How To Survive A Weekend In Jail
The Last Thing Everyone Expected
Every family has their 'black sheep.' My siblings and I joke that we're lucky if our family can be considered to have a 'white' one. Within our happy dysfunctional flock I do think I might have a shot at being voted 'least likely to be captured and eaten by a lion.' While this hardly qualifies me as anything more than perhaps being resourceful in tough situations, when I was allotted the five phone calls from the local county jail my kindhearted stepfather hung up on the collect call recording of my name thinking he was receiving a prank phone call.
I was arrested at my home on a spring evening a couple of years ago. The officers were so nice to me. They let me change my clothes and walk freely down the street to the squad car before they handcuffed me in order to spare my daughter the trauma of seeing me taken captive. Overall I would imagine they probably do not normally grant such liberties to suspects being arrested. I don't know why they did in my case. Looking back I realize those boys in blue were probably angels God had sent to rescue me from the situation I was in. I would not have left any other way. In any case if I could go back and say thank you to them I would. I'm sure they don't get enough of it in their line of work.
The long and the short of my story is to offer support to anyone who goes through this. If you read this prior to ever being arrested please come back and let me know if it helped? If you've been arrested and spent time in jail then you are in good company my friend.
A Beginners Guide
Don't worry. If the content of my observations does not help you prepare- they do give you a handbook of rules.
1. Time Slows Down As soon as I took my seat in the plastic bucket of the police car the hands of time slowed to one notch above frozen. For the rest of the weekend every one of the thousands of glances to the clock only served to confirm what I already knew.
2. Your Smartphone Will Not Help You Do yourself a favor and memorize the critical phone numbers in your life. Without these I had to call my mom and ask her to call my boss. That was just embarrassing. And you can altogether forget about your Outlook calendar.
3. Try To See The Good In The Situation At the risk of going all Pollyanna here, the weekend served as a mental vacation from the pressures of my life- albeit completely unplanned. I had no choice but to examine the choices I had made leading to my stay; and to comfort those around me who were stuck in there for interminably longer than me. There is great opportunity for personal growth that comes with being handed 72 hours of uninterrupted time for self reflection.
You Find Out Who Your Friends Are
The officers at the scene were not the only angels I encountered that weekend. The ladies I met, visitors I received, family and friends who accepted my collect calls, and the posse that showed up to take me home all embraced me in protective love and nurturing. I hope if you find yourself in jail you are blessed with the following:
Motley Jailbirds Who among us can judge? I sat and listened to one girl in her early 20's explaining that she had been 'in an outta [Department of Corrections] 11 times.' Her drug addiction was her self admitted weakness. Her third child had been born while she was incarcerated and had been adopted by family. Recognizing me as a foreigner to the process, she informed me I would be out on Monday 'on a PR bond' because I had a clean record. Apparently she and the judge I saw the following Monday were two great minds that thought alike. She was very happy about being in the county jail instead of prison. She sent me home with a card that she had purchased from the commissary with her $10/week wages that read "You've been a special part of God's goodness to me. You are a good person, a good daughter, mother, and friend! Thank you for being my friend."
A Wiseass Brother ...who previously had been arrested. 14 times. In one year! (When I asked his permission to share that fact about him he consented and let me know it's public record anyway :-) My brother was the first person to visit me. I didn't even know I could have visitors. I don't think I'll ever be able to describe what I felt seeing him on the other end of the screen. I couldn't even talk. I just sat there and cried while he consoled me and offered encouragement. "Don't let it get to you" he said. "The system is designed to break you down." And it did break me down. He visited me both days that he could. He and my friends maxed out my weekly allotment of visitors in the 3 days I was there. If he or any of them ever gets arrested (again) I promise to repay the kindness. Now whenever we drive past the jail he asks me if I'd like to stop in to visit my 'home away from home.'
A New Best Friend I met one friend who was there for her public intoxication. She had been drinking when she decided to walk to the store and back. Along the way she happened to run in to the boy who had just dumped her daughter before the prom. She had considered this boy part of her family as his parents were long since out of the picture and he was being raised by his grandmother. She had taken to him with a motherly affection. She described having cooked him meals and baked him cookies. That week he had dumped her little girl and proceeded to publicly mock some of her physical features at school to the awkward delight of the teen mob watching and very much to the horror of her daughter. You do the math and tell me as a mom what you might have done in that situation. We immediately bonded after some honest feedback about how we could have handled our situations differently.
An Old Best Friend I can only hope that you might be so lucky as to have the quality of girlfriend I have in this best friend. Not only did she visit me and extend me one of the lifelines you will read about next- she also offered to find the last person who had mistreated me and run him over with her Chevy Tahoe. This girl has stood up to every person who has ever been mean to me since 7th grade. And she's approximately at least one foot shorter than the rest of us. We've been through boys, marriages, divorces, babies, and just about everything in between in the last 20 years. (I love you my dear friend. You know who you are. Thank you so much for everything you have always done for me.)
Family Who Set Up Calling Accounts My family and friends were given an account to call and pay for time that I could call them. It never would have occurred to me that this is one of the things that happen if you go to jail. I still don't know how much it must have cost them and I'm afraid to find out. Each call was a lifeline to me. Between the visits and the calls, in my shame I could not bring myself to speak to or approve a visit from my daughter. I could not let her see me on the other side of a screen in county issued clothing. For the first time in my life I was so broken it left me physically unable to bring myself to speak to some of the people on the other end of the line. She would have been among those.
The Breakout Kings Well not really. They did not have to bust me out but the three people who were waiting for me when I was released (including the same brother mentioned earlier-thanks again bro) deserve a 5 star suite in heaven when they get there. And as if I wasn't in enough shock one of my girlfriends had left her weekend mountain trip to be at my side. Here in Colorado, finding a friend who leaves the mountains voluntarily for your dumb jailbird ass is like finding a nest of precious gemstones in a raccoon's den.
Despite the best efforts of my family and friends while I sat there, the whole purpose of being in jail is to be stripped of your freedom. Phone calls and visits were timed and short. Most of the time you really feel isolated and alone. I hope the following suggestions might serve to help you in the event that this ever happens to you.
Pray If God had been trying to get my attention- he had it in full while I sat there. I read a good portion of scripture during that time. Previous occupants of my cell had left penciled notes of encouragement in the margins of the pages of the Bible I was allowed to borrow. I added some of my own for the next reader. If someone is reading it right now and it is helping them, perhaps God gets a small victory.
Count Your Blessings All I seemed to be able to think about was how much I had taken for granted during my freedom. Thankfully I was in a position where the light at the end of my tunnel was only 72 hours away. There are so many others who are not so lucky. I realized I was not putting enough effort into some of the fundamental relationships in my life. I was wasting personal resources on other undeserving distractions instead. I made To Do lists and defined goals for when I would be granted my freedom back again.
Be Resourceful It's just not my character to need to be as resourceful as some of the stories I heard in there- i.e. making a hallucinogenic compound from a cough drop and an orange peel; but I was able to make my stay a tad bit more comfortable by making the most of what I had access to. For example: I was so cold! I stayed warm by drinking cups of water I heated up in the microwave (Yes- we had a microwave in the common room. Another feature I never would have dreamed existed in a cell block). One long-termer exclaimed in awe that she had never thought of that before!...(and had spent a day or two silently wondering what I was doing...)
Find Encouragement and Be Encouraging It would otherwise be way too easy to get depressed. On my second day one lady asked if she could sit by me. "You just seem like a good person to be around right now" she told me. I had kept to myself for the most part, and could be seen reading "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and the Bible. I invited her to take a seat and soon we had engaged a cathartic group discussion including most of the ladies in the room. The following day a different lady told me that she woke up feeling like she finally had something to look forward to.
Oh The Beautiful Irony
One of the funniest moments of my weekend in jail was during a viewing of "Sweet Home Alabama" together with my temporary roomies in our common room. During the scene when Melanie Carmicheal punched Mayor Kate Hennings in the face for telling her mother to 'go back to [her] double wide and fry something,' the room around me erupted in hoots and hollers of the girls cheering...
To survive a weekend in jail you need remember that the path ahead of you is only formed by direction of the steps you take when you get out.
You are smart.
You are powerful.
You need to define the constructive purpose of the next step you take and every step after that one. You deserve all of the beauty and happiness this life has to offer. While it may feel like someone else is to blame for your circumstances, you need to remember that ultimately you have made a lot of choices along the way that result in where you are right now. Don't give up. And don't be too hard on yourself. Girl, we all make mistakes.
You will survive :)