It had appeared in the mail as usual – my annual JURY SUMMONS. And as usual after opening it I had filled out the Section A: Juror Questionnaire; and under the Disqualifications heading I checked box E for: “I have been convicted of a felony or malfeasance in office and my civil rights have not been restored.” And then under penalty of perjury I signed and dated the form and mailed it back thinking that that would be it for another year. Unfortunately it seems that there’s actually someone down at city hall that knows what they’re doing or at the very least actually reads these things and keeps records because they sent it back only two weeks later and this time there was no Section A to fill out, or a Section B for that matter, only a JURY SUMMONS containing reporting instructions.
Granted its been quite some time since my last felonious conviction and in California at least your rights are somewhat restored once you’ve completed the inconsistent complexities of parole and survived through a mandatory waiting period un-arrested and legalities free. And even though I am unable to obtain many aspects of employment, own a gun or run for political office it seems that the State of California feels that I have been rehabilitated enough to serve on one of their litigating juries.
As flattering as that preposition is I still have to ask myself whether my rights have remained untarnished enough for me to want to serve on a jury of my peers? Or have they never entirely gotten over how they felt incarcerated inside one of The Golden State’s finer penal institutions? But I guess that the matter really isn’t up to me or how I’m feeling on the subject either. My duty, or so I was told by the automated voice over the telephone, was to show up and serve and if I failed to do so I would be subject to a fine or imprisonment pursuant to Section 209 of the California Code of Civil Procedure.
That last undisguised threat was what finally motivated me to be in front of the Superior Court building at 8am ready to engage the first official that I came in contact with and proclaim my hatred of cops, or an inability to convict a wrong doer, any wrong doer, or that I was currently a member in good standing of the Communist Party! It really didn’t matter to me what I was going to say as long as it was sufficiently deplorable enough to have me ejected out of the building never to have to return! But apparently it wasn’t going to be that simple. Either a lot of people before me have recently tried that same line of resistance or in San Francisco they’re just more tolerant toward societal challenged individuals like myself.
After a thorough yet decidedly unsatisfying bag search and weapons scan we, as in the rest of my prospective judicial peers who were denied admittance to the courthouse until 8am, were led down a hallway to the basement and ushered into a huge waiting room. Designated as Jury Assembly Room 007 (as in the James Bond fame), where we were then systematically haggard into giving up vital bits of personal information while alternately being dispensed parking vouchers or forced to listen to the accompaniment of distorted bits of an ill prepared lecture on our civic duty delivered via a scratchy PA system.
Now I’ve got to say that the eerie contrast of being a juror and being an incarcerated individual are strikingly similar in more ways then one. Both are threatened with legal actions if they don’t comply to the rules set forth by the authorities, and in both cases in San Francisco the authorities would immediately be the Sheriff’s Department and its Deputies and then the Judicial System of the State of California. Secondly; the adherent intimidation process, though a slight bit less abrasive when done by the officers of the court as compared to the city jailers, was still just as dehumanizing as any I’ve gone through while in custody. And finally if you’ve ever had the pleasure of being arrested you can attest to the truth of this, A) all communication of information is over a horrendous loudspeaker that echoes off the concrete walls rendering them inaudible and B) in the beginning you are directed from one holding cell to another until you finally end up fingerprinted and processed and given a number.
Sans the fingerprinting ordeal I was now waiting in the second room of the day as Juror Badge #173791 listening for my name/number/destination combo to be called over an intercom system that made every word sound as though someone were muttering obscenities in Cantonese. You know I’ve got to point out that it says quite a lot about a society that maltreats all of the regular aspects of its population to where it can only get the cooperation of its citizens to participate in its affairs through threats of coercion.
Now before I go any farther let me explain how I’d come dressed to this legal extravaganza: In pre-disqualifying preparation I hadn’t bothered to shave for a week and when arising this morning I’d hardly touched my hair which was now searching off in all directions with a pretty mean bed-head flowing up the back. The shirt I’d chosen was an old ripped up paint spattered t-shirt and over that I’d pulled on my crusty black leather jacket. I was purposely not dressed to impress and quite bound and determined to not let them pick me as a lackey for one of their mundane juries. And even though I’d just heard my name called and been ushered off to room 606 as the first 28 in the jury pool I remained convinced that my chances were nil and that I’d probably be dining at Tu Lon on Seventh Street for a late lunch and this would all be a bad memory quickly forgotten as I drained a glass of their tasty Vietnamese iced coffee.
Slouched down in my seat with my arms folded in that universal defensive body language of aggression, I glared at the attorneys and guffawed at the weak attempts of humor that the judge and lawyers made when feigning small talk. When asked if I thought that I might have an attitude I answered truthfully and reasoned that I did. When queried further I admitted a complete loss of faith in the judicial system and a major lack of respect for lawyers and then having said this I did my best to look bored with the whole proceedings and that blatantly glaring at my foot held more interest for me than anything else in the room. Finally as the lawyers had run out of questions there was much discussion and then people were being dismissed and before I knew it I was designated juror number 4 on a civil case involving greedy lawyers and the judge was pointing at the clock saying it was twelve noon time for lunch please come back at 1:40pm sharp!
When I think back on this moment the only words that I could use to describe the devastated condition of my suffering psyche are the Bush Régime’s erroneously coined phrase – Shock and Awe! This unforeseen outcome was just too incomprehensible to be real. What was wrong with these people? Weren’t they listening? Here I’d done my best anti-social angst ridden sociopath impression and I still wound up being selected to fill the slot of good old trustworthy juror number four! What the hell did it take to get tossed off of this panel of maladjusted adjudicators? Serial killer credentials? Suicidal tendencies? Spontaneous Alzheimer’s Syndrome?
Confronted with the inevitable I had to ask myself just how much of a last minute insanity-plea-going-crazy scene would still be within the realms of acceptability and how much would be just too over the top and clink clink on go the handcuffs and you’re off to county jail with a pesky contempt of court charge? Uncharacteristically I had to admit I’d misjudged my audience and was now resigned to conceding defeat. They’d won the first round and short of spending the night in a cold cell I was apparently going to be their indentured stooge for the duration of this judiciary spectacle!
Delirious I wandered outside into the Civic Center plaza and tried to breath in a controlled manner like those meditative stress reduction exercises recommend you do whenever you find yourself in any overtly stressful situation. In mid exhale I noticed a drunken bag lady was weaving her way towards me and I leaned towards her sputtering “You won’t believe this, but I’ve just been picked for jury duty!”
She looked me up and down, nodded her head and said “That’s nice. Got a quarter?”
“No, you don’t understand…” was all that I could say as I turned and walked away into the intense sunshine of a beautiful day.