justice

Dorian Grey's Great Expectations in Jail

Dear you, reading this,

All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It finally happened. I, the man who doesn't exist, got arrested and went to jail. I don't recommend it. During the in-processing, I had to speak to a medical examiner who told me I was in "the Hilton of jails." Let me tell you that I am grateful the facility functioned as well as it did. The stories I heard about other jails horrified me. With that being said, it was one of the worst experiences I've been through. A word to the wise: If you have a choice, don't get arrested on a Friday.

Courts don't run on the weekends. So, if you are unable to see a judge on Friday, you'll be locked up until at least Monday unless you can get released on a bond. If this is the first time you're hearing about this beyond crime dramas, as was the case for me while in jail, let me explain some things. When you get arrested, a bond can be determined immediately based on your charge and prior offenses; however, at some point, at least in the county in which I was held, a judge must determine your bond. The bond hearing normally should take place the day of or next business day. If you decide not to wait for your bond hearing, you have two options. Either someone can show up with cash for the total amount of your bond plus a processing fee, or you can pay a bondsperson (they refer to them as bondsman, but it's 2018). If someone shows up with cash, the amount should be returned, minus the processing fee, when you show up to court. If you go to a bondsperson, you must pay them 10-15% of the bond. The bond needs to be $1000 or more for them to take any interest and you never see that money again. Plus, If you don't show up to court, whoever paid the bondsperson will owe the bondsperson the full amount of the bond and a warrant will be put out for your arrest. Regardless of which path you choose, your bond hearing will be pushed back and that means you have to go back to court which is hard if you didn't get locked up in your home county and don't have a car. If you see a judge to establish your bond, they may issue what's known as a personal recognizance bond. That means they will let you out FOR FREE, but if you don't show up to court, you'll have to pay the full cash value of the bond and a warrant will be put out for your arrest. Because of this, I elected to spend the weekend in jail as to expedite the whole process. The shifts I would've worked while in the joint would not have covered the 10% of the bond to get me out. Plus, I might've had to miss work to show up to my bond hearing. I won't get into the bond hearing in too much detail. It was a lot like the in-processing except you got to hear people being told that they would be restrained from their accusers and put on random urine screens. Occasionally, a bond reduction would be refused on the basis of prior arrests. One woman had somehow racked up 19 felonies, 31 misdemeanors, and had well over 50 missed court dates. You wouldn't have known it looking at her. 

Quick aside: As I'm typing this, I hear police sirens and have a feeling of dread that they're coming for me. They're getting fainter though.

The in-processing took about seven hours. Two of the seven were spent in handcuffs in a small room, during which I spoke to the medical examiner and got strip searched. The remaining five hours were spent in a large room with two railed off areas in the center, each containing several chairs, a telephone, and a drinking fountain. The railed off areas separated women and men. The genders were forbidden from talking to each other for what, I hope, are obvious reasons. In the first room, I met Schmitty. Schmitty showed up with his ankles shackled and his hands cuffed to his waist which was circumnavigated by chains. I asked if they had him like that from the start or if he had pissed someone off. I only had my hands cuffed behind my back. He told me it was the former and I assumed it was racial profiling. When we both got into the holding area, sans chains and handcuffs, he started to tell me his story.

Schmitty had gotten arrested for assault. According to him, his girlfriend had been raped. He decided to take matters into his own hands and bashed the rapist in the face with an axe. Don't do that. The whole reason we have a justice system is so people don't need to commit acts like that (unless you believe that it's yet another way for the rich to control the poor. I honestly can't fault you for thinking that way; however, I will say that particular train of thought is particularly unproductive). A few days after the axe bashing, a SWAT team busted into Schmitty's house and arrested him. He spent two weeks in jail before they called him down to the office and told him he was being released. Unfortunately for Schmitty, he was being released into the hands of the federal police. The feds put him in chains and took him to the room where I asked if he had pissed someone off. I understand the added security now. While Schmitty was being transported, the federales blasted cold air in his face and when Schmitty complained, they just cranked up the radio. At this point, I'd like to mention it was snowing that day and the harassment seemed unnecessary and cruel. Good luck convincing the 5-0 of that. Why treat a violent criminal with respect? It's not like they're scared of him or anything.

I only saw Schmitty once through a window after that in-processing. The last thing he was asking as I left him was who would protect his girlfriend. Would it surprise you to learn that Schmitty and his girlfriend were both on meth in the months leading up to Schmitty's arrest and as of my meeting Schmitty, the girlfriend was still using? It certainly didn't surprise me. This was when I realized how scared everyone is in a security facility. Make no mistake, there are dangerous people in jail. Both convicts and guards have the capability to escalate a situation at a moments notice. This leaves everyone on edge. I don't believe anyone who says they aren't scared. Sure you may be ready for, and even want, a fight, but that doesn't mean you aren't scared. It just means you're resolved to fight and you know that looking weak will bring more fights than looking tough. Much the same way life has convinced me that no matter what I do, I will always be doing something illegal, life has convinced others that they will, at some point, need to prove themselves with violence. I haven't lived their life, so I can't say for sure that they are wrong. Things were calm in our pod of cells, but a man we'll call Walter told me about his previous cell pod in another jail where a fight would break out once every five or six hours between Latinos and white supremacists. Walter was in the other jail for 10 days while coming off of heroin with no medication to help his comedown. He relayed this to me during the first meal his body would let him eat after five days of his food never reaching his small intestine. 

Walter had been prescribed pain pills for a back injury. You know where this story is heading, but I cannot express, and I must express, the level of human tragedy in our the current system of prescribing opioids. Pain is necessary for the body to function. The prolonged use of opioids will cause the brain to make more pain receptors. Eventually, you will need some form of drug to feel normal, hence treatment facilities giving recovering addicts methadone or suboxone. I have seen this happen. During the final stages of my Great Aunt's battle with breast cancer, she decided that she wanted to spend her remaining days without pain pills. Coming off of them put her in so much pain, she was seriously contemplating suicide. Through the chemo and Mastectomy, she stayed strong, but withdrawal from pills brought her down in a way nobody had seen before. Walter seemed to be handling well, but he made it very clear that the worst was behind him and the worst was something he never wanted to go through again. At that time, he was just worried about his children. They lived in northern Colorado and he didn't know if anyone had contacted them. He said they probably thought he was just out on a bender. Let the record show, I am not condoning raising kids in the home of a drug addict, but at this point Walter seemed incredibly dedicated to staying away from the drug that had taken so much from him. When we got released Monday afternoon, he made this comment: "You may not believe this, but at one point, I had my life together. I had a great job, a great relationship with a wonderful family, and 20 grand in my bank account at all times. Now, I don't have a car or money and I don't know how I'll get home when this is over." No bus went to his hometown. He lived three hours away if you were speeding.

Up until our release, we were on lock down for 21 hours of the day. We each had our own cell with a bed, a small desk and bolted stool, a toilet with a small sink attached, and a metal mirror for fear of broken glass. The mirror in my cell had dents in it that would distort your reflection's features as you looked into it. I got a kick out of making funny faces with my reflection, but somehow, I still missed Snapchat filters. On the wall of the cell was a hook to hang clothes. Putting any more than a pound or two on the hook would cause it to collapse. I'm sure this was to prevent self harm. Before going to our cells, the jail gave us a box with four socks, three bars of soap, two tubes of toothpaste, two sheets, two blankets, one towel, one stick of deodorant, one bottle of two in one shampoo/body wash, one toothbrush, one cup, one spork, and one comb. I rolled up the socks to practice juggling. I'd say my favorite item was the comb.

Time Spent in lock down was divided into 30 minute intervals when the guards would walk into the pod to check on us. I spent 20 minutes of each half hour reading and the remaining ten working out, juggling, or writing quick notes in my jail journal. My workout regimen consisted of pushups and lunges. Juggling was performed mostly to entertain the guards as they walked by or fellow inmates who could see my cell reflected in the windows to the recreation area opposite our cells. The journal was written on small scraps of paper and mostly documented whatever pain was present at the moment. Sitting and laying down as much as I did took about as much of a toll on my body as strenuous activity.

We were allotted one hour per meal in the common area that housed our cells. (three hots and a cot!) In the common area, there were nine hard foam chairs, four tables each with four attached stools, three showers, three kiosks to look over the rules or make calls, a television kept well out of reach, a clock, and a book cart. Attached to the common area was the aforementioned recreation area that we could request to be opened. The recreation area was about 30ft by 20ft, had a windowed wall to the common area and vents to let in fresh air. Under the vents were windows, about eight feet off the ground, to the outside world. You could peer out of those windows if you pulled yourself up to the ledge. The guards yelled at me for doing just that.

Comfort was the brass ring on the carousel of time in that place, ever just out of reach. The beds had the appearance of padding, but they felt like hard steel. The cells were kept just shy of a comfortable temperature so the blankets were necessary when sitting still or laying down. The lights were always on, automatically dimming at 9:30 every night, although you couldn't tell the difference with your eyes closed. Pulling something over your eyes was your only hope of the embrace of darkness. That left you with a choice of your blankets which would stifle your breathing, your towel which was being used as a pillow in combination with the sheets, your hand (good luck staying in that position), or laying on your stomach, in which case, gravity would do the work of slowly deforming your ribs against what I swore was supposed to be padding. Once you fell asleep, there were any number loud flushing toilets or guards walking by to arouse you from slumber. Sleep came in short random intervals throughout the days and nights, never for more than a couple hours at a time. The second night in there, the largest man in our pod had a panic attack and I awoke to a guard yelling "Sir, if we let you out, we'll have to lock down the entire facility!" In the morning he was gone. After that, I decided it was time for a shower. The shower water was actually the perfect temperature and got jettisoned out of a single nozzle in 20 second intervals. Showers didn't matter much though as you only had one set of clothes and had to immediately return to your filth and stench. Luckily, I like smelling like a beast. The food was never quite enough to satisfy your stomach and while it was unanimously agreed to be the best jail food anyone in that pod ever had, (one lunch was tacos!) it fell far short of the cheapest fast food. I learned I prefer butter to bologna. During lunch, we could ask for a basket ball that made you work for every dribble. The lack of a hoop made the exercise almost entirely pointless. The TV would turn on after we ate dinner until the nightly lock down. They had a habit of playing movies. I have yet to see a 30 minute movie. On Saturday, they actually let the TV play all of Justice League as if you could hear it from your cell or get a good view from the distorted glass that allowed the guards to monitor us. It was still a welcome surprise. Sunday, we saw the first 30 minutes of The Shawshank Redemption. Some of the other prisoners were upset when they turned it off for lock down. I was afraid it would give the guards some ideas and made no fuss when they turned it off. Whenever our cell doors clicked open, the communal times seemed to make us all realize that we were in this together. By the end of the hour, most of us realized we'd rather be alone in our cells. No one had to tell me twice it was time for lock down. Books were often better companions than fellow inmates. I read two fascinating books and started a third. Combined, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Great Expectations, and The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank gave me the chance to reflect on the importance of art and what it means to be moral. I'd like to discuss the lives of Dorian Grey and Pip in greater detail. All I will say about the third book is Erma Bombeck is incredibly charming and I found her humor to be quite enjoyable.

The prose within the first two books struck me. I had a pretty good understanding of their plots from various allusions in other media, but it wasn't until I read them firsthand that I understood what made them such enduring classics. (Great expectations is over 150 years old.) Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens both breathe brevity and wit into their dialogue and weave intricate threads through their narratives. I was left with more questions than answers after reading their books and isn't that what's most important for an audience? Time changes opinions whether it be on a personal level or in the public consciousness. Both these books presented a variety of opinions on their central topics, yet neither definitively answered their core questions. It's worth noting that both of these books feature white male protagonists and make a point to throw in antisemitic characters which I found to be troubling. The Picture of Dorian Grey spoke of what it means to be moral in the absence or presence of consequence. If you don't appear to suffer outwardly for your malevolence or neglect, are moral acts necessary? Is the pursuit of virtue after a life of immoral behavior redemption or hypocrisy?  Is life given to us to experience the full range of human sensation or to reinforce certain aspects of it? Dorian's two friends, Basil and Lord Henry, not only provide counterpoints to each other, but also to themselves. Dorian never fully commits to any of the ideals put forth to him and instead tries to form an original sense of morality. Later, we find that this ideal he supposedly formed is little more than confusion and perpetual dissatisfaction. Great expectations also has it's share of moral questions, but delves much deeper into questions of pride and satisfaction. Is pride foolish or endearing? Pip admires Joe the blacksmith for his pride in his lowly common status and rebukes the heiress Estella for the pride that allows her to be so condescending. Nevertheless, Pip abandons Joe and endlessly chases Estella. How are we to be content with our own lives when we know the world has so much more to offer us? Will what we strive for be worth the risk or the price we pay if it's not done with moral behavior? Is it only our knowledge and fear of our limitations that allows us to be satisfied or do we find satisfaction in making choices that suit aspects of our character? Regardless of Pip's wealth or status, he holds onto his unrequited "love" for Estella. So much so, it becomes the source of his own pride. These books allow the reader to judge for themselves what is moral and worthwhile. Because of that, they have endured as long as they have. These books continue to be read because they allow the reader to play in all the wonder that is the human experience from a distance. You could argue neither has endured like religious texts or state regulated law which do indeed take hard stances on these topics; however, I would argue that those aren't art, at least not as singular expressions of human creativity. Art provides a counterpoint to texts of that nature. Great art allows us to break free from the chains that those other texts provide. Fantastic art allows us a playful freedom that we can apply to real life, not tethered to the notion that there needs to be a right answer.

The laws that landed me in jail are not art. There was skill involved in writing them. They get creatively enforced. This blog post is not art. I put whatever skills I have into this. I got creative with some details and omissions. I didn't mention several of the people I met or the cause for my arrest. I cannot see this text lasting for centuries. I merely provided you with a tale of jail. All things considered, it's fairly unremarkable for how many remarks I've made about it. We could talk about whether or not the laws are just. We could ask if the two discussed books really have endured. (How many people have read or remember either?) What I pose to you and the public at large is this: are we richer for our negative experiences in life, or are they merely poor investments of our wealth that is our time on this planet?

As always, Thank you for reading,

-K-Wullums

J say or the day (Courtesy of Mike Gursky): Jail is exactly what you imagined it would be except worse because you're actually living it.