For six weeks and three days, they were like a large extended family, 18 of them. They went everywhere together, they laughed and joked together, they even "boogied" together.

But Thursday morning, the mood turned tense. They knew six would be leaving and the rest would have to stay and make tough decisions. Most of them wanted to go home. They commiserated with one another about how they would think of those left behind to decide the 14 drug and perjury charges against D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

When Margaret Batson, 70, heard she was one of six alternates, "I sat right up out of my chair." After arriving home Thursday evening, Batson told reporters she had clasped her hands together as if to pray and said she was "thankful" that she wouldn't be deliberating.

Although U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson instructed the alternates not to discuss many details of where the jury stayed, or even how many times they had been moved, Batson and other alternates provided new insight into how the men and women who have been sitting in Courtroom 2 fared in their off-hours.

"It was kind of fun," Batson said. "I met 18 new friends."

But living completely insulated from anything that might touch on the courtroom proceedings affected everything from telephone conversations with relatives -- a U.S. marshal was always listening -- to the books, magazines and newspapers they were allowed to read, the exercise they could take and what happened when they got sick.

Each juror was accompanied home by a U.S. marshal and permitted 30 minutes to pack for the hotel stay. After that, they were allowed a 45-minute visit home every weekend to care for personal matters. Marshals were their ever-present shadows. They censored what they could read and what they could watch. They picked up their mail and exercised with them.

Marshals watched as cooks prepared the jurors' food. They took them on a picnic on the 4th of July, and finally, Thursday evening, they took the alternates home.

Everyone loved the marshals. Still, as alternate Sheila Kern put it: "Get locked up for seven weeks and see how you feel."

The entire time, Kern's car stayed at her place of employment and a friend moved into her apartment to care for her 12-year-old chow. Kern said she endured talking to her mother with the marshal listening. She also read a lot and longed to watch the news.

Carolyn Bass, 49, like other alternates, described fellow jurors as "intelligent."

"I really enjoyed being around them," she said. "We laughed and joked and kidded."

She also confirmed that, in some ways, jurors were pampered. "I'll miss the whirlpool, the sauna and the pool," Bass said, "but I'm glad I'm back with my family."

But the feeling of being cooped up prevailed. Bass said she missed walking by herself and being able to visit shopping malls. "I wanted to go out and see a movie," instead of the screened videos (no drugs or adultery) that jurors were shown.

Batson, who lives alone in a downtown apartment building, said that at first she "wasn't used to all the attention," and made clear that meant having people tell her what to do and when to do it.

She said the jurors filled idle moments in the courthouse -- especially time during their long lunch hours -- playing cards or simple games or talking about anything not related to the case.

One day they were talking about old-time comic characters such as the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello. Batson said she started the old comic routine, "Who's on first?"

Minutes later in the courtroom, defense attorney R. Kenneth Mundy used the same line, provoking seemingly unexplained laughter from the jurors.

Two alternates who were released Thursday declined to talk to reporters. And others were sanguine about media interest in them. Kern said she knew it would die "once the verdict comes in from the real jurors." Staff writers Karlyn Barker and Patrice Gaines-Carter contributed to this report.