Sunday, December 4, 2016

"So help me God": My week on a federal jury

You know that kind of sinking feeling you get when you open up that official envelope and you see "Summons for Jury Service"? Yeah, well I had that same reaction recently. Except this time, it wasn't for "regular" jury duty. This was FEDERAL jury duty, and the accompanying letter said, "You are on-call for the month of November."


Yep. I had to call in every Wednesday to see if I had to report the following Friday. Each week I listened to that recording with utter dread. And each week the voice would say I was "deferred until next week." By Friday, November 25th, I thought I had it made - but no. The recording told me to report Tuesday morning to the federal building downtown.

UGH. There goes my week, I thought. What am I going to do about work? My kid? My appointments? All the errands I had to run? I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS.

I begrudgingly entered the federal building on Tuesday morning, shoved everything I had through the metal detector, locked my phone up in a little post office box (no computers or cell phones allowed - just SHOOT ME!) and went into this room where about 40 or 50 people sat looking about as enthused as I was.

Soon after, we were given instructions and shuffled into the courtroom and all sat down where the onlookers usually sit. Now I was getting nervous. Before me were two tables of three very serious- looking people; lawyers, I assumed, and one very scary looking judge.

We each passed around a microphone and had to stand up and answer a series of questions about ourselves for the judge - mostly to find out if anyone had any "great hardship" they were experiencing by being there. After we all were finished speaking, he let three of them go. RATS. We were then told that 12 of us at a time would randomly be ushered into the jury box and asked another series of questions. When my name was called in the first 12, I didn't think much of it because I figured there were still 30 or so more eligible jurors.

Again we passed the mike, said our names and answered more questions. The judge then huddled with the attorneys, who had since introduced themselves very formally, along with the plaintiff, the defendant, and a clerk. Three from our jury box were let go and three more from the remaining were called. This occurred probably four more times, until the judge said, "Well, it looks like we have our jury." WHAT???? What about the rest of them???? "The rest of you are discharged," the judge said.

Well this sucks. I felt a pit in my stomach as I realized my whole week had just gone down the drain. How was I going to manage this? No computer and no phone? What if my kid got sick? How was I going to deal with these 11 strangers for four days??? And why can't everyone just follow the rules so none of this has to happen????

We took our oath and went into the jury room and it was evident we all felt pretty much the same way. After some idle chit chat, another clerk came in - who would pretty much become our best friend over the course of the next four days - and gave us the lowdown on how things would go. Charges would be read again (the judge had read them first thing, but I don't think any of us were listening, really), then there'd be opening statements, witnesses for the prosecution, witnesses for the defense, closing arguments and then jury deliberation/verdict. Ugh. This sounded interminable.

We filed back in to the courtroom - everyone was standing. We thought we had to stand, too - for the judge - but it turns out they were standing for us. Wow. OK. We were seated and looked at the judge - very menacing and tall sitting up so high in his black robe. When he spoke, I was surprised. His words were kind, gentle but firm, with a dry humor - all done in a way that made you have immediate respect for him. He seemed genuinely sincere in his appreciation that we were there, and it was only then that I began to realize the gravity of our responsibility as a group.

As the opening statements progressed, we got our first real understanding of what the case was about. Unfortunately, though necessary, the first day also included more than 40 documents being entered into evidence, which took FOR-E-VER. Like - all day forever. Even though we got an hour lunch, I was completely exhausted when he let us go for the day. The funny thing was, during breaks and over lunch, my fellow jurors and I started to get to know each other. We couldn't have been more diverse - it was genuinely a random sampling. But everyone seemed nice, and since we weren't allowed to talk about the case, we slowly began to find out about each other.

The second day we returned - all with the thought that if this day was anything like the previous, we were going to need a hell of a lot more coffee. We filed into the jury room again and heard the prosecution call his witnesses, who all seemed like very reliable, intelligent individuals even though it was pretty obvious they'd been coached as to how to answer certain questions - not as far as the answers themselves, but things like, "I don't recall", versus "I don't know". And there was no talking over one another or the court reporter would jump in (I wouldn't in a million years want her job).

Then things got cray. The defense attorney had his shot at the prosecution's witnesses and it was GAME ON. This guy looked like some lawyer from the Old West - all he needed was one of those bolo ties, a pair of boots and a big cowboy hat. He was big, loud, and exactly the stereotype when it comes to lawyers. He cross-examined and said things like, "DID YOU NOT..." and "SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS..." - in fact, I was just waiting for one of the witnesses to break down and yell, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" But surprisingly, they all remained extremely calm. Evidently their lawyer had prepared them well for this guy. I, on the other hand, was ready to climb over the jury box and smack him. I kept wondering, "Does he know that I can see through how he's talking in that condescending way - trying to make the witness second-guess and twist his words around? Because I totally can." I'm not saying he didn't make good points - he did - and that's his job - but WOW. I wouldn't have been able to handle that had I been on the witness stand.

The next two days were spent on witnesses, cross-examinations, breaks so the counsel could discuss with the judge, objections, approaching the bench - just like in the freaking movies. There we were - 12 strangers - lined up in this box, seeing the justice system played out before our very eyes in front of what appeared to be the calmest most impartial judge I've ever met (and I've met like maybe two, so that's not saying much.) But I had MAD respect for him, and I started to see that not only did he have an incredibly important job day in and day out, but I did too, if just for a week.

And during this week, my 11 new friends and I had formed this weird bond. We knew each other's names, joked about likes and dislikes, and had all these little inside jokes that only jurors who had been together in a tiny little room for three days could have. As I looked around the room I thought, "I like each and every one of these people."

Thursday morning, I arrived in the jury room exhausted and still upset from a personal issue the night before. All of them expressed concern and were so very kind. They were the first ones to tell me that if I felt I couldn't continue, there were two alternates and I should just talk to the clerk. But ironically, I wanted to stay. I wanted to play this out - to hear how it ended - to be a part of the process. In fact, it turned out to be a welcome distraction and I was able to focus on the trial for the rest of the afternoon. Towards the end of the day, I wasn't sure if my family emergency was quite finished so I talked to the clerk and told him my concerns. As we entered the courtroom after our last break, I was called up to the stand, where the judge said quietly, "Ms. Kennard, if you do not feel you can continue, it's OK. Do you feel you can continue?" I said yes, I did. At the end of the day, the clerk handed me two phone numbers - his and the judge's cell phone number - in case I was unable to report the next day.

I WAS able to report, and woke up feeling both anticipation and dread. Today was the day we were going to decide a man's fate. What an awesome responsibility. I was humbled - as were the other 11 - and we were all well aware of the task that awaited us that day. None of us had slept well the night before.

The last day was by far the worst day. During the defense's closing arguments where he talked about the character witnesses who had testified to the trustworthiness and loyalty of this man, the defendant suddenly broke down and sobbed. Big, heaving sobs that you could tell he was trying to control but just couldn't. His wife, we assumed, who was the only person who had been in the audience each day, sobbed as well. At that point, the judge ordered a break and my fellow jurors and I walked back into the jury room. You could have heard a pin drop.

When we returned, the defense continued with closing statements, the prosecution rebutted, they went back and forth for a bit, and it was all over - for them. Our work had just begun.

After the judge gave us explicit instructions, we were ushered into a larger deliberation room. Security personnel with earpieces stood outside - we were not allowed to speak to them nor them to us. If we had a question for the judge, we had to write it down and have the foreperson sign it. We were not to leave the  room until a verdict was reached. We elected a foreperson and tried to figure out how to begin.

At first we were all talking at once - we hadn't been allowed to talk to each other about the case at ALL, and we all had opinions and tons of questions. Most of us had taken pages and pages of notes. We finally decided to go through each count one by one and figure out what we DID agree on, then deliberate on what we DIDN'T.

Of course we agreed on most of the obvious things. But after taking an early poll, we weren't unanimous. It was then that our work really begun. What we had to do was explicity look at the charge, and the definition of the verbiage in the charge, as provided by the court. And let me tell you, what you THINK something says isn't always what it REALLY says. For instance, there is a HUGE difference between "knowingly" and "intended to". Words like this were what we deliberated about for the next two hours. Incredibly, there were no fights. Everyone was respectful. For the most part, we took turns and everyone was heard.

But there was one thing we had in common. We all felt badly for the defendant. We all agreed that this would hang heavy on our hearts for a very long time. He WAS a good man, we determined. A good man who had broken the law. Finally, we reached a unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts.

We each signed each count, and the foreperson alerted the security guard that we had a verdict. The clerk came in and retrieved it and told us a bell would ring when it was time to go back into the courtroom. As I looked around the room, everyone looked like they were about to get sick. And when that bell rang, I felt like I was going to lose it, too.

We filed into the courtroom and I couldn't even make eye contact with the defense. The judge stood up and read each charge, and after each one said, "Guilty". The defendant had no emotion but you could see the disgust on the defense attorney's face. I would have been disappointed not to see it. After the verdict, the judge asked the defense if he wanted the jury "polled", which meant he wanted to hear from each of us - I'm assuming just in case any of us were on the fence and wanted to change our minds. Each of our names was called, and each of us had to say the word, "Guilty." I felt that word catch in my throat.

And that was it - or so I thought. We went back to the jury room to retrieve our things; noticeably subdued. At that point, the judge walked in and asked if we had any questions - like, said we could ask anything. So we did. And he was forthright, kind, and very, very human in his responses. One juror told him, "If I ever had to be locked up with 11 people for a week, I couldn't ask for better people than this." And that was true.

I left the federal jury experience very differently than I had gone into it. I almost felt embarrassed for being so disgusted that I had been called. Yes, I missed a week of work, had to juggle appointments and reschedule meetings. However, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the magnanimous duty I was able to carry out. It was a learning experience, and it made me realize that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent up until the very end. I hope the defendant knows that he did get a fair trial. We were an impartial jury. We did deliberate and take everything into consideration. And our verdict was unanimous, not by talking anyone into it, but by figuring out the facts through discussion and the language of the law.

So next time you get that piece of paper in the mail, try to feel a little proud - especially if it's federal jury duty. It is our responsibility, and it is not only a privilege of living in the United States of America, it is truly an honor to serve.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Open Letter to the Guy Who Thinks I’m Moving to Canada

So, you outed me. I voted for Hillary. And no, I don’t consider myself a feminist, and no, I wasn’t necessarily #withher. Did I want a woman to be President? Hells yeah. Did I want Hills? Though I aligned with her on some things, other issues made her not so much my first choice, but I, as many, chose what I believed to be the “lesser of two evils”.

Regardless, I was as dumbfounded as much of the country when I woke up to see that Trump had won the election. I just really didn’t see that coming, given all we had accomplished in, say, the past 100 years. In that time, I think the country has made some relatively major strides for women’s rights, combatting racism and the acceptance of the LGBT communities. Granted, we’ve also had some setbacks, but all in all, I think those areas are in better shape than they were a century ago.

Given the past remarks and actions of Mr. Trump, I don’t get a warm fuzzy that this will continue. He’s kind of been the antithesis of tolerance, if you will, to the point where it’s pretty scary, especially if you ask many women, non-whites, gays or transgenders.

That said, as I perused the news and social media, I was torn between just letting it all slide and voicing my shock at what this country had just done. I’m not a political person by any means – even this post is a bit out of my wheelhouse. So I mentioned something on Facebook about waking up to find out we’d gone back in time 100 years and changed my cover photo to the Canadian National Anthem. That’s about as passive-aggressive as you can get, right? I mean, the joke is, we’re all moving to Canada right? Eh?

So this guy I dated eons ago, who has since moved on and remarried, somehow surfaced late last night. He’s rarely on Facebook as far as I can tell, never posts, but somehow must have been browsing his newsfeed and came upon my cover photo. Here’s his comment. (Note: I have not corrected his grammar or punctuation.)

“Amy, seriously...I'm not a fan of "the Donald" either but do you really feel that one was worse than the other..?? Hilary is just as disgusting.. I'm saddened that out of 280 million people that those 2 turds were our best choice for president. If you still feel that now America is not worth living in then pack your bags and head north, Canada awaits you! While I was in the military, I've been all over the world and there is no other country I'd rather be in no matter who is my president. If you or any of the 50 or so actors and athletes who said they were leaving if trump was elected don't wish to be here, you're free to leave but don't come back in 4 years... I luv ya Amy, you're an amazing woman but I'm very surprised and disappointed..”

Now I’m not gonna lie – at first I was a little taken aback. I had to think: did I post some long rant about moving to Canada? Did I actually write that one candidate was worse than the other? And is he really lumping me in with actors and athletes? (blush) I didn’t really know WHAT to say, but I certainly didn’t want to get involved in a huge debate on Facebook. I mean, to me, Facebook is kind of for fun – yes I know it’s also a place to share events, find missing pets, offer our support and complain about our shitty day, but getting into a no-win, heated, public discussion that nine times out of ten ends up involving everyone including that crazy, out-there acquaintance who you wish you hadn’t accepted their friend request isn’t really what I signed up for.

So I opted for the slightly neutral, passive-aggressive route once again. Because I can. I responded, “I agree with you that neither candidate was optimal and it was definitely a "lesser of two evils" for many voters, including myself. Thanks for your perspective!”

But for some reason, I couldn’t shrug off what he had said. Surprised and disappointed? At what? That I voted for Hillary or that you think I’m abandoning my country and moving to Canada? Was I just too wrapped up in the disbelief and frenzy of yesterday that I had somehow let a righteous opinion escape? I won’t pretend that I wasn’t a little outraged yesterday morning – at the percentage of people who voted for him, the percentage of people who DIDN’T vote at all, as well as the percentage of people who “protest voted” which was basically throwing their vote away. But as I read article after article as the day wore on, a few started to reflect more of a level-headed sense of calm. To paraphrase, “It’s done, now it’s up to all of us to come together and give this guy a chance.”

I mean, what else can we really do? MAYBE, as I read, his racist and anti-women comments and actions he made as a “celebrity” were more for shock value – “boys being boys”, as they say. (NOT that that’s an excuse, mind you…) MAYBE he never really thought he’d actually BECOME the President of the United States. We’re not even sure he truly WANTED it, as written by many who thought his campaign was merely a huge publicity stunt devised by a narcissistic businessman.

MAYBE now that he will be taking over the highest seat in the land, he’ll rethink who he is and what he says and how he acts and realize that he and his wife have some very big shoes to fill (yes, I voted for Obama, too, and no matter what you think of him politically, you have to admit that he and Michelle are a pretty Class Act).

Mr. Trump is a shrewd businessman; there’s no doubt about that. Maybe that will come in handy as he navigates these new national and international political waters. There’s something to be said for someone who doesn’t mince words. There’s also something to be said for tact. He’s going to need a delicate balance of the two.

What I’m trying to say, Guy Who Wrote on My Facebook Wall, is that it was just a joke - the Canadian National Anthem thing on my Facebook profile. I’m not moving to Canada. I have a great job here and a couple of kids and my dad is here and I’d really have to brush up on my French and I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the NFL and my Packers for the NHL and the Canadiens. In fact, Lambeau Field is probably as far north as I’ll go anytime soon.

As cliché as it sounds, I’m proud to be an American, and I’m willing to be open-minded about Mr. Trump as President. I hope he will surround himself with the right people, and I hope he will do what’s right and best for our country. I hope he will bring us together as he says he will, and make this country great again. In my opinion, it was pretty great before he showed up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

First Day of the Next Four Years of His Life, Take Two

On August 17th, 2011, my oldest son embarked upon his four-year journey through high school. On that day, I wrote what I wished I could have told him (
First Day of the Next Four Years of His Life) but didn’t dare due to the whole teenage angst thing he had going on.

Some of what I wrote I may have mentioned to him as I nervously tried to prepare him for what I could not prepare him for. However, no one could have possibly braced me for what those four years would bring – and that’s an understatement. My advice then seemed so normal, but what we experienced during that time was anything but.

So here I am – exactly five years later – same date, same high school, same nerves, different kid. At first I thought to myself, "My advice is the same – there’s no reason to write another post on this". But as I re-read that blog, I realized, no, it’s not the same. While my mainstream suggestions are still valid (keep your schedule in your pocket, don’t freak out if you forget your locker combination, respect your teachers, etc.) they’re not what first comes to mind now that I have my second and final child entering those precarious high school years. 

Why? Couple of reasons. One, he’s a different kid. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep the “Mom’s a complete idiot and I’d rather eat dirt than be seen with her” scenario at bay longer than I did with my first son, so I can talk to him about some of these things. Two, I learned too late that while I had the best of intentions, I tried too hard to save my son from every mistake or consequence or hurtful situation he might encounter. And in doing that, I did him a huge disservice.

With that said, my words of wisdom come not only from me, but from both of my sons: one speaking from first-hand experience; the other vicariously through his older brother. And while these nuggets may not be as “common” and “sharable” as my post five years ago, I can tell you right now it’s all pretty damn good advice.

From my youngest son: 

“I’m going to have to choose my friends carefully.”

My youngest wasn’t immune to the changes his brother went through during his high school years, his struggles or his revolving door of “friends”. In his mind, these were the people who took his big brother away from him piece by piece, dragging him down into a life that ended up making high school a living hell for all of us. My youngest doesn’t want that for himself (or for me), and is pretty good at seeing the forest for the trees.

We’ve talked about choosing the friends who don’t make you feel bad, or pressured, or nervous about doing something that doesn’t make you feel right. We’ve talked about friends who use you, and that true friends shouldn’t make you feel like you have to make a decision that goes against that feeling in your gut. I never thought I’d be a little thankful for my son’s anxiety, but if nothing else, I hope it’s that emotion that helps keeps the bad influences away, as well as keeps him from being a bad influence, which I would be hard pressed to believe he would be.

From my oldest:

“As long as he’s involved in a sport, he’ll be OK.”

I wish I would have asked for a further explanation of this statement from my oldest, who begrudgingly completed a season of tennis before settling on a couple of weeks of working lights and sound for the school play as his completion of my rule that “You must join SOMETHING”. Perhaps it’s the nature of the school: it’s somewhat affluent (we are not), with a high participation rate in sports and extracurricular activities. Those who choose not to participate in either kind of fall into that “other” category you might remember from your high school days. And in a school like that, it’s a dangerous place to be.

The good thing is, my youngest started track three years ago. I saw he was good and enjoyed it, and I have “encouraged” him a bit harder than I may have with my first, for just this reason. It’s not that I want him to be a track star. I want him to be INVOLVED. I want him to feel a part of a team, and a community of other students. I want him held accountable for his grades. I want him randomly drug tested (as they do the athletes). I want him busy. I want him healthy. I want him as far away from the “other” category as I can get him, and I make no apologies for that.

And finally, from me, more of a wish than a piece of advice for the next four years:

“Know you can talk to me.”

I don’t know why some kids push their parents away and others keep them close. I don’t know why some child/parent relationships are adversarial and others less so. Perhaps it has to do with the makeup of the child as well as the experience of the parent. 
I learned more than I ever wanted to learn during those four years with my oldest, but my experiences I feel made me a better listener versus advice-giver with my youngest. I try to ask him what he thinks he should do; not tell him what I think he should do. I am painfully aware that trying to shield and save him from every disappointment and crisis is only doing a disservice to the development of his coping skills he’ll need later in life.

Doesn't matter if he sees me.
My oldest knows I'm there.
I told my oldest he could always talk to me, and I meant it, but my desire to give him answers to questions he should figure out for himself, coupled with his oppositional nature, rarely made this possible. My youngest and I have some pretty amazing conversations, and at 15, I’m constantly impressed at the questions he asks and the topics he brings up. Will that continue into high school? I can only hope. Whereas now, I can feel the butterflies in my stomach as I struggle to find something non-confrontational to talk to my oldest about, I pray that my youngest and I can have as trusting of a relationship as a mother and her teenage boy can have.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that he’s going to tell me everything – not by a long shot. I guess what I mean by “talk to me” is, “Don’t not talk to me because you don’t think I’ll understand, or that I’ll yell at you, or judge you.” I’ve come a long way and if he’s willing to keep me in the loop and open up to me, I’m willing to trust him which will translate into more privileges and freedoms that his older brother didn’t earn.

Despite my best intentions and most fervent prayers, my oldest son’s high school experience was downright brutal. The other night, he gave his brother some “advice” on how to get through those four years. Suffice it to say, it was more of a strategy on “how to get in and out with the least possible effort” as opposed to “how to get the most out of the next four years”.  And though certain aspects of high school are the same as they were 30+ years ago, I’m hesitant to dole out advice to him like I know what the hell I’m talking about today. But there is one thing that still holds true from five years ago; something that will never, ever change as long as I am living and breathing:

I will be there.

Not to fix things. Not to “save” you. Not to enable you. But to just be there.

When the girl says “yes” to your invitation to the dance, I will be there to help pick out your suit and her corsage.

When a girl breaks your heart and you just want to cry, I will be there with apple pie and a horror movie to help get your mind off of her.

When you and your friends need a place to hang out after the football game, I will be there with a comfy basement and plenty of snacks.

When you feel pressured by friends to do something you know you shouldn’t do, I will be there as your excuse to leave.

When you get an “A” on that project you worked for weeks on, I will be there waving a college catalog.

When you bomb that test that lowers your grade a full letter, I will be there, probably with a set of flash cards or something.

When you win that race with a personal best, I will be there screaming your name at the finish line.

When you lose and feel like quitting, I will be there to remind you that you run because you love it, not because you win.
I'm right behind ya, kid.

The rest is the same – and I’m able to copy it (nearly) verbatim from that blog five years ago:

"I will be there. And I think you know that. I am hoping that these next four years will be some of the best years of your life. These will be the years you will learn - both academically, socially and emotionally. You will have amazing ups and horrible downs. You may fall in love. You may experience heartbreak. You may find the friends who will be your friends for the rest of your life. You may discover your passion and realize that it's what you want to do as a career. You may discover yourself - at least a little bit. And through it all, I will be there, walking 50 paces or so back, but there just the same."

Happy first day of freshman year, my son of the Class of 2020.