Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Open Letter to My Children

In the three-and-a-half years I have (intermittently) been posting to this blog, I have taken many, many opportunities to express my gratitude to and for my beloved wife, our marriage, and the life we have together. And I have told quite a few stories from the lives of our kids – some happy, some sad, some bittersweet. But I have not often expressed my gratitude for them. . .

Molly will often admonish me that, as much as I dote on her, and shower her with affection and appreciation, our kids need those things even more than she does. Early on in our life as parents together, I came across something that said that the most important thing I could do for my kids was to love their mother. And I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that. And I’m sure that our kids have gotten their share of the benefits of my ardent love for Molly. But they do need my love for them on their own behalf, and I have not always been so expressive of the love that I do, in fact, hold for them in my heart.

But, all this is becoming a pretty rambling preamble; let’s get to it, shall we?


My beloved children,

At this time of year, we take a day aside to focus on gratitude – those things in our lives for which we are thankful, and perhaps most particularly, those things which we might normally be inclined to take the least bit for granted.

And this year, I want to say that I am grateful for you. I am grateful for each one of you, and for all of you together. Each of you is a particular gift to me – each of you brings your own particular bits of joy into my life. And all of you together make our family uniquely what it is.

I confess that, in my wildest imagination, I never thought I would be the father of eight children. God has given me more than I ever imagined I could handle (of course, it often seems a bit hubristic of me to think that I’m ever actually ‘handling’ anything, but I try my best). I confess, too, that I’ve sometimes felt overwhelmed by the sheer ‘volume’ of our family, and out of that overwhelmed-ness, I’ve not always given you all what you’ve needed from me. And for that, I ask your forgiveness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .


I am grateful that each of you, in your own way, loves the Lord Jesus, and aims to live for Him. Just to have us pray The Hours together brings a layer of richness to our family life that is precious to me. But to see each of you pursuing the Christian life in your own way, and on your own initiative, gives me a deep, nearly-inexpressible joy. My one greatest hope is for all of us to one day be together in Heaven (if ‘days’ can be said to have any meaning in the context of Eternity). . .

I am grateful for the character that I see manifest in your lives, to ever-growing degree. And I hope that it will continue to grow, and bring prosperity to your lives (and you understand, right, that by ‘prosperity’ I mean something much more like ‘blessedness’ than ‘wealth’, don’t you?)

I am grateful for the music that flows from our family. It is a gift from God that, in one way or another, every one of you is musical, and we can take joy in our individual and common musical gifts. I have loved the times, few as they’ve been, where we’ve all been able to sing and play music together. Let’s try to do more of that. . .

I’m grateful that, in the past year or so, we’ve been able to have you all (or at least, most of you) together for Sunday brunch, most weeks. It is good, on a very fundamental, human level, for us to be together like that, and just be a family together.


For the times I’ve been too aloof, and haven’t given you (any of you individually, or all of you collectively, as the case may be) the attention and affection you’ve needed, I ask your forgiveness. When I was a kid, I tended to live a lot inside my own head; and that’s been a hard habit for me to break. Throughout my fatherly life, God has consistently, and persistently, called me more and more out of myself, and I’m sure that’s one of the reasons he gave me so many of you. Mother Theresa often said that our main task in this life is to learn what it really means to love, and for me, that involves getting out of myself, and giving myself for the sake of others whom God has given me to love. That would be you all. And I am all too aware that I have not always responded to God’s call to me to love you, as freely as I should have. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

For the times I’ve been harsh and demanding, I ask your forgiveness. We parents harbor dreams of raising our kids to be better than we are. Which, when you think about it, really isn’t fair. But we do. We – I – want you to be the best you can be, and I’m all too aware of my own failures and weaknesses, and I would hope to keep you from them, as much as I’m able to. But my desire for you to be excellent, even better than I am, is no excuse for failing to love you, and appreciate you for who and what you are. And for that, I ask God’s mercy. And yours.

The Truth is, I love you – each one of you, as a unique instance of the Image of God. I regret that I have not always demonstrated that love to you as I should have; that, in my fallen-ness and weakness, I have fallen short, both of the love that I have owed you as your father, and even of merely giving you the love, meager as it is, that I actually hold in my heart for each of you. But I do love you. And I’ll try to show it to you more effectively, as I go along. (“Deeds, not words” is a worthy motto I saw somewhere; I’ll try to do better at that, too)


As I said above, I never, in my wildest imagination, thought I would ever be the father of eight children. But I wouldn’t trade being your father for anything – not for any amount of wealth, or power, or prestige. Being your father, I have learned something of what holiness is, as I’ve had to come out of myself (imperfectly as I have managed to do so); and I’ve learned something of what it means to love – and of how really little I have loved up to now. So, for those things I thank you.

And I thank you for making my life rich. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without any one of you; but it would be poorer – that much I know for certain.

So – thank you, one and all. Thank you for making me a father; and, in my case, at least, becoming a father has meant pretty much the same thing as becoming a grown-up – which is to say, a man.

I couldn’t have done it without you.

In love, and gratitude
Your Dad

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wisdom, Beauty and Truth. . .

A friend of ours wrote this to us in a card she gave us on our wedding day, way back when. . .

(From the biblical Book of Proverbs; chapter 5, verses 18-19):

May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving hind, a graceful doe - may her breasts satisfy you always, may you be ever captivated by her love.


Oh, I am; I truly am. . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Paychecks, Menopause, and Pathetic Husbands; Drama in Three Acts


My wife Molly has a BS degree in Child Development. When we first started dating, she worked at a childcare center which our community ran for many years. After we were married, she was a sort-of gofer/secretary for one of our community's 'elders'. When she was six months or so pregnant with 1F, she left the for-pay workforce, and took up the ultimate 'Job In Her Field' - developing children of her own. So for the next fifteen or twenty years, when folks would ask me, "Does your wife work?" I'd answer, "Not outside the home for pay."

And so it went. About ten or twelve years ago, she got in on a very part-time gig proctoring state licensing exams. Guys who want to get licensed as plumbers, or electricians, or whatever, have to take a state exam to get licensed, and Molly is part of a crew of women who do the check-in procedures, and then walk around during the test, making sure everyone stays on the straight-and-narrow. Her proctoring gigs are two or three days in a week, three or four times a year, so it isn't too demanding in terms of family time.

The proctoring gigs sort of came and went; whenever we had another baby, she'd have to take a year or two off from proctoring, until the baby could be left for a whole day. Even so, as sparse as the jobs were, it was a fairly benign thing.

In 2000, she got in with Board of Elections (or whatever it's called), and started working elections (yeah, Bush v. Gore was her 'learning curve'). She's one of those folks who checks your name against the list of registered voters, and hands you the ballot, and gives you the little 'I Voted' sticker when you're done. She also gets to be in on taking the ballot box downtown to get counted by the official vote counters. Those are pretty long days, and thus fairly demanding on the rest of the family, but it's only for one day, it pays really well, and it only comes around every couple years.


Last year, when my employer's continuing viability became suddenly very uncertain, it seemed prudent for Molly to get more regular employment, just in case I suddenly had none. So she looked around a bit, without much success (the same economic forces which were placing my continued employment in doubt were also rendering available jobs for her scarce). One day, she subbed at the daycare center attached to the Catholic school our kids attend, and that resulted in an offer for a regular job at the center there. It was only eight hours a week, and the hourly rate was pretty low, but under the circumstances, it was better than nothing.

She got a line on doing some house-cleaning, which in turn led to a gig with a friend of hers, who brought her in for some jill-of-all-trades work doing cleaning, administrative, and even some handy-woman stuff. Which was maybe half a day per week, but again, better than nothing.

This fall, the childcare center increased her hours from eight to fifteen, and gave her a small raise. And then, another friend of hers, who has multiple sclerosis, asked her to come in for a few hours every morning to help her with stuff around the house. It's not really nursing-type care (and Molly is not a nurse, so that's cool), but it does include bathing her and getting her to the bathroom. Molly couldn't do every morning, but she and another woman share the hours. And (say it with me, now) it pays pretty well.

So, if you're keeping score at home, Molly is now up to something like 25 hours a week of outside-the-home-for-pay work.



Molly is 53 years old. She is very bright and energetic, but her energy levels have abated some from what they were in her 20s/30s. She is at the age at which women commonly experience menopause, aka 'The Change of Life'. And she is showing signs that 'The Change' is just around the corner. . .

One symptom of the impending (or, more truly, ongoing) hormone shift has been that she is tired. Way more tired, way more often, than I've ever known her to be. And both of us have struggled just a bit in adapting to this new, less-energetic state of affairs. The day-to-day parameters of our lives have been remarkably stable for many years, but we find that we can't just take a 'business as usual' approach. She needs more sleep than she used to, and she can't cram her schedule quite as full as before. Which winds up putting us in a bit of a bind, because the day-to-day needs of our family life aren't any less than they ever were. The kids and I have gotten used to Molly carrying a pretty large share of the load, and when she can't carry as much as she used to, it's a challenge to 'redistribute' the work-load to account for her new energy level.

Which brings us to the present day. Molly has less energy than before, and she's working more hours outside the home than ever before, but the demands of home life are the same as they ever were - the same number of meals need to be prepared, the same amount of laundry needs to be done, the same number of kids need to be chauffeured to doctor appointments, sporting events, etc, and etc, etc, etc. . .

Do you perceive the problem? We've been trying various approaches to the 'distribution' problem, mainly involving the kids doing their own laundry (we've even instituted a Sunday evening 'Family Fold-In/Movie Night'), helping with the food-prep, and things of that sort, which, in the past, Molly could easily handle all by herself, but not any more. And I've tried to pitch in more, where I'm able; which is a large part of why I used to read three or four books a month, but now struggle to keep up with my two remaining magazine subscriptions.

But, asking people to make new sacrifices which they've never had to make before, can take a while to get 'institutionalized', and at least at first, they can be somewhat, um, uneven in the execution.



One of the starkest ways in which this hits home for me, personally, is that, at the end of the day, Molly is much more likely to be tired, than what I've been used to. For many years, we've had a regular pattern of Monday evening husband-wife meetings. Not 'Date Night' (although that could certainly qualify), but mainly just some dedicated time to touch base with each other on the things we need to be in communication about. Schedules, budgets, the kids' lives, goals we have for the family, etc. And heck, just for the two of us to sit down and talk to each other about anything at all, is a good thing, and setting aside some committed time for it, helps to ensure that it actually happens. . .

In recent months, however, our husband-wife meetings have been a bit less regular than is good for them to be. Some of it couldn't be helped - other things came along, at school or wherever, to usurp the time. But sometimes, we just weren't very diligent to make it happen, and the time slipped away.

After 29+ years of marriage, we're pretty familiar now with what happens when we miss too many of our husband-wife meetings - things get out-of-sync, stuff that should run smoothly starts being frantically thrown together on the fly at the last second, and we start getting cranky and irritable with each other. We've been through a few cycles of it, and by now, we recognize the symptoms.

And, by a couple weeks ago, we were recognizing the symptoms. And so, we agreed that that week, we would make a concerted effort to have our husband-wife meeting, and to have it be a good one, not slapdash or careless. I made a point to leave work in a timely fashion, not staying late to 'tie up the loose ends', we had dinner together with the kids, the cleanup got done, the next day's lunches were made, Molly read to the little guys before bed, and all was in readiness for our meeting. So, we retired to the bedroom (which is virtually the only 'private space' we have these days), and stretched out for some relaxed meeting-time.

And Molly fell asleep.

(You could see that coming, couldn't you? Yeah, well, I didn't.)

All the good vibrations, all the concerted effort, all the we-need-to-reestablish-communication-so-we're-not-all-cranky-with-each-other. . . gone, with the Sandman.

And, I'm sorry. . . I got pissed.

Not that I should have. Not that her falling asleep wasn't completely understandable in the context of what-all is going on in her life. Not that it was remotely constructive of anything. But I did.

And so, in the time-honored tradition of mature husbands down through the ages. . .

I pouted.

(Some of you may recall the last time I posted about pouting; and you know, don't you, that I post about ALL of my whiny, self-centered pout-fits, whenever they happen, every three years or so. . .)

And it was a goooood pout. A full-bore, I've-got-a-good-head-of-steam pout. The next morning, I walked out the door without kissing Molly good-bye, leaving the breakfast she'd made for me sitting on the table, not even taking the lunch she'd made for me (because, you know, I didn't want her to put herself out on my account) (you know, it never makes nearly as much sense in hindsight). And I stayed late at the office, so she'd be gone to her women's-group meeting before I got home. Then I went to bed early, and was asleep before she got home (and Molly, in the best tradition of The Golden Rule, will NEVER wake me when I'm sleeping). And the next morning, I repeated the cycle.

I didn't stay quite so late at the office that day (she had nothing on her calendar for the evening, so she'd be home no matter when I arrived), and as I drove home, I took some of my idle drive-time to turn to prayer, and I 'heard' God speak to me.

"You're being stupid," He said. "Stop it."

Oh. OK. I guess I am, aren't I?

"Yes, you are."

OK; I'll be done now.


God can be so Paternal with me, sometimes. . .

And so it came to pass that I walked in the back door, through the family room, and into the kitchen, where Molly was busy making dinner. She looked at me, warily. I greeted her, sheepishly.

"Hi," she said. "Are you done being mad yet?"

Yeah, Sweetheart, I'm done.

"Oh, good!" Then, "What the heck was that all about?"

And I suddenly realized - she didn't even know what I was upset about! Sheesh! What's the good of a pout, if the person you're mad at doesn't even know why you're mad? I mean, it's pretty pathetic when you invest so much energy in a good pout, and all you get for it is, "What the heck was that all about?"

(*sigh*) I know; I'm such a Drama Queen, sometimes. . .

So, we had our dinner, we fixed our relationship, and even covered most of the husband-wife-meeting stuff that we'd missed two nights previously.

And it was very good. . .

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jury Duty, Chapters 3 & 4

In my previous post, I told you about my first two experiences of sitting on a jury, and how, to varying degrees, neither of them had been a happy experience for me. Particularly my second trial, in which we had acquitted a guy of rape, when it was clear as day (to me, at any rate) that he had certainly done something for which he deserved to be punished. . .


It was a few years before I received my next summons, and this one was also a criminal case, with a charge of attempted murder.

The defendant was a dumpy-looking 19-year-old black kid. I found myself wondering how this kid had gotten himself charged with attempted murder; he looked like anything but a badass. And his father was in court every day of the trial, sitting behind the defense table.

The bare facts of the case were that the defendant and a buddy were walking down the sidewalk one day, when they encountered the would-be victim, sitting on a friend's porch, while the defendant and his buddy walked by. Words and insults were exchanged, and the defendant and his friend walked on. A few minutes later, the WBV drove his car around the corner, onto the street where they were now walking, and the defendant jumped out into the street, pulled a gun from his pocket, and started blazing away at the WBV's car. Those are the essential facts of the case. (As an aside, this all happened about six blocks from where I lived; the judge instructed us not to make any 'personal side trips' to the crime scene, and in my case it almost meant that I had to take an alternate route home at the end of the day.)

The defense claimed that the WBV threated the defendant with his car, driving up onto the sidewalk, and that the gunshots were defensive (which strained credulity a bit, but that was the claim). It was probably unfortunate for the defense that the defendant's buddy, when he took the stand to testify, was enchained, and dressed in a prison jumpsuit (since the incident in question, he'd been convicted in a separate case).

When the jury took up our deliberations, I was again chosen to be the foreman. After my previous experience, I was not about to volunteer for the job, but it had come out, in our earlier casual conversations, that I had sat on a previous criminal jury, and I suppose that my fellow-jurors thought of me as a kind of 'voice of experience'. But, as irresponsible as my previous jury had been, this jury was admirable in their determination to execute their duties with all due seriousness. There were people who had strongly-held opinions, including one woman who felt that 'the system' sent far too many young black men to prison, but they were all able to objectively consider the facts of the case, and render a decision based on those facts.

We deliberated for something like six hours, meticulously considering all of the testimony, and analyzing the photographic evidence of the bullet holes in the WBV's car, and what that meant for where the shots were fired from, and the possible angles of things, etc. Two of the bullets left marks on the windshield just above the edge of the hood, directly in front of the driver. If the gun had been more powerful than a .22, the windshield would have shattered, and the driver would have been killed. It was clear enough that the shooter's intent had been to kill the driver.

So, after many hours of deliberation, we finally voted to convict. And again, as the foreman, it was my duty to inform the judge, and the court, of our decision. And, even as I was utterly satisfied that we had done our duty as a jury, it broke my heart - as he had been every day of the trial, the defendant's father was sitting directly behind his son, and I was acutely aware that, in announcing our verdict, I was telling this father who, as far as I could tell, was admirably conscientious, that his son was going to prison for quite a while.

And it broke my heart, because that young man had no business being in that position. It came to seem that here was a young man who was perhaps insecure in his budding manhood, and had fallen in with some badass friends, in an effort to enhance his own sense of manliness. Perhaps I was mistaken, but that's what it looked like.

And again, the judge and the prosecutor came back to the jury room for a 'post-mortem'. They confirmed what many of the jurors had suspected - that this was an instance of 'gang-related violence'. The defendant (and most especially, his walking-buddy) and the WBV were members of rival gangs, and this was not an isolated incident 'from out of the blue'. But, for whatever 'legal' reasons, that fact couldn't be introduced into the trial.

So, I was completely satisfied that we had done our duty, but it gave me no joy whatsoever to have done it. . .


My fourth case was another civil case - a retired army sergeant and his wife had purchased an RV, but from the very beginning of their ownership of it, it had leaked, and suffered from a plethora of other defects. They sent it back to be repaired under warranty on multiple occasions, and finally lost patience and demanded their money back, under a new 'Lemon Law'.

Without spending undue (and boring) time on the evidence, I'll simply say that the jury interpreted the evidence as demonstrating that the RV manufacturer hadn't been good to their own word, and hadn't dealt in complete good faith with the plaintiff, and we decided the case for the plaintiff (minus the punitive damages the plaintiff sought).

And again, the 'post-mortem' with the attorneys was frustrating in the extreme. We were told of additional facts, which, for whatever reason, had never been introduced in court, which might have demonstrated that the plaintiff was engaging in a bit of bad-faith of his own, and which, had we known of them, would have cast the other evidence in a very different light.

By that point, I expected that the 'post-mortem' was going to muddy the waters of our decision, and I could just walk away, shaking my head. At least, in this case, nobody had to leave town, or go to prison. . .


And that is the sum-total of my experience as a member of various and sundry juries. Early on in my experience, someone told me that engineers are rarely left to sit on juries; that, for various reasons, one side or the other prefers jurors who don't think analytically, who can be easily swayed by emotional appeals. But just from my own experience, I wonder how that could possibly be the truth of the matter. Four times I have walked into a courtroom in a pool of prospective jurors that was at least triple the number of jurors that would ultimately be required. And I have never failed to end up on the jury; there is at least some finite probability that my name wouldn't be drawn, but even that has never happened. There have been ample opportunities for the attorneys to remove me from the jury, but they never have. I must have some kind of 'innate magnetism' that just draws me inexorably into jury boxes. . .

Yeah. . . 'magnetism'. . . that's it, for sure. . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jury Duty, Chapters 1 & 2

My new friend Michelle Hickman, over at The Surly Writer (and don't let the name fool you; she ain't as surly as all THAT) (hope I didn't blow your cover, Michelle), recently wrote a five-part series of posts about her experience of jury duty. And that spurred me to tell you all about my own experiences of jury duty. . .

I have been summoned for jury duty five times in my young life. One of those times (the fourth, I think), I went to the courthouse downtown and spent the day reading in the 'jury pool waiting room', after which I was sent home without ever seeing the inside of the courtroom. The other four times, I was sent to the courtroom as part of a pool of prospective jurors for a trial. In each of those cases, I ended up being empaneled on the jury, even though the pool was at least three times as large as the actual number of jurors to be empaneled. Twice, I was selected to be the foreman. So, at this stage of my young life, I've amassed a fairly substantial body of juridical work (if that's the right word for it).

Molly, on the other hand, has been summoned exactly once, and much as she'd love to sit on a jury, the week she was 'on the hook', she called the 'jury line' every day, but her number never even came up to go downtown and wait in the room. Such are the random fortunes of doing one's civic duty (I was sorely tempted to title this post 'Jury Doody', but that would be just a tad too cynical and disrespectful, even for me). . .


My career as a juror got off to a rocky start. I received my first summons about a month after I started my first job out of college, and I was so dialed-in to getting off on a good foot on my new job, and I was so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world, that I completely lost track of the day I was supposed to report for jury duty. Not good. That little indiscretion won me a personal face-to-face with the judge (which I did NOT forget), in which he demanded an accounting for why I had blown off my sacred civic duty (yeah. . . "I forgot" doesn't cut much ice with your average judge; and this judge was definitely on the 'stern' end of the judicial spectrum), and impressed on me most forcefully (including threats of future incarceration for Contempt of Court if such dereliction were to be repeated) that jury duty, and his court, were not matters to be trifled with. Lesson learned, and I received another summons a few weeks later.

This time, I appeared at the appointed time, and was ushered into the courtroom with a group of prospective jurors. My name was drawn, and I answered all the voir dire questions to the satisfaction of both attorneys, and the judge, and so I was ensconced as a member of the jury.

The case was a civil one - a Chinese woman, the wife of a doctoral student at MegaState U, had taken a job at a small import shop run by an immigrant Chinese gentleman, and she was claiming that he had reneged on several of her paychecks. Since neither the plaintiff nor the defendant spoke unbroken English, the court hired an interpreter (who was herself a graduate student), and virtually all of the testimony was given in Chinese and translated into English for the benefit of the jury.

The case itself devolved fairly quickly into a variation of 'he-said-she-said', with the plaintiff presenting her side of the story, supported by cancelled checks, and other forms of confirmation that he had acted according to a stated agreement, and after a certain point, the checks came farther apart, and for less money than was agreed. The defendant, on the other hand, presented himself as a large-hearted individual who was only trying to help his fellow-countrywoman, and this is the thanks he gets. And so on, et cetera. . .

Since it was a civil trial, there were only six jurors, which was probably just as well, all things considered. Our foreman was a university professor, who seemed temperamentally incapable of rendering any form of definitive judgment. All of our attempts to pin down a decision based on the evidence at hand were met with a whiny, "But you just don't know for certain, do you?" or somesuch, from him. The evidence was pretty clearly on the plaintiff's side, or so, at least, it seemed to five of us, after an hour's discussion or so, and then we spent two more hours trying to get Dr. Dithers to land on one side or the other (preferably the one we all agreed on, but even just to get him to commit to something over which we could argue with him would have been progress). At last, he allowed as to how it seemed most likely that the weight of the argument was on the plaintiff's side, and so we had our decision.

I had no problem with the decision we'd rendered, but the experience left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Mainly that both sides had presented their case, and we were basically left to choose which side we thought was lying, and which was telling the truth (or, which side was telling more of the truth than the other). And besides which, our judgement in the plaintiff's favor was small enough that it wasn't certain that it would even cover what they'd end up paying their lawyer, who probably should have told them that. . .

I wasn't very happy for the experience, but I was satisfied that I had done my civic duty, and that was good enough.


The second case I sat on was a criminal trial - a rape case. A woman and a man were co-workers at a small manufacturing company, and they both worked the second shift, getting out of work around midnight. He invited her over to his house after work, she agreed, and between the two of them, they killed a twelve-pack of beer, after which he thought the stars were aligned for some sweet lovin' between the two of them. She disagreed, and he decided to, uh, press the issue. Among the evidence for the prosecution was a photograph of a hand-shaped bruise on the inside of her thigh.

The evidence was so compelling, to my mind, that, when we retired to the jury room for deliberation, I volunteered to be the foreman, just to save the time it would take to choose one, and my fellow jurors were only too happy to agree. With that piece of business out of the way, I took an initial straw vote, just to see where things stood. As I perceived the facts of the case, I thought it was possible, even likely, that we could have a conviction without having to spend too many hours in deliberation. The vote was 6-6 (I tell ya, life is just crammed full of 'learning moments').

I was stunned. I had thought that this was as cut-and-dried a case as it could be, but my education was just beginning. That jury of my peers (and even the realization that they were, and are, my peers, still causes me to shudder) still stands in my mind as a ruefully fascinating study of human nature at its very worst. . .

One woman announced, in the first minutes of the deliberations, that she wanted no part in any of the discussion, and when the rest of us got to 11-0, she would just vote with the majority. She then proceeded to lie down on the couch and take a nap. Sweet; I hope that, if you ever find your life in the hands of a jury of your peers, they take your case more seriously than you're taking this, Sweetheart.

Another woman had herself been a rape victim (and had baldly lied when asked during the empanelment whether she had ever been the victim of a crime). Which, you might think, would bias her against the defendant, but no. She had been an idiot to let herself get raped, she said, and this girl was an even bigger idiot than she was. Besides which, it became clear that she had some kind of 'identification' with the defendant; she didn't know him personally, but somehow, he was 'her kind of people', and she wasn't about to see him get sent off, just because some bimbo was a moron one night.

Yet another juror was a college guy, whose essential position, from which he wouldn't be moved, was that, basically (without saying it in so many words), there is no such thing as rape - all sex is consensual, but sometimes the girl regrets it later, and accuses the guy of rape. And so, as far as he was concerned, all charges of rape are de facto bogus. And there was another guy, just out of college, who wasn't quite so adamant as he was, but who basically sympathized with his point of view.

So then, out of the twelve of us, there were four who, right off the top, were more-or-less firmly disposed to corrupt the process.

But they weren't even the worst of it. One of our members was himself an attorney. And that, of course, was known right up-front, when his name was first pulled from the hat. But, as I recall, he was one of the last jurors selected, and both sides were running low on peremptory challenges, and so, much as they might have wanted to remove him from the jury, they didn't. The judge was sufficiently concerned about his presence on the jury that he gave us special instructions that, just because he was an attorney, he didn't know the law as it applied to this case, any better than any of us did, and we shouldn't give his thoughts any more weight than any other juror's, in our deliberations.

Yeah, fat chance of that. He played it very cool, and said very little at first. But when he did decide to speak, he just said, "I don't know - they both had an awful lot to drink. . ." And just like that, four of the jurors who had been inclined to convict, changed their vote, because, see, this guy was a lawyer, and he knows the law better than we do. . . (*sigh*) (*very EXASPERATED sigh*). So just that fast, we were 10-2 to acquit.

It took the majority another hour to convince the other 'convicting' juror, so that we stood 11-1, with me the only remaining vote to convict. The basic line of reasoning in favor of acquittal was that, since they'd both had so much to drink, how could anyone know where consent may or may not have been given? And there was a strong sentiment that for her even to go to his house after midnight carried with it a certain implied consent. And all I could say in response was that being an idiot doesn't mean you deserve to get raped. And a hand-shaped bruise on her thigh looked to me a lot like a lack of consent.

I'd like to tell you that, right out of Twelve Angry Men, I carried the courage of my convictions, and single-handedly convinced all the other jurors of my point of view, but I didn't. Eventually, I let myself get worn down on 'reasonable doubt', related to the large volume of alcohol consumed, and we voted to acquit. And I, being the foreman, had the duty and privilege to announce to the judge and the court what our verdict was, when, even as I said it, I knew in my gut that, whatever the law was here, this guy had done something that he should be being held accountable for, and we had let him off.

We returned to the jury room to gather our things before we left, and the prosecutor and the judge came back to us to discuss our decision with us. And I have to tell you that those little 'post-mortems' are one of the most utterly frustrating aspects of being on a jury. Because then the prosecutor told us the facts of the case that couldn't come out in court. This dude was a bad guy - a BAAAAD guy - who'd been in prison before, and just an all-around badass. "She's gonna have to leave town," the prosecutor said, regarding the victim. I was sick to my stomach.

After the other jurors left, I hung back and told the judge and the prosecutor about the other members of the jury, and how I thought they had failed in their duty. The judge shook her head, saying, "You always hope that you'll get a jury that takes their job seriously, but there are no guarantees." The prosecutor then told me how, when I announced the verdict, the defendant had very dramatically said "Thank you!" to the jury (which I'd seen, and which turned my stomach), at which our erstwhile rape-victim-juror smiled, and blew him a kiss, mouthing 'You're welcome' (which I hadn't seen, but which now made me puke in my mouth a little). It took me a few weeks to more-or-less 'get over' that experience, and my own sense of having failed miserably in my responsibility to do justice. . .

I'd like to tell you that that's the end of the story, but it isn't; not quite. A year or so later, I ran into the prosecutor (her daughter and mine played against each other in a grade-school basketball game). I recognized her, and went to talk to her, telling her that I still regretted not sticking to my guns on that case. She remembered the case, and told me not to worry about it, that rape cases are notoriously difficult to get convictions on, and so forth. Then she told me another piece of information that utterly stunned me. Our lawyer-juror, the guy who'd done so much, with so few words, to turn the deliberations toward acquittal, had actually himself been, at the time of the trial, accused of a domestic-violence charge, but that information didn't cross paths with his jury summons. So he'd had his own incentive to subvert the process. As bad as I thought our jury had been, it had been even worse than I'd thought. . .


So at that point, my experience of jury duty was pretty uniformly unhappy. One way or another, it had left a bad taste in my mouth, and even left me sick to my stomach. But these are only the first two chapters of my jury story. I'll save my other two trials for the next post. . .