Jury duty, part 1 / by Vanessa Fiola

**The next 19 days I'll be posting 500 words a day here as part of a creative writing challenge. Join the FB group.  Often I phone it in.** 

The story below is Part 1 of at least 2, depending on the amount of time it takes to unravel. I’m not trying to be pretentious and I don’t think I’m goddamned Sarah Koenig.

This story doesn’t make me feel good about myself. I don’t feel horrible; mostly I feel conflicted and confused for reasons I still don’t entirely understand. Jury duty is just that—both a fundamental right and duty and foundational to our American ideals. It’s also really fucked up. 

A year and a half ago, my old roommate texted me a picture of a jury summons addressed to me at the house we used to share. I ignored it. The county sent me another one. I promptly deferred for a year, which was this past January 9th. And then that day came and went when the calendar invite I had created didn’t include the juror ID in it and I dropped off hold the moment my conference call started. I never looked back.

Evidently the county did. 

They sent me another summons, this time with the warning that if I didn’t show up I risked a warrant for my arrest. The jig was up. I am only rule-agnostic when those rules don’t involve mugshots. 

On Valentines Day, I Lyfted my way downtown to the Federal Building at 7:30 in the morning.

The process of waiting to be selected is excruciating. Have you ever read Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery? It’s vaguely similar; possibly worse. Selection is a three part system with multiple sub-parts. First, you wait in a giant holding room for names to be called. This establishes who’s actually shown up for jury duty. Next is the process of assigning jurors to cases. I spent almost two hours holding my breath with each name call. More than halfway through the morning, my stomach sunk when I heard my name. I moved from the big room out into the hallway where 46 of us queued for our case. 

I looked over to see the girl from my neighborhood coffee shop in my same group. No one gets rich on jury duty. It pays $15 a day after the first day, so unless you work for a major chain with incredible benefits or you’re independently wealthy, there’s no upside for a barista. 

We made small talk in an amorphous huddle until finally the court clerk emerged. He looked at his paper, looked again at his paper, and then called out another set of numbers representing juror order. The whole of life reaffirms top picks: in sports, in school selections, in ice cream crushings. My juror number was called, followed by the number 10. I felt conditioned to feel chosen. 

It was after 11 before we filled into the courtroom. 

I will always remember this: the defendant sat watching us as we walked in, expressionless but not cold, steady but not menacing. He was big, yet still soft, a mix of Hispanic and black. He wore a cream sweater with a zipped collar. I guessed him to be about 20. His family sat in the rows behind him. His mother? His younger sister? His baby sister? His brother? Their expressions suggested sadness and worry. 

The judge sat at the front of the courtroom and introduced himself. He explained that the defendant was being tried for first-degree murder.