This week I am fulfilling part of my civic duty by showing up at our county courthouse for jury duty. This is my third time being selected in the last 5-6 years. I have yet to be selected to actually serve on a jury. No, I am one the exceedingly unlucky ones who are left to wait and rot in the jury selection room. You sit and pass the time on hard wooden chairs starring at a television screen with the sound turned down while your mind and your butt turn numb. Occasionally, they tell you can leave the room to go get a cup of coffee, a smoke, or to use the bathroom…but mainly you spend your time reading that book you seem to never have time to finish, or fiddling with your smart phone. Such is life in the fast lane.
I was sitting there, my view to the open door leading out into the hallway; when I heard the unmistakable clang of chains striking the hard granite floor. In my heart, I knew what the sound was even before my eyes looked up from my book. Prisoners were being paraded through the hallways of the courthouse from their jail cells at the county jail next door to holding cells located in the bowels of the courthouse to await their court appearance. Clad in bright orange jumpsuits, shackled at both their feet and wrists, and then 10-15 men and women tethered together by another long chain.
Most of them looked to be fairly young. Some of them kept their heads down to avoid the stares of all the other people walking the corridors of the courthouse. Some of them, with that deer-caught-in-the-headlights look on their faces, looked around from side to side as they were being led around like a dog on a leash. A tinge of sadness came over me. I thought to myself…I wasn’t the only one wasting time here today. No, these poor souls were wasting their lifetimes.
Lest anyone think I am being too soft-hearted, I must tell you I was a victim of an armed robbery when I was an assistant manager in a grocery store. I know firsthand what it feels like to have a loaded gun poked in your side and have someone threaten to kill you unless you do as they say. No, I know only too well that there are monsters who walk among us. I remember how frightened I was to be in that store for the next year following that robbery. That was 40+ years ago, but I can play it back in my head vividly. Not much else has stayed stored in this old brain of mine…but coming close to being killed has a tendency to stay with you.
And yet, my experience of being a victim does not take away for the sadness I felt for them, and their families, and their victims. Their actions have cost everyone time. Time spent in fear for some. Time spent in pain as victims recovered from their injuries. Family member’s time as they stressed over a loved one who took a path of crime. You read in the newspaper of someone being sentenced to decades behind bars and you tend to think nothing of it…and yet, seeing those young faces knowing that the next time some of them will know freedom their faces will be old and wrinkled.
Such a waste…
As an old man, I would like to go shake them and tell them they are wasting a precious gift…the gift of time. Somewhere on a shelf sits an hourglass representing each of our lives. Slowly that sand makes its way from the top of the hourglass to the bottom. When all the sand has poured into the bottom, there is no one to magically turn the hourglass over. No, once your sand has emptied…your life is over. Your time here on Earth is finite. God wanted more for us that to be a caged animal.
Long after the prisoner parade was over, the image kept playing in my head as I thought about them. I said a prayer for them. I asked God to give them a Saul to Paul moment…to give them a life changing conversion. I asked God to help their victims. I asked God to help their families. No mother wants prison for their child. I prayed that their mothers would see a day when they could once again be proud of their son, or daughter.
The longer I sat there, the more I thought that you don’t have to be wearing an orange jump suit to be wasting time. Some of us walk around hurt and angry. Some of us walk around in guilt. Some of us have put ourselves in prison cells every bit as real as the ones with iron bars. The baggage we carry around destroys not only us, but everyone around us who loves us.
So, I said another prayer that God would break the chains from those of us who outwardly appear to be free, but find themselves held captive mentally and spiritually.
I asked God to never let me forget to see the humanity in everyone, despite what they have done.
Perhaps yesterday wasn’t as wasted a day as I originally thought.