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You know it's Holy Week when you're selected to serve on a grand jury. Don't get me wrong: I was prepared for the possibility. But the reality of having your life highjacked three or four days a week for three months comes as a shock even if you weren't delusional enough to believe that it couldn't happen to you.
It was standing room only in the courtroom where we were called up to the judge according to a randomly assigned number. One by one, people were sent back out the door we had entered, or ushered beyond the judge's bench and out of sight. Of the 26 or so of us who ended up in the jury room, less than half had carefully read the summons we'd received in the mail several weeks beforehand. Some had no idea what a grand jury was. Most weren't sure they wanted to find out.
Suffice it to say there were considerably more than 12 "angry men." One or two selectees were extremely upset by the inconvenience of being pressed into jury duty. But while frustration was both understandable and tempting, I thought it was worth remembering that plenty of young men had been drafted into military service and sent into combat without any guarantee of coming home.
In the days that followed, however, we got to know each another. We developed and shared some strategies for handling the responsibilities of our real jobs and lives, and gained some understanding of how to be jurors. Though the group wasn't as culturally diverse as I would have expected, the jury did include people from just about every stage of life and personality type. Despite our differences in perspective or opinion, there was one thing everyone shared: respect for the sober task we were there to do.
Courts are busy because crime is more common than any of us wants to believe. The Jury Coordinator and Administrative Assistant were quick to warn us that the people we would meet and the things we'd see and hear would probably change how we viewed the world we live in, and the people who live in it with us. It's certainly true that Superior Court is probably not the place you're likely to see anyone at his or her best.
The real risk, however, is whether or not it's possible to complete jury duty and still maintain a positive view of humanity as a whole. It is a challenge. That's because grand juries don't hear just one case; they hear one side of up to 10 cases a day. Ours heard evidence in over 150.
You see a lot over the course of three months in the criminal justice system. Here's some of what I learned.
1. If someone is a drug addict, homeless, or has been convicted of a crime, it is still possible for that person to be a victim.
2. Sin is real. People routinely do terrible things to each other. They also tolerate terrible things being done to them for a chance to be loved.
3. Virtue and selflessness are also real. People often come to the aid of a stranger at great personal risk.
4. The amount of child sexual assault reported is astonishing. I can only imagine what goes unreported.
5. Police, prosecutors, state and federal agents, forensic interviewers, court reporters, computer experts, accountants, and lab technicians engaged in law enforcement have a high level of professionalism and dedication to their jobs. None of them gets the respect they deserve.
6. People from intact families are far less likely to commit a crime or be the victim of one.
7. Victims of crime are among the most courageous people you could meet.
8. A very high percentage of criminal activity involves drugs or alcohol in some way.
9. Mayhem is a felony.
10. On the whole, bank robbers are probably the dumbest criminals.
11. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or hanging out with the wrong people can cost you your life.
12. The overwhelming majority of criminals are men, and the overwhelming majority of victims are women.
13. Nobody wakes up one morning and rapes a child. There has to be a long line of other choices that brings a person to a day on which something like that becomes possible.
14. People can change, but most never do.
15. The worst day of your life can lead you to make the changes that could have prevented that day from ever happening.
16. I have more in common with every defendant I have voted to indict than I will ever be willing to admit.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.