I was not one of the Chosen


I am not one of the chosen.

No, I’m not Jewish, but I was chosen for jury duty, then sent home!

I received my notice: “You’ve been chosen.” I hung it on the nail and told my Sweet Al, “Don’t let me forget.”

I went on about my life.

The day came — the day to show up for jury duty.

First, I had to get my life in order. I cleared the week. I called Wyndham. “Do I have any art classes for this week?”

“Your classes are full. They are counting on you. They come back every year just to take classes with you. You are popular among our guests. You need to be here.”

Of course I needed to be there, plus I could see my money taking wings and flying away. No income for two weeks. Drats! What does a good citizen of Archuleta County do?

Do I plan a pretend vacation, be out of the country while hiding in my living room, or be in the hospital with a made-up problem? I tried to think of a good excuse. I didn’t have one.

I had to show up.

I had been invited over to the neighbor’s house for dinner the day before the trial. Al was in Albuquerque and I went alone. I told them I needed to teach those classes. People were counting on me; I was counting on the money. I should go teach.

The neighbor said, “You can’t do that. If you don’t show up for jury duty, the sheriff will come after you.”

“They wouldn’t do that?”

“Yes, I’m serious. You’ll get in a lot of trouble.”

One of the guests from California said, “Where we live, they were having so much trouble getting the people to show up for jury duty, they gave $1,500 fines.”

“That’s terrible. I can’t afford that.”

“They will send the sheriff to get you.”

I laughed, “I can see it now, I will be teaching the art students how to paint a color wheel, police cars will drive up with sirens, the sheriff will come with handcuffs and take me away.”

The students will be crying and yelling, “We paid for the class. Give us our money back. We came to paint.” They will storm Wyndham’s Corporate Management. I’ll be in big trouble.

“Not as much trouble as if you don’t show up for jury duty,” my neighbor assured me.

I was on a roll; I was still laughing. “I will be wearing an orange jumpsuit to match Al’s. It’ll be like in the old days when we were going steady and wore matching shirts. Wait a minute, our neighbor, who moved away, and who sold the orange jumpsuit to Al, asked for it back. It’s been sent to Arizona. That’s not going to happen. I guess I’ll have to go.”

The courthouse was overflowing with perspective jurors. I sat down by a lady who writes. Things were looking my way; I had a captive audience. She told me about her book, and I told her about my book. Two hours went by in a clip. I bought her book. I was in my own world. I could handle this. Surely, jury duty couldn’t be that hard.

I talked to the other people who also waited. Several of the contractors were sweating bullets. This time of the year was crucial for them. They were working like crazy, getting jobs done before winter. They knew when winter came their work would slow down. They needed these next two weeks. This was money for their families. One of them had a roof to put on a customer’s house, and he had a crew to run. His money, just like mine, was also taking wings and flying away. The weather was coming in. It wasn’t looking good for them.

I was thinking, “There are people I know who love to sit in court and listen to all the details. Bring them in — they don’t have anything to do. They have time on their hands, I don’t.”

The first day, we came and went and came back. The next day, we sat waiting and then I heard my name called. I forgot about money, my book, being funny, or what was going on outside the courtroom.

“Is Betty J. Slade in the courtroom?” I stepped into the juror’s box. I became a perspective juror. Everything changed. It became serious. I was on trial. A man’s life was in my hands. I raised my hand and solemnly swore before God I would do what the courts required of me to the best of my ability.

We were asked, “Could we be fair and judge honestly?”

Some perspective jurors answered as a matter of fact, “Yes, I can. I’m honest. I can separate myself from the trial.”

I said, “I think so.” I had to do some real soul searching. Could I really judge another person’s fate? Am I of the best one for this job?

Everyone in the courtroom was under the gun. The prosecutor, the juror, the police force, the witnesses, the judge and the defendant — everyone was on trial. As citizens of Archuleta County, we were all responsible for the well-being of other citizens in this community.

Final brushstroke: I learned a lot about the court system, the law, myself and the responsibility of a juror. Being a juror is an awesome task, I don’t envy anyone who is chosen. When I was dismissed, even though I was kicking and screaming before that day, I felt like I had been asked to leave a secret circle. That is when I wanted to stay and become the best citizen I could be.

Artist’s quote

“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.” — George Washington Carver

Readers’ comments

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This story was posted on October 24, 2013.