Scared Straight - My Night In Jail
A True Story...
Lying atop a thin, cot-sized mattress on a concrete floor, a fluorescent light buzzes overhead, its cold glare penetrating my cracked eyelids. My head pounds as I rub my eyes and consider my surroundings. I take a deep breath--and then gasp. I'm blindsided by a choking stench. My hand slaps my mouth in an attempt keep from vomiting. I've woken up in some strange places, but this is different. Where…am…I?
The cobwebs begin to clear. I'm in a jail cell. A couple of feet away, an older unkempt man grunts and moans, rocking back and forth on a stainless steel toilet. His pants are bunched around his ankles, no underwear. I decide against a double take. I'm unsure if he notices me or is just unconcerned. I start to scoot back until I hit the concrete wall
14 Hours earlier…
With three friends, I slung a backpack into the trunk, climbed into the backseat, and we hit the road for a wild weekend of drinking and partying. Our destination was Longwood College and then Hampton Sydney. Both were only an hour away. The occasion was Oktoberfest--fall's version of spring break--it involved loud music, lots of girls, and endless opportunities to make really bad decisions.
Stopping only to load the car with beer, we bound past the colorful hills along Route 460 with Pearl Jam blaring from the car like a soundtrack to our debauchery.
My friend's sister, who we'll call Alice, attended Longwood and had offered the floor to her dorm room as place for us to crash. We arrived safely and started to pregame. After downing several Milwaukee’s Bests, we were off to party. We stumbled along the campus, full of cheer and beer, each of us with a can in one hand and a backpack full of refills. Alice offered some friendly advice,
"You guys may want to put your beers in a cup. Campus security is swarming tonight."
Her advice was met with laughter and bravado. We used a cup, but only to pass the liquor as we strolled amongst the throng of mingling coeds. The air was cool. I could hear the band in the distance as we moved in the general direction of the party. With each beer, the evening began to whirl and careen out of control as we bounced along, enjoying the crisp, clear night that swelled with potential. Potential that quickly vanished as the sound of footsteps and jingling keys approached.
I spun around. Campus security was beaming towards us. We bolted, losing the two figures in the crowd as we fled to the nearest frat house.
We pushed our way into the house, where we fell against the wall, wide-eyed and energized by our narrow escape. It was one of those beautiful Victorian homes that would make current me cringe as beer-stained hardwood floors and broken spindles on the stair railing accentuated the posters nailed to the walls. I stepped my cigarette out with my foot and felt like a weight had been lifted off my back. Wait.
"I lost my backpack!"
"Dude, don’t worry about it."
Our new friends offered shots. Afterwards I peeked out the window, seeing only the gleaming white smiles of partygoers. The coast looked clear, I cracked the door, stepping outside to find a backpack full of Milwaukee's Best Light.
I spotted my bag laying in the leaves and bent down to pick it up. Chunk Chunk! Two heavy doors slammed shut, followed by the jingling keys. Damn. I dashed into the shadows without direction, slicing between buildings and trees as I heard two sets of footsteps giving chase in the distance. I had no worries. I was a pretty fast kid--the cheap yellow beer sloshing around in my belly notwithstanding. I darted through the courtyard, giggling as I floated over the grass because the old guys (one was in his 30’s the other in his 40’s), didn't stand a chance of catching me.
The sloshing continued. I felt warm beer creeping up my throat as I tore up hills and through the hedges. Stumbling upon campus buildings, I jiggled door handles in passing, eventually finding one that turned. A blast of light assaulted my eyes as I sprinted down the hallway, I leaped down some steps and found myself in a utility closet. Suddenly I heard the wooden knock of bowling pins crashing together. A quick ADD moment struck. They have a bowling alley on campus? Cool!
Only I had managed to find the back end of the bowling alley, where the mechanical pinsetter groaned and reset the pins that crashed overhead. I jumped to find the door wide open and the younger security guard standing only a few feet away, sucking wind and looking somewhat annoyed. It was time to make a sensible decision. Like hoisting myself up and climbing through the pinsetter.
I scurried through the sweep and charged up the shiny bowling lane towards shocked and bewildered figures holding bowling balls. My main concern however, was staying upright on the extremely slick surface. Teetering to the end of the lane, or rather the beginning, I dashed towards the exit, yelling and waiving at the bemused onlookers to make way.
I was home free and already wondering how I would catch up with my friends in this antiquated time before cell phones when I burst into the lobby. Taking a step for the door, I was creamed by the older security guard with a textbook shoulder tackle. Once down, a knee found its place in my back. My running days were over. A crowd gathered, gawking as campus security restrained the lunatic who just ran through the bowels of the bowling alley. I'm shackled with twisty ties, jerked to my feet, and led to a minivan.
Once in the van, the younger guard was actually quite cordial. I must of reeked of booze, because he shook his head and asked how I was able to run so fast being so drunk. I was drunk, and unfazed by the whole incident, I sat back laughing, like a real smartass, teasing the older guard who had tackled me in the lobby.
"Great form on that tackle by the way. Did you play high school football?" He simply nodded with a grin. He would enjoy the last laugh.
For the next several hours, I sat in the sobering silence of the drunk tank, waiting to hear the buzzing of the doors open, the clicking of soles on the concrete, for a voice to tell me that my friends had arrived to bail me out.
Bail me out, wow.
And things only got worse. I was moved to a real cell, with real inmates. That buzzing smartass from the bowling alley? He and his buzz were long gone.
This brings us back to my wake-up call, where I'm sitting against the wall, sulking. After finishing his business, my new friend and I share a breakfast of rubber eggs and wet toast, he asks for my milk and I oblige. Afterwards he takes a nap under his cot mattress. Yes under, some things you just remember.
At 6am, music fills my ears by form of the buzzing of the door. I spring to my feet as the cell door clicks. A sleepy guard escorts me down to the clerk where I'm formerly booked with public drunkenness, My fine: $37 dollars. My lesson: Do not ever go to jail. The clerk offers a smile, waiving her hand towards a group of drunks milling about in the lobby, pooling their change together in hopes of securing the day's bottle.
"Do you want to end up like that?"
Opening the doors to my freedom, the waking sun washes over my face. My friends beep the horn, waiving and whistling and calling me jailbird. I hurry to the car and I'm given the honor of riding shotgun. I've earned it I guess. I listen as they recap their blurry adventures from the night, as we speed off to get some sleep. We've got big plans lined up. A new college to visit. Hopefully one without a bowling alley.