Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Fought the Law and the Law Won

Well, to be honest, I didn't fight the law because it already won. I spent the day in jail only because I had no other choice. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is an actual event from my past, one of those powerful memories that stick with you for a lifetime. It's odd how you don't appreciate your freedom until it's taken from you, if only for a single day and night. It was a scared-straight moment for me, but I wasn't really crooked. I was a victim of circumstance. Honest.

Flip the calendar back by about 30 years and you'll arrive at a time in my life when I didn't always make the best choices. I was young, newly married, and naive as hell. My new husband and I were taking a trip on his big bad motorcycle from Denver to Nevada for a weekend on his friend's boat at Lake McConaughy. And he planned to do a bit of target practice with his handgun while we were there.

He thought it would be cool to strap a holster to his handlebars so he'd look like a badass with his pistol showing. Ass being the optimal word here. We weren't on the freeway long, hadn't even made it out of the city, when a motorcycle cop pulled us over. My then-husband (now ex) got the bright idea to slip the gun into my purse.

The cop pulled out his gun and instructed us to put our hands up. I couldn't take my eyes off the weapon in his shaking hand that was pointed straight at me. I don't think he'd been on the force long. His finger on the trigger was white at the knuckle and I wanted to cover my ears to block the loud shot I expected at any second. Lucky for me, the gun didn't go off.

The cop instructed me to hand over my purse, which I did. Practically threw it him. My husband didn't say a word. The cop called for back up and within minutes two black and white police cars pulled up to the curb. Needless to say we made quite a spectacle and passersby craned their necks to get a better look at the take-down of a couple of crooks.

I was frisked and handcuffed, then unceremoniously pushed onto the backseat. Those handcuffs really do hurt, especially when your hands are cuffed behind your back shoved against a car seat.

I was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

My husband was arrested, too, because the cop had pulled us over when he saw the gun strapped to the handlebars. Apparently there'd been a burglary at a convenience store in the area and my husband and I matched the description of the perpetrators.

So I spent the day and night and part of the next day in jail while waiting for a friend to bail us out. The Denver County jail was not what I expected. They took the rubberbands from my hair and the shoelaces out of my shoes, and confiscated my belongings, which included the novel I'd brought along. Even back then I never went anywhere without a book to read. I asked if I could please have my book back and was told this is jail, not a hotel. No, I could not have my book, but they did let me have my cigarettes, of which I was running low (I quit smoking over a decade ago). And a bible. The Book of Ruth is actually quite good.

I had a cell to myself and I remember it quite vividly. Gray brick, a bright orange door with a tiny window at the center of it, a metal bunk with a blanket, and a matching metal toilet and sink. Lovely. All I had to listen to was my own breathing and the occasional shouts from my fellow inmates. There was a window covered with metal mesh that looked out to the street beyond. I loved that window and spent a lot of time staring out and wishing I was on the other side of it.

I felt lonely, betrayed, and scared shitless. I cried a lot, and not just because I was bored to tears. Being forcefully contained against my will, especially for a crime I didn't commit, made me feel more helpless than I'd ever felt in my life. I was only 21 years old. What would my mother say when she found out? And I felt sick to my stomach the entire time I was in there.

Most of the other girls with me were prostitutes. We didn't talk much. Meals were served in a community cafeteria on metal trays with enormous spoons for eating utensils. I even remember what we had for dinner that first night: chicken chowmein from a can. Breakfast the next day was lukewarm oatmeal. Coffee, yes. Cream and sugar, no.

It's not an experience I'd want to repeat, but like most experiences I've had over the years, good and bad, it's grist for the story mill. If I want to convey a sense of loneliness and despair for one of my characters, I just harken back to this memory. It feels like it happened only yesterday.

We got out of jail the next day, and returned to appear in front of a judge a few weeks later, where we were found innocent of all charges. They kept that awful gun, though, much to my husband's severe disappointment. He never did apologize for getting me put in jail, as if it were my duty as his wife to take the rap. I think not. That event was probably the first nail in the coffin of our soon-to-be dead marriage.

I tease my oldest daughter that she'd spent some time in jail, too. Turns out the reason I felt sick while I was in there was because I had morning sickness. Who knew?

Have you ever spent time in jail? If so, have you ever used the experience in your writing?


Sidney Ayers said...

What a horrible, yet enlightening experience. I have been to the county jail, but only as a visitor. Even from that perspective, I don't know if I could handle it.

Glad you got out of that relationship! That guy ounds like a real winner.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Karen
What an experience. I have not been in jail, but life gave me some pretty nasty experiences of my own. Some are so tender that I don't share them, but I do tap in to the source of pain to bring a sense of reality to my characters. I've been married 30 years this month. Don't remember seeing you on the side of the road that day though. Probably busy with other things.

Oh yeah, glad you got rid of Mr. Coverup. What a nightmare.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Sidney. I doubt I could have handled something like that now either. Glad it happened while i was young and ignorant, lol.

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Nancy! Oh, yes, we can draw so much from our pasts to enhance our writing with realism. It's not always easy, I think it takes practice. But we all have threads from our memories we can access when needed.

Paty Jager said...

I've never been in jail but I was pulled over and put through the sobriety test when I was 8 months pregnant. I wasn't dunk. I hadn't had a drop. Being pregnant, I was the designated driver, but my husband and his friend in the back of the van were drunk and I swerved when one of them attempted to open the sliding door while the vehicle was moving. That's what the cop saw and pulled me over. When I recited the alphabet backwards he let me go with a warning to the drunks in the van to behave.

I haven't used it in a story, yet. ;)

Huntress said...

wow. What a helluva time you had.

I wasn't in jail but I did spend time on the 'other side' of the corrections atmosphere as a prison guard.
And yes I do use that eleven year experience as grist for my novels.

Diana Mcc. said...

OMG!! I know a con!! Just kidding. You are one of the nicest people I know. You must have been so scared. I've never been in jail, the closest I've come is protesting during the vietnam war.

I do draw on my past experiences to get emotions into my story.

Great post!

Karen Duvall said...

Wow, Paty, that was quite an experience for you. It's scary to have the cops all up in your face like that, even when you're innocent. Did your hubby and his friend learn their lesson?

Karen Duvall said...

Wow, being a prison guard, Huntress, must have been stressful. I know someone who's currently a prison guard, but also teaches the inmates. Now i know who to hit up if i need info about prisons.

Karen Duvall said...

LOL, Diana! At least i don't have a record. I was really worried it would show up somewhere, but since i was never convicted of anything it just kinda went away.

Protest, huh? Were you a hippie? LOL. Hey, that would make a fun story. You should write it. :)

Terry Spear said...

Wow, what a great experience to write about! How awful too. I don't blame you for dumping number 1 who was thinking only about number 1!! Great story, Karen!

Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Terry. :) Yeah, #1 wasn't the one for me. #2 is a keeper, though. :)

Chris Devlin said...

Brings back fond memories of being arrested in Chicago for protesting apartheid at the IBM building. Us and the hookers. Okay, not all fond memories; I learned about police brutality in no uncertain terms. But as they say, nothing bad ever happens to a writer--it's all material.

Glad you found a better guy.

Anonymous said...

My only trip to prison involved a college sociology class.

Your ex was a jerk. Bet he never learned, too. Some people don't.

Mario said...

So you're a fellow jailbird? I also spent the night in the hoosgow. At the next Colorado Gold we'll compare prison tats and shiv techniques.

Karen Duvall said...

Ooh, Mario, do tell! Yes, we'll swap inmate tales and talk about the best ways to smuggle contraband. Woot!

Jane Bigelow said...

Through good luck more than good sense, I've never been in jail. I wasn't any smarter in my late teens-early twenties than most people are!

The closest I've come to being in jail is riding in a Denver Corrections bus. I was a juror; we were taken to the scene of the crime.

The bus had only tiny, narrow windows high up on the walls; you couldn't see forward much at all, which meant you didn't see turns or lane changes coming and got bounced around a lot. The whole thing smelled like metal and sweat. I never, ever want to ride in one of those for real!

I've started mining bad experiences more lately, especially for the physical parts of emotional reactions.

Jane Bigelow