I was driving my Usual Route on a Usual Day, but I knew, without a shade of doubt, that it was The Day. My number was up. The Gig was over. I’d be Rounded Up. Called In. Flagged Down. I didn’t know exactly when, or how, but Dread settled upon me as I awaited my fate.
Although the incidents I am about to describe have actually nothing to do with yesterday’s post, or blogging, for that matter, as an aside, I find it necessary to confess to a moment of horror immediately after I went live with a narrative in which I made fun of the Department of Homeland Security. I spent a couple jittery hours, wondering if the FBI would knock on my door. Two men, in suits in fedoras. One nodding gravely as the other said, “OK, Funny Girl, grab those mug shots of yours and out to the Paddy Wagon with you.” Really, I could see it all going down.
Although Legal Affairs were, indeed, on my mind as I drove home that January afternoon, the Summons for which I was bracing was of the ilk most Regular Citizens encounter from time to time: a seemingly routine Jury Duty.
As I strive, like any good journalist, to keep my use of adverbs to a minimum, I use the word “seemingly” with purpose. You see, it seems I have been a Person of Interest to the Virginia Court System since 2006, beginning with a routine questionnaire determining my eligibly to serve during a specific period of time.
The questionnaire listed some specific automatic exemptions, one of which being the main caregiver for a child under 16. As I was homeschooling my 7th grade son at the time, I checked that box and hoped that was the end of it. The specified period came and went. I forgot about the whole thing.
Until a sheriff showed up at my door with a summons about a year after the questionnaire time period had passed. I called to find out why I was being summoned, and to see if I couldn’t just be removed from whatever list I was on that had caused all this, because, remember, I was exempt. Except now I was no longer homeschooling, but a full time Masters Degree candidate, which, I might add was also qualified as an exemptible circumstance.
The Lady on the Phone explained that I had “lucked out” and it would be “in my best interest” to get it over with” because I had been selected to serve on some sort of panel that just meets for one morning—home for lunch even!—and then you get a certificate that says you’re off the hook for “at least” two years. I felt relived, in a temporary sense, even though I had a vague sort of disquiet about the lack of explanation about how I got roped into all this in the first place. I made arrangements to miss class, which really killed me because I was new and still trying to build a reputation as an overachiever. But, in all, it seemed a fairly painless way to participate in a civic responsibility, and why fight it?
I did my morning duty where I basically sat with a group of bored individuals and did a lot of murmuring and nodding, assuring a string of policemen that they had done a good enough job collecting evidence so as to proceed forward with their cases. I went home for lunch, filed my certificate, enjoyed a sense of pro-social responsibility and hoped that was the end of it. I forgot about the whole thing.
Until I was in the middle of my capstone field experience for my Masters Program and got a questionnaire determining my eligibility to serve on a different court. I pulled out my certificate, checked the box that said I was exempt because I had recently served, and hoped that was the end of it. I forgot about the whole thing.
Until a questionnaire arrives in my mailbox, virtually to the day of when my “You’re Off the Hook” certificate expired. The Outfit peddling this questionnaire offered very limited options for exemption. The literature indicated that I would be in a pool of people who could be called at any given time for a period of two--count ‘em—two years, and also that it would be for one of two types of service: an “on call” kind for a two week period, or The Grand Puma of all Juries, a stalwart group that meets for three consecutive days a months for a year (with an included footnote that it could be 18 months depending on the county in which you reside.)
Considering my mounting history, I was horrified by this communiqué. The dread, walking around every day, just waiting for a sheriff to pull you out of your real life and into what could be anything from an annoying two weeks to tantamount community arrest, unable to go far or long, chained to the court docket for a year.
Living with the cloud of uncertainty for up to two years seemed unbearable, but that afternoon in mid-January, I knew I would hear from them before the sun went down that day. See, I’d gotten the questionnaire in December, and after a respectable period went by in observance of the holidays, I knew they would send for me. Why? Simply, greed. These folks want me. They want me bad. They want me often, as soon as they can get me. Sure, I’ll get my “Off the Hook” certificate, but guess what, it will expire just as they are finished with the people they have in their clutches for this two year round, making me more immediately available to them again.
As you can tell, I have lost all belief in the supposed “random selection” of juries. There is no hope that I will regain that innocence. I do believe that I am in some sort of loop, and I will be summoned to more and more courts of varying formats. Although I was relieved to be selected for the Annoying Two Weeks type of duty this time--I start on Monday--just knowing that Other Kind looms out there is Concerning Knowledge.
And that January afternoon? I came home to a Summons in my mailbox (no sheriff this time.)
If I am to be honest, I must admit that I am considering filling out some paperwork to be removed from the voter rosters, at least for a time—until things, you know, simmer down. In the spirit of lively debate, I would like to know what my readers think. Would that be a huge faux pas, like a dis on America? Especially considering that most people I know have never served? For those of you who are spiritually minded, what are your thoughts? Is it a religious responsibility to remain on the voting rosters, and therefore does not matter that I feel targeted and weary? Is the right thing to do just to trust that God will put me where I am supposed to be—even if it means winding up on the Ball and Chain Duty for a year?
I want to hear your thoughts. It's your own personal Summons--a chance to weigh in on the future of the Virginia Legal System (because they'd clearly fall apart without me). Just please be gentle on me. I’m still a little jumpy from the whole fedora-sporting FBI agent scare.