Looking back, I realize the chain of events that turned my life upside down began with my heartbreak. It was early fall and still unseasonably hot in the Sonoran Desert. It was my second year living in Tucson, Arizona, and my existence up to that point had been somewhat of a fairytale.
The move from Pennsylvania with Jocelyn, a fiery redhead from a dying steel town on the outskirts of Philly, had been amazing. We settled in quite nicely to our new home, and things were going great until she had a change of heart and had an affair with another man. Still green in the ways of love and perhaps a little naive, I was completely smitten by this beautiful woman. The connection we shared was electric and palpable, and I wished for nothing more than it to be everlasting, which made it all the more devastating the day she said goodbye. I remember feeling lost, heartsick and abandoned.
I searched for solace in music and found comfort in my favorite melancholy songs. Weeks went by and my heart still wrenched with the ghosts of my departed love, so I decided that the best medicine might be a night on the town. I did what I could to muster some hope and proceeded to shower and shave. With a spray of my best cologne, and one last reassuring look in the mirror, I departed for the local watering hole.
The evening air was thick and the temperature was still well above 90 degrees. With the windows down and the system bumping, I tore off in the direction of my favorite dive. As I drove down Oracle Road, I noticed the city lights glowing in contrast to the black desert sky, and the chemical smell of the creosote bushes magnified by a recent rain. I felt through the pain, brief moments of excitement as I neared the night’s destination, The Arizona Ale House.
It was happy hour when I arrived, and they had this ridiculous deal on giant mugs of beer. I picked my poison, Dos Equis Lager then pushed my way through the crowd to a bar stool with a good view of the stage. Three or four colossal glasses later my ears rang with covers of campy rock anthems and the sedated drawl of the surfer dude karaoke DJ. The neon signs began to blur so I cashed out, and left to find my car in the parking lot. I hit the button on the fob, opened the door and hopped in.
With limo tint on the windows, and given my current fuzzy state, I decided to keep them down on the drive home to prevent any unnecessary traffic stops. Somewhere in the midst of exiting the parking lot, the thought of Jocelyn came rushing back prompting an onslaught of emotions and a knot in my stomach. All mixed up and on the verge of tears, the light turned green and I mashed the accelerator to the floorboard. I worked though the gears in a fit of rage finding 40, then 60, then 80. Topping the crest of the hill in a bit of hysteria, I glanced into the rearview mirror and to my nightmare, blue lights. “Fuck,” I said out loud as my mind raced in search of an excuse.
This was really happening to me, and it seemed to be the crescendo to all of my recent misfortunes. I did the best I could to feign sobriety while pulling to the side of the road. Spot lights on me, I think I could hear every heartbeat as if I were wearing earplugs as the officer approached my car. “Do you know why I’m pulling you over?” the officer said with his Maglite pointed in my face. I thought it best not to lie, and told the cop that I may had been going too fast and I was just trying to get home. “Have you been drinking tonight?” he asked me. “Yeah, I’ve had like two beers” I replied. “Two beers huh? I’m going to need you to step outside the car.” “OK,” I said complying with the officer’s request. He gave me a field sobriety test which I thought I passed, but according to him I had a sway in my posture so he gave me a breathalyzer and I blew a .17 percent , way over the legal limit.
Upon failing the breath test, the officer called for an E.M.T. to draw blood. We waited for what seemed like forever for the ambulance to arrive and the urge to urinate got pretty bad so figuring that I was already caught, I asked the officer if I could use the restroom. The cop consented, and I shuffled my way off the shoulder of the road amongst the sand and cacti. The paramedics showed up at last, and after a brief chat with the policeman they approached me with a needle, some surgical rubber tubing, and a clear plastic vial to retain the sample. The medic prompted me to extend my left arm then he tied the rubber tube tightly to make the veins pop up. He took the plastic safety cover off the needle and eyed my arm like a vulture. Seeing a capillary, he carefully made his move piercing my skin and then attaching the vial. Crimson red fluid filled the tube to the top, and the tech withdrew the hypodermic and swabbed the entry with some alcohol.
I felt violated by the involuntary medical procedure and hit bottom. I felt a lump in my throat and I started to cry. All the stress that I’d been under finally made its escape and manifested itself as the tears flowed down my face. I think the patrolman empathized with my situation. He told me that I had been very respectful and that he was going to allow me to have someone pick up my car that night and drive it home for me.
Because of the hour, no one answered, but I had one number left to call. Three rings and a familiar voice picked up. It was Jocelyn. In a twist of irony, the object of all of my sorrow would be the one to drive me home. She showed up to pick me up in his truck. I didn’t know what to do, but the awkwardness was gone and I just enjoyed her company on the way back to my apartment. After making arrangements to retrieve the car in the morning, we said goodbye and I traversed the stairs to my place.
It’s kind of crazy how emotion took over and led me down the wrong path. On the days that followed, I had to get a second job waiting tables to defray some of the enormous expenses. I chose a restaurant within walking distance to my house because I knew I would eventually lose my license for 30 days. The silver lining turned out to be a manager at the pizzeria with a rough and tumble biker boyfriend. At the end of my shift one evening, I told her about my ordeal and she quickly jotted down a name and number on a bar napkin. The lawyer that she referred me to had been the judge in the county courthouse for 13 years, so I decided to take her advice.
With a whisper in the ear of the court clerk, he got my sentence reduced from the standard 48 to 24 hours in jail. In hindsight, that was some of the best money I ever spent. Court was adjourned and my penance included addiction awareness classes, a onetime lecture courtesy of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, thousands of dollars spent on legal fees, and of course, the night in jail.
The scheduling for my stay in Pima County’s minimum-security prison was left up to me, so I picked a Saturday morning 6 a.m. check in. I remember the night before being sleepless while the wheels were spinning inside my head wondering what terrors lay in store. Dawn broke and there was no turning back. I had made my bed, and now it was time to sleep in it.
I arrived at the jailhouse wearing some tattered sweatpants, some tighty whities, and a white T-shirt, the required garb for the transition from civilian attire to the orange jumpsuit and plastic flip flops. I sauntered up to the reception desk and received a callous demeanor from the morning master at arms. After surrendering my wallet and car keys, a tired looking correctional officer entered the lobby from behind a locked door and escorted me back to a room with no windows for a strip search. I was ordered to shed my clothing and to reach down and grab my ankles and cough while the poor man looked on to make sure that I hadn’t smuggled anything in.
Completely humiliated, I was handed the aforementioned jumpsuit and led to the processing room where a couple of fairly pleasant looking ladies sat behind bulletproof glass to take my information and assign me to a cell block. The room was all gray with benches cast from cement, and it had a very unsanitary feel. Being early morning on a Saturday, I was surrounded by the cream of the crop from the underbelly of society. Homeless men ranted incoherently citing injustices they had endured, and a pissed off, borderline psychopath taunted the C.O.s when they came into his space. Mortified, and feeling totally out of place, I leaned back against the cold concrete wall, shut my eyes, and pretended to sleep.
My number came up, and I was assigned to D block, the minimum flight risk unit. Before being taken to my bunkhouse, the master at arms walked me to a computer desk area where my fingerprints were taken, and they took digital photos of my tattoos. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I was taken to the cell block.
The room where I would spend the day and entire evening came into view, and it was slightly different than I had imagined. Rather than cells with locking doors, it was a huge building separated into three parts. There was a day room, a rack area filled with metal bunk beds, and the latrine/shower area. After being shown which rack was mine by the C.O., I crawled up to the top and went to sleep. Hours passed and hunger pains stung my side, so I decided to venture out to the day room when the lunch announcement was made. I clamored down from the top of the bed and walked warily into the general population of miscreants.
My nerves were on end as I peered about the room, and I quickly gave up hope of encountering a friendly face. I got in line for chow, and after a 10-minute shuffle, a glop of casserole and a piece of green ham were tossed onto my plate by the mess attendant. Feeling a little queasy, but hungry nonetheless, I forced down the salty abominations.
Partially satisfied by the brick that was making it way though my digestive system, I headed back to bed. Ignoring the constant commotion of the room, I was finally able to fall back to sleep. I think I woke up about 20 times that evening, checking my surroundings for safety then struggling to find peace again. At last, the morning sun broke through the plexiglass windows that topped the jailhouse, and I was allowed to make my exit.
It took a while to retrieve all of my belongings, and when I finally stepped foot from the prison I felt an overwhelming sense of freedom. I’ll never forget all that I had to go through because of a poor decision and still lament the series of events that sent me into the system.
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