Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

It’s three in the afternoon.

You’ve been in the jury lounge for the better part of the day.

You and the forty other people lucky enough to be summoned on this sunny July day.

Having vacated the courthouse twenty minutes ago, after the judge said that the court would make their final decisions on the jury in about ten minutes, you flip to the next page in R. F. Kuang’s Dragon Republic.

One of the court administrators steps to the podium at the front of the room and begins to read a list of names.

Your name is the second one read.

You get up even though you aren’t sure if this means you were selected or dismissed.

You take the elevator up to the tenth and final floor with thirteen other people, the judge congratulates you on your selection, and you all swear in.

The opening statements begin, and life as you know it changes… if only for a few weeks.


All Rise:

This was how the stage was set for my three weeks of jury service. I got to deliberate on a jury of fourteen civilians as we were presented with a federal criminal case.

Each day before we walked into the court room and as each recess finished, the courtroom clerk would say, “all rise” as we filed into our seats. At the opening of the door, all the attorneys, the defendant, and everyone else stood up as we entered or exited.

A few seconds later, the judge would enter, and we would remain standing until she gave us permission to be seated.

It was a strange feeling to be presented to for three weeks.

It was stranger to be unable to ask questions.

Like viewers on the opposite side of the tv screen, we watched the Netflix Special of the U.S. Government vs. Serge Obukhoff in gory detail.

A weight of responsibility permeated that court house and we carried that weight alone as we were instructed to speak of the details of this case to no one (not even other jurors). It consumed our waking hours and made it into many of our dreams, as we oscillated between guilty and not guilty opinions.


Objection Your Honor:

Perhaps one of the most annoying parts of sitting in that courthouse, was our relative ignorance of courtroom verbiage.

We were instructed not to research anything in regards to court proceedings or vocabulary, and so as attorney after attorney said things like: Objection: relevance, Objection: Leading, Objection: 503, Objection: Asked and Answered, Objection: Lack of Foundation, Objection: Speculation, or when the Judge said: “overruled” or “sustained” or “it has been stricken from the record” we were just confused.

I was definitely familiar with Viola Davis saying “Objection your honor, prosecution is badgering the witness,” in her role as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away With Murder, but this was the first time I was able to see attorneys make objections in real life.

As the days turned into weeks, I began to understand how much of a chess game the attorneys were playing with their choice of witnesses and their objections.

As jurors, we were to only take into account information that was not stricken from the record. And if the judge sustained an objection, it meant that we were to disregard that question and any potential answers that the witness gave to that question.

In many ways, the attorneys were sketching caricatures of the witnesses and shaping what we saw by the usage of their objections.

It was fascinating, and I caught myself smiling and having Eureka moments when I was able to see the strategy of what some of the attorneys were doing a few steps before they carried it out.

As a funny aside, I also wished I had a personal judge at my house so that I could say “objection your honor, relevance” whenever I got into arguments with my mother.


Only the Truth, The Whole Truth, & Nothing But the Truth

Of the seventeen witnesses that testified, a good third of them either had immunity, had entered plea deals, or were currently in prison.

The day that all of us walked in and the witness was already at the stand in handcuffs with a guard present, we all were taken aback.

We had heard of this guy in the previous days, and if anything was crystal clear in this case, it was that he was a criminal genius mastermind.

As I sat and watched these regular people with checkered pasts testify, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of pity. Some of them seemed genuinely sorry that they had profited off of the ignorance of others. Others clearly lacked any remorse.

Before any of the witnesses was allowed to take the stand, they had to swear that they would only tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But even so, the defense attorneys made sure to remind us jurors of all the times that some of these witnesses had lied under oath.

The handcuffed guy I mentioned earlier, had actually lied under a previous plea deal and almost got away with stealing 1.6 million from the government. His bad behavior was indeed punished as the prosecution was swift to remind us in their re-direct examination. Another witness swore up and down on the lives of her children multiple times while talking to FBI agents, insisting that she was not guilty of anything.

This element of the case was probably the most drama infused aspect of the whole experience.

We were instructed to take the witness testimonies as evidence, but to also take into consideration their potential ulterior motives and biases. We were straight up told to weigh their testimonies with caution.

As we listened, I couldn’t help but draw a connection between the witnesses in the case, and the people in our lives who have ulterior motives and perhaps less than wholesome agendas that we allow to have full weight when it comes to speaking into our lives.

Perhaps we should weigh their words a little differently depending on how they have treated us in the past..


A Fiery Defense:

One of my personal favorite moments from the trial was after one of the witnesses alleged that the defendant had openly admitted to participating in the kickback scheme when being questioned by the prosecutor.

The defense attorney approached the podium for his cross examination, and vehemently defended his client while attacking the witness.

He stripped the witness of their credibility, asked clarifying questions regarding the exact circumstances that took place in this alleged exchange, and defended his client with such energy that you could hear the emotion in his voice.

That angry and infuriated tone that the defense attorney exhibited, combined with his aggressive body language is something that I will never forget.

The defense’s main goal was to highlight the manipulative nature of the head ringleader in order to show that the defendant was in fact tricked.

It reminded me of many times in my life where justice wasn’t served. There wasn’t clear evidence that I was guilty of whatever I was accused of, but I was punished anyways. Or the times when I was guilty of something because I was misled into it.

There’s definitely been plenty of times when I have knowingly broken rules, but to see a defense so passionate about defending their client, reminded me of how I see the person of Jesus.

I could write a whole blog about how the triune God exists in the courtroom with the judge, defense attorneys, and jury, but that’s a blog for another day.

I think I left the courtroom that day realizing that this kind of fiery defense is what I want to provide when speaking up for those who are voiceless or marginalized. Maybe I’m not an attorney, but I want the words that I say to be used in defense of those who are being targeted by the powers that be.


Reasonable Doubt:

On the second to last day of our service, as we were given our final instructions before deliberating, we were told that the defendant was to be innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

As jurors, we were able to see the indictment (basically a written list of what the defendant was accused of), but we were unable to see the potential punishments or sentences. This is because the jurors’ job is solely to find the defendant guilty or not guilty. The task of punishment is the judge’s job. And the “burden of proof” falls upon the prosecution.

After watching movies like Runaway Jury in high school history class, I thought deliberating would be more like a game of Mafia or Resistance.

While we did appoint a “foreperson” and the loudest voices did end up filling up a lot of the space, it was interesting to see how our gut feelings and intuition had nothing to do with our decision.

In fact, many of us had doubts that the defendant was completely oblivious to the criminal scheme that he happened to be a part of. However, our job was not to convict based upon a feeling or intuition. Our only job was to decide if the evidence produced by the prosecution found the defendant to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

And my gosh were there many many reasonable doubts.


Not Guilty:

I think the whole experience was encouraging in terms of the concept of being innocent until proven guilty, but on the flipside it was easy to see how this system could be abused and exploited for crimes where precautions were taken by the perpetrators.

At one point, after we had decided that the evidence found the defendant to be not guilty, I voiced this concern to my fellow jurors.

I said that I believed our evidence did not point to the defendant being guilty, but that for this exact reason, I was concerned that our justice system was not robust enough to handle instances in which abuse was ocurring but perhaps there was not a clear paper trail.

Obviously no justice system this side of life is perfect, as one of the jurors so matter of factly pointed out, but it still is a little disheartening to know that you could take a serial rapist to court, and he could still be found not guilty if concrete evidence that wasn’t just the word of his victim(s) wasn’t readily available.

I think it just taught me that justice and accountability really falls into the hands of normal civilians like your or me.

It’s us calling people out on their toxic or hurtful behavior that creates a paper trail and gives future perpetrators a chance to change their ways early.

In that same vein, we play a large part in preventing the victims of tomorrow from ever becoming victims.

One of the driving factors behind the rationale with which I use to make my life choices and choose the causes I rally behind, is based upon this concept of stopping the cycle of trauma that I see.

By the time an issue has made it to the courtroom, we in many ways are too late. At that point we are deciding guilt…. not preventing trauma.

We’re reacting instead of preventing or being proactive.


Closing Arguments:

I look out into the world and I see immense beauty but I see this beauty juxtaposed with pain. We see hurt people hurting people, and we see cycles and patterns that seem too big to stop. We feel helpless as we see problems in our cities and across the ocean.

We numb ourselves up with our coping mechanisms and with our work and we stay busy building our little empires while doing our best to stay oblivious to the injustices around us.

It’s easier to say that something isn’t our problem because it doesn’t affect us rather than making it our problem.

So this is my call to action for you:

Outside of work and outside of your hobbies, find something, and make it your problem.

Is it raising awareness on climate change?

Is it less robust education for underserved populations?

Is it the discussion of race with youth?

Is it labor trafficking?

Is it cyber bullying?

Is it a lack of integrity or accountability within a sector you work in?

Is it a lack of vaccination information and education?

Whatever it might be, there are so many problems in our world today. They need people like us to be brainstorming and experimenting with ways to solve them.

It is way easier to sit back, critique, and cancel politicians, celebrities, and policymakers, than to do the hard work of trying to solve them.

Partner with organizations, do your own research, find others who are like minded, and don’t give up!

If things carry on the way that they always have, we will always be one step behind true justice: the crimes will already have been committed and the inequality will already exist.

This is an invitation to time travel: let’s start working today, so that our kids and the generations that follow can have a better present than we see presently.

It isn’t hopeless, and contrary to common belief, this doesn’t have to be “just the way that it is.”

Let’s go!

Smoke and Mirrors

In a season, where Spotify: Year in Review playlists are on repeat, it seems only fitting to reflect upon the happenings of the past year. On the one hand, 2019 was all kinds of pain and frustration. Post-traveling depression, battles with addiction, the search for a more potent coping mechanism, a lack of identity and belonging, wounds at work, family dysfunctionality, and the departure of close friends. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 2019 was the best year of my life. Four different countries, breakthroughs in therapy sessions, getting in touch with my feelings, family reconciliation, bold career moves, a marathon, and the re-birth of my passion for film.

As a speaker this week said, “every year is a mixed bag.”

At the beginning of this month, I began brainstorming for a blog post that would reflect on both the pain and progress that this year brought for me.

Three days ago I got into a car accident that completely de-railed my plans to do so. After that, my schedule seemed to edge out any free time that I had to plan my blog.

Now, with less than twenty-two hours before the end of a decade, I sit and reflect on all that has happened.


In life, it is so easy to see how far we have to go without ever truly appreciating how far we’ve come.

Ten years ago, I was a high school junior studying for the SAT while clandestinely seeing my secret girlfriend that my parents forbid me from having. In the ten years from then to now I have: graduated from both high school and college, attended and left three different churches, transitioned from a Christian rap/ccm heavy music palette to a very eclectic lo-fi/pop/alternative mix of music, realized that God really does exist, participated in two of my closest friends’ weddings, left the church due to being fed up with the hypocrisy, struggled with anxiety and depression, worked as an: assistant to a real estate broker, a car finance funder, a tutor, a food service team member, a corporate grand opening trainer for chick-fil-a, a staff accountant, a security system sales rep, and a Operations/Food Safety/Facilities director, lead three different small groups, and so much more.

It has been a journey that has been filled with metaphorical hills and valleys. I’ve come face to face with the darkest desires and tendencies that I possess while also discovering what motivates me to wake up each day.

2019 was so different than so many years because well..

Instead of saving for tomorrow the ideas, trips, moves, and conversations that I thought of today, I decided to just do it.


Traveling to me, made no sense for the longest time. I did not understand why we who lived in one of the most affluent countries in the world, would ever want to leave our comfort to go and see other places. So, as fate or the Divine (depending on what you believe) would have it when Crystal asked me if I wanted to go to Turkey in the fall of 2018, I just happened to have been potentially the most burned out that I will ever be. I was working as a staff accountant in the mornings, working at chick-fil-a from 2-midnight, while also doing stints across the country opening new stores. Zero creative outlets, severe writer’s block, and a mind so screwed up by consequences to rash actions of the past pointed to a need for an escape.

So when Crystal asked if I wanted to go to a country that I only knew of because of the fact that my cousin had been stranded there while the natives threw a coup, I thought that this might be a fun distraction from the hellishly busy life that I lead.

Suffice it to say, that trip changed my perspective on life. Just as January marks the beginning of a new year, so this trip to Turkey marked the beginning of a new perspective of the world and my place in it. I began to re-embrace the UC ingrained concept of trusting no one and experiencing everything oneself. I learned that sometimes… it’s better if you don’t listen to your friends.


In March, I ran and walked my first marathon. I had planned to run it from the year prior as a way to prove to myself that I was more than someone who promised to finish things he started, only to quit shortly after starting. It was the most physically tolling experience that I have ever undertaken. I was ill-prepared and afraid as my inconsistencies with training were paid for in full and with interest on the race day.

Yet somehow by the Grace of God, I finished. The encouragement of William and the accountability that was created by me telling people I was going to run the marathon, pushed me to do something that I never would have deemed possible. And what should have been next in a list of things I said I was going to do but never completed became the topic sentence of the new essay of my life. The essay in which Paul was a finisher and not just a starter. Indeed, it was fitting that there was a mile representative of each year of my 26 years of life and that as the mile count increased, so did the pain and desire to quit.


Upon returning from Turkey, I struggled with depression as I returned to what appeared to be a dead-end job. I realized that what I valued in life and in work was not reciprocated by the decision-makers where I worked. I had been trying to make my parents proud my whole life and yet that had ended up in failure after failure. Unlike my travels, the day to day was a mundane routine that never made way for new experiences. One of my best friends was moving away, following the pattern that I had begun to see in my life: that everything ends.

A business consultant for our store passed away quickly and rather unexpectedly. This shattered my fantasy of pursuing a career as a Chick-fil-A operator. For me, the profit has never been enough to keep me invested. I’ve stayed with the brand and this store because of the people. People like Imon, Dina, Jazz, Amanda, Marco, Pancho, Nolan, Emma, William, Alan, Jared, Helen, Julian, Michael, Joanne, Jade, Mariel, Lindsey, Ellison, Keisse, Marla, Jordan, Kelsey, Danielle, Twabu, Victor, Tyler, Iris, Hector, Michelle, Craig, and more than I can name. They have oftentimes been the sole reason I went into work.

So when an operator, I had never met, at a conference meant specifically for operators, slammed my vision for a store that hired people from at-risk communities with the goal of funding social work with the profits from the business, I began to make connections between this one operator and my experiences so far.

They were experiences tainted by misunderstanding, poor communication, and a focus on profits over people. And just like that, I realized, I didn’t want to delay what I was passionate about in order to accrue money to do what I wanted to do. In fact, I wasn’t even capable of lying or keeping up a facade of pursuing this potentially lucrative career.

Just like that, my primary career prospect went out the window, and I spiraled with no purpose and a stripped identity into arguably the most difficult season of my life.


Right around this time, I bit the bullet and finally joined one of Mariners’ Rooted Groups. The whole purpose behind these weekly small groups was to establish a healthy community of peers that were in similar life stages. It was one of the hardest commitments to stick with, as we literally all started out not knowing one another in the slightest. Yet, over time, we all shared about our lives and our darkest struggles (some of which were ongoing and unresolved), and we began to really engage and get to know one another.

There was a freedom that came from confiding in what was at the time a group of strangers and then sticking with that group to simply do life together. Some nights we got into the nitty-gritty of what God was doing in our lives and how we should live better lives, but some nights we just ate and drank together. I had been in many small groups before, but the honesty, transparency, and commitment of this group trumped all of the ones before.

Shoutout to Sam, Gavin, Will, Amy, Xochitl, Star, Baxter, and Jordan for doing this season of life together. Y’all encouraged me to begin to take brave steps into the unknown.


In the summer, my family took a trip to King’s Canyon and we hit a rock and got a flat tire some 38 miles away from civilization. No cell reception, no pump, and a few hours of daylight.

Through a miraculous turn of events that I’ll be sure to blog about in the future, we replaced the tire and a man stopped to help us and he just happened to have a compressor/pump in his car that he had just placed in his car a week ago because he had been caught with a flat and was heavily inconvenienced because he didn’t have a pump on him.

My family decided to end our vacation early, but we used the extra day to reconvene, and we did something that we had never done before. We met up and wrote letters to each other, without knowing who was going to be the recipient of the letter. What ensued was a three-hour session of family reconciliation and encouragement that completely changed the course of where we were heading.


When the anxiety and depression had started to spiral out of control earlier in the year, I had started turning to all sorts of coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain. Alcohol, weed, porn(More on this taboo topic in 2020), gaming, running, and writing all played a part. After realizing that none of these things was doing an adequate job of keeping me sane, I returned to therapy with the sole intent of getting things under control. (FUCK the stereotypes, mysticism, and negative connotations surrounding therapy! More on this topic in 2020 as well)

It turns out that due to a combination of different factors including upbringing, relationships, past hurts, work, and broken friendships, I had forgotten how to process my emotions and it had become difficult if not impossible to decipher what it is that I wanted in life.

I began this long process of re-hashing my past, self-validating, and processing what I was feeling or wanting in the given moment. Over the course of the year, I began to see personal growth as I began to place boundaries of where Paul Ho existed. I began to be able to discern what was what I wanted and what was what other people wanted me to be. Slowly, it was beginning to come together.


All 1839 words that have been written so far culminated in the boldest move I have ever attempted. Crystal invited me on another trip to Morocco and Spain… right in the middle of Chick-fil-a’s busiest season… as we were in interviews for another store. I had finally reached the personal conclusion while talking with my therapist that Chick-fil-a was not for me and that it was okay. So, after talking and deliberating with my family and my life group, and after binge drinking myself to throwing up four times one night when the stress of work had proven too much for me to bear, I decided that I was going to quit.

It took all the courage I did not have to table that discussion with my boss.

I had also decided that since I would be jobless anyways that I was going to plan a trip to Mexico City to do some work with an organization that I had volunteered with in the spring of 2015.

If you read waymaker, you already know how that story goes.


It was like a switch turned on after I went on that trip. All of a sudden, I wasn’t afraid of what I wanted anymore. I wasn’t trying to make my family proud. I wasn’t trying to say the right things to my boss or coworkers. I wasn’t doing the smart and practical things that people my age were supposed to be doing. I wasn’t faking who I was any more to fit in.

I was unashamedly me and I was going to pursue the passions that I had regardless of how insane, naive, or foolish they seemed to anyone else. I finally had my permission to be myself and no one could take that away from me.


It has been a month and a half since I returned and I won’t lie, it still feels like something is different about me. Yet, despite the seeming clarity that I now possess, there still remains so much uncertainty in my life. There are still days where my anxiety nearly overwhelms me. There are still miscommunications and arguments that plague my relationships. There are still challenges and hardships that I must struggle to overcome.

Yet of one thing I am certain: my life is a film, and God is the ultimate director.

I think the car accident from a few days ago, the work drama of the last week, and the flat tire Dina got today were all smokescreens to distract me from sharing about my experiences in the last year. Not to glorify my story, or to make you think that your story is any less extraordinary. To God be the glory for His provision and faithfulness this past year. In the darkest seasons, He was still there validating me. In the best seasons, He was there encouraging me. And if anything I hope that regardless of what you believe that you see that the number of coincidences is wayyy too damn high in my life to attribute to chance.


My friends, wherever this new year finds you, whether it be in the midst of addiction, a mental breakdown, tragedy, uncertainty, cynicism, loss, hopelessness, loss of dreams, emptiness, unemployment, the frayed remains of a broken relationship, a broken and dysfunctional family, or wherever else you might be, I hope and pray that you are encouraged in knowing that you are not alone.

We can never hope to explain or understand why we must go through these difficult seasons. Yet, I hope that as this new decade begins, that instead of resolving to be different in the future, that you would take a moment to realize how far you’ve come. And not only how far you’ve come, but how your story however dark it may be, is not over.

The sun still exists behind the clouds.

You have not been forgotten.

You are not alone.

There is hope.

Sometimes, we just can’t see it behind the smoke and mirrors.