Drugs and Guns

I saw a lot of beauty on our family vacation to California. From riding in the mountains along Pacific Coast Highway to sitting at Nepenthe restaurant on a sunny summer day gazing at  the ocean to kayaking in Monterey taking photos of sea lions. However, the most beautiful thing I observed on our vacation was a man simply handing another man a sandwich. Our family was on a bus in San Francisco. When the bus stopped I noticed a homeless man sitting on a bench smiling at everyone that walked by. He was dirty, sunburned, and dressed in ragged clothes. A gentleman came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder and offered a bag containing a freshly wrapped sandwich. Witnessing that act of kindness and watching the smiles on both the men’s faces was the most beautiful thing I had seen. The moment filled me with more peace than all of my time staring at the majestic mountains along the coastline in Big Sur.

This post is one of the most difficult articles I have ever written. I will try to convey my true feelings while also protecting all who were involved in what happened to me when I returned from California. The experience has left me numb and has brought me back to a world I knew existed thirteen years ago but have chosen to ignore since then.

The story begins with a jury summons. It came in the mail and I cringed. I was assigned jury duty immediately after our California trip. I knew I’d have a lot of work to catch up on and the last thing I wanted to do was sit all day waiting to see if my number was called. Less than twenty-four hours from our return home I found myself waiting in a room full of people, half awake because my coffee maker broke that morning and my body was still on California time.

I decided to make the best of a less than convenient situation and take the opportunity to read but before I even had a chance to finish one chapter my number was called. Next thing I knew I was in a courtroom in front of a judge and attorneys answering all kinds of questions about myself.  When I heard they would only need six jurors and two alternates and there were thirty-five of us in the room I figured I’d be getting in my car and going home by lunchtime.

“Krista Rausin.” I sat in denial. No, they didn’t just call my name. I had plans. I was going to buy a new coffee maker on my way home. There were emails to answer, chapters and blog posts to write, a house to clean… Maybe I should never have smiled. Maybe I should have raised my hand when they asked if anyone had a religious or other reason not to sit in judgment of another because I was so close to putting my hand in the air at that point. Not because I wanted an excuse but because it’s how I really felt. After all of their speeches about reasonable doubt and absolute doubt I was feeling like I absolutely didn’t want to hear what had happened in the case. Who was I to sit in judgment of another? Why didn’t I raise my hand? Three little thoughts that immediately popped into my mind. The first… You are strong enough to stand up for what you believe after hearing the case. The second… Isn’t it my duty to be here as an American citizen? The third, I’m never going to get picked anyway… they’re only choosing six out of thirty-five.

As soon as the eight of us took our seats in the jury box (six and two alternates) we were dismissed for lunch. Eight strangers walked outside in a daze. We were all shocked, trying to comprehend the amount of responsibility that was just placed on us weighing against the amount of responsibilities that would have to wait in our own lives. The dark cloud that loomed over our heads could not be talked about. We were given specific instructions that we were not to discuss the case. So we sat at lunch trying to get to know each other, pretending that it was a normal day. At the time I wondered if everyone felt as I did. With all of the talk of not wanting to be there and how long was all of this going to take I was worried that I was unique in understanding that everything else had to be put on hold because we couldn’t rush such an important decision that would affect many lives simply because we had other things to do.

We returned to the courtroom and listened to the horrors of the case. Every time we were given a recess it was made clear that talking about the case was prohibited. So as time passed with every recess we got to know each other a little better. I realized that I had been placed in a jury with some of the kindest, most gentle spirited people I had ever met. There was a thread that ran through all of us and it was compassion. I understood that I was not unique. Talking about all the other things that we had to do in our lives was our way of wanting to escape facing the horrors we had been chosen to listen to.

The next morning we greeted each other with an unexpected closeness that I had never experienced before so quickly among strangers. We had only just met yet we each carried a secret hidden in our hearts. To look at us or listen to us talk no one would know it was there. An unspoken sad secret that pulled us together.

I believed in the beginning before the case began that the young man was innocent. I desperately wanted him to be innocent because listening to the case brought me right back to my foster parenting days when I learned of parents who did drugs and of their children who suffered. Children I cared for in my home. Back then I had wanted to change the world or at least our community. I became consumed, and when I saw that the problem was so huge and my kids were being affected I realized I needed a break from fostering. There were too many sad stories, too many children being hurt by drug addicted parents and unfortunately too many children being passed along from foster parent to foster parent as if they were used clothing or furniture. I felt helpless. I got out of that world and pretended it wasn’t there in my backyard because it was easier to be denial.

I listened to the case. Took notes. Wondered. What was this young man’s life like? Was he a foster child? Did he grow up with drugs? Why didn’t someone offer him hope? Wasn’t there at least a teacher in his life who could have steered him in the right direction?

“We are all products of how we were raised.” It’s a phrase my close friend has uttered since I met her. She’s absolutely right. I see it in myself, I see it in my kids, my husband, my friends. Lessons about money, religion, whether people are inherently bad or good… what we were raised with is ingrained in us and it takes a tremendous amount of reflection and self growth to get away from the attitudes and behaviors that we once learned in our tiny boxed world controlled by our parents.

The more I listened the more sick to my stomach I became because he was not innocent. In understanding that he was not innocent I realized I was guilty. Guilty of pretending that his world didn’t exist. I learned about cocaine and how accessible it is in our community. I learned that it’s in our schools and being sold right outside our schools. I learned of a young man with a gun and drug addiction driving on the same roads as my children. Cocaine. A gun. Same community.

I become numb, frozen as I listened until it was time for us to deliberate. One juror threw up, another cried. It was obvious that we all disliked being forced to see a world so different from our own.

My heart goes out to not only those who live every moment in the dark world of drugs, guns, and violence but also those police officers, attorneys and judges who must enter that world every day. Perhaps they at times feel helpless like I once did as a foster parent. The problem is real. I can choose to ignore it or I can choose to believe that a change can be made.  How am I going to make a difference? As of this moment I have no idea. What I do know is that if enough of us recognize the problem in our community, face it, and help – even just a little – maybe together we can save a child from growing up in a world of drugs and guns.

Comments to "Drugs and Guns"

  1. Kathie

    August 11, 2013

    I know Krista it’s a terrible waste. So sad that drugs, violence and so many other things affect our children.

  2. Lina McFee

    August 11, 2013

    Great point, Krista. How can we help? All of us are obligated to make it a better world. But, how do you go about it? Big question, vast problem. If you figure it out let me know; there are a lot of people who would like to do their share.

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