Two weeks ago I closed a chapter of my life that I never thought was going to end. It seems like I can’t remember very many times in the recent past that I haven’t been under some sort of legal supervision or fighting a court battle.
I always just assumed people like me, the person I want(ed) to be, never got in trouble. I had a rough home life, but I got good grades and I had good friends and I was the teachers (albeit exhausting sometimes) favorite. I wanted to go to college and I wanted to teach music to under privileged kids.
Then I met a guy, and a couple other guys, a few girls, and fell in love with the fast-paced party lifestyle. I felt fucking invincible. I was 16 years old making more money than I had personally ever made. My friends were all older than me (early twenties) and they were cool, and popular, they loved me and they were my ticket out of the hell I was living in.
I had my first run in with the cops while drinking and driving when I was 16, almost 17. I was terrified and my dad was pissed. But I never went to jail and I didn’t have a fine or court (I was technically charged with a curfew violation but nothing ever came of it), I just got grounded for an eternity. I don’t think that was nearly enough.
My first official DUI and time spent in the drunk tank was at 17. Word of advice: don’t try to pump gas while wasted, with a beer in your hand, at a gas station. It never ends well. That ended in fines and a 28 day stint in a rehab facility shortly after I was 18.
DUI #2 happened at the age of 20. Followed shortly by DUI #3 (while on probation for #2). Somewhere in the middle of that I had broken up with someone who was cheating on me for over a year, met my future attorney, got engaged, got unengaged, and got back together with the guy who had been cheating on me and then I went to jail.
I was 20 years old. A convicted felon. And was about to spend the next 6 months in jail, or some equivalent of it.
That 6 months turned into 11.5 months. 35 days spent in county jail, the rest in a work release program. Which is what I so cleverly nicknamed as “the ghetto sorority house”. I got to go to work, and then I went back to jail. You get strip searched and watched and questioned and harassed for anything you fucking do, even when you don’t do anything.
I remember having a panic attack while being arrested and knowing I was going to jail. When I got my DUI while on probation, I knew there was no way in hell they wouldn’t find out. My attorney gave my two options: admit it and face the consequences or don’t and prep for the worst.
Not admitting it and running seemed a lot more appealing. And I thought I was so slick, too! I’d turned my phone GPS off, didn’t use WiFi, all that jazz. I’ll never forget the horrifyingly disappointed look when three sheriffs and a police van came to my parents backwoods property and “staked it out” waiting for me to come out or my parents to open the door. It was only a couple of hours, but I hid in the closet the whole time waiting for them to leave while basically trying to convince my parents not to turn me in – I just needed a little bit more time! Time to do what? Who fucking knows. Party more & do whatever I wanted – I had no concept of the consequences and no desire to find out.
The problem with my plan – was I was still going to work. And where do you think they found me?
One of the managers at the restaurant I was working at was my fucking angel when they came and got me. I had a legit mental breakdown and panic attack at the same time. He did everything he could to calm me down and promised to tell my dad I was sorry. I remember the cop who took me in asked me some stupid questions like “Do you want to ruin your life like this?” and my responses were very similar to “Go fuck yourself.”
I didn’t eat for three days. Green hard boiled eggs and “cream-o-wheat” were not my thing & I was so scared to shower that I waited 6 days before I had the courage to finally shower. There were so many rules, only showers at certain times and EVERYONE had to at the same time. It is an incredibly humbling, in hindsight, but terrifying in the moment, experience to make yourself vulnerable in a place seething with uncertainty and fear.
A couple weeks after I went upstairs (that’s what they call it when you actually go TO jail, not just the holding cell) that I got a job! In jail! I got to answer the phones when people called in for information about inmates. I made $5/hour and that money went towards my fines if I turned it in after I got out. But I got to be moved to a more secluded pod, you could shower when you wanted, and the guards didn’t really fuck with you if you were a trustee.
I hope I never have to see my fathers face on the other side of Plexiglas while speaking to him over a shitty telephone and I’m the one in oranges.
I had a preliminary hearing like a week or so after I became a trustee. Basically it was just to be continued because my lawyer was still working out the terms and trying to get me into work release so I could go back to work and sort of regain my life. Some women in there had been waiting months, MONTHS, to be “rolled to go” so I was less than hopeful anything good was going to happen to me soon.
Before court and after court they stick you in a cell while you wait for your groups turn. This was my first time in four-way handcuffs and they are just as uncomfortable and painful and dehumanizing as they look on TV. After my court session was done, I was put in a cell by myself while I waited for a guard to escort me back to my pod. I sat in the corner and kept quiet, trying not to stare into the camera as if I was begging for someone to help me.
The door opened, a man was shoved in, and the door shut.
The rules were don’t talk to the dudes and there were cameras, so I didn’t say anything. He was a rather chatty person and soon after I discovered he was a convicted rapist and in jail again for another rape. I didn’t know what to think, or say, so I answered his questioned and never saw him again when I left.
On the way back to my pod, I walked past two guards and said, “Next time you take people to court, I suggest you make sure someone checks which cells people get put in because you just stuck me with a fucking male rapist for over half an hour by myself.”
I met with some hot-shot guy at the jail, filed a report and two days later I smelled my first taste of the night air in over a month and was on my way to work release.
Oddly enough, even though I had a better “bed” and I knew I could see my family and dog soon, I cried myself to sleep harder that night than I had yet. It was a brand new unknown. Another challenge. Another new way I had to think about life and I KNEW I was going to be there for a while and something about only having a taste of what I knew that felt more daunting and soul-crushing than anything I had felt yet.