No Justice, No Peace

The attorney asked if I could be a fair juror. I said yes. What a sucker I was.

On the not-guilty side was Rachel, an African American woman from Minneapolis who talked little but had a great deal of personal authority; me, who talks too much; Connie, who kept quiet, but (from what I learned talking to her during breaks) suffered much. Melissa, a piercingly inquisitive woman who I think went through the same agonies I did. And Beulah.

Beulah was a piece of work, an ex-con with gaudy Chanel sunglasses, a cigarette-scarred voice that rumbled like a bulldozer on gravel, and a habit of cursing like a sailor. Her first mistake was telling Todd about her criminal past, for it took Todd about a minute to tell every other juror with his voice lowered and his eyebrows raised, as though this information discredited her. Beulah was the one who said, early in the voir dire: "I can't believe no one has mentioned the elephant in the courtroom--there's only one black face in this whole outfit, and it ain't mine."

Beulah was low-brow and street-smart, and in the cliquiness of the jury room every time she opened her mouth people shuddered. Her endorsement of any position made it seem untenable, and I'm sure that my willingness to constantly agree with her made me look loony, too. Yet I can't help thinking that if Beulah had been a high-priced lawyer in a Talbot's suit, Keevin Hinton would have gone free.

Patrick Rolo

We split 7-5 after the first day and we stayed that way until an hour before we split 11-1 with Beulah as the only holdout. It took only another half hour before she turned and we went home to our cozy beds. Who knew that class and charisma were half of justice? Not me.

Later I learned that Beulah switched her vote because she felt the jury was about to turn into a lynch mob and attack her criminal past. She was probably right. We were like caged animals and would have done anything to get out of there; if the only way was through Beulah or through Keevin Hinton, so be it.


This is what being sequestered is like: One moment you're a virtuous citizen, sitting in a comfortable chair watching interesting characters say interesting things; the next you're deprived of all your civil rights and locked in a room with 11 other people until some of you have breakdowns. You can't make phone calls. Any notes you want to send to your loved ones will be edited.

The room you're sealed up in is only slightly larger than the long table that fills it. Your freedom is restricted to the distance between your chair and the wall--maybe four square feet. You can never do anything alone again. If you go to the bathroom you have to wait for the group or go in the little cubby toilet attached to the jury room, where everyone else gets to listen. You have no physical exercise. You eat at a big table just like the one at which you spent all day arguing. (Who sits where is closely watched: If a not-guilty sits next to a guilty, does that mean she's turning?)

Put in as many requests for soda, coffee, and water as you like, you won't get any of it until midafternoon. Meanwhile you drink warm tap water from the tiny bathroom, since the cold tap doesn't work. If you're losing your mind and want to skip dinner and go to bed early, too bad, you have to sit there and wait for the others to finish. People can drive you nuts simply by ordering dessert. The garbage cans overflow and reek: No one can enter to empty them. The room grows hot and airless, begins to stink with fear and anxiety.

Maybe none of this sounds particularly torturous. But I never realized how much I rely on running around the lakes and watching the ducks, how much I rely on privacy and my record collection and my cat to keep my sanity. I rely on my friends to say: Isn't this crazy? You'll never guess what so-and-so said. Am I crazy or is fill-in-the-blank crazy? Isolated from all reference points of what defines "crazy," crazy ideas start to seem reasonable.

When Todd's father had a heart attack, a deputy entered and said through a crack in the door: "Your father had a heart attack, he's in the hospital, everything's going to be OK." That was all the information he could get. Todd owned a business, and during voir dire he lost a large contract. When Todd wasn't worrying about his father he could have worried about that.

Gretchen had left her overnight bag in her car, parked a block from the Government Center. She thought it would be easy to pick up the bag. It was forbidden. She stored her contact lenses overnight in the hotel water tumblers, until her roommate drank one. She'd worn a pair of uncomfortable shoes that first day, leaving comfortable ones in the car. Gretchen spent the last days of jury duty like a shipwreck victim, limping, one-eyed, dressed in the same clothes she had been marooned in.

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