My Turn, Jennifer Hubbard: Want to know what goes on in the jury room?
By Jennifer Hubbard
Most of us think of jury duty as a chore. When we can’t avoid it, we chalk it up to bad luck rather than opportunity. If we care to, we can follow what happens in our local courtroom by reading the paper. But what happens in the break room? What is the news that never gets reported?
Enter the jury. At first we, a cross-section of the county, were known to one another only by numbers, and because we were instructed by the judge not to discuss the case amongst ourselves, we had no choice but to search for some other common ground. It began with literal ground — where our kids go to school, the most scenic country roads, our preferred barbecue joint — but as the days passed, that ground widened and deepened, as did our mutual respect.
Not since high school have I enjoyed getting to know people I would never otherwise meet or, I’m ashamed to admit now, take the time to get to know. My favorite conversations took place with a man who had just passed his tire dealership on to his son. We both find peace in the sound of waves, in the sight of sunlight on water. He thinks squirrels are graceful, and so do I. He feels sorry for me because I live in the city while he lives in “God’s country,” western Rowan County. He told me about how he taught his grandson to hunt (“Gotta eat what you kill,” he said) and how, when he himself was young, he had no problem killing a dove. “But now,” he said, pointing to his heart, “there’s something in here, sympathy, I guess, that just won’t let me do it.”
One juror invited another, recently laid off from Freightliner, to apply for a job with his company. They had both seen children through a life-threatening illness. Another juror who manages a group home for intellectually disabled men brings his dog to work for his “children” to dote on. One juror, whom I now have the good fortune to call friend, was having to clean houses on Saturdays and Sundays to make up for three weeks of lost time, yet she still mustered the energy to drive to Chapel Hill for a short afternoon to watch her daughter play softball.
While there are people in the courtroom who’ve done bad things, there are people in the back room doing good things — mothers working two jobs to send daughters to college, fathers putting books in the hands of their sons. And I wonder, perhaps through rose-colored lens, whether some of the world’s problems might not be better solved by sequestering the conflicting parties in a break room somewhere.
If I had 500 more words, I would use them to express my newfound respect for the District Attorney’s Office, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division, the judge, the bailiffs and (last but certainly not least) the courtroom reporter. As we the jury left the courthouse together one last time, we shook hands and wished one another well. The sun was setting, which seemed right. What seemed wrong was to part ways so quietly when what we’d just experienced was so profound — a civic duty, yes, but also, for me, a life-changing privilege.
Jennifer Hubbard lives in Salisbury.
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