Earlier this month, I went down for an obligatory day of jury duty, expecting to be sent home at the end of another eight-ish hour experience that gives new meaning to tedium. I’ve been doing this every few years for 40 years, and my previous experiences were always the same. I was never selected, which was the only part of it that ever made me happy.

This time, however, I was chosen to actually serve on a jury — for a murder trial that was expected to take the rest of the week.

I didn’t want to do it. I’ve got responsibilities. Turns out, none of that mattered to anyone but me. I called work and told them, with no notice whatsoever, I would have to miss the next four days.

But defying all my expectations, I came out of the experience a better person. And my employer survived with me away. Here are my take-aways:

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This has led me to contemplate the possibility of plumbing the depths of cynicism and distrust and anger at one another and finding that the well of darkness might be running dry. Could it be that as a society, we can turn some kind of corner and look for something more constructive, or dare I say it hopeful? A man can dream, but my jury experience tells me it’s at least a possibility.

It is no mystery that most prosecutions never reach trial, but rather are pleaded out in ways that seem mystifying to those of us who haven’t personally witnessed how hard it is to successfully prosecute a defendant to a point of conviction in court. To do what I saw required years of effort, hundreds of thousands of dollars and the coordinated efforts of local, state and federal officials. It also relied upon the ability of 12 people who couldn’t have been more different from one another to take their responsibilities seriously and arrive at a similar conclusion. Everyone I saw did exactly what they were supposed to do.

If you’re called, my suggestion is that you serve. Don’t think you could or should be doing something more important with your time. There are few experiences that have the potential to change us, but this is one of them.

Mark Thistel is a resident of Hampden, a lifelong Baltimorean, a local businessman and a supporter of The Banner.


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