Revelations from The Courtroom

Jennifer Quiroz, intern, reflects on her experience with jury duty and its relationship with self advocacy.

7:00 AM

Reads my blaring alarm telling me to get ready for jury duty – a civic obligation that I had to take on at the mere age of 18. None of my parents or friends knew what this entailed, and neither did I – I was going in blind and I didnt know what to expect. Little did I know that over the course of the week I would find out so much not only about the criminal judicial system but about myself as an active member of society. 

What stood out to me most from this whole experience was my realization of how paralyzed I become at the act of speaking up within a group setting, especially with people of higher authority. During the last 2 days of my jury duty experience, all of us jurors went into a deliberation room to discuss our final verdicts. I remember sitting there crouched over looking down at some papers the plaintiff had given us, what do I do, I thought to myself. Trying to make sense of all the information I received during the last couple of days and piecing together the impact my decision will have on the future of an individual. What could I do, in a room full of adults, and people that came from lake house types of lives very distant from mine, why would my voice be of importance? Fear of being shot down, plagued by feelings of anxiousness that run like a clock in my subconscious mind, telling me that the whole world’s eyes are on me so I couldn’t afford to make a mistake. I had a passive facade but little did they know all of my emotions were boiling up trying to find an exhaust amongst all the pressure from my insecurities and fears. This pressure made me want to make myself as small as possible so no one can realize how inexperienced and “dumb” I was. 

It was a challenge being in that room alone trying to find a fair verdict while struggling with internal feelings of self doubt and a heavy feeling of self inflicted pressure. It was like I was having my own mini trial within my head: If you say this, think about that. How accurate is your argument? How accurate is this thought? Have you articulated all of your points clearly? What will they think of you if you say that? As a result, I didn’t really speak up as much as I would have liked to and I left feeling so embarrassed, disappointed, and powerless — Why didn’t I speak up? Why couldn’t I formulate my thoughts and express them in a clear manner? Why did I just sit there? However, on the drive back to Richmond from Pittsburgh I spent a lot of time reflecting. I realized that rather than loathing in my disappointment, I had to make a change. It was definitely a wake up call. Of course, most events up until this point weren’t as impactful as this one because it was another person’s criminal record and ultimately future on the line. I told myself that I needed to learn these skills so I wouldn’t ever let my feelings of powerlessness paralyze me in a high stakes situation.

In order to reduce these feelings, I started to make little changes that will gradually manifest themselves into substantial improvements that would improve my quality of life. This is usually how we can achieve change, through little steps that build up into a revolution. It’s definitely a difficult process on its own, learning how to speak up for yourself while you struggle with internal doubts or with societal power struggles but it is a task that must be taken on. What helps me power through is that there are other people going through this same thing, and perhaps when I speak up others can feel more comfortable. Sometimes you have to become the person you wish you would have had during times of struggle. With this, you can hopefully help others and “be the change you wish to see”. I have been implementing this in some of my classes. Sometimes I notice there aren’t many women speaking up in my stem classes and I try to speak up to deter from having an unequal representation of voices. 

Ultimately, you have to visualize the person you want to be and work towards actualizing them. You don’t have to become that person right away, but as long as you are working towards it, there will be improvement. It is also important to shut down that negative voice and trust yourself and all that you have to offer. Life isn’t about always having the right answer or the most esteemed, rather it is about sharing your truth and working towards understanding and implementing what that may be. I may not have this ability yet, but I have faith that I will get there through effort and perseverance. 

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