I was fifteen years old, a tenth grader, when I finally stopped lying. I played basketball and tennis, and I'd grown too many inches too quickly, so I tripped over my feet. I was quiet and precocious and dealing with things at home that I had no capacity to deal with.
Friday was the 100-year anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I read a story once, by Michael Cunningham I believe, that was based in part on that fire or one very much like it. The images of women trapped behind locked fire doors, pushing to escape the flames, or holding hands and leaping to their death haunt me. I'm not sure why this disaster, among so many, fills me with such an intense sick dread. The disaster could've been avoided if common sense safety measures had been in place. The doors should have opened out instead of in. They should not have been locked to prevent unauthorized breaks. There should have been enough exits that women weren't crushed as they tried to escape the flames.
The response from companies to increased safety regulations was also sickeningly familiar -- these new regulations would cost too much money. They would force the prices of goods up to the point that they would destroy the economy. Surely, was the implicit message, these few lost lives (in the grand scheme of monocles and yachts for the company owners) were a worthwhile price to pay for cheap goods and increased profits.
I was talking in the hallway of the county courthouse, a few weeks ago when I began this diary, with a fellow potential juror: a talkative and excitable wiry older man in a baseball cap, a man who had moved here from Thailand and who extolled at length the flaws in the Thai legal system, where a single man's decision can mean the difference between life and death, and how much better our system is, because many people have to look at it together, and bring their own experiences and lives together, to think about the man and his fate. (He kept trying to talk about the case, and I kept trying to lead him back to safe topics).
I believe in the jury system, especially by comparison with the alternatives: the state should not have the power to punish a man on its own whim, on the judgment of someone who draws his paycheck from the state. It's not perfect; jurys are flawed, because they consist of humans, and humans are flawed; but better the flaws of a dozen sitting in judgment than the flaws of one.
Jury duty is, in my mind, something of a sacred duty: an obligation we have to one another, to accept the call when issued, and to listen with open mind, and hear the evidence from both sides, and hold the prosecution to their duty. I have never, would never try to get out of jury duty; I get irritated at those who do. Sure, it's an interruption, a diversion from your normal life; a pull away from what you want to do into what you have to do, paid poorly if at all. I understand that missing work can be a financial hardship, but absent a real hardship, I think trying to get out of jury duty is a betrayal of a fundamental duty of citizenship.
What I haven't understood, at least not emotionally, is that service on some juries carries with it a cost beyond the cost of time and money involved; some cases inflict a psychic, emotional cost on the jurors hearing the case: that even listening to the evidence and trying to judge it honestly and dispassionately hurts, and strikes the jurors deep in their souls.
I was sworn in as an alternate juror on November 18 in the case of a man who was charged with fourteeen counts of conducting molesting three minors under the age of 14 over a period of sixteen years.
WARNING: This diary is explicit. This diary is not safe for work. You have been warned.
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