Please let me share an experience I had on Monday and I ask you to pass it on. Not because I believe it will make a drastic change, but to bring awareness, and hopefully, will reach someone who needs to hear and know they're not alone.
Jury duty is one that, where I live, I've been called upon to serve almost every two years. If you haven't ever been called to serve on a jury, let me give a setup.
Jury duty consists of a three-month stint. About two-hundred people are sent out a letter and we show up on a certain date. If we are not called to the grand jury, then we go home and then call in on the day and times instructed on the calendar for each month.
I arrived fifteen minutes early. The room was filled with about seventy people. I found a seat on an already full bench, old church pews, hard slanted wooden, seats and backs that aren't made for sitting for long periods of time. People came in one by one or a few at the same time. By the time the court clerk had sworn in the ten or so who hadn't made it the week prior, taking care of that, and the late stragglers, every seat, in our courtroom was full and then some. People stood along the wall and around the back of the room.
Jurors must arrive by eight a.m. but the attorneys and judge wander in around nine and it's normally 9:30 when the process begins.
This is the first day of court for the Spring session. So, the judge gives a little pep talk. Thanks us for coming in and doing our civic duty. He speaks of the process and what will happen on the first day.
That day a grand jury would be seated. Those members make up of fourteen men and women, depending upon who's names are drawn from the lottery. There are twelve jurors and two alternates just in case an issue comes up. The rest of the jurors will be dismissed and come back the following week to sit on the cases the grand jury votes on.
I was hoping to win the grand jury lottery. I did.
Boy, was it an eye opener.
The process is different. We hear from the arresting officer and decide if he/she has presented enough information to actually bring charges against an individual. It is basically in our hands to say, "Yes, I believe there is enough evidence to show you are guilty of the crime."
Most of our cases were drug related. I recall two bills presented that had nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.
Anyway, most of the crimes were petty. But when an individual, there were three that had numerous accounts brought against them, commits a dozen or more crimes, so they can obtain money to buy drugs, the charges become very serious and extremely sad.
I know first hand (my nephew is a drug addict, several uncles are alcoholics), what a drug addict or an alcoholic does to their family. Not only does the user suffer but every family member. It is heartbreaking to see my nephew go into rehab only to come out and complete the same process over and over again. He's been taking drugs since he was a teen. It's more important that he get a fix instead of taking care of his seven-year-old son. Very sad and frustrating.
As I listened to the charges, one officer stating the situation, the evidence collected and the accused's actions and sometimes thoughts given, each bill presented was sadder and sadder.
If these people had not been under the influence or needed a fix, the crimes I listened to yesterday would not have been committed.
Let me flip this to the other side for a moment. In the past, I have been a juror where people were accused of drug-related crimes. It was up to us to decide if the evidence noted he/she was guilty. Did they actually steal, run a stoplight and hit an individual's car and cause bodily injury. Yes, in some cases we have found the person guilty.
What happens after that, is out of my control. It is up to the judge to set the exact punishment. I know most often these individuals receive time-served, are expected to check themselves into rehab, and work with a probation officer.
Those types of punishments do not work unless the individual actually wants to change and worked diligently to kick their habit. A counselor friend of mine told us, the addict who tries to quit relapses at least ten times before he/she gets out of that life.
Do I want these addicts and alcoholics to be sent to prison with hardcore criminals? No. Putting addicts in jail, small county jails not prison, gets them off their drugs. It is for a short time, but they are in a controlled situation where they are not tempted by their past life or the hardships of life. Something they seem to need drugs for to cope with.
Do I believe their small slaps on the wrist is enough? No.
I don't have an answer.
What I do know, is that drugs cause individuals to become criminals. I have seen it with my nephew, and now it is evident that it is more widespread in our area than I ever thought possible.