Jury Duty

We wait in a large quiet basement room, a voice calls out our last names. We are the citizens, non-convicts, resident San Franciscans; the ones able to judge right from wrong, upholders of the Constitution. The orientation video entices us, invites us to witness the criminal justice system up close, be Judge Judy for a day. We shuffle into the courtroom, African-American, Asian, White, Latino, all here when called upon. I become a witness to factual knowledge, as people in the jury box state their occupation, marital status, whether they rent or own. A voyeur, I listen for stories. The man married 32 years, the older woman still living with her parents, the UCSF nurse who helps the chronically ill, bits of life shared with a room full of strangers. Potential unlawful eviction, but I’m not to reveal trial details, took an oath not to tell. I scribble notes on the book that I brought to relieve boredom, think of my father and sister, both lawyers, they’ve lived in rooms like these. I observe while the attorneys work, sweating, brains churning. Who to keep? Who to release? Juror number 5, tell me again about being a landlord, you own three houses? They query, looking for answers, for an advantage, sizing up faces like poker players. Women stand up, men sit down, human beings shifting seats 1-21 like musical chairs without the melody, money at stake. Hours have passed, I find myself spacing out, listening to my breath, what am I doing here? I’ve forgotten. Then suddenly the words, the rest of you are dismissed, you have done your duty. We walk out of the room, the doors of democracy opening into afternoon sunlight.

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