Friday, February 25, 2011

civic duty? check.

I just finished serving on a jury for a federal court up in Reno. I reported, along with 122 other potential jurors, not one bit worried about ending up in the final twelve. But somehow I did, and all of a sudden my regular life was on hold, as, for two full weeks, I had to leave the house by 7:00 every morning, and did not return until between 6 and 6:30 at night. It was crazy on many levels, from hearing the intricacies of the case (over 60 witnesses), to dealing with the other jurors, with whom I could not discuss the case until it was over and we began deliberations. Some of them were an extreme test of my patience and good will, with their bad language, habits, and manners. A couple of people couldn't seem to say a single sentence without a colorful word inserted somewhere. Others didn't feel the need to cover their mouths when they coughed or sneezed. Some needed regular breaks to go outside and smoke, and one guy decided he could still chew his tobacco in the jury room as long as he had a water bottle to spit it in. Two jurors refused to talk at all. I really tried to be pleasant to all, or at least tolerant, and it really tested me at times! For a week and a half, every time we were sent to the jury room for a break, this group of strangers had to talk about everything EXCEPT the one thing we had in common. Finally it was time for deliberations. What a process -- it took three DAYS, during which we were in a small room with no windows. We had to be escorted by an armed court officer during any breaks we took for fresh air. We were able to go home at night, thankfully; although we had a bad winter storm for a few days, and that commute nearly did me in a few times.

On Day Two of deliberations, I had apparently run out of patience, because when the tobacco-spitting Juror #7 decided to make yet another rude and off-colored joke, I heard myself come to life and tell everyone that we were not going to speak this way anymore. I told him (and of course everyone else) that since this was currently "my workplace", I had some rights, and I wasn't going to put up with the language and stories anymore. As you might imagine, there was an immediate ripple of awkwardness that went through the room, and then Juror 7 said, "Okay, I'm sorry. I will be more careful." I said, "I would really appreciate that. Let's move on." Inside I was thinking, "did I really just do that?"

Things improved. It still wouldn't have been safe for my mom to be in the room, haha, but things improved. At least after that, when there were things to apologize for, the apologies came without me intervening. Professionalism increased. I can only wonder what they have said about me since, but I am happy in hindsight that I let them know that I am a person of principles. Anyway, long story short - there were two defendants, each indicted on 62 counts (32 mail fraud, 26 wire fraud, 4 money laundering). After pouring over the evidence, scrutinizing financial records and money trails, we found them guilty of most of those counts. My head hurt every day. It's not easy to contribute to someone's prison sentence. There were tears in the courtroom from the female defendant as the verdict (each count for each defendant - it took forever) was read. Tears and then quiet-ish sobbing. I couldn't look. In the research I have done on the internet since the trial ended, I have found out that these two have been to trial for at least two past fraud schemes, and it looks like one of them has been to prison before. I felt less guilty about the crying then. Suffice it to say that it was a very unique experience, and one that I am most glad to have behind me.

Next up was my birthday - you can do the math if you want, but I'm not going to mention how strangely old I am getting. It fell on President's Day holiday, which was a tender mercy after having been away from my family for what seemed like years. They were very good to me on the homefront, but my favorite present was a letter from Brennan addressed to the Birthday Girl. He emails home faithfully every week, but this was a handwritten letter just for me. Honestly I'm not sure he has remembered my birthday voluntarily any other year, so it was special. He is learning and growing and maturing so much, it is a pretty amazing thing. It is clear to us that he is truly finding himself as he loses himself in the service of others (and God). I will share a great story from this week's email:

"This week has been the best of my mission. We taught 31 lessons!!!!! and we found 8 new investigators, and we set 5 baptismal dates!!!! Things have been just so amazing. We have worked so hard this week - I feel that the only thing I remember looking back at the past wek is laying down to go to bed and waking up! I can't believe how much the Lord is blessing us! 31 lessons is a lot of lessons by the way; I remember at the beginning of my mission here we were averaging 5-7 lessons per week, now we teach that daily. We have a baptism set up for March 5. His name is Norman LeFlame. I wish so bad you could meet him, we've been teaching him on and off since the beginning of January, and earlier last week we told him that we couldn't come by anymore because he wasn't keeping commitments. But we gave him one more chance and stopped by the next day to see if he had read and prayed. When we did, an amazing miracle happened. We walked in and we talked to him and he said he's 110 percent into it now. He said he read, prayed, and went to, and then he had a dream. He said he woke up and knew this is where he needed to be, so we asked him if he would prepare himself to be baptized on March 5 and he said, 'of course'. But here's the real miracle -- he and his inactive brother Joey live together, collect disability checks, and do almost nothing else every day. They smoke packs and packs of cigarettes a day because they have nothing else to do. And they drink a ton of coffee. So after he said he wanted to be baptized I girded up my loins and asked if I could then take his coffee maker . . . he said YES, and so I unplugged his coffee maker, and took all his coffee/tea. Then I asked about smoking and you could tell they were scared to give that up. They had one pack left and they said after that pack they wouldn't smoke anymore. But I said nope, and asked if I could have that pack, and they said yes - both of them actually committed to stop smoking and drinking and everything else. A true miracle!! I can't even begin to explain to you the happiness I feel, and the change I've seen in their lives."

Keith and I always said that if Brennan could just channel that strong will of his in the right direction, he might be okay! And there you have it.

Well, time to end this marathon post. One last thing -- thank you for helping out with Kristi's cookbook project. I really hope everyone will send some favorite recipes. Any McGee relatives reading this - would you please make sure your mom knows? I know she doesn't check her email often. I think the new cookbook will be something we will all use and love, so let's make it a good one! I am speaking to myself as well, since I haven't gathered any recipes for her yet!

Well, onward and upward. Make it a great day!