Jury Duty: Avoided. The truth sets me free


The sentence given to me

Ten days or a large fee

A minor infraction

But now, no retraction

And the truth indeed set me free

Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. I danced back from the brink of burnout in 2010, and, honoring a one-year non-compete clause, went for adventures working in out-of-the-way locations. After jobs in Alaska, New Zealand, Iowa, and Nebraska, I returned home and took a part-time position with a Community Health Center, where I worked for 3 years.  I left last month because of a troubled relationship with the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system.  Now I’m back from a road trip, working a bit with one of the rural docs, and getting ready for another job in Alaska.

I didn’t own a car till after I graduated from medical school.  In the late 60’s and through the 70’s, I answered my transportation needs on a local level with a bicycle and on a larger scale with hitchhiking.  I ran more risks than I should have, and I don’t want my children to learn what I learned.  But I had loads of fun.

In March 1970 a driver dropped me at the intersection of Kansas 177 and Interstate 80, east of Junction City, Kansas.  Another long hair stood at the same on ramp.  We shook hands.  He offered me some honey, and we shared a snack as we stood well off the pavement, next to some rocks.  I talked about the limestone and explained the flint nodules.  Then the Geary County Sheriff’s deputy showed up and arrested us both.  Before sunset, I had been convicted of being an illegal pedestrian, and sentenced to $100 or 10 days.

Since then the law has changed, the Supreme Court finding that sort of sentence discriminatory against the poor, and now the convicted can’t buy their way out of jail.

I didn’t have the $100 at the time, and, besides, I love adventures and I’d never spent time behind bars before.  I got to hang out with 4 other guys, charged with, variously, bad checks, breaking and entering, murder, and illegal pedestrian.

Terrible weather hit the evening of my incarceration, white-out blizzard conditions.  Four days later when the weather broke, the judge summoned me back to court.  He looked exhausted.  My mother had been calling him at home, day and night.  He told me to get on the Greyhound Bus and leave the county.

I don’t much like Greyhound Buses and my feelings for Geary County in general and Junction City in particular have mellowed but little since then.

Now when I fill out a credential application, such those completed for my Pennsylvania license or for my upcoming assignment to Nome, I say “I spent 4 days in jail for being an illegal pedestrian, my real crime was probably having a pony tail in 1970 in Kansas.”

More than forty years later, summoned to jury duty when I had no work scheduled till Friday, the judge promised we’d be out, at the latest, tomorrow afternoon.

The judge, smiling and professional, asked preliminary questions.  He if we’d been arrested.  Mine was the only hand that went up.

Laughter rang in the court room when I said illegal pedestrian, and came louder when I said 4 days in jail.

Then the judge cleared the courtroom, and called me back in 10 minutes later.

I admitted my biases, both for and against the defendant.  While I have a deep mistrust of law enforcement, I said, because of my work I have an even deeper trust of lab results.

Then he asked if I believed that people get stopped for Driving While Black.  Yes, I said, I did; it has happened several times to one of my daughters because she got all the kinky hair genes from my wife and me.

Three and a half hours after I entered the courthouse, I walked out into the bitter cold.

Speaking the truth might have set me free. It at least got me out of jury duty, but it took all morning.

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