Thursday, July 30, 2020

Jury Duty-ing in the Pandemic Times

The last time I was called for jury duty was twenty three years ago. This is how it worked:

I showed up for my week of service. This was in Memphis, Tennessee and the courts were downtown and all of us in the jury pool were gathered closely together in one room, waiting to hear if we would be called onto a jury. No internet access back then. I don't remember anyone having laptops and no one had a smart phone. People had newspapers, magazines and books. The chairs were the plastic, uncomfortable kind. 

The people in charge yelled at us. Don't even think about trying to get out of this, they yelled. Unless you're dead, don't live in this county anymore, or are presently in jail. Any questions?

A few people tried to get out of it anyway. They owned their own business, they said. They had young children at home. Are you dead, not living here or in jail, they were asked again. No? Well, then, tough luck. 

Did I mention I was eight months pregnant? I had to pee approximately every forty five minutes. Also, I was diabetic and needed to eat snacks at regular intervals. I made it through one very excruciatingly uncomfortable and boring day and then begged the people in charge, privately, to let me go. 

Surprisingly, they did. But let me tell you, the walk past the others through that large room, as they jeered and shouted at me was one of the most surreal and scary/funny moments of my life. 

Cut to:

Jury duty twenty three years later.

This time I am in Columbus, Ohio and we are emailed instructions to wear masks, bring our own food and beverages and snacks, but don't worry, hand sanitizer will be provided. I admit that I am majorly stressed out about this service. For the most part, except for weekly visits to the nearly empty grocery store at 8 am, I have been in a bubble. Now, I will be in a crowd of strangers, indoors, with possibly not-circulating virus-infused air. 

I pack my bag as if I am going on an overseas trip. And it does feel like that because when I arrive at the courthouse, I have to go through security, all of the potential jurors lined up, socially distant (there are stickers on the floor reminding us where to stand), masked. 

Before we file into the room, our temperature is taken, and then we are led, individually, to a chair, each chair in rows, six feet apart. We are all quiet, looking at laptops or phones. 

I am wearing an n95 mask and a homemade one over that. I have no idea how I will keep these on for eight hours without wanting to tear them off, but I am resigned to it. No one yells at us. Instead, we watch an introductory video about the importance of jury service and then a judge comes in and thanks us for showing up during these strange times. I feel a surge of patriotism and love for our country as he says this because here we are, strangers, all of us dutifully masked and performing our civic duty, and this time, no one's even yelling at me about it. 

There have only been two jury trials since they've resumed the courts in June, the kind judge tells us, so the likelihood that we'll be on a jury is very small. 

An hour later, my name is called. 

Tune in next week for The Trial. 

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