Did You Know? The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. territories. (via)
I never know if I should write how I feel right when I’m feeling it or wait until I get my thoughts together… For example, Jury Duty. I walked out of Jury Duty feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I was fucking rocked, and scared, and anxious. For a week I couldn’t sleep without having nightmares. Surprisingly, my immediate reaction was to hate blogging. The first thought I had was “fuck my blog”. Although it’s my creative outlet, my experience on Jury Duty made me feel like I was wasting precious, valuable time working on my silly blog. I needed to be doing more! A week or so passed and I started thinking I need to write this all down in my blog, change my blog, change people! But then I felt I was too wrapped up in emotion, not thinking clearly. Now, I’m a month past Jury Duty and feel like I’m rational, yet still kind of wish I would’ve written everything down when I was irrational. When people are super expressive with feelings I listen to them, even if they’re wrong, there has to be parts to take away.
A month ago I had to report for Jury Duty. I recently registered to vote and the two results in that decision were (1) Donald Trump as my president (2) Jury Duty summons. Real winning decision making skills right there, Ha!
My first reaction with Jury Duty was, anxiety. Because that’s what I do best. “What if I have a panic attack while I’m there” “There’s no way out of this” “What if I can’t breathe” “What if I can’t talk” “How long will it take” “What if I don’t show up”. Welcome to my brain.
Everyone told me their Jury Duty stories & how they tried to get out of it or why they weren’t chosen or how strong minded they were so no way someone would pick them, or it’s probably a dumb case, so annoying to go to Jury Duty.
I had NO idea how fucking hard it would be for me. I happened to get chosen to be a Jury member. 12 out of 80 something people were chosen. I have a few thoughts on that. If you have an education, compassion, you’re smart, you listen, understanding, morals & ethics – you SHOULD be a chosen member for Jury Duty. When I started hearing what some of the other Jury contenders were saying, I thought holy Jesus I better be chosen. No way they’ll let these fucking stubborn assholes make a judicial decision, right?! And I was right – they chose me. And they should choose me. They should choose you too, if you’re smart and a good listener. It is your duty and it is your responsibility. ESPECIALLY if you’re making decisions about someones future. If you don’t do it, those stubborn assholes will, and that’s not acceptable.
The Case. I’m going to summarize what was a week long journey of my court case the best I can. In reality, the details of the case itself wasn’t the traumatizing part of Jury Duty so I don’t want it to be the highlight of this post. There was a domestic violence dispute where a woman ended up with a cut on her hand and the defendant plead not guilty. This was a felony case because of the claim of the use of a deadly weapon. When it came time to deliberate there were two different charges we could sentence the defendant with, or decide he’s not guilty. The jury decided the harsher of the two, a felony. The second decision was his sentencing. Because he already had a felony on his record and spent time in jail, the Texas law requires a minimum sentence of 25 years. My jury members wanted to really stick it to him so they gave him a 26 year sentence, as kind of a “ha ha”. The defendant stood up, heard his sentence, ran his fingerprints, and went to jail until he likely will pass away.
In my mind, we ended his life.
We ended his life. We watched a man hear someone tell him, it’s the end of his life.
Let me back up with the verdict decision. I could see my jury members from the first day had their minds made up about this man. And that bothered me. What happened to “innocent until proven guilty”? It’s not guilty until proven innocent. How can people make judgements so quickly? That also bothered me.
In my mind, there were not enough facts to sentence this man with the highest felony. It was a case of her word vs his word. I agreed, but didn’t. I thought he was guilty, but not of the same degree my fellow jury members did. Most of the jury was female and they were feeling pretty fucking cool to be in Jury Duty and sentence this man to jail. They felt smart and most importantly – powerful. Once we read the verdict, I was sick.
It’s only after you decide the verdict that you hear the sentencing arguments where we would then decide his punishment for being guilty. That is where you learn, this young man went to jail at 18 years old for theft. They showed a photo of his 18 year old boy face and said he went to jail for 25 years after that. Today, that same 25 year sentence doesn’t exist. If you committed that same crime today, you wouldn’t go to jail for nearly as long, if at all. This man just got done serving a 25 year sentence that doesn’t even exist anymore, because of a theft decision he made when he was 18 years old – and now he’s going back to jail for 26 years?
This part shook me. He doesn’t have a present mom or dad. He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t have family. His 18 year old face looked so incredibly young and surprisingly innocent. He stole. He made a huge fucking mistake, and because of that his entire existence will be in jail.
I in no way thought he’s a good, free, man that should be allowed to walk the streets and go as he pleases, but I’m also realistic. He stole. And he may or may not have cut a woman’s hand. Now his entire life is in jail? Yes, I thought he was guilty and yes I thought he could likely spend some time in jail.. but his entire life?! No. When we went in the room to deliberate I quickly texted Wafiq saying I would be done soon because I thought this decision would be an easy one. No possible way the other jurors were going to consider him guilty in the highest degree. And the sentencing went the same way, no way these people will go beyond 25 years. That’s already fucking ridiculous that we have to go that far. But they weren’t happy enough with that, they wanted to really fuck him. 26 years is what we talked them down to. 1 extra year off the minimum. To make him feel more hurt? I don’t get it. I still don’t get it.
I was physically sick at the end of this. We walked into our Jury Room to grab our things and I could smell myself. My pores were releasing odor, I can’t remember another time that’s happened. I couldn’t wait to get outside, literally couldn’t wait. When I stepped out and got in the car I started sobbing, hard. I felt sick.
And even if all these charges and the 26 year sentence made perfect sense, it would’ve made me think. Wonder what we could do to prevent this, wonder what went wrong, wish he had a mom and dad. I still would have been bummed.
But my other Jury members were laughing, making plans with their new friends, talking about Chicken Parmesan and meatballs they were making for dinner… Wtf. This is the part that scared the shit out of me. I had no idea people like this existed. I thought everyone would feel like I did, sad that they had to sentence this man to jail the rest of his life. Knowing he’s never felt love. No way they’ll feel good about this. I couldn’t think about eating food much less preparing to cook it! This opened my eyes to the reality of people around me.
I started thinking about my friends & family… What if an accident happened to them and they had this jury. This jury would decide the future of my loved ones? I still get sick thinking that way. I realized there are so many people that either live a perfect life and have no idea of the misfortune around them OR they’re trying to achieve that image. Both versions make me ill.
I paid no attention whatsoever to the judicial system prior to Jury Duty. My thoughts were always – do something wrong, pay for it. Don’t do something wrong, don’t pay for it. But what if this 18 year old man had no mom to show him love and compassion, or buy him a video game or sign him up for basketball or send him to school? What if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? And 25 years as a minimum sentence? Having 11 other jury members that could so easily sentence this man to such a heavy punishment without batting an eye? This scares me to my core! I’m terrified for people that lack compassion, understanding, and kindness. I’m terrified for children that don’t feel important. I terrified for people that think the world is perfect. That right and wrong is such a clear defined line.
I thought, I have to start talking. I have to start talking to people about things that aren’t perfect. I need to keep saying Fuck. Because that word isn’t perfect and people need to feel, not perfect. I want to help people understand all different kinds of people, and feel them. It’s ok to feel compassion towards people so different from what you’re used or what looks normal. It’s ok to ask questions. It’s ok to go outside your bubble.
I went out of Jury Duty and hugged Wafiq and my dog so much. And my friends. I need them to feel loved. I need them to be safe. I couldn’t wait to inhale huge amounts of free air and freedom. Life is such a huge gamble. We have no idea what’s going to happen or when.
The part that kept me up at night for at least a week, was his 18 year old face. SO YOUNG. I wanted to help him. Give him a hug. Ask him questions. Why he stole, why he was with this chick, why he had a knife, if he feels important, if he’s an asshole, why he’s an asshole. I wanted to talk to his 18 year old self and bring him to a good school, find good friends, buy him a camera, let him talk to educated adults.
I’m not done with the lessons I learned at Jury Duty. It’s in my mind every day. I think, what was this man’s purpose if he’s going to spend his whole life in jail? I do believe everyone has a purpose, what is his? How can he have one? Maybe, it was to wake me up. Maybe his purpose, as unfortunate as it is, was to open my eyes and change me. I’m not done with this! As hard as it was, I’m grateful for this experience because I no longer feel in the dark. I learned a lot! And I’m ready to do some shit!
I’ve been dying to get this experience off my chest. I hope, if you happen to be reading this, that you’re kind and compassionate. I end each post with be thoughtful and always thought to myself how easy that is, how most people probably think it’s ridiculous to always talk about being kind and thoughtful – but I was wrong. There are people that either don’t fully understand or don’t care, and that has to get better.
Everyday with every interaction, remember how lucky you are and be extra thoughtful, kind, and understanding to the people around you. Especially the ones that are different. And talk to them! And encourage your peers to be the same way. And don’t act perfect or be perfect or surround yourself with perfect – you won’t feel anything being that way.
I will be circling back to this post in the future because I am not done with this experience 🙂
Have a GREAT week & please be thoughtful