When I was 19 I went to jail.
I was at a party. It was one of my first parties, so I over-prepared. I picked up a case of beer, a bottle of whisky, and a quarter ounce of weed.
That night my friend Veronica drank too much. Before things got worse, we helped usher her out to a car, where her brother was waiting to drive her home. She was kicking and screaming in protest the whole way, but we forced her inside. From an aerial view, such as that from the bedroom windows of the neighboring houses, it may have resembled a kidnapping.
A few minutes later, the police arrived. They searched my friend’s van, found the weed I had brought, and I was issued a court date.
One month later I drove down to Old City Hall and appeared before a judge. I was told that the case was “thrown out.” The relief was colossal.
Four months later I received a phone call. “There is a warrant for your arrest for dodging the bench.” Somehow the court system had failed; there was no record of my ever having showed up for my original court date. I turned myself in the following day.
When I arrived I was read my rights and I was taken “inside.” I don’t know how else to describe this boundary, other than to say that there is an outside and there is an inside, and that it felt very, very uncomfortable proceeding toward the latter.
I was lead into a room and told to undress. Two female officers entered and searched my body. For what, I don’t know.
I was then given back my clothing. I was lead down a long, narrow hallway. We stopped in front of a cell of eight women wearing green scrubs. I was pushed inside and the door was locked behind me.
To the left of me there was a small blonde with blue eyes and pockmarked skin, a wiry mulatto girl who kept clicking her teeth, and a chubby short woman with pale skin and an attitude, pacing the cell.
“Got any cigarettes?” the blonde asked me.
“No they took all my stuff,” I replied, “sorry.” She lost interest.
“What are you, like, a Catholic school girl?” the pacing woman asked me with a curled upper lip. I laughed nervously. “Don’t worry, Sally. You’ll lick my pussy like a good girl tonight.”
The air was vacuumed out of my lungs.
Seven hours later I was told that my court session would commence. I was once again brought before a judge.
“We apologize on behalf of the crown. You are free to go,” he told me.
When I later related this story to a friend, he replied, “Scared you straight, didn’t it?”
No, it didn’t. The humiliation I experienced has not deterred me from enjoying a joint now and then. It still seems as harmless to me as having a glass of wine. This “punishment” did not even deter me from trying harder drugs like cocaine. Common sense did. What happened to me was unpleasant and scary. It made me fearful of our criminal justice system instead of what this system claims to protect us from.
Now it has become a funny, albeit cautionary, story. My friends still call me Sally.