So last Saturday I was arrested and spent Saturday night and Sunday morning in jail. It’s a long story, but if you’re a fervent reader of my little blog, what else is new?
For almost a year, since my birthday last June, I’ve been driving without a driver’s license. I will now pause for you to yell at your computer and tell me what a stupid, reckless, so-and-so I am for doing that.
You’re absolutely right.
No, there’s no excuse.
Sheesh! Such language!! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
OK, are you finished? Can I go on now?
Fine. In June when I realized that my California DL was going to expire I went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles to get one from this state. It was then that I found out that my California license had been suspended due to three unpaid tickets that occurred during my foggiest depression era. Things tend to pile up and not get taken care of when you can barely function.
Because my Cal DL was suspended, my current state wouldn’t give me a license. The fines had accumulated due to failure to appear in court, etc. So I’ve been waiting for any number of reasons to take care of them. When I did my taxes last month I saw that I was going to get a refund, so I’ve been waiting for that to come.
Anyway, I’ve been an outlaw for the past several months and on Saturday it finally caught up with me. Actually, in a previous post I mentioned making “a monumentally boneheaded move right in front of Boodles and Tania and only God’s grace kept the circumstances from being catastrophic.” Well, when I picked them up from the airport I was anxious to get Boodles home to see her Grandma and I was just a few blocks from home, driving too fast, and got pulled over.
When I saw the blue lights (didn’t they used to be red?) I said, “Oh no. This is bad. This is bad.” That scared Boodles and she started crying, I tried to backpedal and tell her that it was OK while at the same time explaining to her mother that I was driving without a license. The cop asked Tania if she had a license, Tania just happens to do some human relations work part-time for her local police department back in Cal. She made sure that the cop saw her Police ID along with her DL. To make it short, between the crying child, the police employee in the back seat, and God’s grace the cop decided to let me off with a warning. I still felt like shit that I scared my sweetie, but she calmed down while her mother finished the ride home. At least she didn’t have to see me handcuffed and taken away by what she calls “the polices.”
Not so much last Saturday. This time God decided to let me experience the full punch from the long arm of the law. Can you blame her? I hadn’t changed anything. I was still waiting for my refund check, still being reckless. Not that I felt good about what I was doing. Not that I wasn’t somewhere between nervous and scared shitless the whole time I was driving. But what was I going to do? Bum rides from co-workers? Take the bus? Get a freaking bicycle?
Um…yes Joe. That’s exactly what you should have done.
But there I was, at work on Saturday with my illegal self. It had actually been a pretty good week at Wally World. They had lost their overnight produce guy and offered me the job. It would be full time hours (I now get around 32 hours a week on average) and benefits plus a 50¢/hour raise for working third shift. I have a post in the works where I’ll talk more about that, but I decided to take it and I was looking forward to it.
For the next month or so, WalMart is having their annual fund raising campaign for Children’s Miracle Network and they’ve been asking associates to ring a bell in front of the store to raise money, Salvation Army style. So on Saturday afternoon I rang the bell for an hour and a half. I had fun with it, I got into my white boy rhythm with the bell, tried to be really obnoxious with it and I would say, “For $10 I’ll stop.” I didn’t get any takers, but I had fun. I was ringing that stupid bell so vigorously that at one point I realized that I had been holding the bell between two fingers and had rubbed a little skin off one of them.
So it was a good day. Before leaving work I picked up some Diet Coke for Mom, some orange juice for Iris, and some Goldfish crackers. I had been warned by a co-worker to stay off the scenic route I usually take to work because the police had set up a checkpoint a couple of times in the past week, so I took one of the main streets. There I was, happily munching on my Goldfish, not unmindful of my situation but not being particularly tense about it. Then I saw her.
A pretty blonde lady cop, right behind me. Now here’s another thing…I had also neglected to renew my tags, partly out of fear that I would call attention to myself. OK Joe, calm down. It doesn’t mean she’s after you. Maybe she’ll change lanes. She didn’t change lanes. OK, so I’ll change lanes and just kinda ease on out of this street. Right as I moved to change lanes, the lights came on.
She asked for the usual information, I pulled out my State ID that clearly says “NOT A DRIVER’S LICENSE” on it and started to tell her my sob story.
“Please don’t tell me your driving without a driver’s license.”
“Yes, I’m afraid I am.”
She disappeared back to her squad car for what seemed like an eternity. Plenty of time for me to strike more bargains with God (God that must be annoying), none of which she accepted.
When the cop came back she told me to step out of the car. She very calmly explained that she understood that I had had a hard time, “but you still don’t have the right to drive a vehicle.”
“I understand,” I said.
“And you also understand I have a job to do. Turn around please and put your hands behind your back.”
This was really happening. She frisked me and clicked handcuffs on my wrists. Real, metal handcuffs. Not even the plastic restraints you sometimes see them use. By this time another squad car had come. She led me to the back of her car, and I sat on my wrists. It was quite painful. She asked if there was anything I needed to take out of the car, I responded with the stupidest question of the year: “Where am I going?” Like she was just going to drop me off at home in freaking handcuffs.
“To jail,” she politely but firmly responded, then she clarified the question. “Do you have medicine or anything in the car that you need.”
“No,” I said. With that one of the other cops got in my car, and we drove off.
Sitting in the back of a squad car, on my handcuffs, we drove through my small town past God only knows how many of my sister and brother-in-law’s friends and acquaintances. I felt so low, so scared. We pulled into what seemed like a basement parking area, and it was time to get out. The officer saw that I was having trouble getting out of the car with my handcuffs on, and she told me to try to swing my legs out first. I don’t know if I asked the “what’s going to happen?” question or if she could just tell that I needed to know, but she told me that I would spend the night in jail and appear before a judge in the morning.
She took me in, gave my information to the detention officers, and asked me some questions. She asked if I took any medications, and I said that I took antidepressants. I had just got off work so I was wearing my WalMart dress code blue polo shirt and khaki pants. They made me take off my belt, my shoes, and take the pens out of my pocket. For some reason they allow you to keep money if you have $50 or less. They then led me into my cell, and SLAM. It was official. I was in jail.
My cell looked quite a bit like the one in the above picture. There was a cement block to sit on and a combination toilet, sink, drinking fountain like the one in the picture. The difference was that in my cell there was a cinder block partial wall that gave you some privacy while on the toilet. There was no cot in the cell, just a cushion on the floor. There were no bars. The cell door had a window and there was a window just above the cement block. No windows to the outside of course, the windows all looked out onto the rest of the floor.
I cried a little after the door slammed on me, but mainly I just sat there. Thinking.
One of the questions the officer asked me was if I had any suicidal thoughts. Even as I answered no, and thought I was telling the truth, the dark thoughts came. “Not a bad idea,” they said with a gallows snicker. As I sat in the cell, they continued.
For only the second time in my life, I began to make a plan. They had let me keep my eyeglasses. I began to think about taking off one of my socks, wrapping the glasses in it, and stomping on it. I would then go over to the toilet, drop my pants, and hidden by the partial wall I would slash my wrists and bleed out into the toilet.
I don’t know how long it takes to bleed to death, I don’t know if I could have gotten it done before they caught me, I’m not sure if I really wanted to get it done. Now, from the vantage point of a few days later, it’s hard to imagine what I was thinking. Even a few hours later I couldn’t imagine it, but there it was. I have always, even when my depression has been at its worst, had a limiter circuit in my brain that informs me that ending my life would not spare my family the pain of having me around, it would cause more of it. It would destroy my Mother, it would cause great sadness to my sisters and friends, it would hurt Tania who still considers me a friend – even called me her “BFF” when we were cooking dinner for the family when she was here, and Boodles…my sweetie. God only knows what it would do to Boodles.
The limiter kicked in, and I knew that I couldn’t do that to myself and those I love. But the thoughts wouldn’t go away. I had to do something. I took my glasses off, knocked on the door and got the attention of one of the two detention officers that appeared to be on shift. She was a young lady in her 30s, and when she came over I said, “I need you to take these. I don’t even know if it’s possible, but I’m thinking of cutting myself with them.” She called over the other officer, a man I would guess in his 50s, saying, “He’s threatening suicide.”
He came in and made me turn around. He frisked me again and made me take out the money that they had let me keep in my pocket for some reason. “You’re acting up, Joe,” he said. “We try to be fair with you and you’re acting up.”
“I’m not trying to act up, sir. I’m just scared that I’m going to do something to myself.”
“No, you’re acting up.”
He frisked me again and took away my money, both bills and coins. The two officers then led me down the hall to a cell right across from their desks. “We’ll put you in this one where we can keep an eye on you.”
I thanked him and again told him that I wasn’t trying to cause a problem. “I deal with depression and…”
“Hey, everybody gets depressed. My wife left me after 32 years of marriage…” He went on to tell me about how depressed he got when that happened, but he got over it and moved on. I just nodded. Another person who doesn’t understand the difference between situational depression and chronic depression. Well, I wasn’t about to lecture him. This was not going to be a teachable moment.
At least I seemed to get him to understand that I wasn’t “acting up.” He said to sit down on my mattress and relax and they would be back in a little while to finish booking me. He said it like it was something to look forward to. Oh yay, will there be cookies?
Along with the bills and coins I had had in my pocket, he also took away the roll of toilet paper that was in the room. I have no idea how I would kill myself with money and toilet paper. Swallow enough to choke myself? Severe paper cuts?
So I sat there in my yellow and beige cinder block cell with bright fluorescent lights. Nothing to do, nothing to read, and no glasses even if there had been. I don’t know what I would have done or would have been hoping for if I had cut my wrists earlier, but I had a lot of time to think about it. Maybe I wanted to get caught. Maybe I wanted to get a 5150 and be sent someplace where I could get some help.
A 5150, if you’re not familiar with it, is a 72 hour psychiatric hold. Of course, the 5150 is a California law and in spite of doing extensive research I was unable to find out if my state has a similar psychiatric hold procedure. But there on the concrete floor of my cell I decided that this was my 5150, my intervention, and I was the one to help me. This was rock bottom, and it was up to me whether I dig a hole and make things worse, keep using my legitimate (but oh so convenient) mental issues as an excuse for bad choices, or look up and start clawing my way up.
So, for the second time that night, I made a plan. A different kind of plan.
More about that in Part 2.