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Civic lesson: on edge, caught between hope and shame

REUTERS/Chip East
I’d just answered the judge’s questions about reasons why I might not serve on this jury and they seemed lame.

“She doesn't want to be here.” The others nodded their agreement.

The prosecuting attorney had asked to approach the bench. The defense attorneys joined her. The other prosecuting attorney repeated what his colleague said to the judge: “She doesn’t want to be here.”

Catherine Reid Day

I’d just answered the judge’s questions about reasons why I might not serve on this jury and they seemed lame. I’m the primary breadwinner in my family. I care for my 88-year-old mother. The judge had just informed me, “We’ve almost got a jury selected. We expect to begin the trial on Monday, and it will take a week.” That’s what had me so on edge; in a week’s time, I wanted to be attending our only daughter’s college graduation and all its pre-graduation activities.

Earlier in the week, I’d seen the defendant for the first time. A pool of about 50 potential jurors, we were shepherded into the classic courtroom to be sworn to tell the truth and begin the screening process for a jury. She sat between two burly men, her defense attorneys, a petite and youthful woman with a close-cropped Afro, her shoulders slightly hunched forward. 

The judge read us the charges. All I could think was: You are too young to be on trial for murder. Clearly, she does not want to be here, either.

The judge turns to me, “You may go.”

On the bus ride home in the row behind me sit a father, holding a soft, brown animal-shaped backpack and his 2-year-old daughter with blond pixie hair. The little girl is chattering to her father. I smile a hello. She’s excited about the bus and thinks it’s new, but her dad says, it’s too noisy to be new.

I turn back and face the front of the bus and the tears come, my body loosening up from the tension I’ve been holding all week, waiting to see what I’d be called to do. I feel each edge start to loosen with the relief of not having to go back on Monday. In my head I see scenes of my life, and me arriving at this place of luck, where I’ve not been caught for the harms I’ve inflicted, at least not by the law.

I weep, feeling ashamed. Ashamed for our history. Ashamed of my privilege that allowed me to suggest my life plan is more important than what that defendant faces.

Feeling both shattered and grateful, I text my daughter at college. “I am free. I don’t have to go back there.” I know she felt it, too. 

Catherine Reid Day is the founder of Storyslices, a strategic communications and leadership development company that uses the power of stories to help people and companies make productive transitions and improve performance.

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