This is the chapter of my life titled: “Getting Arrested.”
“Being an Idiot”, “A Valuable Lesson,” and “The State Makes No Sense” would all work too.
While driving to work on Independence Day, I was pulled over by a Tuscaloosa cop for having expired tags. I had gotten a ticket for my expired license plate previously – and hadn’t taken care of it for the same reason my tags were expired: I’m a student waitress who barely gets by as it is.
The cop informed me there is a warrant out for my arrest (…”what?”), and without asking a single question, he handcuffed me and rummaged through my car.
I was three weeks late paying my prior ticket, and that is all it took to be given the total criminal treatment. He “helps” me into the back of the cop car, and this is when time stopped existing – stopped mattering at all.
I was taken to the police station, printed and photographed, then taken to jail to repeat the process. I asked so many questions, inquired (relatively) politely as to why some of the steps being taken were necessary, and I was told to “shut up” or just completely ignored at every turn.
As soon as I arrived at the police station, before I could make it through the metal detectors, I was pushed against a wall and made to stand there until a female officer could take the time to inappropriately touch – I mean frisk – me. As the woman ran her hands down my body and between my legs, three male officers stood behind me, watching the show.
From there, I was processed, which included stripping down in front of a female officer. While I stood before her naked, I asked the cop why it was necessary for me to be strip searched; she responded by calling me an asshole and deciding I needed to take a shower to, I suppose, wash the filth out of my mouth. I didn’t even get a towel to dry off with. She handed me a large, burlap-like orange set of scrubs, bedding, and a mattress. I was escorted down to population, made to walk along gray tape on the ground (it really pissed them off if you deviated from the “inmate line”), and then put in a holding cell that had more women than beds, two metal picnic tables, and an old fuzzy TV set.
I was in jail for a little over eight hours. For the last three, my family sat waiting for them to release me, wondering why it takes so long to process a bond. When they finally freed me, I thought to myself, “thank god this is over.”
Not even close.
The next couple days were brutal – my car was in impound until the following Monday (…holiday weekends….), and since I was fired from my job for not showing up, there was nothing to distract me. In the time it takes to get pulled over, I had gone from an ambitious almost-graduate preparing for her first job to a loser degenerate trying to figure out how to financially get out from under the heel of the state. This feeling, this change in my sense of identity, lingered on past getting a new job, past my court date, past the realization that this is not a defining moment of my life.
I recognize my culpability, I respect all the people who made my horrible experience possible were only doing their jobs. But the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and the resounding impact of my consequences doesn’t seem fitting – I didn’t hurt, threaten, or violate another person’s rights.
So while my story is not unique or shocking, I want it to bother you. Arrest rates have grown in this country, over 30 percent of Americans are arrested before the age of 23; which is to say about a third of our citizens are criminals according to “the law.” That doesn’t sound like justice to me.