Here’s my story about the time I went to jail.
For a little background… I went to jail in November 2017 for my 2nd drunk driving offense. Although I live in Chicago now, I got myself in trouble when I was living farther north and ended up in a county jail in Wisconsin. A for-profit county jail. Jefferson County Jail.
So in the days before I was admitted to Rosecrance, detailed in the Relapse blog posts (specifically Relapse, Part 3), I was well aware I would be going to jail for the events that occurred Monday, May 9, 2017.
The morning after I was released from jail, when I was in a dirty, grubby, smelly hotel room in Jefferson, I was pacing around the room thinking ‘how am I gonna get out of this one?! What am I gonna do??! How did it all come to this?’. My phone still had about 20% and I had already called the cab company to come pick me up and bring me to the impound lot to get my car, so I decided to start making some phone calls to lawyers.
At this time, I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I surely didn’t have any money to pay these lawyers, but I was oh so desperate to know what I was in for. Just to get an idea of what I had done to myself.
I’m still shaky and trembling from the alcohol withdrawal and I haven’t had anything to eat in several days. I try calling a few lawyers, and to my surprise, I get a couple of them on the phone, but what they have to say to me is not what I want to hear.
They all tell me I WILL be serving jail time, no doubt about that, anywhere from 14 days to a year! Of course, my mind latches on to the year… a whole year in jail?!!? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.
All the lawyers ask the circumstances around my arrest, and I tell them that I was passed out in the back seat of my car. At this time, I was hopeful that because I wasn’t actually operating the vehicle when the cops found me, I could somehow get out of it.
I tell them an eyewitness saw me (I later read the full report and was MORTIFIED to find out that I drove through his yard, destroying some landscaping, like some type of monster out to destroy everything in its path), and the eyewitness called the cops, who didn’t find me at the scene, but were later called in because a car (my car) was in a ditch, still running, with a suspicious subject in the back seat. The suspicious subject was me; I had crawled into my back seat after pulling into a ditch and passed out, with the keys still in the ignition and the car still running.
The lawyers tell me that because my keys were in the ignition, the car was still running, and the eyewitness identified me as the person who drove through their yard, that there was little hope of getting it dismissed.
Then, they ask, ‘how drunk were you?’
I’m embarrassed, horrified, to admit just how drunk I was. I mumble, ‘I was blacked out, I don’t remember any of this. I was told my BAC was above a .4’.
At this point, the lawyers take a deep breath and forge ahead, telling me ‘well there’s not a whole lot we can do besides mitigate what’s already going to happen. Are you going to go to treatment?’
Again, at this point, treatment was a passing thought in my mind, but I wasn’t at the point where I was ready to accept it. The alcoholic demon inside of me was telling me ‘just escape all of this, rent another night in this room, find some hard drugs, and get wasted. It’ll all work itself out.’
Like, fuck no, something like this isn’t gonna work itself out! But I was so sick, hopeless, and low at the time, that the alcoholic/addict/demon voice inside of me was so loud, it was the only voice I could hear and I succumbed to it, every time. Well, almost everytime.
So anyway, I get off the phone with the lawyers and go pick up my car at the impound. Needless to say, because I’ve told the story before, I didn’t end up getting shit-faced and high, even though I wanted to SO BAD, I ended up staying in a homeless shelter until Rosecrance admitted me.
A few days after that morning of hysteria, I was admitted to Rosecrance. A few days after I was admitted, I met with my primary counselor for the first time, D.
D called me out of group one day, and I was SO HAPPY I was finally going to get the chance to get all of this shit off my chest. We sat down in her office, and I immediately start sobbing. I didn’t even get a word out before the tears started flowing.
She asks me to just tell her a little bit about what’s going on. I tell her about the DUI, the dungeon of detox, the grubby hotel, and facing jail time. I tell her I don’t have a lawyer, I don’t have money for a lawyer, I don’t even have money to be in treatment! She offers me solace, telling me they (Rosecrance) already applied for my financial assistance, and then tells me I was approved so I can remove that dreadful thought of ‘how am I going to stay here with no money’ from my mind. I can put that part of my worries at rest, for now.
I confess several of the most awful actions, thoughts, and words I have said while drinking. I confess that I don’t know if I’m strong enough to go through recovery, and tell her, to be completely honest, I don’t know if I’m ready to be done drinking. I was so caught up in the grips of alcohol that I couldn’t see how truly terrible of a person, daughter, friend, citizen of society I was being. Alcohol was whispering in my ear the whole time ‘it’s not that bad! You’re not prostituting, yet. You’re not pawning your belongings, yet. Your car is in the parking lot, you can just live out of your car, the weather is getting warmer and nicer! Doesn’t that sound fun! You’re only 25, there’s still time.’
Keywords: YET & ‘there’s still time’. In recovery, we say there’s always the ‘yet(s)’ and ‘yes, but(s)’ as excuses to keep going down, down, down. I haven’t sold my body yet, there’s still time to try that wonderful idea. Alcohol was seducing me with the thought of ‘there’s still time’. The fact that I was (and still am) young, the thought of ‘there’s still time’ to ruin more shit sounded almost as good of an idea as the thought of being done with drinking and that lifestyle and getting sober. I was so sick at this time. So friggin sick.
She says ‘well, since you’re voluntarily committing yourself to treatment, it’s likely the sentence is going to be shortened, but yes, you need to prepare yourself for at least a couple months of jail time.’
I think, but… but… but… but it’s only my second DUI, I didn’t hurt anybody, I am here, aren’t I? Of course, my sickened mind was thinking ‘only second DUI’…. like, c’mon, that’s TWO too many.
I felt better just having all of that out in the open. I don’t know if this is how D is with all her clients, or just me because she sensed it about me, but she gets out a pad of paper and starts writing me a to-do list. Oh, the to-do list felt SO GOOD. I finally have things I can take action on. On the to-do list was: get paperwork for a public defender, call the court to see when my first court date is, and STAY. IN. TREATMENT.
We call the court and my court date is about 3 weeks away. I get the public defender paperwork, and to my disbelief, I don’t qualify, even though I’m technically homeless, and on a disability leave from work.
She and I (and other counselors at Rosecrance) worked tirelessly to have me stay at treatment through my first court date, so I could get a continuance and find myself a lawyer (and with that, figure out how I was going to pay for one).
We make calls to different offices trying to find a lawyer who will do some pro-bono work. No luck, none whatsoever.
I am released from treatment the day after my first court date was supposed to take place, but because I was in treatment, I did get a continuance and now I have another 3 weeks to find a lawyer and figure out the payment part of it.
I get to my sober living house in Chicago, and I’m so overwhelmed by the city, the roommates, the house, the house rules, and getting my legal situation under control. My parents are just a teensy bit more open to me, now that I’ve successfully completed treatment and moved straight into a sober living. After a few weeks at sober living, I call my parents and we start having a conversation about the court date coming up in a week.
They extend to me an offer to help, one that I am eternally grateful for. They say, ‘OK, we know you’re hurting. We know you don’t have any money. We know you are a good person at heart, but you did bad things. We will do what we can to help you mitigate the bad things you did, but you MUST and WILL pay us back when you get to a point where you can, and this is the only financial help we are going to offer.’
So, my mom, dad & I work out a plan to get a lawyer. Lawyers are expensive, but they’re even more expensive on the second offense than they are the first. So, we have to pay $1500 up front, and $750 a month for 4 months after that. I die a little inside, knowing how much money this is going to cost. And this is only the first real expense of a second DUI… the rest of the expenses include court fees and fines, getting a breathalyzer installed and maintained, car insurance, mandatory alcohol assessment and counseling, probation, and soon, paying to be in jail.
We go through the court dates over the course of about 6 months. The entire 6 months, I know I’m going to jail… but I don’t know when, where, or for how long. I just know I’m going.
Everyone (therapists, roommates, parents, friends, etc.) keeps telling me ‘oh you’re not going to go to jail! Look how good you’re doing… you’re sober, you’re racking up days, weeks, months of sobriety, you go to meetings, you live in sober living, you got yourself a job, blah blah blah’ and the whole time I’m thinking ‘No, I’m GOING to jail, stop telling me I’m not’.
The day comes for my sentencing hearing, and I’m nervous, hopeful, skeptical, scared, yet excited to finally get this over with and know, just KNOW, what I’m in for.
The lawyers made a plea bargain: I would go to jail for 30 days, serve 18 months probation, and several other conditions.
I was desperately praying that the judge would override their decision and give me the minimum sentence for a second offense DUI since I was doing everything in my human-ly power to get myself right. The minimum sentence is 5 days.
At the hearing, the judge says ‘well, you are the almost the perfect case, wherein I could exercise my right to give you the minimum sentence of 5 days. I wish I could, but your BAC was just too high. I can’t sentence you to anything less than 30 days for that reason. You are sentenced to 30 days in Jefferson County Jail, with work release privileges, and 18 months probation, which if circumstances allow, is transferable to your current state of residence, Illinois.’
UGH! SO CLOSE. but no cigar.
The judge allows me to go back home for a week before I report to jail to tie up loose ends, try to work the absence out with my employer, figure out my living situation, etc. etc. Thankfully, I thought ahead and had already worked it out with my sober living that I would pay full rent while I was gone, to have the security of a safe, familiar environment to return to when I was released. Also, at this point, I had already told my employer of my situation. They knew I was an alcoholic and would be going to jail, and if it was 30 days or less, they agreed to let me take a leave of absence and return to my job when I was released. All of these situations took quite a bit of planning and collaborating to get the necessary strings pulled so I would have a place and a job to return to.
However, even though I was offered the privilege of work release, I didn’t think I would be able to take advantage because I had no way of getting to the office from the jail. I had a brilliant idea one day, and asked my lawyer ‘do you think they’d let me bring my work laptop and go out during the day to the library to work remotely?’ he said ‘I’ve never heard of that before, I doubt it, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.’
So before I went to jail, I called up the work release officer and explained my idea of working remotely while I was in jail. To my absolute delight, he agreed to let me go to the library during the day to work. I just had to arrange letters from my employer about hours, pay, etc, and get the library’s permission to use their internet for the next month. I got all of those boxes checked before I turned myself in, so I was able to take advantage of work release.
The day I turned myself in, it was November 9, the day I had 6 months sobriety. I had gone out and purchased the mandatory white underwear, bras, and thermals. I brought in a few changes of clothes for when I would be out for work release. I brought several packs of cigarettes and my work materials.
They bring me into the jail, strip search me, and confiscate my cigarettes. I wasn’t aware that cigarettes and lighters were not allowed in jail, even for work release inmates. Some of my white thermals were also confiscated for not being up to their standards and definition of ‘thermals’. I took a drug test. The drug test was faulty, and when I mentioned that that day was my 6 month anniversary, the deputy just looked at me and scoffed. A few hours later, I took another test and passed. Fuckin’ deputies.
I was told I had to sit my ass in jail for 48 hours before I would be allowed for work release. This was the LONGEST 48 hours of my entire life. I was also informed that work release was 6 days a week, so at least 1 day I would be in the dorm for the whole day per week.
I’m brought in to the dorm I will be staying. Classic white/grey cinderblock walls, 1 stall shower, toilet with no toilet seat and no door, steel bunk-beds, steel picnic table, and a small TV blaring some shitty sitcom. They distribute to me 1 padlock (which I’m very surprised they let us inmates have a padlock — it can be used as a weapon in a sock), 1 2″ thick mattress, a set of blankets and sheets, a smelly towel, washcloth, and hygiene kit.
Since I was at a for-profit institution, I would have to pay $20/day to be in jail, and I had to pay for the hygiene kit, toilet paper, and anything else I would need like ibuprofen, shaving cream, etc. It costs a lot of money to be held in a for-profit jail. I can’t imagine what the inmates do that don’t have the opportunity to make money while they’re in there… especially the ones that are in for 6 months, years. How do they pay the $20/day? I will never know.
Since I got to the dorm in the middle of the day, most of the inmates were out on work release. I try to lay down, but the 2″ mattress does nothing to soften the steel bunk bed. The overhead lights are on full blast, the TV is blaring, and several of the inmates who weren’t out for work release was talking or snoring. It was loud, uncomfortable, bright, and most of all, boring.
Later in the day, the inmates come back from work release, and it was so loud. Everything they say sounds 100x louder because of the echo in the room. Plus, these women don’t really give a shit — some of them have already been there for months or years, some won’t be getting out for months or years, and a few have their out-dates in just a few days.
The food wasn’t terrible, but I can see how people gain weight in jail. White bread, hot dogs, cake, brownies, not to mention commissary junk food. The whole time I was in jail I was dying for fresh veggies and a lean piece of meat. But, I was only going to be there for 30 days, so I just kept my head down and did my time quietly.
When the 48 hours were up, and I was able to go outside and to the library to work, it felt absolutely amazing. To get out of that stagnant, damp, cold dorm felt incredible. I immediately walk over to the gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes and a diet Pepsi. It tasted like heaven.
The women at the library knew my situation, but they were so nice to me. They just let me come in, park myself at a desk, and work without interruption. I did do a few volunteer projects for them as a thank you for letting me work there and use their internet. Of course, those volunteer projects had to be approved by the deputies, and I don’t know how or why, but they approved them for me. Other inmates were jealous and threatened by this. But again, I just tried to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and do my time.
When I had to go back to the jail after a day of work, I had to figure out something to do with my cigarettes, because I couldn’t bring them in with me. So, I got a plastic bag from the gas station, found a garbage can outside that wasn’t being used, tied a knot with the loops of the bag and my cigarettes inside, and stuck them in the garbage can with the knot in the lid, so I didn’t have to reach into the garbage can to get them the next day. This kept my cigarettes dry when it rained. I had to get a little thrifty if I didn’t want to buy a new pack of cigarettes every day, so this is where I stored my cigarettes for the next 30 days.
Going back to jail and waiting to get back into the dorm was not fun. I would have to announce my name (last name only) and then sit in the waiting area until a female deputy was available to strip search me and let me back into the dorm. On several occasions, I sat in the waiting area for 2+ hours. If I missed dinner while I was waiting, then tough luck.
Lights were flipped on full blast at 4 AM sharp. If I wanted to shave, I had to be sure to grab a razor from the supply cart and get to it right away because they came and collected the razors at 5 AM, when they brought meds and breakfast. I would go back to bed until 830 when I was allowed to leave. I would grab a bag lunch before I left for work, sit at the library until about 6, and head back to the jail. By the time I was checked in, I often missed dinner and meds, so I had to beg the deputies to bring me dinner and my medications. The thing was, if you missed dinner and meds, it wasn’t the deputies responsibility to get you these things. It was your responsibility to predict and know what time you would be back, and ask for these things beforehand. I got used to asking for 2 bag lunches when I left for work so I had lunch and dinner, but I wasn’t allowed to take my meds with me, so sometimes, I just had to go without. Those nights I had to go without were restless and sleepless.
Every night when I went to bed, I would think to myself “29 more nights, 28 more nights, 27 more nights,” until it was “1 more night”. The day I was to get released, I was informed that I actually had to stay for 2 more days — someone had made a mistake calculating my time/time served/’good time’ and so, I had to stay for 2 more days after the excitement of “1 more night.”
When my time was up, my mom came to pick me up and we went to lunch. It was one of the most amazing days of my life — the day I got released from jail.
I stayed at home for the weekend and returned to Chicago and the office the following Monday. It felt so, SOSOSOSOOO good to be back to the city, work, normal life, and recovery.
Jail (at least the one I was in) does NOTHING for rehabilitation. I understand one of the main purposes of an institution like this is punishment, not rehabilitation. But, 90%+ of the people I was with were in there for drug or alcohol-related offenses, and I don’t think any of them were first time offenders, they were all second, third, fourth-time offenders. Wouldn’t it serve in the jails best interest to offer some rehabilitation to the inmates? Oh wait, I was at a for-profit jail, so nevermind, they want people to keep coming back to make more money off the sick and hopelessly addicted people.
Jail was demeaning, embarrassing, and in some ways, humbling. While I fully recognize that I had it ‘easy’ by getting work release, I never, ever, want to go back. It made me realize the places I could end up if I kept on going down the road of drinking and drugging. It was uncomfortable, lonely, and hopeless. Every day was spent just counting down the days and hours until I could get out.
When I got back from jail. I thought I would be lighter, without the heavy load of impending doom hanging over my head. I was not. It took several weeks and truthfully, months, to begin the process of releasing the weight on my shoulders that had been hanging around for the last 7 months.
If there’s one thing that any reader takes away from this, it’s this — you DO NOT have to wait to hit rock bottom and end up in dirty hotels, homeless shelters, treatment, and jails to get better. You don’t have to experience the ‘yets’… if you have an inkling that you have a problem and that drinking/drugging is disrupting your life in negative ways, do not wait until you end up in jail to do something about it. Do something about it now, while you can, while you’re still alive. Too often, people wait to hit rock bottom and end up dying and/or killing themselves in the process. The time is never going to be ‘right’ to quit, just make it the right time and do whatever you need to do (cutting back, therapy, exercise, making amends, finding a hobby, etc) to start making positive changes.
Thank you for reading.
I just want to say, if any of you readers have questions about my story and where I’m at today, or need to vent to someone who will NOT judge you, I am here for you. You are not alone.