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Why Jury Duty Blew My Mind

I have to confess: I didn’t want to go. Who wants to jump in their car at 7 a.m. and trot over to the Hall of Justice to report for jury duty? Certainly not me.

Except I have another confession to make. Part of me did want to go.

I believe everything happens for a reason. That’s right, I’m one of those people. So when I got the summons for jury duty, and when I found out that Wednesday morning was my allotted time to show up and fulfill my civic duty, part of me was excited.

photo: zzpza on flikr

I had a feeling that an adventure was waiting. Something new, something surprising.

And I was right.

I’ve been called for jury duty before, so I remembered where to go. The Hall of Justice has a special room reserved for would-be jurors. You sign in and park yourself on one of those not-possible-to-be-comfortable plastic chairs.

photo: Taber Andrew Bain on flikr

And then you wait. And wait.

At one point, a young man asked if the seat next to me was taken. I replied that it was not. So he sat down.

I’m going to call this young man Mr. Red.

It’s not a metaphor, or a random nickname. I call him Mr. Red because he was dressed entirely in red. He was sporting a floppy red sweatshirt, red sweatpants, and red tennis shoes with – you guessed it – red laces.

photo: monsieur menthe on flikr

The only item of clothing that wasn’t in line with the allotted color scheme was the scarf tied around Mr. Red’s head. It was, for some unknown reason, white.

I used to work in the social services field. Mr. Red was one of those people we would call “gang-affiliated.” Was Mr. Red in a gang? I had no idea. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, he was identifying to some degree with the red, or Norteño portion of the gang family. As opposed to the blue, or Surreño gang.

I have to say, my heart went out to him right away. I worked with kids who were gang-identified, and it helped me understand the desire to claim a color – safety, empowerment, a sense of belonging.

Mr. Red, however, did not know this. He didn’t know that I understood. He didn’t know that I didn’t immediately dismiss him because of how he was dressed.

In fact, Mr. Red seemed to be agitated by my presence. I often get mistaken for a guy, sometimes a teenage boy or young man, so I wondered if Mr. Red was sizing me up. 

And then it hit me. I was dressed in blue that day. Dark blue, the color of the Surreños. That morning I’d been inspired to put on my dark blue tennis shoes, in order to better match my dark-blue shirt and sweat shirt.

photo: z egloff

Indeed, I looked just like Mr. Red, except I was Mr. Blue. I was the yin to his yang, the South to his North, the Popeye to his Brutus. 

It didn’t matter that I understood his choice of apparel, I was dressed in enemy colors. I was a threat.

How had I managed to attract this unlikely pairing? Was Mr. Red sizing me up for a potential rumble in the parking lot? Was I about to get involved in the criminal justice system in a way that I hadn’t planned?

After a wait of several hours, a group of us were called upstairs and instructed to wait outside the courtroom. My new buddy Mr. Red was included in this group.

I have to say that, aside from possibly getting pummeled in the parking lot later, I was extremely excited about getting called into court. Being a law-abiding nerd my entire life, I’ve never gotten an up-close-and-personal view of a court of law. This was exciting!

photo: Clyde Robinson on flikr

As I sat outside the courtroom, I watched the people around me. The lawyers in their snappy suits. The sheriff’s deputies with their badges and thick belts. The defendants with their stooped posture and tired eyes. I noticed that Mr. Red looked more like a defendant than a juror.

What was his story? Had he done time? Was he actually in a gang? How had he managed to end up here, as a potential juror?

A few times, I caught Mr. Red looking my way. He still seemed to be sizing me up. I sent him psychic messages across the hallway: I’m
a nerd. A goofball. I come in peace. Don’t beat me up! Please!

Finally, we were escorted into the courtroom. We were introduced to a smiling judge and two unsmiling lawyers. After a brief introduction to the proceedings, the first round of would-be jurors were called into the jury box to be questioned by the judge.

And guess what? I was in this group! I was going to be cross-examined by a judge!

Not surprisingly, given our intense karma so far, Mr. Red was also in this group.

The minute I sat down in the jurors box, my left eyelid started to twitch. I hadn’t realized until that moment how tense I was. I’m not sure if it was the potential-parking-lot smack-down with Mr. Red, or the overall-vibe of the court system. Either way, I was a mess.

One by one, we took our turns being questioned by the judge. When Mr. Red’s turn came, he spoke quickly, with his eyes toward the floor. He looked embarrassed. Or like he was hiding something.

When my turn came, I mentioned that I’d spent thirteen years working as a social worker for Sonoma County Public Health. I saw the defense attorney’s eyes narrow.

The case in question involved a man, her client, who was fighting to keep himself out of the County Mental Health system. She probably saw me as part of the institution she was fighting against.

Sure enough, I was the first potential juror she excused.

And just like that, my brush with the justice system was over.

I trotted downstairs to the juror room. I felt dizzy, like I’d just come off a roller coaster.

photo: txbowen on flikr

And I had, in a way. My eye was still twitching slightly, my head buzzing with excitement.

And then I saw him. Mr. Red. He walked into the juror room, grinning.

Mr. Red was a new man. His posture was straight and tall. His eyes were clear and shiny. He looked at me and smiled. Not a malicious smile. Not a I’m-going-to-pound-you-in-the-parking-lot smile. Just a regular old smile. Like we were buds.

“Man, I’m so glad that’s over,” he said.

Mr. Red was talking to me! After all we’d been through. Now we were talking!

“Yeah,” I said. “It was pretty interesting. I think they let me go because I used to work for the County.”

“Hmmm,” he said. He smiled again. “I always dress like a gang-banger when I get called for jury duty. My job’s really intense and I can’t afford to be away too long. Works every time.”

“Is that right?” I said.

We walked out of the building together.

“Have a good one,” said Mr. Red.

“You too,” I said.

As I walked to my car, I thought about how little I know. About anything. Or anyone. And I vowed to remember this as often as I can. No matter what my eyes tell me.

Where have you gotten caught in your own assumptions? How has life surprised you with the truth?

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30 Responses to Why Jury Duty Blew My Mind

  1. Squirrel November 15, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    wow, mr. blue, that is fantastic! i love this story!

    i tend to size people up, myself, as my previous career demanded my constant awareness of potential hazards and personal safety concerns. i’m usually dead-on but sometimes the stereotypes and deep prejudices (thrust into me during childhood) creep in and i find that i have made up an entire story about someone i’ve not even spoken to, or at the very least, don’t know well, and that story is, well, completely inaccurate.

    when i remember to refrain from judging by appearances, or at least keep it in the back of my mind that i don’t know anything about this person, i stay open to the possibilities and don’t close the door on a potential friendship or acquaintanceship or even the opportunity to witness another human being’s beauty.

    like that.

    xos

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 9:19 am #

      Good Morning, Squirrel!!!!! Happy Tuesday!

      Yes, I think that we’re all trained to make assumptions, especially based on how people look. And like you say, a lot of times our assumptions and judgments have been fed to us at a really early age. Then it gets hard to see the real person underneath. Mr. Red was certainly a wake-up call in this direction!

      Love, Mr. Blue

  2. Marcy November 15, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    I totally get the making assumptions thing & I’ve been on both sides of it. Here’s what I experienced as I read this piece…

    As someone who knows and loves you dearly, my heart hurt at the thought of potential harm coming your way based on someone’s assumption or judgement of you. I wanted to reach into the story and tell Mr. Red what an amazing person you are and I wanted to protect you. I knew that whatever negative thing he might have been assuming about you was not the truth. I think I take for granted that everyone will see you as I see you. I think I totally underestimate what it’s like to walk through the world as you.

    I’m sure that everyone who gets judged has someone else in their life who sees the truth of who they are and if we only knew that truth, our judgements would cease. So the next time I find myself having judgemental thoughts or assumptions, I will remember that I simply don’t know how amazing that person really is.

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      Hi Marcy,

      I appreciate your love and your protective instincts. Next time someone asks me to step outside for a rumble, I’m calling you!!

      For me, a funny thing about all this experience was how quick I was to assume that he was judging me when he wasn’t! That’s my backwards judgment stuff – not only am I judging others, I’m assuming that they’re judging me! Crazy stuff!

      It’s amazing what our minds can do, isn’t it? I’m just grateful that we have each other to make sense of it all.

      XOZ

  3. Kemmy November 15, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I will try it!!!…hahaha.

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      Hi Kemmy, What are you going to try? Not making assumptions? Or wearing blue? 😉 XOZ

  4. Annette T November 15, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Hi Z! This piece is just absolutely wonderful!

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks Annette!! My fellow blogger and spiritual traveler. XOZ

  5. Shelly Fitz November 15, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Z! Your writing is absolutely captivating. I love this story and the message of it all. May I continuously ask myself: “what story am I telling myself about this/that/them/you/me/etc…?”

    Keep it comin’! You are talented.

    Love, Shelly

    • Z Egloff November 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

      Hi Shelly,

      Great to hear from you. Welcome to the world of the Goofballs!

      I agree with you – it’s about continuing to check the stories in our heads, about ourselves and other people. It seems to be a never-ending process!

      XOXOZ

  6. Cathy November 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Z, I found myself thinking about how we not only judge others by appearances, but how we think other people are judging us. We tell ourselves all kinds of stories. Fabulous writing. I love reading your blog!

    • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Thanks, Cathy! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. Judgments are certainly a tricky thing. And I agree that the imagined judgments of others can be the toughest thing of all. Mr. Red certainly taught me that! XOZ

  7. Lorna November 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Considering that at the end, Mr. Red seemed to be a savvy professional who knew how to masterfully work the system, I doubt that he was ever “agitated by your presence” or “sizing you up for a rumble in the parking lot.” All of this was your projection, based on how he looked and who you thought he was. Interesting how you worked yourself up into a state of fear and a feeling of adversity when none was directed toward you. If you had left before him, you would have walked away with your prejudices intact. I’m so glad he was not of a different ethnic group from you – the story could have morphed into one of big threat. On the other hand, if you had just spoken pleasantly when you first sat next to him – you would have been buds from the beginning. And you could have spared yourself all that angst.

    • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 11:56 am #

      Hi Lorna,

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your time and consideration.

      From your response, it appears as though you may have missed the tone of this piece. I was purposely exaggerating my response to and assumptions about Mr. Red. During the event itself, I never felt myself to be in actual danger, nor did I really expect a rumble in the parking lot. I was using humor and exaggeration to showcase the oh-so-human assumptions that we all make from time to time. One of my missions is to bring humor and love to areas that have historically been targets for judgment and condemnation. In my humble opinion, one of the areas most in need of love – and humor – is that of our own judgments and condemnations.

      None of your points are lost on me. Indeed, the purpose of the post was to humorously make those very points. The one exception to this was the issue of Mr. Red’s ethnicity. I purposely did not divulge his ethnicity in order to challenge the assumptions of the reader.

      It appears as though you may have taken offense to this post. That saddens me. One of the risks of a humorous/goofball approach is misinterpretations by the readers. Alas, that appears to have happened here.

      I wish you love and blessings on your journey,

      Z

      • Lorna November 16, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

        Well, maybe it’s me – but I don’t know you. I got the humor, but I could not tell ‘purposely exaggerated’ from a straight-forward account of what you might have been thinking, and just plain good writing. No offense taken – my points still stand. If one speaks to people and is friendly, one quickly sees the common humanity in everyone. This is a lesson I’ve learned myself.

        • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

          Yes, I totally agree with you there. Kindness is always a good thing!

  8. Kathleen November 16, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    This story really caught my attention. Yes, I get the deeper spiritual lesson. But I am also one of those folks who LIKES jury duty. It’s quiet time and I can read : D
    Also, I tend to be the first one “thanked and excused” on cases. I guess they don’t believe I won’t be pro-defense since I was with the Public Defender for 10 years. Maybe they are right — I always claim I can be impartial and make the Prosecutor use up one of their limited challenges. Teeheeee!

    And having worked 1:1 with a trial lawyer, I can tell you people get released for some of the silliest reasons. I couldn’t believe how we flew by the seat of our (individual) pants sometimes.

    • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Ooooh, I wish I’d had your brain and experience when I was in there. I was truly fascinated by all the goings-on of the system. I feel really lucky that I got the opportunity to have even a brief inside look. I’ll bet you have lots of great stories from your years working inside the courts! XOZ

  9. KT November 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Fun reading! Clever Mr. Red! I hope he changed in the bathroom before he walked out to his car though. Oops, I’m making assumptions. Maybe he doesn’t have a car and got a ride from a buddy, or maybe he takes the bus…or cab, or maybe he walked home? He might have a bike though…. heehee! : D

    • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      For all I know, Mr. Red is a financial planner who drives a Mercedes. I’ll bet his red tennies would look good with a suit!

  10. Lili November 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    I went to Memorial hospital this past Sunday for my job at the local blood bank. Outside there was a cluster of young, grief-stricken men and women who wore ‘affiliated’ attire. They looked like the sort of people whose normal posture is bent on intimidation. Only they were bent, red-eyed, and drained. They watched me as I unpacked my blood bank van with boxes of blood and plasma, loaded them onto a cart and headed for the elevator. Part of me was a little nervous. Normally when there is a gang-related incident there is a police presence to protect the injured, and sometimes to protect the people who are trying to help the injured. But there were no police around. Up on the ICU floor more young men and women were heading for the elevators, all of them in the early shell-shock phase of grief. in the lab I confirmed there were two fatalities. By the time I got back downstairs, people were still hanging around, arms slung around each other… after reading your piece I realize that I don’t really know what happened, or who these people were, even though my mind immediately conceived a story, in which I was marginally threatened. But the only thing I ‘know’ is that these people were unspeakably sad…

    • Z Egloff November 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

      Wow, what a great story. And so beautifully written. Really really great. I love how you take away all the layers at the end, and what’s left is just sadness. Thanks so much for sharing it, Lili. XOZ

  11. Alora November 18, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Z,

    I just found your blog – you are an amazing writer! Which reminds me to get your book and read it!!!

    I LOVED this post. It reminds me of traveling in airports – everyone can look so mean until they see a loved one get off the plane and then it’s like magic – they look like someone you wish you knew. But you said it sooo much better. :) :) :)

    • Z Egloff November 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      Hi Alora!

      Welcome to the world of the goofballs! Awesome to see you here. I love the image of seeing people and their loved ones when they get off the plane. I’m going to have to watch for that the next time I travel.

      XOZ

  12. Susan April 10, 2013 at 12:37 am #

    Hi Z! I just got called in for jury duty. I was really excited about being a juror, looking forward to the prospect. A little nervous that it was a murder case, and possibly gang, and drug related. Got called into the juror box the first day and survived the questioning. Thought I was a shoe-in. Called work to let them know I’d been selected. Next day new jurors joined us in the box, I was never questioned that day, but I was excused. No explanation why. But I was so relieved when I left. It was a more intense experience than I’d expected, and I though I would have been fair, and and that was an eye opener. Social workers are probably not good to have on a jury. We’re either too sympathetic, or too biased. I’m free at last!

    • Z Egloff April 10, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Hi Susan,

      I agree with you. I think it would be tough to be on a jury. All I know is that the minute they found out I’d been a social worker for public health, I was dismissed. Like you, there was a lot about the process that I found interesting and exciting. And very intense. It’s hard to imagine doing that every day – though there are probably a lot of people who say that about being a social worker!

      I’m glad you’re free at last! :)

      XOZ

  13. Deanna March 15, 2016 at 12:42 pm #

    I love your storytelling! I love how you use the story to “tell one on yourself” – bringing our shared humanity into focus, and showing how profound and powerful it is when we simply notice our assumptions. Turns the world on its head in a very refreshing way!

    • Z Egloff March 16, 2016 at 9:52 am #

      Hi Deanna! Awesome to see you here! Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your insight – there is definitely a lot to be gained by looking at our assumptions. :) Love to you! XOZ

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