Eight Paragraphs about Grand Jury Duty

I’m writing this from a deliberation room in the Minnehaha County Courthouse. I’m on grand jury duty — my civic duty every third Thursday since October last year. It’s an 18-month assignment, and it’s been … a journey.

November 2023: Eight Paragraphs about Grand Jury Duty

  • “Glass, Concrete & Stone” — David Byrne
  • “A Shoulder to the Wheel” — bel canto
  • “Cavehead” — Frankie and the Witch Fingers
  • ”Footprints” — A Tribe Called Quest
  • “Lean Beef Patty” — JPEGMAFIA & Danny Brown
  • “Ain’t You” — Kleenex
  • “North American Scum” — Emily Kokal (w/ Miya Folick)
  • “Anything” — SZA
  • “It Ain’t Over Til the Fat Lady Sings” — En Vogue
  • “Words and Guitar” — Sleater-Kinney
  • “ballad of a homeschooled girl” — Olivia Rodrigo
  • “A Good Look” — Sturgill Simpson
  • “Lavender Buds” — MF DOOM
  • “Decks Dark” — Radiohead
  • “Fade Into You” — J Mascis
  • “I Love You so Much It’s Killing Us Both” — Strangers
  • “Salt In The Wound” — boygenius

Listen on Spotify. Listen on Apple Music.

There’s no glamour to this process — no boisterous objections from defense lawyers, and no “order in the court” calls. This is not television — I haven’t seen Sam Waterston even once! — instead, it’s just a steady stream of witnesses for a steady stream of offenses. It’s a one-sided confirmation of evidence in which we, as a ten-person jury, are required only to determine viability. There is no guilt. No innocence. Just viability.

It’s this balance of arbitration and detachment that makes the grand jury process so weird. Our role is to gatekeep — to help keep the system honest, and to keep the stupid stuff out of the courtroom. This means there’s a lot of repetition. The cases and evidence are the nearly the same every session. An officer gives us a blood alcohol level. Another one might give us an exact measurement of methamphetamine. There are a lot of drunk driving cases. A lot of stolen work vehicles. A lot of men failing to report for their sex offender check-ins. Most of the cases are no-brainers, honestly.

But, there are also a lot of domestic abuse cases, which come with a harrowing lack of consistency regarding civilian witnesses. Victims who are too afraid to show up, or who have decided not to press charges, or who simply run into a complicated justice system that’s designed to meet the needs of a populace without the subtlety of individuality. Rules have been implemented to help streamline and create consistency, but in doing so have removed any sense of wiggle room.

Rules that attempt to correct, but often exasperate, systemic issues. The cycle of abuse, of homelessness, of addiction. The effect of generational poverty, and the effect of institutionalization.

For one Thursday every three weeks, I’ve been immersed in these stories. Reminded of the cracks in every social and governing system. Reminded that despite the comfort of our own lives — our Thanksgiving plans, our holiday tree, and even the comfort of the coping mechanisms we place around own own issues and struggles — the world continues, parallel.

It’s never comforting, but it’s sobering. It puts our own petty issues into contrast, and maybe that’s some kind of secret benefit: a mind more sympathetic to the entire system, seeing how much of it is broken and mangled, but not through the fault of the people involved — the majority of whom are trying as hard as they can to make things better.

It’s never comforting, but change never is — especially when that change takes a little bit from all of us.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 30th, 2023