How I Survived Two Weeks of Jury Duty By Treating it Like a Job, And Other Tips

What ensued? A boring experience involving rooms with no windows, strangers with very strong opinions and strange snack habits, and a dead cockroach that I would come to know as Miriam.
Publish date:
June 24, 2015
politics, jury duty, the legal system

“You may not, under any circumstance, tweet, Facebook, or Instagram any aspect of your time spent serving as a juror on this trial,” the court officer’s voice boomed.

Oops, as I promptly erased the albeit vague Insta post lamenting about the next two weeks of my life. Yep, I was on Day One of many serving on a jury. This decision followed two days of listening to my peers try their very hardest to get out of it. Anarchy, racism, sexism, ageism, having a job, not having a job, needing a mani/pedi… anything short of dressing up like Princess Leia (RIP 30 Rock). One girl sang all of her answers -- literally sang them. She actually sounded kind of good. They didn’t pick her.

They picked me, despite the fact that I rambled about incarcerated family members and buried my face in Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, hoping they would peg me as a radical menstruating female or something. I think all that really did was cement the fact that I was literate and probably a critical thinker. Damn.

I wasn’t exactly psyched about it, but also couldn’t think of a real reason why I couldn’t be a fair and impartial party on a case. True confession: I was a little excited. The case wasn’t serious enough to warrant a CSI crew and we wouldn’t be sending anyone to jail. I could maybe find enjoyment in our legal process without ruining someone’s life in the process. Bureaucracy owned me for the next two weeks (which doesn’t sound like a long time, but trust me, it was) and all I could do was stare out the window at a nearby Shake Shack for solace.

What ensued? A boring, perhaps slightly entertaining experience involving rooms with no windows, random strangers with very strong opinions and strange snack habits, and a dead cockroach that I would come to know as Miriam. Here is how I not only survived jury duty, but was kind of into it.

Decide to treat it like a job

At first I was bummed because I just started what is essentially my dream job and was just getting into that groove where I didn’t feel like I was going to get fired at any moment and I had toned down the swearing during the work day. I had a tragic case of the FOMOs, plus I missed the work. Which is a thing apparently that happens when you like your job.

I decided in the interest of sanity, I had to throw myself into jury duty as an actual job. I took notes, PAID ATTENTION, and reminded myself to be actively engaged throughout despite wanting to daydream about Shia Labeouf’s rattail. Each day I settled in with my plethora of liquids (latte, Diet Coke, water) and pretended like I was getting paid. This kept me from getting bored, but also flexed a brain muscle or two I don’t use in everyday life.

Find a safe haven for your lunch break

Every day at 1pm, we were released into the sunshine for our lunch hour. I would never go so far as to say that I know what it’s like to be released from prison into freedom, but that’s kind of how it felt. Eyes squinty, skin defrosting from the AC break, I scampered as far away from the other jurors as possible. I did a quick Google search and found frozen yogurt, all the surrounding Starbucks, a farmer’s market, and a good post-trial taco and tequila bar.

Other jurors ate in the courthouse, and they seemed grumpier for it. Think of it as an opportunity to check out a new neighborhood, and dust off that anthology of Hunter Thompson Rolling Stone articles that you’ve been meaning to read since Christmas.

Don’t lose touch with reality

I know I said to treat it like a job, but that’s when you’re there. As soon as you’re released, remember that it’s not your real life and so don’t get into the habit of immediately going home to talk manically at your cat while sloshing wine around and gesticulating wildly on your balcony. Your boyfriend WILL think you are crazy.

I was lucky enough to have an understanding boss who told me to just relax after court instead of doing work, but I tried to keep in touch. I pitched stories, I found a few spin or yoga classes in the area, and I scheduled drinks with co-workers to keep up with the office gossip. That way when you do eventually get thrown back into the real world, you won’t “OBJECT” to your barista when she neglects to give you the right size straw for your iced latte.

Find amusement where you can

Attorneys don’t laugh. Judges don’t smile. Witnesses don’t joke. In all 16 seasons of SVU, have you ever seen Olivia Benson’s face light up at an Ice T one-liner? You’re going to need a little comedic relief, and you’re going to have to find it yourself.

I found it in the court reporter who would rudely yell “WHAT” at anyone whose words she didn’t get down while drinking a homemade green smoothie from a jar, the court officer who flirted quietly with the giggling clerk, and the dead cockroach in our juror bathroom that I named “Miriam.” She would lie there, looking how I felt sometimes, until our last day.

Pack like you’re going camping

It took me almost the full two weeks to realize that your day is never what you think it will be. A freezing cold courtroom will be boiling hot the next, and a crazy busy Monday will lead into a mind-numbing Tuesday. Bring a backpack with layers, water, snacks, a book, a magazine, download a podcast or two, carry change for vending machines (peanut M&Ms and Coke Zero was my breakfast a few times), and maybe a notepad and pen. We were always left in our little juror room for at least an hour each morning, so I was able to get my morning pages done.

Basically, pack like you’re going camping, but in a dismal gray room with only two outlets and not even the promise of a s’more.

Don’t bury your face in your phone

For the first few days, when we weren’t in the courtroom, we sat in silence with our heads buried in our phones until we scrambled to an outlet to get that percentage past 50. FYI, the wifi sucked something awful. We eventually began talking to each other and a lot of my fellow jurors were really freaking interesting. We’re not all besties now, but it did feel a little bit like a court-ordered Breakfast Club sans weed breaks and Judd Nelson.

Had I scrolled Instagram for two full weeks, I wouldn’t have learned about the juror who was moving to Bali, or the juror who owned a restaurant I love. It’s an opportunity to be present and get out of your daily scroll fest to make a small connection. You can look at 100 photos of your cousin’s friend’s engagement ring later.

Take it seriously

At the end of the day, I believe in the fact that every person is deserving of a fair trial with a jury of their peers. I was impressed and pleased with the seriousness with which everyone took the case, and the long hours we put in discussing the details over and over until we all came to an agreed conclusion. I’m talking white boards, Sharpies, so much coffee, and more than a few heated discussions.

I look back on the experience with balanced boredom and interest, and am genuinely grateful to have spent some time in that room contributing to our judicial system. I can’t say the same for poor Miriam.

Promo image credit: Robert Couse-Baker / Creative Commons