Friday, July 14, 2006

Jury Duty

I tried to console myself. I really tried to think noble thoughts about my solemn duty as a citizen. I tried to think of Stephen Biko, beaten to death in a South African prison ... of women in the Middle East getting stoned to death for adultery, or beaten if they make accidental eye contact with a man to whom they are not related ... of the Disappeared in South America ... all people who dearly wish they lived in a nation where they could have some semblance of a fair trial.

But in reality, I was thinking of only three things:

1. How far behind I would get with work...

2. Being subjected to profoundly bad coffee** and being crammed into a room with 152 people and 96 hard plastic chairs...

3. Thoughts of hours of uninterrupted knitting prior to being called into the courtroom for voir dire.

**(The three worst places to find coffee in the United States are: the Nashville airport, the Texaco station in Snow, Oklahoma and the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge)

So, I brought my summons, parked in the big concrete garage, and presented myself for duty. There was a slightly befuddled young sheriff's deputy who had never seen knitting before, but no problem with the plastic needles at security. I even brought my own coffee. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, instead of contending for orange plastic chairs in the Hideous 1970s Waiting Room From Hell, jurors can now wait to be called in the public library immediately adjacent to the courthouse, a much more pleasant prospect than my previous experiences with the jury pool. Life looked good.

But, after three whole days of knitting in the jury pool, and not getting called, all I accomplished was about three square feet of a simple Old Shale stole. Here's a peek at the unblocked fabric:

Yarn consumed: about four skiens of vintage Unger Plantation Cotton generously given to me by Diann Lippman. When she gave me this yarn, she of course did not know that I made a "hippie shawl" out of Plantation Cotton many aeons ago in a very similar color, so this is a fun deja shawl experience for me. Thanks, Diann!

Working with cotton sometimes makes my hands ache, so I also cast on for a pair of socks.

This round of jury duty has taught me not to bring an interesting-looking knitted object into a situation with a high density of non-knitters who haven't brought anything to read or otherwise occupy themselves and who, desperate for conversation, want to regale you with all kinds of questions about why you would knit something you could buy at WalMart.

Best of all, they think they are clever, and that they are the first person ever to confront you with the fact (get ready for a shock) that ready-made socks and sweaters are commonly available in retail stores.

(((***... IF ONLY I'D KNOWN ... ***)))

This I promise to myself -- next time I have jury duty, I won't shower or comb my hair, and I will wear my ratty old Aqualung raincoat, and bring socks to mend. Smelly ones, even. That'll keep 'em at arm's length. That will be way too weird to even ask about. In fact, it might even get me out of jury duty for good..

On the bright side, I found myself filling the role of "yarn magnet" quite nicely. As I sat in the library waiting for my name to be called by Der Jurymeister, I soon found myself accompanied by a crocheter, who asked "may I sit with you? It's great to sit with someone else doing needlework." She was soon followed by a seasoned knitter working on a cabled scarf and then by a brand-new collegiate knitter who was floundering in deep water because her mother's friend had decided to teach her how to knit socks on two circular needles as her very first project (at least she had a copy of Cat Bordhi's book).

This made for a total of four public knitters out of a group of about 200 potential jurors. This means that two percent of the pool was emotionally comfortable enough to do needlework in public. A few other people admitted that they wished they had brought their needlework, and there were probably a few more silent knitters out there in the pool, wishing they had brought their WIP, but who had left it at home, perhaps out of fear of having their work snatched away by a sheriff's deputy.

Here is what I learned from the non-needlework, non-book-reading jury pool members:

I was reminded -- as I often am -- that non-knitters rarely consider bringing along something to occupy their hands and minds on those occasions when they are certain to spend a good deal of time waiting for their name to be called.

I was reminded -- as I often am -- that the vast majority of such people will make every effort to quantify the degree of the boredom they are enduring, and to relay this infomation to the person seated closest to them.

I was reminded -- as, once more, I often am -- that the real Alphas of this group, the most vociferous of the Truly Bored, are unable to comprehend that, in these situations, one is powerless to do anything except wait. It is entirely out of our hands. We no more know when our name will be called at the dentist, the gastroenterologist or at jury duty, than we know when our name will be called when the Great Night Clerk In The Sky decides that it's check-out time for us at Hotel Earth.

Your name being called is a matter of Fate. This is a cosmic thing. A Zen thing. And it requires calm, focused meditation and simple acceptance.


So, I have concluded the following....

If you know you're going to be cooling your heels all day and you don't bring a book, magazine or even the morning paper to read, you don't have enough sense to be on a jury.

If, after being told by the Official Juror Wrangler, that you are allowed to wait in the library across the plaza from the courthouse for your group to be called, and you go hang around in the library but still don't even pick up a book, you don't have enough sense to be on a jury.

If you get upset because you didn't bring anything to do, refuse to pick up a book, and spend the entire day pacing back and forth along the plaza, smoking and cussing about how hot it is and how bored you are, you don't belong on a jury.

If you ask for, but cannot comprehend, a slow, simple explanation of the difference between knitting and crochet -- just the basic principle that one involves a single hook and results in a firm fabric, while the other involves a minimum of two needles and results in an elastic fabric -- then you most certainly will not understand mitochondrial DNA in a murder case, and therefore have no business on a jury.

If, after denying yourself books and ruining all attempts at small talk with your fellow jurors, you continue to talk at people who clearly would prefer to discuss something besides the magnitude of your boredom, you don't belong on a jury.

In short, if I were the defendant, I would rather haul in three winos from the alley behind the courthouse and allow them to decide my fate over a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors than have you on a jury.

On the bright side, if you are such a person, you are almost certainly not reading this blog.

Or any other knitting blog.

Or any book reviews, either.



At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Barbara-Kay said...

Hmmph, haven't you read about the illiteracy rate in BR? You think these bonzos can READ? Lady of the jury, I rest my case!

At 10:31 AM, Blogger saz said...

Oh I enjoyed this post! I was in a jury pool a few years back and picked as a juror for a double murder trial which consumed 6 weeks of my life. Did not bring my knitting for that one. Then exactly one year later I had a jury summons again! This time I brought my knitting. I read an article during the Scott Peterson trial about the reasons lawyers do not pick certain jurors. One defense lawyer said knitters make him sqeamish sitting there calmly making all those little hangman nooses! It must have worked the second time cuz I wasn't picked. So ALWAYS bring your knitting.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous sogalitno said...

we cant bring knitting to the courthouse in NYC. the last time i was called for jury duty it was during the coldest spell of a very cold winter. had to report in brooklyn and then was sent to CRIMINAL COURT! yikes! we spent two days hanging around a felony trial (would have been murder except the guy barely lived). I wanted to be picked cause i hated my job at the time - but after waiting thru two VOIR DIREs during which time we had to SIT in the courtroom and DO NOTHING on the judge's orders - no reading, no NOTHING - it was stupid. Spent two whole days that way and then i had to sit in the pool again with no knitting but at least a book.

enormous waste of time - in NYC an educated white woman older than 25 is rarely picked - and as this was a case of two black men the only white woman picked was a sweet looking schoolteacher with blonde hair who was about 22.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Dez Crawford said...

I am one of those people who seem to be on regular rotation for jury duty. My husband NEVER seems to get called. Go figure. And it comes in threes for me -- city court, district court and federal, all within a few months every couple of years. The judges here are funny. Of course you can knit while waiting to be called in for voir dire, you just can't leave the waiting area except to go to the bathroom unless there is a scheduled break. Once you are actually called in for voir dire, most judges allow you to knit if you're not flapping pattern books around and causing visual distraction, but some don't allow it at all. Almost all allow you to read, so I always bring a book as well. Only one judge that I know of requires that you sit and do nothing. I guess it varies from place to place. Barbara-Kay, you're right about the literacy rate. I was astounded at the number of people who just SAT all day, surrounded by books galore. Go figure.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger Diann said...

You're welcome! What a lovely shawl - and the green Samoa one a few entries ago is just lovely. I'm glad the yarn went home to you - it was meant to be.

As far as jury duty goes, I've said many times that I'll never commit a crime because being judged by what is termed a "jury of my peers" scares the bejeebers out of me!

Come see what I've been up to - and I hope it's something - at

At 11:45 PM, Blogger DianeS said...

I rather like the idea of making the lawyers nervous by resembling Mme. DeFarge. I'll have to try that.

My father got called to jury duty quite often, but my mother never that I remember. The problem was that my dad was always put in the pool for a civil trial, usually personal injury. Then the lawyers would discover that he worked as a Safety Engineer in an ammunition plant. He'd be out of that jury pool so fast his head would spin! It irritated him a bit. He wanted to do his civic duty but was never allowed.

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Carol Lee said...

Dez, I'm amazed you're ever selected to actually sit on a jury! Here near Richmond, VA that's not gonna happen. There's an episode of "Becker" (old Ted Dansen show) where he's called, but the moment he mentions books, read, etc. he's excused! He's in NYC, sounds just like Richmond.

Thanks for all the worthwhile words though, you always get me thinking!

Carol in VA

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Dez Crawford said...

Carol, that's the funny part -- I get called like clockwork for jury duty but I always sit in the jury pool and NEVER get picked. I won't complain though, because I have an awful phobia about being sequestered.

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Cynthia said...

Heh, I got a jury summons for 8/15 in today's mail. I will certainly bring a UFO if I actually have to go to the courthouse. I don't think they actually let you knit in the courtroom in my county.

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Joyous said...

Hi, there, linked her from celticdragonfly over at LiveJournal. Personally, I think the lawyer who saw hangman's nooses in knitting is probably not fit for any kind of court service...creepy??

I got called last month...and yes, it always amazes me, the number of people who sit and do *nothing* for hours on end...the idea that *nothing* is what's going on in their brains is terrifying.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous naomi dagen bloom said...

brilliant post, dez. i know some knitting lawyers we might convince to use it as a performance piece at the next ABA gathering. but would they get it? the guys, that is.

to be fair, just after reading your post, i walked into the room where my spouse is knitting. "would you take that to
jury duty?" vigorously nodded affirmative, wondered why i'd asked.

criminal court in nyc supporting 18 grandmothers on trial for trying to enlist last fall. got my yarn in one day on circulars; code pink woman making BIG scarf. but they caught me another time. six very long days.

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous cflute said...

When I got called for jury duty in Multnomah County, Oregon, a couple of years back, knitting needles - circular bamboo ones - were NOT permitted in the jury room. But crochet hooks were. As were laptops. So I bussed home during the lunch hour, exchanged the proscribed knitting for the laptop, and at least got to do *something* productive and/or entertaining, that afternoon.

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Eloise Mason (nee Beltz-Decker) said...

Having been Raised Right, I also am amazed at people who don't bring anything at all to do when they KNOW they're going to be waiting.

And they, in turn, are baffled when I have something with me to do even in such short waits as 'lined up to get on the bus'. I am NEVER without at least one book. It's a compulsion. :->

And, uhm, if you're the Dez Crawford who mailed my mom a hognose snake labeled 'Pralines' once and stayed up all night telling us ghost stories, I think I know you? :->

At 12:26 PM, Anonymous Barbara Hynes said...

Here in Ventura County, California, they tell you right on the jury summons that NO needlework implements of any kind are allowed. You may bring your laptop, though. I get called every year, but I've never been picked. Not even questioned. But since I am a knitter and crocheter with a master's degree, I guess I have the chances of a snowball in Hell of being picked for a jury. I usually just see it as a paid day off work to sit and read. I enjoyed reading your post. I am never bored; I always bring my own "entertainment kit" if I am going to wait anywhere.


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