This story comes from around 1985, give or take. This story is about when I did time for my crimes. When I went to the Big House (jail). When I had to repay my debt to society.
This started one time I was driving back from Portland where I was attending school at the University of Portland. Back then the speed limits weren’t 70 yet and there were some smaller highways so the drive time was roughly six and a half hours.
I was around Ritzville and ready to be back home, though I was still an hour out of town. A guy buzzed past me though I was doing the speed limit. I had what seemed like a good idea at the time and decided I would shadow him by a quarter mile or so and if anyone were going to get pulled over by a cop, it’d be him and I’d slow down, but get to drive too fast in the meantime. Thus began my downfall into crime…
I drove behind him for a while, though it was probably only a few miles. And this is where I learned my first lesson: Cops aren’t dumb. Rather than see one doofus buzz by and pull him over, why not let both doofuses (doofii?) go by and then pull both of them over for twice the tickets? And so it went. I saw him pull out behind me, lights flashing. He pulled up next to me and motioned me to the side of the road and once he established I was going that way, he buzzed up and did the same for the other dude. We both got tickets. Damn.
At this time, I was still living at home when not at school and so my mailing address was at home. Honestly, I sort of forgot about the ticket as I completed my winter break or whatever it was and headed back to school.
Unbeknownst to me, my summons for the ticket showed up at the house and no one really did anything with or about it. So it sat. In fact, I never saw that piece of mail.
Fast forward to late May of the next year. It was the weekend of the Lilac Parade, Spokane’s big to-do for the year. I was out running an errand in one of my Dad’s cars. A car that he apparently had put studs on and neglected to remove after the winter was over. I apparently drove by a cop with his window down who was paying enough attention that when I rolled by he heard me driving on studs. Which is grounds for a ticket. So, he pulled me over.
I was waiting in my car, expecting to either be sent home to get the car off the streets or, worst case, get a ticket for driving in a car with studs after winter. Imagine my surprise when he asked me to step out of my car. Then asked me to turn around and put my hands on the car. At that moment, my heart was hammering in my chest because we were off in territory that was far outside my experience.
He informed me that I was being under arrest for failure to appear to a court summons in Adams county! I was so confused in that moment. I didn’t know about a court summons. Hell, I didn’t know where Adams county was! I recall expressing some of this to the cop, who handled a terrified teenager very well and very carefully, informed me that I had failed to appear to a summons to court on a speeding ticket that I had been given six months before. It all started to fall into place. Crap. This was going to be bad. Worse, he explained that unless I posted bail, I would be held till I could be shipped out to Adams county to appear on the failure to appear charge. This was Saturday night, so I was looking at a couple of days in jail before Monday would even roll around!
He took me downtown, to the police station and they booked me. Fingerprints, the whole shebang. I was told I had one call and could use that to try and arrange bail. I knew nothing about arranging bail, so I did the only thing that seemed rational at this point: I called my parents. Who were not home. They were out drinking. It was a Saturday night, so this was not a complete surprise.
Shit! I had used my one phone call to call someone who wasn’t home. Eventually, after some moments of panic, it occurred to me to call my best friend Mike and explain to him what was going on so that he could act on my behalf to try and track down my parents and see if they could help.
They informed me that that bail would be $500. Oh, yeah, I was going to be stuck in jail. No question.
After a while of sitting in what was basically the lobby of the jail, they collected me and hauled me off to real, actual jail. I recall them taking my shoes and belt and only learned later that that was to keep me from hanging myself with them!
The jail cell was actually pretty roomy, probably eight feet by sixteen feet with a couple of bunks/cots. There were cement walls and a big steel door that was very loud when it clanged shut, leaving me to my thoughts, which were largely about how it was going to be a very, very long weekend.
After a half hour or so, I was bored. There was nothing to do. No magazines or books. No phones or Internet. Just me in a cell with cement walls that echoed.
Because it seemed appropriate, I sang quietly, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen”. Yeah, that seemed appropriate at that juncture.
About an hour later, the doors opened and another guy was put in the cell with me. He was quiet and his eyes were down and he didn’t look any happier than I felt and may well have been as scared as I was, though he seemed a few years older than me.
To this day, I have no idea what possessed me, after a few minutes of the door closing to ask him, in a faux rough and gravelly voice: “What are you in for?” Yeah, I’m even a dork in jail.
I don’t recall that he responded and, frankly, ignoring me was probably the best play.
About three hours later, so it was close to 11 pm or midnight, the door opened and someone called me out of the cell.
Unbeknownst to me, my best friend in the whole world who I now knew I owed my freedom to had managed to track down my parents, probably once they got home. He let them know what had happened and that I needed help.
The dichotomy in their reactions was telling. My Dad, who had been drinking, thought that my spending the weekend in jail was a fine plan, so he didn’t plan to do anything.
Recall, I was driving a car that he failed to remove studded tires from and I had failed to appear at a court summons that I was unaware of. But, yeah, a weekend in jail seems about right.
My Mom, on the other hand, leaped into action and somehow managed to scrape together the $500 to get me out of the brig!
Upon exiting my cell, I found both Mike and my Mom there. I would not be spending the night or the weekend in jail.
As it turned out, I did have to go to Adams County to show up for court and explain what happened. That removed the bench warrant. Then I had to pay a couple hundred bucks for a speeding ticket. On the upside, the law was no longer interested in me.
For a couple of decades after that, I still had some PTSD about cop cars. I feared that they had a warrant for something I did that I didn’t know about and they were coming for me! They were not coming for me. The vast majority of police I’ve had to deal with for whatever reasons seem like pretty good folks doing a very tough job. I don’t envy them that job. I appreciate the patience that officer had with me as I was hauled off to jail for the first (and only) time.
Ask me about my prison tat sometime.
All images courtesy of Midjourney and my nonsense prompts.