Credit: Jeffrey Marini

Neal, 54, has worked for 22 years at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California.

I was working with a food service downtown, Canteen. We served office people. There was a guy who was a manager at Canteen. One day he said, “I know a guy at 26th. You could stay here but if you want to make a little bit more money I could call him up, because you’re a good working man and I don’t want to keep you here.”

So I went over there and filled out the application and it worked out the same day. Been there ever since.

I serve the juries and the judges. I don’t prepare the meals. All I do is deliver: breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. The breakfast is coffee and rolls. Lunch is a hot meal from the kitchen—meat loaf, Salisbury steak, chicken pot pie, pasta. Only people that get a choice to pick is the grand jury. Snacks is potato chips or fruit. Dinner is sandwiches—turkey, ham, chicken salad, and sometimes roast beef.

One time Oprah was on the jury. She didn’t particularly like cafeteria food so she ordered out. She took over the jury’s meals. She ordered out for them.

I remember they did R. Kelly there, so I seen him every day. I fed his jury.

I have to go through the back to deliver the jurors’ meals. We don’t want the food to get cold so somebody writes the judge a note: “Jerry’s here.” I have good relationships with the judges. They trust me. They’d rather see me coming in than someone else. They don’t give me any trouble. At first they did, but that’s because you have to learn things. You got 37 judges you got to get to know.

It’s back and forth all the time, all day, nonstop. Sometimes I can’t do it all so the girls help me deliver. I make everybody happy—judges, juries, the chief judge. The chief judge said, “Jerry’s been here a long time. He know about the juries.” They don’t want me to leave.

There’s more [trials now] because of the crime, the economy. Jails are overcrowded so judges are trying to work fast and clear the books. They have to get rid of the old cases to get to the new.

Some [of the people on trial] ain’t got no family. Some ain’t got no lawyers, so they can’t do much.

I see a lot of verdicts. Defendants rise. I see a lot of hollering. It’s not a good sight. You can’t go hollering in the courtroom. They escort you out.

They just had a double jury with two kids. Eighteen [years old]. Found them both guilty. Murder. They’ll be sentenced next month.

Nobody wants to go over cases anymore in Illinois. That’s why they have so many mistakes. Wrongly convicted. Twenty years. Can’t get that back. —As told to Steve Bogira