A year ago at this time, I reported to the San Francisco Hall of Justice for my first day of what would end up being nearly 2.5 months of jury duty. I served as juror #5 on a complicated and gruesome murder trial. A crime that took place years ago, but for many reasons, had only just gone to trial last year. The case was peppered with legal complexities and considerations - with an endless list of witnesses from both the prosecution and the defense. I sat in the courtroom four days a week, sandwiched between two older male jurors and listened. and watched. The information and testimony and images and evidence we were presented was sometimes confusing, highly graphic, emotionally charged and almost always horrific. I can't un-see or un-hear any of it. And I think about the trial and the people involved nearly every day. That is no exaggeration.
During and following the trial, people often asked me: Sooo? Was it everything you thought it would be? It is a difficult question to answer. The experience ripped my guts out and shattered my heart. It put a strain on my relationship. It burdened my team at work. It consumed my every thought and made me feel jumpy and anxious and lonely. So lonely.
I had always wanted to serve on a jury, which I know sounds completely ridiculous. I loved following high profile court cases profiled on the national news. It was my guilty, juicy pleasure, which I expressed quite openly. Now, I feel silly and ashamed for how gratuitous that was of me, how naive my obsession was with other people's pain splashed across the tabloids and displayed in a public forum.
Law is complicated. Courtrooms are process heavy. People are.... strange. Being locked in a deliberation room with said strange people is bizarre and frustrating and tiresome. It is nearly impossible to remove emotion when reviewing the facts. Reasonable doubt is hard to define. And it's a very odd, sensational feeling to know the fate of a person's freedom rests squarely on 12 shoulders.
But the experience made me consider things I never would have thought about. It taught me patience. Patience for people, and for process. Patience knowing you are at the mercy of the court - straight down to bathroom breaks. It tested my strength and called upon kindness. It tested willpower and empathy. It illuminated our criminal justice system. Yes, there are imperfections. And yes, there is privilege and power for some when others are silenced. But the system itself- although it is not without flaws- is, from my experience fair. I learned that there is no substitute for the feeling of being completely surprised and awe-struck by finally learning the opinions of the people you sat alongside for so many days. And I realized that you will never regret speaking openly and honestly both from the head and the heart, and I learned, that from every experience, we can find space to do something good.