to tell him to come and get me.
When we got home, I was still shaking. I quickly ate the first food of the day, my peanut butter and orange marmalade sandwich and had a big glass of cold water.
My dogs, according to Paul, had been in a state of shock all morning, and they were plastered next to the back door wondering where their Mommy was! When I came in, they both danced around and jumped up on me and welcomed me home with open paws.
And here I am, relaying it all to you. I am so glad it’s over. I would actually have liked to have been able to serve on a grand jury because I love stuff like that intellectually. But the sitting up in a chair for 6-7 hours a day, three days a week, was just too much to bear for me. My recliner is where I live and it’s where I am now and with any luck, it’s where I’ll be for a while now.
Home Sweet Home.
Cheers for those who got chosen and couldn’t get excused today… I know every one of them must be going through great personal turmoil of one sort or another… but I hope that in the end they enjoy their service, like the judge said they probably would, and be glad they did it.
It’s in every one of us to be wise;
Find your heart, open up both your eyes.
We can all know every thing without ever knowing why.
It’s in every one of us, by and bye.
~ John Denver & The Muppets ~
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