Pictures and a Story on The Way to Jury Duty in L.A.
by Jane Tawel
June 8, 2022
I walked this route from Union Station, Downtown Los Angeles each morning to the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. One morning I saw a thin, rather frantic young woman who had parked her shopping cart of belongings against the railings that are the only things protecting walkers from falling into the mass of cars on the freeway. She had a small bucket of red paint and she was painting something on the sidewalk. The next morning I found she had painted a love letter to some one named Amgtriky. I wondered what she had written but then covered over with a big red square. “I Love you Amgtriky you are my world.” I hope Amgtriky got the message and hope the frantic young woman gets the love she craves enough to risk arrest for defacing public property. Aren’t we all, in one way or another, trying to get our message out to the ones we call “our world”? Aren’t we all just living with our big red letters sloppily painted wherever we go in our hope that someone will answer back that we too are someone’s world?
Taking the metro about an hour each morning and evening was an experience in itself. Union Station is a truly beautiful architectural gem, both inside and out.
One morning I was going to stop at the restroom in Union Station before making my fifteen minute walk to the courthouse. The restroom was unavailable and there were about five or six cops and a couple station security guards swarming around the entrance to the women’s room. I never knew why but I found the paradox of what is shown in this picture quite a succinct comment on modern life. Outside the restroom is a “Lactation Pod” next to someone’s entire earthly belongings, carried around on a makeshift cart because they have no home. I wondered since the lactation pod didn’t seem to be all that practical or often used, if maybe we could give all the lactation pods to all the people who don’t have a home? We could call them “Humanity Matters Pods”.
At lunch I would, for a brief hour, escape the horrible weight of being a judge of someone else’s life and a carrier of a lot of people’s pain, and I would eat my little cheese sandwich and apple in this park that sits in the middle of all the justice halls that a big city like Los Angeles needs. This playground was unavailable and yellow-taped off. I don’t know why but there weren’t many children around at that time of day anyway. I found myself singing to myself Cat Steven’s metaphoric and prescient tune, “Where Do the Children Play”.
During my lunch hour, the thing that always restored my joy was a group of men who played a pick-up soccer game in the park. They were also enjoying freedom from whatever jobs or lack of jobs they might have had to go back to. I imagined some of them may have been the police or public defenders or D.A.s who had a bit of anonymity and a bit of fun in otherwise hard, stressful days. I had a lot of respect for not just the people who make our American legal system still what has to be one of the best things about America and our wanna-be democracy, but for all the people I met in Los Angeles. I got lost my first day and I was a bit over-the-top freaked out about it and yet so many people would stop on the street and help me reorient or calm down or figure out where I needed to go (I got lost quite a few times). Strangers can be so very kind, even in a big city like L.A. and it made me hopeful to know that as Anne Frank said, “people are really good at heart” — or they want to be, if we maybe just let ourselves ask for help. It gave me such hope for the human race, that even though I didn’t get to see children playing in the park because the playground was shut down, I got to see grown men playing in the park each day, and as long as grown adults can still play, maybe we can all somehow stop all this ridiculous violence and sorrow.
Every evening, on the way to the metro at Union Station, I walked past homeless encampments. Every unhoused person I talked to was very nice, although there were a couple of them now and then who had just “lost it” and I guess I would be crazy loco if no one loved me enough, here in the richest nation on earth, to at least give me a roof over my head and maybe some meds I might need and some daily bread, I mean, food. I often saw the saints of the world out on the streets, like the mobile shower people who park their vans near the encampments so the homeless can take a shower and feel at least a little more human. Each day the metro took me past the Homeboys Industry Home and I saw a lot of care given to homeless folks by strangers and city cops and security guards. I think it’s time we took all the guns and bombs and weapons in the world (or at least in our nation) and turned them into homes.
Going downtown by myself every day and serving on a jury, felt like a very brave thing for little old, stuck in the mud me to do because I am pretty well sunk-in to my careful little, often anxious but small risk suburban life. I ended up feeling both much older and quite a bit younger and also hopeful that my life wasn’t really all that set yet, and I could still live a more helpful, kind, — adventurous — and useful,caring life. I realized it is now time to find a practical way to give more to people who need another pair of hands to help them out. I have been volunteering from a distance, literally during the Covid pandemic years, but always a bit distanced metaphorically in how I choose to care for the stranger, the orphan, the homeless, the prisoner,or the hurting. But during my two weeks of Jury Duty I had been forced to be “present”. Each morning when the court clerk would call my number and I answered “present”, was like a vision of a future where the Great Judge of All calls the roll call. I want to start waking up each day, and be able to say, “I’m present. I’m ready. What is it that The Universal Good would have me, little old me, do for someone else today?” Because you know what — most of the good that gets done in this world is being done by “little old me’s”. And seeing all the “little old me’s” of Los Angeles made me realize that if anyone is looking for Christ, or looking for Jesus to return, I can tell them where to find him — he is in the City of Los Angeles, in the homeless camps and prisons and court houses and parks and sidewalks. All we have to do is look for Christ and we will find that Christ is here because Christ is waiting to be us.
And I realized, although I didn’t want to do it, that Jury Duty had been a sobering, emotionally and spiritually exhausting gift from God. After seeing the world that lets a young man join a gang because he doesn’t have any real family to help him grow up strong and valued and loved, or a world where someone gets shot by a gun while going to the grocery because we have become so greedy and stupid that we worship guns instead of life, or a world that walks past people without homes while other people fly into space on their chump-change, or a world that has been so very, very gracious to me, such a lucky world for me to be born and raised and survive in, while other people get the short end of the whole deal, after seeing a world where bad decisions became a life of no return, and good decisions can get you in trouble or killed, and where everyone is seeking the same things but some people just have the odds stacked against them and no one is around to help them find their way–help them find The Way; in world where every one is throwing their red paint around hoping that someone believes in them and loves them enough to say, “You are my world” — in this time and place that I happen to find myself in, I realized I need some skin in the game. Because this game? This game of life can’t be played from the sidelines.
Every day I got to come home to a home and a family that loves me and feels loved and where I have more than enough food and clothes and places to keep my stuff. I got to come home to a garden, and not just any garden, but a garden my daughter had made for me to enjoy. I got to come home to roses and I could avoid the thorns or get a band aide if I pricked my finger on a thorn. I thought about the defendant in the trial who would have many years where he would never see a garden, let alone tend one. I thought about the families of the victims who would never have their son or daughter make them something beautiful, like my daughter made my garden for me. I thought about the homeless folks who didn’t have any where but a cold or hot sidewalk to lay their heads at night. I thought about the judges and detectives and cops and prosecutors and defense attorneys and courthouse guards who every day go back into the world hoping for justice and also, I hope, praying not to get so jaded or worn down that they give up caring. And after my journey in the City of Los Angeles, I am still asking to know a better answer to the question, “How Shall I Then Live?”
© Jane Tawel, June 2022