I sat in the courtroom with my heart pounding. I had been fidgeting for hours. When my name was called I felt like I might vomit, or pass out, or both.
It started out as a day of jury duty. No big deal. I sat down in the jury room and saw that I had been quoted in Cosmopolitan online. I was flying as I reposted the article with all the excitement of a week starting out perfectly right.
They called my name to go to department 10 on the 7th floor. I’ve gone through the process of jury selection before. It’s long and tedious so I smuggled in a book for the really slow parts. I was only half paying attention until they read the charges.
The people of the state of California vs. X person, charged with lewd acts upon a child.
My leg starts to shake as my past comes flooding back, and suddenly this courtroom is the last place I want to be.
I breathe deeply and move a little in my chair so I stay in my body; the pull to let myself zone out is insistent and strong, but I know I need to stay aware. I force myself to stay aware.
.. I feel trapped while the lawyers ask questions of the first 14 prospective jurors.
- Who are you?
- What is your occupation?
- Do you know any police officers?
- Have you ever been the victim of a crime?
- Do you think you can be impartial?
- Can you trust the word of a child under 14?
- Do you think children are sometimes mistaken?
- Can you believe testimony of only one witness when there is no other witness to back them up?
- Do you think people are sometimes wrongly accused?
The questions go on, and on, for hours. As each new person and new question is asked I start to see the case unfolding.
The panic is rising. I am pretty sure I can’t sit through much more of this. The energy is heavy and murky and my body wants to run. I watch the clock tick in agonizing slowness.
The final question, “can you be impartial?”
–I snort quietly in my seat. Oh hell no. I am not impartial. My sympathies are fully with the child who will take the stand in the coming days.
I know how hard it is to come forward, to say the words out loud. I know how few people I have said the words to myself. I am 39 and I usually talk in euphemisms and half statements because I don’t want to say the sentence. I know what the silence does to me, and I do it anyway.
They dismiss another potential juror and I hear my name. Seat #7; Lisa Kan
I stand up and I hear myself mutter, “Oh god…”
I walk towards the jury box. The adrenaline starts flowing and the courtroom shrinks into a narrow tunnel as they hand me a microphone and the sheet of questions to answer for the judge and lawyers. My hands are shaking so hard I have to really work to steady myself and hold the microphone in place.
My voice amplifies across the room and I cringe. I know I cannot sit on this jury. I have no choice but to speak the words into a microphone, in a courtroom, on record. I force myself to breathe. I focus on the paper in my hands. I begin to answer from the top.
“My name is Lisa Kan.”
Fuck this is so loud.
“I work as an elementary school science teacher and I also am a sex educator.”
Keep going, do not stop talking.
“My husband has been a police officer for 13 years.”
Deep breath, just say it.
“Have I been the victim of a crime?”….. You can do this. You have to say the words.
“I am a survivor of long term sexual abuse, from a family member… when I was a child. I really don’t think I can be impartial in this case…. with my history…..”
Even though I am shaking my voice is loud and clear across the courtroom. The court reporter is typing all my words. I am on record. I never thought this would be officially on record anywhere, ever, and yet here I am.
I never thought this would go on record.
My throat is so terribly dry. The abuse has been over for more than twenty years and still, in moments like this, the emotion is so brutally raw.
The judge turns to me and apologizes and said he is going to have to ask me a few questions. I swallow hard and nod. I prepare myself to answer whatever is asked of me. I am strong enough to do this.
The prosecutor interrupts, “Your Honor, the defense and I both agree to let this juror be excused for cause.” I am certain that the whole room can hear me exhale in relief.
The Judge says something I cannot quite hear with the blood pulsing through my ears and then tells me that I am excused.
I stood up and forced my hands to remove the juror badge from my shirt. I dropped it in the box by the door like it was contaminated and lunged for the door. I wanted out of that room and its endless debate over the trustworthiness of a kid who has probably been through hell and back.
I could barely see through the adrenaline as I hit the button for the elevators. I left, down seven floors, through security, blindly heading for my car. Somewhere down the first block I realized that I was wobbly and I wished I had someone with me. I knew that if I stopped moving I might fall down so I kept walking and breathing and focused on finding my vehicle.
The remaining three blocks down and one over to the parking lot was a hazy blur of people and sounds. I could feel the tears coming and I had an overwhelming need to find a place to be safe. Curl up. Hide. Cry.
I made it to my car and as soon as I slid behind the wheel I burst into tears. Years of my own shame, and fear, and guilt dissolved into sobs in a ratty parking lot in downtown Oakland California.
It took me an hour to pull myself together, to make my eyes focus and my brain come down from the fight, or flight, or freeze that had been pumping through my blood for hours. I texted a few people and told them. And breathed.
I just owned my story. Out loud, amplified by a microphone, in a courtroom of strangers, and on record.
Holy fucking shit!
I sat there and realized how proud I was to have done it.
There were 80 people in that room. Statistically, that means about 16 of us had a history of sexual abuse/assault. That is massive. I was the first one in that room to say out loud: I am a survivor, it happened, and no I am not impartial.
As I wiped away the tears, I hoped that it had helped.
I hoped someone in that room, some stranger I never spoke to, felt less alone because I took the microphone and spoke my truth. The thought helped me begin to calm down, and my body slowly returned to normal. I took a fuck-ton of power back today.
I’m not impartial.
From the moment I heard the charges, I was rooting for that kid: when they take the stand next week and say what happened to them, I don’t know how many people in that room will believe them, but I will.
Even if I won’t be there, I believe them.
I got a gift that most survivors don’t get. The court didn’t make me justify my claim or prove anything. They believed me and I got to go home. I cried, I let go of another layer of shame, and I felt better. I felt heard. I felt validated.
It was everything.
It is everything.