Of course, it’s not longer called jury duty. It’s now jury service. As if that would change anything. Usually, when people serve, they do that out of choice (or even a calling) – unless, well, unless they are serving a prison sentence. It is clear this service is not voluntary. The consequence of not serving are dire, including this other kind of service…
Though this isn’t all that my anger is about. It’s mostly about being forced to participate in a system that does not work. This time, there’s also some apprehension mixed in with the anger because the last time I was on jury duty, I got retraumatized.
Why do I claim that the court system in the US isn’t just? How can a system be just that lets people get away with large scale fraud and corruption while it punishes small fish? If someone brings down the world economy and happens to be the CEO of a large bank, he gets bailed out by the government. Who gets punished are those people who lost their homes. Not only is the CEO not made accountable for his actions, there are hardly any changes in the banking system that enabled the crises in the first place. Is that justice?
On a more personal level, I’ve experienced a system that forced a child to visit a father he no longer wanted to see – without even talking to the teenager thus sending him the message that he is not important enough to be considered in a decision that impacts his life. Is that justice?
In all the times I’ve been to court in my divorce aftermath, I did not mention the abuse I had experienced. I did not mention that the court cases themselves were attempts to control me, to punish me for daring to leave a man who hated me. I am not alone. Despite the rarity of made-up abuse charges, there is a loud enough lobby for “parental alienation syndrome” that many people, mostly mothers, are scared to bring up allegations of abuse – even though there is no evidence for PAS. Is that justice?
Going back to my previous jury duty experience: Afterwards, I heard from an acquaintance that I had been the lucky one. Apparently, there were several other women, including her, who had to answer personal questions about their assault experience in public, no less. Why were some spared this ordeal while others weren’t? Or more fundamentally, why did anyone have to go through the ordeal of sharing about a traumatic experience in front of strangers, after all I had to tell the court clerk?
I could talk about a system that purports to dole out justice when it incarcerates people who are homeless for peeing in public instead of questioning all of us for living in a society that forces people to pee in public because they don’t have access to bathrooms.
Then there are the laws that privilege some based on arbitrary criteria. For example, why can my husband (if I were married ;)) move in with me and my friend can’t?
I want to focus on something else, though: How the justice system not only ignores justice but also the system side. Having studied shame extensively, it is clear that there is a link between shame and violence. Although not everybody acts out their shame with violence directed against others, James Gilligan has demonstrated that quite a few inmates have been shamed all their lives. Their violence is a tragic attempt to fight this toxic feeling – only to get shamed again by being punished instead of listened to. They are assumed to have acted out of malice, ignoring the larger systemic issues, which include history of trauma. Trauma and violence are also linked (see also Bruce Western’s work). To really serve justice, then, maybe a crime could be considered a symptom, a symptom of a possible abuse or trauma history. (Of course, it might also be a symptom of a pathology). And when prisoners leave the system, they end up in poverty, probably making it rather likely that they will commit a crime again, especially if they had experienced making “easy” money through, say, a robbery or dealing drugs.
What is an alternative that could address many, if not all, of these concerns? It would have to be a different justice system, one that is build on the idea of restoration, instead of punishment: restorative justice. And the interesting thing is: It actually works better!
So what about that unacknowledged passion of mine? It’s in here somewhere, I know it . Maybe it is about speaking out more about all these issues. I might explore restorative justice more, too, especially to find out how it addresses shame and trauma.