A Night in Jail

by Dave Hanks

I'm miserable! I lie here with my knees pulled up to my chest in the fetal position. The injustice of it all floods my senses. Why should I be in jail? There are rapists and thieves, true criminals, who are loose on the street but here I am. Why? Because I didn't come to a complete stop at a rural intersection.

It was Sunday at mid-night, out in the farm lands, and but one mile from my country home. I was anxious to get to bed because Monday morning would come early. The view was unobstructed for a half mile in all directions. The fact that it was dark made headlights easy to spot a long way off. So I broke the law, the letter of it but not the spirit as I was proceeding with caution. But suddenly a red light came on and a cop magically appeared. He had been hiding - parked with his lights out behind some shrubbery in a resident's driveway.

Now I respect law enforcement but this type has always made me mad. Entrapment is not on the "up and up". It seems like a policeman's aims are way off base when they use this method in preference to the usual regulatory work.

I was bitter! The officer was a "Bantam Rooster" and very officious. We exchanged a few words, I stubbornly refused to sign the ticket, and so he brought me here. He didn't have to - the judge confirmed this later - but he did so in a show of authority. They finger-printed me and took "mug shots" - those photographs like you see in the post office with numbers below the pictures. They striped me naked, took all my possessions, re-dressed me, and threw me in here.

I'm miserable! The orange coveralls they dressed me in are too small. They cut way up into my crotch and chafe my nakedness underneath. My gluteus maximus bulges against the cloth and I feel quite vulnerable. They have removed everything else from my body. They're not going to take any chances that I might hang myself during the stay.

As soon as the caretaker locks me in and leaves, the other inmates hoot, holler, and laugh. "Welcome to your new home", someone calls. I'm not going to respond to that. There is another body in my cell, asleep on the top bunk. I have no desire to wake him and so I quietly get into the bunk beneath him.

I'm miserable! My fetal position is the result of a bed that's too short to stretch out upon. Can I sit up? No! The upper bunk is low, too close to my head. Can I stand up? I would rather not! Because you see, there is this gigantic toilet strategically placed in the middle of the floor between the beds. It takes up all the room that the beds don't occupy. There is brown stuff outlining it's perimeter and seat. It's disgusting! Has the guy above me been relieving himself by aiming at it from his bed? It looks as if that's a possible hypothesis.

The night drags on. It is so closed in here that a person could become claustrophobic. The time - no clocks or any touch with the outside - no way to know whether it's noon or mid-night. "What if there's a fire? How would we get out?" My body has lost all ability for sleep and my mind dwells on many things. Once again the injustice of it all comes home. Why was I so stubborn? Why didn't I sign the ticket? If the jailer ever comes back, maybe I should tell him that I've had a change of heart.

Evidently morning is close because I hear the voices of others from down the cell block. Crude, gutter-type language spews forth as they banter back and forth across the aisle. The body above me is beginning to stir. The door to the section slides open and a form appears pushing a food cart. It's an unclean, unshaven form that looks as if it's been on a six week drunk. The food - I'll call it food - is grotesque. Eggs! He offers me the most unappetizing, yellowiest egg that I've ever seen. He is surprised that I would refuse it. I would have to eat it with my hands anyway, as no utensils are offered other than a coffee cup. The guy upstairs dives right into his, however. He asks me what I am in for and I tell him. I can't remember why he is here or maybe I neglected to ask - can't remember which.

I'm miserable! "Will the jailer ever appear again?" I'm getting edgy. It is Monday morning and I've got a high school Biology class to teach in a couple of hours. "What will the principal do when he finds that one of his science teachers is in the brig?" The keeper finally reappears and I request a phone call to my wife for bail money. They let me out to use the phone. Actually, she is already in the office at the front of the building unknown to me. Finally arrangements swing into gear. However, this "nit-wit" insists that I return to the cell until everything is complete. "Why can't I wait here in this room by the phone? I'm not going anywhere in these orange coveralls!" Nope, back to be locked up again.

At last I'm let out, much to mine and my wifes relief. She has not slept at all from worry about the situation. We've got to hurry because school is about to start. I get my clothes back on and drive immediately to school. A little disheveled but on time to work, and when I reveal my location for the past seven hours to some colleagues, it brings a chorus of laughter. The intercom calls me to the library. A goodly portion of the faculty are there and they present me with freshly made signs. Some are to hang on my body and the others to put up in my room. It becomes the joke of the school. "Mr. H. was in jail - Hee, Hee."

The experience was not a total loss:

1. It earned me $ 4.50 which was deducted from my fine by the judge.

2. It gave me new insight into life in a prison. A whole new field of vision on this subject has been opened to me.

Perhaps the gripes about our county jail are correct. It is crude and certainly needs some basic renovating. However, my advice to you is to stay out of jail, it's no fun.