The pool was full. Crowded as a matter of fact. With about 170 people to choose from, what were the chances they would pick me?
Recently I was “called” to Jury Duty. I’ve never “served” before.
In part, the Jury Summons read:
Tell your employer you are summoned to serve as a juror. Call after 5pm each evening before your appearance date to learn whether or not you are to report to the Central Jury Room.
Things to know:
- Jurors are paid $40 per day. Travel, parking and lunch, are not included.
- There are no exemptions everyone who is eligible must serve.
- You have a legal obligation to serve.
- Failure to respond to the summons is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment of up to 30 days or both.
Jurors are on-call for jury selection for one week.
I forgot to call the first night. It was Sunday, May 10th, Mother’s Day and I’d just spent a truly glorious day with my two kids picnicking and hiking at a favorite spot. I completely panicked Monday morning when I got to work and remembered to call. Luckily, the recorded message from the night before indicated that there was no jury duty that day.
In fact, each evening following, the recording repeated the same message: “no jury duty” the next day.
By the time Thursday rolled around, I assumed I had dodged-a-bullet of sorts. While it’s true I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury, this summons came at the worst possible time for me. I’m an Admissions Coordinator at a private school and with barely 4 weeks left before the end of the school year, I was wrapping up tours, and contracts and solidifying enrollment for the following year. There were day-to-day dealings that needed attention and end-of-the-year activities I needed to attend and document. And that didn’t include the fact that my own two kids had end-of-the-year events at their school as well, that required my attention or attendance, including a sports banquet and a “moving up ceremony”. To say I was busy would be an understatement.
Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised when Thursday night’s message indicated that juror numbers 2001 through 2185, were to report to the Commissioner of Jurors at 9:00am the next morning. I was juror number 2164.
Friday, May 15
The line began to form outside the Jury Building shortly before the doors opened promptly at 9:00am. In an orderly fashion, we filed into a large room filled with seats. Somewhere I had read that Wi-Fi was available in the Jury Building so I brought a book and my laptop. Fridays are my busiest days at work. I also, had it in my head that I’d just be sitting around for hours before going home and I might as well get a jump on my work if I could. After taking a seat I glanced around the room. There were about 80 of us. Sometime within the two-weeks between when we all received our summons and being seated in this room, the pool had shrunk by more than half.
On the original Summons, there’s a statement that reads:
“You may ask for a one-time postponement of up to 6 months.”
If you cannot serve, contact the Commissioner of Jurors before your date of service.
A second postponement may be requested if:
- you have a family or medical emergency
- serving on a jury for 5 or more days will pose severe financial hardship to you
- you are a student currently enrolled in classes
- you are 78 years of age or older
I took my “postponement” several years ago when my kids were little and I was their “primary care taker”. Perhaps the missing potential jurors had exercised their request for a one-time postponement or were exempt for some of the reasons listed above. Maybe they just didn’t show up. What happens if you just don’t show up? I learned later that the Commissioner of Jurors will send the Sheriff out to escort you in. At least, that’s what she said when someone asked.
The Commissioner of Jurors was a professionally dressed, pleasant, no-nonsense, middle-aged woman with short blondish-grayish hair who spoke with authority. She clearly explained to us what to expect. We were being called for a civil trial that might “take a while”, she said. The words barely left her lips when one by one, row-by-row, hands immediately sprung up and excuses as to why people couldn’t or didn’t want to be a juror began to fly through air. Some of them sounded quite legitimate, some, not so much.
- I have no childcare.
- I’m a college student and taking summer classes that begin next week.
- I can’t hear very well.
- I have a wedding to go to.
- My daughter is graduating in another state.
- I have no transportation to get here.
- I own my own business and no one can take my place. etc., etc.
Swiftly and decisively the Commissioner addressed each person and their excuse. Within 10-minutes we lost about 30 more potential jurors. It was obvious she’d been down this road before. She was pro. I was impressed and told her so when the opportunity presented itself. The rest of us were asked to fill out some standard paper work and a Juror Questionnaire in carbon copy. The questionnaire was designed specifically for the type of case we were here for. We each kept a copy and the others went to the Judge, the Plaintiffs attorney and the Defense attorney to be used during Jury Selection.
Have you or someone close to you ever:
(among other things….)
Been the victim of a crime
Okay. I thought to myself, here’s why they’re going to let me go, for sure.
The Commissioner of Jurors then asked us to stand. She and a Court Officer escorted us to the Court House where Jury Selection would begin. Watches and bracelets were placed in small bins along with our bags and pocket items and then sent through an x-ray machine as we each walked through a body scanner to enter the building.
We were headed to the 4th floor. There’s only one small elevator in the Court Building. I, like many others, chose to take the stairs. One smiling woman and three gentlemen in suits greeted us into a courtroom directing us to take a seat in the gallery. The gallery is where “spectators” sit. This was a classic courtroom, much like the ones you see on T.V. shows. The gallery was filled with rows of beautiful, wooden pew-style benches. A bar or railing separated the gallery from the attorney’s tables, and in the front of the room stood the Bench, which is the raised desk the judge sits at, with doors on either side. Facing the gallery, the jury box was to the left of the judge’s bench. There was a separate entrance to the jury box where members of the jury sat that was also enclosed by a rail. The witness box (or stand) was a raised seat between the bench and the jury box.
The last time I’d been in a courtroom, the Judge had invited me into the “well” (the open space between the bench and the council tables) to read a letter I had been encouraged to write by a parole officer named Diane. As I faced the bench, Diane stood by my right side holding my arm ever so gently, in an effort to help me steady my shaking hand as I read an Impact Statement to the Court. That was about five years ago and the reason I thought I would be eliminated at some point from the pool.
As I sat in the gallery of this courtroom, I was immediately drawn to the stacks, of white cardboard boxes (the kind you might use to hold file folders in) that were placed along the inside of the railing behind the Plaintiff’s table. There had to be at least twenty of them. I couldn’t help but wonder what was in them. There was also a stack of about ten 3’ x 5’ white poster-boards leaning against a table inside the well, in front of the bench. They too captured my interest. The next thing I noticed was that there were three attorney tables. If there’s a Plaintiff and a Defendant, to whom did the third table belong to? It wasn’t long before we learned that the Plaintiffs had filed suit against “two doctors” and an “institution and its staff of nurses”. The doctors had one attorney and the institution and its nurses had a separate attorney. Two Defendants.
We were asked to come into the jury box via random selection. Juror “numbers” were randomly picked out of a clear tube with hand crank, similar to a bingo cage where the hand-crank is used to mix up the balls before they’re lifted through a latched opening and “called out” when the cylinder comes to a rest. The remaining juror numbers were typed on small pieces of paper and tumbled inside the tube before selected. The tube sat on the middle council table. If your number was called, you were asked to leave the gallery and come and sit in the jury box where the three sets of lawyers would take turns asking a variety of questions.
A civil trial requires 6 jurors and 2 alternates to be picked to “hear” the case.
The lawyers tried not to reveal too much detail about the actual case, only giving us information that was necessary and could aid in their selection process. When your number was picked, your questionnaire was pulled and a copy was given to each “side”. After the first eight potential jurors were called, some cursory, general questions were posed to the “box” and the “gallery” and again, one by one, hands shot into the air. This time, a line formed at the entrance to the courtroom and private discussions were held with all four attorneys in the hall. Some folks returned to the gallery but many, we never saw again.
- Do you or does anyone in your immediate family work in the medical field?
- Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever had a heart attack?
- Have you or anyone in your immediate family ever been to Vassar Hospital?
One super-obnoxious man who felt the need to make his feelings known to us all, all-day-long, couldn’t help but make a remark after the third question was asked:
We live here. We’ve all been to Vassar!
And indeed, it is a local hospital, pretty much everyone had. So we all joined the line that began to snake around the gallery and each of us had our private huddle in the hallway. When it was my turn, the attorneys wanted to when and why I’d been to Vassar.
“I have two sports-playing, teenagers.” I said, “Aside from giving birth there, let’s just say we’ve frequented the ER more than once over the years, as recently as this past November when my son broke his collar bone in two places playing soccer and last month, when my daughter sprained her wrist at the bowling alley.”
The Plaintiffs lawyer then asked:
“Would you be inclined to favor Vassar in any way as a result of your visits there?”
“No, I said. Not necessarily.”
They all smiled and sent me back to the gallery.
This is how it went for the majority of the day. Words like policies, procedures, protocol and expert testimony were used in the questioning. Sometimes statements would be made and a brief discussion between a lawyer and the jurors in the box would ensue.
As the hours passed, the grunts and grumblings grew louder. It was frustrating and disheartening to me, not to mention distracting. I kept thinking, if I ever needed a jury, I wouldn’t want people who didn’t care or didn’t want to be there, making a judgment on my behalf. I was really trying to pay attention to the questions the attorneys were asking or discussing. I was trying to understand how this process was working or if it was working. Despite the “bad timing” — for all of us, I’m sure — I’m the cornball, who believes we’re all privileged at birth by the freedoms we have in this country and that serving on a jury is important and an honor, in addition to being our civil duty. I was taking the process very seriously (and thankfully, I wasn’t the only one.)
This is the crux of our judicial system. Isn’t it?
I wanted to believe that it was.
Despite the huffing and puffing about how long this was taking, the attorneys plowed through the day taking their turns asking questions, making statements, having brief discussions. I began to formulate a sense of who they were in my own mind.
The only woman attorney was one of two lawyers for the Plaintiffs. The pair came from a firm in Maryland. The woman was about 5’4, in her late 50s and had straight, brown, shoulder-length hair parted at the side. She wore black heels and a belted dress that fanned out at the bottom like an umbrella. It was chilly in the courtroom. She wore a sweater. She also wore a “permanent” smile on her face. It reminded me of the “Cheshire Cat”, not in a bad way, just as a matter of fact. She graduated with J.D. Honors Citation from George Washington University Law School, 1985 after getting her Bachelors of Arts at the University of Maryland. Maybe it was that she appeared competent or that she was the only woman attorney or both, but there was something very interesting about her, to me.
Like the Cheshire Cat ever smiling, she silently observed everything and EVERYONE. She did not ask any questions of the potential jurors though, that was left to her partner. The older man was seemingly pleasant. He had a slight build and was not much taller than she was. He had a small, oval face and his receding hairline was met with long thinning strands of silver that swept across the middle of his head. A 1971 graduate of the University of Maryland School of law, this man was well seasoned, well learned and well dressed. His smile exuded confidence and he was clearly comfortable in his own skin. There was an “old school” wisdom or charm about him and when he walked around the courtroom, there was a spring to his step, literally. When I looked at him Jiminy Cricket came to mind.
The two lawyers for the two defendants gave off a kind of “good cop – bad cop” vibe to me from the way they interacted with each other. The “good cop”, was a local attorney who represented the two doctors. He was a man in his mid-to-late 40s, of medium build, brown hair, a dad of three. He seemed like a “nice” guy. Friendly. His “thing” I noticed, was to ask , “fair question or fair statement?” when “interviewing jurors in the box. It was as if he was establishing a level playing field or seeking your approval. He was smart. Likeable and I liked him. He was a graduate of Cornell University and went on to Washington University School of Law where he graduated in 1996 as a member of the Order of Barristers.
The “bad cop” was not really a “bad cop” at all. It’s just the way the two attorneys seemed to feed off of each other, after each other that highlighted the differences in their personalities. By all accounts, the “hospital’s” lawyer was sharp, smooth. The word, “slick” comes to mind, but again, not in a bad way. More like, in a “polished” or experienced way. A handsome man in his late 50s, his crystal blue eyes sparkled right into the gallery. He was a former DA and veteran trial lawyer. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School after completing a rigorous pre-med undergrad program giving him a unique understanding of medical cases. He came from a firm about an hour south of us. He didn’t smile nearly as much as the other lawyers and when he did I noticed a slight gap between his top two middle teeth. He approached the podium in front of the jury box with thoughtfulness. You could almost “see” his mind working. He would say something and then intentionally hesitate before speaking again, planting a seed. He gave you “food for thought.” He’d build his questions slowly and then strike quickly, deliberately, like a viper. Try as I did to change the thought, I just couldn’t and from day one, I called him “The Viper.” There was no question he was there to defend and he’s a man you would want to be defending you. His message was very clear: WAIT until you hear ALL of the evidence, until the Defense has a chance to present their case before making a judgment.
I could do that.
The selection process was at times a little confusing. Even though the attorneys had the questionnaires of the eight people in the jury box, when they asked questions, they would often also, face the gallery. Hands would shoot up into the air, a line would form by the door and private meetings would take place in the hall. More potential jurors were “let go”. After the lunch break, the pool had dwindled to about 35. By day’s end, there were 12 of us left in the gallery with 8 still in the box. I’d just about convinced myself that perhaps I had dodged the bullet when the attorneys nestled together near the counsels’ tables. I thought well, that was it and the 8 in the box were the ones. But after their brief, quiet discussion amongst themselves, at 4:45pm that Friday afternoon, all 20 of us were asked to return on Monday morning at 9:00am.
Admittedly, I was shocked.
Still, the whole process intrigued me. Somehow by this point, all the grunters and groaners were gone. All day long, I was interested, fascinated even, at the method of elimination and how it played out but at no point during that day, not for one second, did it ever cross my mind that what was about to unfold would become all-consuming and at times emotionally and mentally overwhelming, not to mention, a life changing event.
Note: While this is more than a blog post, it’s not quite a book however, it is a story that I feel the need to tell and although it’s not so much about the details of the trial, it is about the incredible process of our judicial system, from jury selection to verdict. So if you’re interested, stay tuned….
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat…..Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive…..Forgiveness does not excuse anything…..You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness…..”
~ Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
Three years, thirty-three checks and $10,544.28 later, recompense has been paid and restitution made for some of the items that were taken from my previous home over a period of several months.
I’ve “let go of his throat.”
Now that all the money is in the bank, the question is, what should we do with it? How do you spend restitution money? Do you split it two ways or in our case, four ways? Should it be put toward education or bills? Should we go on vacation? Give it to charity?
What would you do with it?
After catching this “burglar” in our home three years ago, we’ve moved on, mostly. Although the journey continues. Two of us have left that house and relocated.
My Edward still stands guard in the window where I left him, where the rest of my family lives, right next door to where this thief lives.
The sun has faded Edward some but his effect is the same. Creepy, like my former neighbor.
An Order of Protection remains in effect until June, 2015. It’s a silly piece of paper if you ask me, considering the Order prohibits our neighbor from being within 100-yards of any of the four of us, yet there’s barely ten-feet of shared grass that sits between his house and ours. Even though I’ve “let go of his throat”, truth be told, every time I drop off or pick my kids up from that address, I’m tempted to call the police. He is after all, in constant violation. He has been since the day the Order was signed, despite the pictures I provided the court. He’s also Caucasian, in his early twenties and always wears a hoody. I was suspect of him before I knew he was the one repeatedly breaking into our home and I will continue to be leary of any person, boy or girl, that chooses to hide their identity beneath a hood in public. I don’t care what color skin they have. I trust my instinct.
Two days before the last check was deposited, Diane from Probation called me.
It’s Diane, she said. I’m just checking in to see if you can speak on the 26th?
The other two woman who have sat on the panel with me since Diane started it two years ago will also be there. Twice a year this Impact Panel speaks before an audience of convicted felons. They’re required to attend as part of their sentence.
Yes, of course I will, I said.
It’s hard for me to say “no” to Diane when she was the only person in the judicial system who took the time to really listen and try to understand the impact of what happened to my family. She stood by my side when I spoke before the court the day of the sentencing.
Even though life goes on and we’ve all moved on, they need to know. They need to hear first-hand about how their actions can affect the lives, for years to come, of the people they’ve committed crimes against. In our case, months of trauma was endured while we tried to figure out who and why? My kids were only 8 and 11. Now, we’re a family that’s been torn apart and all of our lives have been changed forever.
While it’s important not to dwell on the past, it’s equally important not to forget it.
The past can not be changed. It is, what it is. Our lives today are what they are, not because of the past but because of how we chose to deal with it at the time.
Hey, if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Right?
I am a bull.
Besides, restitution has been made, a debt has been paid and I’ve “let go of his throat.”
About a week ago, I spoke on a Victim’s Impact Panel.
Somehow I ended up speaking last. For the past two and a half years, each time before this time, I spoke first. Not that it matters what order we go in. It’s just how it’s been. And even though going first was the same experience before, there’s always a different kind of vibe to being in front of this room-full of offenders. The first time was scary, kind of like having an out-of-body experience. Surreal. I was fixated and fascinated by the men and women who sat before me. I knew I was speaking but I couldn’t really hear myself. Six months later, the numbness had worn off. My wounds resurfaced and there was anger in my words. The anger stayed with me for the third time as well. Time I have discovered does indeed heal wounds but it does not take them away, completely.
After that, I realized in having their undivided, mandatory attention, if I could manage to get over myself and my hurt, maybe I could seize the opportunity and convey a message. One that might say something like…
“Hey, you had no right to do what you did!” with composure and conviction instead of anger.
So that’s what I did.
There’s a certain kind of pressure that comes with going first though that leaves you wishing you had said ‘this or that’ by the time it’s over but this time, I spoke last.
This time, I began with the words “I’m blessed”, because I am. In so many ways.
Being the last to speak gave me the opportunity to really hear the others’ stories in a way that I hadn’t before, even though I had.
After hearing the other women panelists’ speak, I realized in comparison, how truly blessed I was to be in the company of such courage. I also realized how truly blessed my family is. We did not suffer physical assault. We were not beaten like the two brothers that were jumped for their iPods on their way home from school and ended up in the hospital. There was no loss of limb like the carpenter whose thumb was taken from him by a machetes-wielding, teenage boy who pushed his way into his home looking for his daughter. There was no rape; no loss of life. For us there was a repeated home-invasion over a period of several months, there was, the not knowing who or why for so long, but our obvious losses were only material ones.
This time despite how different our stories are I set aside the details and through all of our anguish, heard the common threads.
Fear. Stress. Anger.
We are bonded by these common threads that continue to reappear in our lives as a result of the actions of another human being. We are all still trying to pick up and put together some of the broken pieces of our lives.
So, yes,“I am blessed” I said,
“…the tentacles of your crimes extend further than you can see. Further than you can imagine. Further than I ever imagined they would continue to go even after you were arrested.”
And still, they reach.
No matter how far we move away, or how much we move on, no matter how long it’s been or how incredibly, fiercely, strong we have become, the domino effects of what you did lingers in the lives we live today.
We all have them, now. Once, we were whole, in a way; in our own livable way but what you did served to sever that. We became unraveled. All of us have children that were affected. All of us felt helpless when it came to protecting them. This is the saddest common thread of all. All of our families are fractured now. Alcoholism. Separation. Divorce. Suicide. Everyone copes differently with any given circumstance. When a tragic event occurs, some of us find the strength to keep moving forward. Some of us get stuck and can’t move forward. Some of us never will.
My message this time was that your actions affect other people – hugely—in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
At that moment in time, when you did what you did, you couldn’t possibly have thought ahead, to what your behavior then, might bring two or three or five years down the road. There is no way you considered how many lives; children, families would be negatively effected by your deeds. If you had stopped and thought about it, even just a little, maybe, oh, just maybe, you would not have done what you did.
I’m blessed it’s true, to be bonded to these women who continue to be a power of example to me, who continue to help me move forward in gratitude.
Photo Credits #1 & 2 Google Images
It’s dark outside. It’s late and the snow is softly falling. My son is watching basketball and my daughter has a friend sleeping over. Giggles echo up from the furthest corners of the house; one of my all-time, favorite sounds. Life is good, even though the week was fickle and unsettling. Actually, it was me that was unsettled it seemed, at some point, every day. Things just never quite fell into place. The flow of the week’s current pulled in unfamiliar, unsteady directions. Our usual groove was littered with bumps and unexpected twists. My patience seemed to wear thinner and thinner as each day passed. By week’s end I felt a slight rumbling within, leaving me with an unwanted feeling of restlessness.
Usually I have some kind of a thought or an “aha!” moment during the week that presents itself as the topic for what I’m going to write about in my once-a-week post. That never came. All week I had nothing but a blank page surrounded by frustration in my head. You can’t force words to paper. They come when they’re ready. And for me, they’re not always what I expect them to be. By Saturday afternoon my page was still empty and my thoughts too scattered. I couldn’t string together a sentence let alone a few paragraphs even though I felt the gnawing. Too persistent to ignore, something was there, tugging at me. I just couldn’t find it.
Maybe I didn’t want to.
Not until I sat down this evening, at this late hour watching the snow fall quietly and steadily leaving behind a fresh, clean coat of white; beautiful, untouched white, did it occur to me….
Two weeks ago Diane, the parole officer assigned to our case called asking if I would speak on her Impact Panel again this March. Yes, I said. Ever since she started the panel two years ago and every time she’s assembled it since then I’ve said yes.
I always say yes.
How could I say no? I owe it to her, to them, to my kids, to me. To me.
It helps me continue to put things into perspective, a little better, each time.
Yes Diane, of course I’ll speak.
When I hung up, I did what I do and I buried the call. Deep. I Sent it to the very back of my head and tucked it away. I went back to work, too busy to think about all that stuff, again. Besides, I’ve moved and moved on. Haven’t I? I let it sit and stew until today, until it began to wrestle its way to the surface while I tried to squelch it down with my scattered thoughts and blank page.
Now here I am at the eleventh hour thinking about it, writing about it, as it breaks free demanding to be heard on this dark and quiet night.
I try to stay positive in all my thoughts and dealings but some of last week’s news has left me feeling a bit grumpy.
Most distressing of course was the release of Louis Freeh’s report and his press conference on July 12th with regard to the actions of Pennsylvania State University surrounding the child abuse committed by former coach, Gerald Sandusky.
In short, the five most powerful and cowardly
leaders men (and I use that term loosely) at Penn State failed to take the necessary steps to protect children and made an active decision to conceal.
As a parent of a 13-year old football player, I’m dismayed and disgusted.
And while there is great debate, there still stands a bronzed statue of one of these men on campus.
My heart and sadness go out to the victims and their families.
Then, although on a much lighter (but disheartening none-the-less) note, there was the reveal of the 2012 U.S. Summer Olympic uniforms designed by Ralph (Lipschitz – yes that is his given name) Lauren.
Seriously, is there a brain surgeon on hand that could lend some intelligence to the Ralph Lauren design team that put these uniforms together? I concede that someone on this team did a fair amount of homework in the beret department. It’s true, members of the U.S. Army and Army Rangers as well as U.S. Special Forces have a long history of wearing a variety of colored berets. Indeed, a black beret was authorized for wear by Women soldiers in 1975. Still, it just doesn’t feel, let alone, look right. I don’t claim to be a patriotic fashionista but don’t most Americans wear baseball caps? Instead we have blazers, white slacks, skirts and berets. This is All-American sportswear?
The uniform, wreaks of upper-echelon snobbery.
And did it not occur to anyone on the Lauren staff that there might be the slightest, tiniest, public or political outcry from American patriots when we learned these gems were outsourced and made in China? China? Isn’t that a competing country in the Olympics? To his credit (only after all of this media hullabaloo) Mr. Lauren stated that he will make the 2014 uniforms in America.
I’m happy to hear at least that, as our team is supposed to representative of our nation.
What’s your opinion about either of these news topics?
Photo Credit #1 Google Images
Photo Credit #2 Google Images
Photo Credit #3 Ralph Lauren U.S. Olympic Uniforms
Two years ago this Spring, I stood in a courtroom and read to the judge, the Assistant D.A., the lawyers, the offender, his family and the rest of the court room, a statement outlying the immediate impact the offender’s actions had on our family. Standing by my side was the parole officer assigned to our case. That September, she started a Victim’s Impact Panel in the county I live in. Normally, such panels consist of victims of alcohol related crimes. This new panel is comprised of victims of felony crimes. Every six months since then, a small group of speakers is assembled at our Police Station’s Community Center to share our stories; what happened and the impact of what happened on our lives. I’ve been asked to speak three out of the four times the panel’s been assembled.
What do you do there? Is the audience only criminals? Are the police there?
These are some of the questions my soon to be 11-year-old daughter started asking me last Tuesday when I told her I would be speaking on the Panel again and wouldn’t be able to pick her up from school Thursday.
Well, I said, I tell them what happened and how it affected our family and yes, the audience is just criminals. They’re convicted felons and armed officers are scattered throughout the room.
How come you didn’t go last time? She asked.
Because Brian was there. I said.
In our case, Brian, is the offender. He’s the young man who’d been breaking into our house repeatedly for more than four months two winters ago. I wasn’t called last time because protocol says the victim should not speak at the same panel the offender is attending.
Did he have to go last time?
Yes. I said. It’s mandated; part of his sentence.
Can children go? She asked.
Do the criminals get to speak at the panel?
No. They’re not allowed to speak at all. They can write a question for one of us on an index card, pass it over to an officer and we can choose to answer or not answer it. When we’re all done speaking, we leave the room.
The audience members sit three to a table. There’s a questionnaire in front of them that they have to answer before they can leave. The parole officer collects them and brings them back to us.
We go to a different room and talk. There’s a person there that helps us work through any hard parts and then we get to look at the questionnaires.
What kind of questions are on the questionnaire? She wanted to know.
Oh, things like, what crime did you commit? Are you paying restitution? Who was affected by your crime? What do you think the impact of your crime was on your victim? Which of the victim’s stories impacted you the most and why and if you had a chance to say something to your victim now, what would it be?
Many members of the audience are impacted by my story because of the effects this continuous home invasion had on my children. Apparently, most criminals don’t like it when other criminals mess with children.
It’s been exactly a year since I spoke on the second panel. This time, I found myself less emotional overall and more thoughtful in my words. I’m less consumed with what happened and more focused on the impact.
I realize now, I have an opportunity to convey a message:
Your misguided, thoughtless, selfish actions have devastating effects on multiple lives. Grown men are left jobless, on medication and fighting insurance companies on a daily basis to cover medical expenses as a result of what you did. Young girls are constantly looking over their shoulders now and making plans to move out-of-state before your release from prison for fear of your return. Families who lived quietly and privately on your street are left with anger and confusion and are torn apart. You have compromised our ability to TRUST.
You DO NOT have the right to mess with people’s lives, especially children’s lives and most especially, MINE. It-is-not-Okay.
And, if I can’t tell Brian directly — (there’s a five-year Order of Protection against him for each member of my family while he’s on probation) I’ll tell others like him.
And I did.
This time, I also passed around theses pictures of our 21-year-old neighbor while he was dressed up like a burglar invading our home; the same pictures that were sent via email from the camera we had set up to catch him; the pictures my then eight-year-old daughter saw when the police were buzzing through our house the day he was arrested coming out of it, the ones Brian’s dad just couldn’t look at when I told him he should see what his son looked like when he was creeping around our home, uninvited.
So much has changed in our lives since and as a result of, what happened. While I don’t hold Brian completely responsible, there’s no doubt the fracture of our family is in part, collateral damage resulting from his invasion into our home, disrupting the harmony that once resided there and obliterating the sense of safety we enjoyed for so many years.
“You can’t let an event in your life define who you are. It’s not what happens to you but what you do, when something happens, that becomes part of your character.”
These are my words. I keep them on my About page and often revisit them to remind myself of what I believe to be true; to help me to continue to move forward.
To keep moving forward.
Mom? Did Brian have to fill out one of those questionnaires? Hannah asked.
Yes, I said. I’m sure he did. They all have to.
She paused for a minute, slowly looked up at me and said,
Can you see his?
Can I see his?
The possibility hadn’t occurred to me.
I don’t know.
Why don’t you ask the parole officer if you can? she said.
Heart stop –again.
Could I ask? Would I ask? Did I ask?
I did ask her if I could see his questionnaire.
And even though Brian didn’t respect our privacy two years ago while he repeatedly ransacked our home, our bedrooms, our closets and drawers, I am going to respect his today– somewhat.
I’m not going to say what the parole officer’s response was or whether I did or didn’t get to read Brian’s questionnaire and find out who he thought was affected by his crime and how or what he would say to us if he had the chance, now.
Photo Credit #1: Hope
Photo Credit #3: Trust/Google Images
Photo Credit #2, 4 & #5 Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.takingtheworldonwithasmile. Not to be reproduced or reused without express permission.
Some days, weeks or months hold a certain significance in your life that trigger specific memories.
It was a year ago this month, that I faced my neighbor in court for a second time. I was given the opportunity to tell him about the impact his actions had on our family in a statement that I wrote and read during his sentencing. The first time we met in a courtroom, was five months earlier at the beginning of February, when he was being arraigned for felony charges of burglary and a few other misdemeanor crimes including possession of stolen property. He was wearing an orange jump suit and mouthed the words “I’m sorry” to me when I looked over to where he was seated next to an armed guard. This was a few days after he was caught coming out of our home by a young, smart, quick-thinking State Trooper who is a credit to his profession in every way.
NYS Trooper Timko, heard the “burglary in progress” call come over his radio and knew he had limited time. He also knew this was for real. He managed to get to our house in less than three minutes, coming from across town, nearly five miles away. Even though six local squad cars also responded to the call, Timko was the first to arrive on the scene. He’d been checking in with us throughout the winter after responding to our initial complaint in November. As a result, he knew exactly where to go to at our house and indeed, found the perpetrator coming out of our backyard. When Timko apprehended him, this tough (creepy) guy was wearing slippers, a hoodie and his sister’s sweat pants. He also had black gloves and a blue ski mask on his person. That would account for why my husband didn’t recognize him when a flurry of images showing a burglar in our home, were transmitted to his iPhone via email, thus prompting the 911 call.
The “burglar” was wearing the ski mask as he crept up the stairs to our living room.
Seven weeks earlier we hid a motion sensor camera in our living room at Trooper Timko’s urging and after being robbed six times in three months.
It was a Tuesday. I was off and had gone out for lunch with friends. Before leaving I did the same thing I’d done every day for the past seven weeks. I unlocked the window leading to a crawl space underneath our porch in the small bathroom just off the family room in our basement. I glanced around the family room confirming that there was a few dollars and some loose change lying around, ran upstairs to the living room, made sure the camera was on, dropped a five dollar bill on the coffee table in direct view of the camera’s eye, locked the front door and left.
When I got home, I poked my head downstairs just long enough to immediately notice that the money was gone.
“Oh My God — he was here!” I thought to myself. Although at that time, I had no idea who “he” was.
My heart pounded wildly as I ran upstairs knowing with absolute certainty, that the five dollar bill I’d placed on the glass coffee table two hours earlier would also be gone and it was.
The words tumbled frantically out of my mouth when I called my husband,
“He was here! Why didn’t you call me? He was here! Did you check your email?”
My husband had no idea what I was talking about. There was no email from the camera. No pictures.
I didn’t understand. What the hell happened?
This was burglary number seven and by far, the most invasive. This was the one where much of my jewelry was taken, including my engagement ring and the first pair of gold Italian droplet earrings my husband gave me 18-years earlier. This was the time when it was blatant that my personal drawer and private things had been touched, taken and rooted through. I couldn’t speak. I was devastated. The long wait was over and we blew it. Surely, he would never come back. Why would he? There was nothing left. He had cleaned us out. I went to bed at 4pm.
It took my husband all night and several technical support phone calls to learn that in fact, the camera received 45-minutes worth of constant “hits” which began 10-minutes after I’d left the house but because of a windstorm the day before (and unbeknownst to us) our internet was “down” that afternoon and no pictures were saved or transmitted.
Forty-five minutes of constant hits.
The next morning, I performed my daily ritual before leaving the house but truly, it was only out of habit. I was beyond discouraged and didn’t even bother to leave money on the coffee table.
That’s why it was so hard to comprehend what my husband was saying when he called me at work that afternoon and calmly said,
“I just called 911. There’s a burglar in our house right now. I can see him. He has a weapon and he sees the camera. I think he’s going to break it.”
I was stunned.
It was shocking to learn the thief, was our neighbor; a 20-year old boy who had been helping himself to our money and jewelry, who had ripped our screen windows, cracked our doors and broke into our lock box. It was someone we knew, who had gone through our little girl’s bedroom removing holiday money from jars on her dresser and cards in her drawers. It was the boy next door, who had taken my son’s little, silver bear-bank filled with coins, the one that held the picture of him as a smiling infant in his crib. A quick and cursory search of my neighbor’s bedroom by law enforcement agents after his arrest, uncovered a few personal items that belonged to my family. I identified them and they were taken into evidence.
Once the initial shock wore off, we had a brief stint with elation. It was over. Over. Woohoo! We had caught this CREEP ourselves and it was finally over. Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize, was that it was just the beginning of yet another long journey I had no idea I, we, were meant to take. It began with five months of dealing with phone calls, court dates and an overworked Assistant DA who seemed confused by our level of “participation” and whose comment to me that he just couldn’t get over “how interested” we were in our case, left me dumbfounded and disheartened. Luckily, we had a DA friend from a neighboring town, who coached us along the way.
Sometime at the end of last summer, a NY State Trooper’s car pulled up onto my lawn and Trooper Timko came to my front door. He was personally returning the items found in a sock at the bottom of a closet in my neighbor’s bedroom during that cursory search after his arrest. Returned to me was one of my Italian droplet earrings, a gold “K” charm my dad gave me as a child and the now empty, silver bear-bank that was taken from my son’s room.
Of all the things he took, the one thing I miss the most, is the little round picture of my smiling baby in his crib that sat in the frame attached to the bank. It bothers me, a lot that he removed that picture.
And even though we were awarded full restitution of over $10,500, honestly, I would just like to have the picture back.
It was a year ago this month that I began a new and unsolicited journey, one that opened a Pandora’s box and hasn’t seen fit to close itself yet. One that has taken me to a place in my life now, that I never expected to be, interspersed with equal parts of immense joy and pain. One that in the past year, has brought forth many surprising twists and turns in the form of a variety of people, places and things, bringing me face to face with who I am and who I strive to be. It has re-surfaced old truths; the hard kinds, the ones that have been buried for a long time and will no longer go away. This journey leaves me a little sadder but much stronger and more determined than I have ever been. It’s difficult at times but it’s also hopeful, open-ended and holds great promise for the future and clearly, it is far, far, far, from over.
Photo Credits: #1, #2, #3 & #4 – © 2011 Karen Szczuka Teich. All rights reserved.