*** Winner of the “Wild Woman” Award ($25) in the Inspiration writing contest. View winners all this week at Oregon Women’s Report.
Flip the calendar back by about 30 years and you’ll arrive at a time in my life when I didn’t always make the best choices. I was young, newly married, and naive as hell. My new husband and I were taking a trip on his big bad motorcycle from Denver to Nevada for a weekend on his friend’s boat at Lake McConaughy. And he planned to do a bit of target practice with his handgun while we were there.
He thought it would be cool to strap a holster to his handlebars so he’d look like a badass with his pistol showing. We weren’t on the freeway long, hadn’t even made it out of the city, when a motorcycle cop pulled us over.
My then-husband (now ex) got the bright idea to slip the gun into my purse.
The cop pulled out his gun and instructed us to put our hands up. I couldn’t take my eyes off the weapon in his shaking hand that was pointed straight at me. I don’t think he’d been on the force long. His finger on the trigger was white at the knuckle and I wanted to cover my ears to block the loud shot I expected at any second. Lucky for me, the gun didn’t go off.
The cop instructed me to hand over my purse, which I did. Practically threw it him. My husband didn’t say a word. The cop called for back up and within minutes two black and white police cars pulled up to the curb. Needless to say we made quite a spectacle and passersby craned their necks to get a better look at the take-down of a couple of crooks.
I was frisked and handcuffed, then unceremoniously pushed onto the backseat.
Those handcuffs really do hurt, especially when your hands are cuffed behind your back shoved against a car seat.
I was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.
My husband was arrested, too, because the cop had pulled us over when he saw the gun strapped to the handlebars. Apparently there’d been a burglary at a convenience store in the area and my husband and I matched the description of the crooks.
So I spent the day and night and part of the next day in jail while waiting for a friend to bail us out. The Denver County jail was not what I expected.
They took the rubberbands from my hair and the shoelaces out of my shoes, and confiscated my belongings, which included the novel I’d brought along. I asked if I could please have my book back and was told this is jail, not a hotel. No, I could not have my book, but they did let me have my cigarettes, of which I was running low (I quit smoking over a decade ago). And a bible.
The Book of Ruth is actually quite good.
I had a cell to myself and I remember it quite vividly. Gray brick, a bright orange door with a tiny window at the center of it, a metal bunk with a blanket, and a matching metal toilet and sink. Lovely. All I had to listen to was my own breathing and the occasional shouts from my fellow inmates.
There was a window covered with metal mesh that looked out to the street beyond. I loved that window and spent a lot of time staring out and wishing I was on the other side of it.
I felt lonely, betrayed, and frightened. I cried a lot, and not just because I was bored to tears. Being forcefully contained against my will, especially for a crime I didn’t commit, made me feel more helpless than I’d ever felt in my life. I was only 21 years old. What would my mother say when she found out? And I felt sick to my stomach the entire time I was in there.
Most of the other girls with me were prostitutes. We didn’t talk much. Meals were served in a community cafeteria on metal trays with enormous spoons for eating utensils. I even remember what we had for dinner that first night:
chicken chowmein from a can. Breakfast the next day was lukewarm oatmeal.
Coffee, yes. Cream and sugar, no.
It’s not an experience I’d want to repeat, but like most experiences I’ve had over the years, good and bad, it’s grist for the story mill. If I want to convey a sense of loneliness and despair for one of my characters, I just harken back to this memory. It feels like it happened only yesterday.
We got out of jail the next day, and returned to appear in front of a judge a few weeks later, where we were found innocent of all charges. They kept that awful gun, though, much to my husband’s severe disappointment. He never did apologize for getting me put in jail, as if it were my duty as his wife to take the rap. I think not. That event was probably the first nail in the coffin of our soon-to-be dead marriage.
I tease my oldest daughter that she’d spent some time in jail, too. Turns out the reason I felt sick while I was in there was because I had morning sickness. Who knew?
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