Walking into the Justice Building

The doors of the county justice department are very heavy. When I reached out to pull open the tall, metal rimmed door, it took more strength then I had anticipated. And maybe it was just in my imagination, but I think they shut hard behind me, too.

I walked in, went through  security (by the time I was done with this week I would have gone through that security checkpoint 6 or 7 times in 4 days). I made my way up a few floors to the Jury Assembly room, checked in, got a parking pass, and began my week as a juror.

I didn’t want to do jury duty. I don’t have PTO. I could make twice as much as they paid me for the day, in an hour of work. Financially, it was definitely in my interest to be at work.

As luck would have it, I was randomly selected to go in a courtroom, and of the 40 people in there, I was in the first group called to sit in the jury stands. I was one of 12. After an afternoon and following morning of random questions about my life and the lives of my fellow jurors, it had been decided. I was on a jury for the duration.

The case was criminal, the state vs. defendant.

The Judge looked at us all in a very judgy way and reminded us all grumbly jurors that we were there to uphold democracy and our sacrifice was infinitely small compared to many of the other sacrifices made to uphold democracy.

The case started, opening statements, witnesses, evidence. Next day: more witnesses and evidence. Closing statements and then deliberation. Next day: MORE deliberation.

I should mention that my stress level started to rise as we heard the case, my nails are gone – my tell tale stressed 0ut marker. I kept looking at the defendant, a young man, and realizing that I was going to soon be taking part in changing his life. I could feel the dread in my stomach, this was a big deal – all twelve of us, just twelve of us had to decided in essence between felony or no felony. We took our time deliberating, one of the jurors said it best, “If it were me, or my family, I would want the jurors to take as much time as they needed, to be sure.”

We talked and discussed, shared our opinions and thoughts, read and re-read and re-read again the law. We came to our conclusion after trying to filter through the mountains of lies we heard from the witness stand, use the meager evidence, all of our unanswerable questions, and our thoughts and opinions of the witnesses.

The defendant will  walk away with major, life long consequences for his actions. We the jury dealt out justice. He got what he deserved for his part in breaking the law.

However, I can’t help but think about justice and what he deserves. He deserved a school where they valued and tried to keep him there. He deserves more education than ninth grade. He deserved parents that were around and supportive. He deserved to know how to read and write at 20 years old. He deserved to have work and school options that kept him away from drugs. He deserved to live in a safe community where dropping out and jail weren’t the norm.

Where is the justice for parents that leave? Where is the justice for schools that forget students or just let students slide by because it easier to deal with than the paperwork that accompanies failure? Where is the justice for his community and neighborhood being a breeding ground for drugs and idlness? Where is that justice?

A piece of justice today is resting on his shoulders as he serves his sentence.

But there is a larger chunk of justice that hasn’t been met, communities, schools, and families that bear a responsibilities for their members. We all have to feel that burden, to keep working toward making our families, schools and communities better, safer places.

I can’t help but think about this experience and relate it back to my beliefs. I don’t often talk about my beliefs, for many reasons. It is a part of me and who I am, I’m trying to be braver about sharing.

One of my favorite paintings hangs in my Alma Mater’s school of nursing and also in my home, it is Carl Bloch’s painting Christ Healing Sick at the Pool of Bethesda.

The story goes (New Testament, John 5:1-9) that in Jerusalem there is a pool where it is said that angels come and stir the water, and when that happens, the first one in the water is healed from their infirmities. It makes sense that the most able bodied would be able to get themselves closest to the water and fastest. The most disabled, the slower the individual, the least likely they would be able to make it to the water to be healed. Some people had family or servants or friends who could carry them to the water to be healed. They had an upper hand because of the resources available.

Jesus Christ came to one of the men waiting to get in the pool and asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” and the man, disabled in some way, for a long time, says, in essence, someone is always able to get there first, I don’t have anyone to help me. Jesus commanded the man, “Rise, take up they bed, and walk.” And he did.

In my faith, I believe that my Savior is the great intercessor of all men. I believe that both justice and mercy can happen. I believe that although we can hand out “justice” or at least pieces of it, there is only so much we can do. Especially as we sometimes can’t or don’t take into account the circumstances and environment that encourages poor choices.

My part in dealing out “justice” weighs heavy on my heart today.

My Christ, your Christ, fulfills both justice and mercy. He can overcome the rampant unfairness of life, maybe not in this life, but ultimately He will. He asks all of us, regardless of limitation or affliction, “Wilt thou be made whole?” And when we answer, “I’m trying, but I can’t make it on my own.” He will always reach down to us, and then we can stand, healed from ourselves, and face mercy.

3 comments to Walking into the Justice Building

  • engquist@see what i sea designs  says:

    Amen, sister. A. Freaking. Men.

  • Kim Carlile  says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve always thought it would be an interesting experience to see the justice system from that perspective as a juror. I’m sure it was intense and emotional. Wow.

  • Bryce  says:

    that was beautiful, steph. I needed that today.