Held Against my Will – They Call it Jury Duty
9:07 I’m being held against my will. Freedom ended, for me, seven minutes ago, when a court summons brought me out of the sunshine and into the gray halls of the courthouse. Guards x-rayed me and my belongings. Now, I’m in a large gray room full of rows and rows of metal chairs and unhappy people. They call it the “lounge”.
I look at the faces around me. Most are heavy-eyed, their minds numbed by the monotony of imposed inactivity.
9:32 ANNOUNCEMENT. Those of us who are lucky enough to have laptops or iPads can leave the lounge and move to the business center. I go. It’s actually a smaller room – like a cell. But the chairs are worse, like adaptations of the medieval rack.
There are only a handful of us. We don’t complain. We don’t even speak. The quiet in our cell is interrupted by the slight clicking of nails tapping keyboards and the rustling of a newspaper. The man with the paper seems to study every line, every word, making the diversion last.
9:40 A new man comes in. He has a folder of what looks like contracts with miles of small print. He attacks it hungrily.
Speaking of which, there’s no food here, and there’s no telling how long we’ll be here. I worry about the possibility of starvation, scurvy, my hair falling out from malnutrition – even though it’s been only an hour since breakfast. I touch my pocket where I hid a smuggled-in biscotti.
The minutes crawl into more minutes.
9:55 I can’t take this! Maybe I’ll make a break for it. I’ll go on the lam. I can hide out with distant relatives I don’t even like.
10:12 ANNOUNCEMENT. Return to the lounge for a roll call. The lounge is stuffed now. I notice a man who looks like Allen Ginsberg. He’s standing apart, scanning the room, as though searching for whatever truth might be found there.
Will I be called, I wonder. With every name called that’s not mine, I breathe a little prayer of thanks.
Suddenly it’s over. I’m spared. I watch the chosen march, single-file, to their fates. Is that relief on their faces? Maybe. Their not-knowing is over.
Mine is not. I’m back in my cell.
10:30 ANNOUNCEMENT. And I’m back in the lounge for another rollcall. Again, my name is not called. The tension is becoming unbearable.
10:44 ANNOUNCEMENT. Another rollcall. Name after name. Will I dodge it again? No. I hear my – it, because they replace it with a number. Number 063 – That’s me now.
I follow the crowd out to the hall where a guard tells us to line up. I’m near the head of the line. Is that bad? Allen Ginsberg breaks in front of me. It’s okay. I like his poetry.
When the guard leaves, people move around. The old lady in front walks away. Wow! She’s brave.
11:05 The guard returns.
11:12 At last! The door is opening. It’s the jury room. FINALLY, there are chairs!
We march in, and a different guard gives us forms.
I sit. The pain in my legs eases a bit. But will there be permanent damage?
11:15 An icy woman, maybe the warden, speaks to us.
“You were handed a piece of paper and a pen as you came in. Write your number on the top right. Write nothing else until I order you to do so.”
I write my number, 063, and start writing answers to the questions, because I’m not good at following directions. Up front, the new guard approaches the warden, whispers to her, and steps back. Is something happening?
11:22 The wardenstands and tells us we can go.
I practically leap over a tall man with a cane to get out before she can change her mind. I’m free!
No. I’m not free. I jumped too soon. The warden said we can go, “back to the lounge.”
“Wait,” the guard commands. “Wait,” she says again, “before you go, bring me the forms and my pens.”
I’d already dropped my pen by my chair, so I keep going until I hear a shout.
11:46 I’m back in my cell, bored, depressed, and I search my pocket for crumbs from the long-ago eaten biscotti.
Uh, oh. I find the questionnaire that I wasn’t supposed to keep.
I’m Googling things that may disqualify me for jury duty.
- I can become a defense lawyer. Nice idea, but no.
- I can become the victim of a criminal attack. Not so good.
- I can join an anti-gun advocacy march. I wonder if I’d have to march?
11:59 ANNOUNCEMENT. Return to the lounge. Another roll call? No. The guard says we’re finished for the day. So I can leave? No.
“Before you leave form a line to get a voucher for your wages.”
It’s 15 DOLLARS. Do I obey? No! I’m going to run.
I’m still holding the questionnaire. I remember what happened to the man who tried to make off with a pen. I make sure the guard isn’t looking, act like I’m picking up something from the floor, and stuff the paper into my shoe. Then I stand and walk toward the exit as quickly as I can without drawing attention to myself.
I’m nearly there. Don’t look back, I tell myself. I’m at the door, then…