Four years ago I was selected to be on a jury for a capital murder trial. During the voir dire process (interviews by the attorneys to select the jury), my fight or flight response was screaming inside my head for me to run. This was likely residual triggery feelings from my own childhood trauma (I don’t think it would happen the same way since doing my most recent EMDR has me in a limbic balance). But my sense of duty was too strong to do what the guy wearing the Metalica shirt next to me did – just say I didn’t trust anyone in the DA’s office.
In any jury room you’re not supposed to discuss the case at all until deliberations begin. But the traumatic evidence forced us to not only talk about other things, we found ourselves mostly telling jokes and other funny stories. It might have helped that our chosen foreman looked and sounded almost exactly like Seth Rogen (though the fun came from almost everyone).
We were later told our laughter could be heard all the way into the courtroom. But the judge, attorneys, and public who were in the courtroom all knew that we were doing what we needed to do (though possibly the judge and told them that if we’re laughing, we’re definitely not talking about the case). Note – we weren’t laughing about murder (though a fellow juror had been on another murder trial), we were laughing so we didn’t have to continue thinking about murder.
In a way, we bonded as a band of brothers at war. It was a very intense trauma to relive day after day and topped off with not being able to discuss the cause of the trauma with anyone.
The fortunate thing is none of us had to die – well, one person did previously die, and that’s why we were there. We took that person’s death as our duty to try and complete the mission of hearing the case out fairly. The traumatic testimony that included photos of the victim hit all of us hard. The laughter came slow on that particular day as it had to pass through some tears, but it was there and it sustained us.
While that specific trial ended in a mistrial due to prosecutorial misconduct, I am happy and relieved to say that the perpertrator remains behind bars as he was finally found guilty in a separate trial this year.
Since learning of therapeutic laughter this year during the Applied and Therapuetic Humor (AATH.org) conference, I think back to how we were naturally dealing with the pain we had to endure as jurors and wishing I could have piled on some more intential laughter.
For months after the trial, many jurors still met and laughed as we continued to try to recover from our role. Gradually our meetings grew further apart, but it is still a joy to see someone from the trial send a note to the group and know that we all still have each other’s backs.
While I don’t face quite the same trauma every day as that courtroom, when adversity or just the daily news sets my limbic system on edge, I am glad now that I can call on my new laughter skills and keep pressing forward.
Edit: I almost forgot that because this trial had some trauma and brain experts testifying, I had a huge epiphany about my spouse’s own trauma as well as my own based on the testimony about the triune-brain and how different types of trauma can impact people.