Jail sucks, but what comes after it is even worse
Everyone has seen enough episodes of Gangland or COPS to understand that jail is an insufferable place. That’s kind of the point. Unless you’re a white banker or Martha Stewart, the experience leaves everyone going in scarred. Whether or not it works is still up for debate.
But jail is shit compared to what comes after.
I’ve been arrested 9 times. Most of them for fairly innocuous one-nighters, necessary grownup time-outs with me sitting completely tanked away from society while carrying around an erratic and unreliable mind drenched in whatever popular liquor bars were shilling out.
I was never a good drunk growing up, and after about the 7th or so time being locked up, I began to understand that.
But a few of the things I did aren’t anything to mess around with. Driving with a .243 BAC is an entirely different beast than getting into a shoving match at a club because someone looked at you in the eyes. One is inexcusably reckless, and should absolutely garner serious consequences. It’s fucked. The other, well, he started it …
Keep in mind, the chaotic time I’m describing in my life was almost 16 years ago. Things were a lot different back then. It was an era where one could get slapped on the wrist for a DUI, and most usually did. There wasn’t the ubiquitous call to action like there is now to reduce the rate of casualties — and catching a felony for it wasn’t even in the conversation as it is now.
Most of the time people just lost their license for a year and did some extra-curricular work to appease the state’s cash cow. There wasn’t a lot to be learned from it, just that it’s an inconvenience to lose certain privileges. Except for my experience: I’m a great case study as to why it isn’t a bright idea to show up to court without a lawyer while mouthing off to the judge like he owes you something.
Because he tossed me in for a good amount of time to shut my ass up. He did not want to shovel the dirt my front-loader was pushing around.
I was supposed to serve a year in jail for my DUI. That’s a pretty substantial sentence, considering the maximum a judge can order for a first-timer is exactly that, 365 days. He chose to make an example out of me and my Neverending Story of a mouth. He succeeded in that.
Jail sucks. It’s thousands of overly sensitive man-children sitting around placing blame on everything but themselves, relentlessly farting into a suffocating room enclosed to the size of an elementary school gym. There’s constant arguing over who stole what Ramen Noodles or mundane bickering over TV channels.
There was one brawl I remember between the Mexicans who wanted to watch a rerun of a WWF match and the white dudes who wanted Law & Order. Since I had to be there as an unwilling spectator, it was exciting — but there were thousands of other things I should have been doing with my time.
Still a teenager, I could have been socially productive, or going to school, even working retail to buy things I didn’t need. Instead, I was melting into a concrete corner, reading fluff novels about Hollywood wives from Judy Collins and regretfully plowing through Iceberg Slim’s entire pimpology catalog. It was a huge waste of time.
Finally, after a few months of the monotony, I did what anyone else should have done in my position: I got a lawyer, a good one — one who eventually got me out on a “reconsideration” 74 days after my sentencing. I spent the remainder of my time on house arrest — a $17-a-day commodity that was worth every penny. Kind of.
Even if I had actually done my full sentence on the inside, I would have gotten out to spend roughly the same amount of money on probation, on classes, on breathalyzers, on Antabuse, on drug tests, on MADD panels, on court fines, on lawyer fees — on anything at all related to my case. I would have left and been thrown immediately onto papers.
When you leave jail, you’re often stuck in a predatory spiral that’s ostensibly put in motion for the sole purpose of abject failure. It’s how the system is designed, to keep you around.
Because if it isn’t the loss of a license that makes you late for a probation meeting, or the inability to find work to pay for classes, or the extremely low threshold of mandatory requirements in place by the state that can get someone popped to go back in, the lifestyle of being shunned by a society that’s so quick to judge will.
It’s a hard life to escape.
Luckily for me, I got my shit together and had help through the process to make the seemingly impossible, possible. I got pushed back by a few minor probationary violations on separate occasions, but nothing that was a point of contention for me to go back in. I’d like to think it was because I had good behavior, which I did, but it probably had a lot to do with my skin color, to be honest.
I was a dick. I understand this; and I only have myself to blame for getting into the position I was in. It isn’t alcohol’s fault, it isn’t the police’s fault, it isn’t the lawmakers’ fault or even the judge’s fault. I’m solely to blame for every mistake I’ve ever made. And I’m more than willing to suffer consequences of my actions. I’m lucky my actions didn’t elicit worse outcomes. But they suck, the consequences, they absolutely suck.
Even for the comparatively short amount of time I spent behind bars (in extreme contrast to most long-timers in worse situations than I), the event wrecked what could have been a productive time period in my life.
As a newly legal adult, I thought I understood the world and what came with it. I truly thought that my attitude would get me out of anything, but instead it got me into everything I wasn’t ready for.
Nobody is immune to the incoming force of a well thrown book.
It took me years to get through my probationary period. Classes, license revocation and weekly meetings got in the way of a lot. It took me even longer to get through the debilitating debt accrued from time spent away from the workforce. I was a pretty worthless citizen. I was not a catch for any woman in my immediate surroundings. That’s pretty obvious.
Deep holes require sturdy ladders. Stay out of the system, it isn’t worth any of it.