Last year my life was forever changed. I was arrested for DUI as I was driving home from a beer festival. As a long-time beer blogger and advocate of knowing when to say when, this was devastating. Over the next few weeks, I will be telling my story in hopes that my experience will resonate with my readers and deter them from taking any chances when their ability to drive after having a few beers may be impaired.
If the situation was not already surreal enough, things took a turn for the worse as the DUI officer took my arm, twisted it behind me and attached a handcuff to before pulling my other arm back and closing the second cuff. Time seemed to slow as he placed me in the backseat of his cruiser and we drove back to the scene of the accident.
Phycologists like to talk about how the mind copes with these types of situations by going through phases. The first phase is denial and I found myself diving into that pool head first. Clearly a mistake had been made. Surely I was not inebriated enough to warrant an arrest despite the fact that I had rear-ended a police car. I felt like I had performed well on the sobriety tests, too. The situation was definitely a mistake and once we got to the jail we would clear it all up.
At the accident scene, the DUI officer got out of the car and I could see him talking with several other officers. Phase two of coping with the situation began to creep into my consciousness; anger. Why are we stopping here again? This is a waste of time! I want to get on with this so I can make my phone call, post bond and get on with my life. But, no! We have to come back to the location of my humiliation and rub my nose in it! In my mind, that is exactly what was going on. Never mind the fact that procedure dictated each move the officers were making.
After what seemed like an hour, the DUI officer got back in the car and we resumed our journey to the jail just over a block away. Phase three of my coping mechanism began to appear.
“Are you sure we need to go through all this?” I asked from the back seat of the cruiser. “I just live a mile away.”
The officer remained silent in the front seat as we slid into jail’s receiving area.
As we came to a stop my door was opened and several armed police officers asked me to step out. I was told to follow the DUI officer as the other officers stood just out of reach to insure my compliance. We walked through secured doors into a reception area where I was led to a rack of paper grocery bags marked S, M, L, XL, XXL and XXXL. An officer grabbed a bag marked XXL and handed it to me.
“Go in that cell and change,” he said. “Put all of your clothes, including your underwear, into the bag. Make it fast.”
With that I was ushered into a plain cement-brick cell with a metal bench attached to the wall. Phase four of coping began to set in; depression. The severity and reality of my situation came crashing down on me, crushing my already crushed spirit. It was apparent that there was no way to avoid spending the night in jail. My mind reeled at the thought. Would I be with others in a cell? How would they react to me? Was I safe? Would I be abused? I felt hopeless and wanted to curl up into a ball.
“Let’s go,” the officer who had handed me my jail clothing – rough orange hospital-type scrubs with dingy grey boxers said as he slammed open the cell door. I was told to sit on a cold metal bench near an alcove with several box-office style windows. I was to wait there until someone called my name.
After another hour passed my name was finally called and an officer behind the window slid a form through a slot at the bottom. It was an inventory of the items that had been taken from me earlier when I was frisked; I was told to add my clothing to the list, sign it and to turn over my bag of clothes.
“Go back to the bench and stay there until someone calls you,” the officer told me after taking my clothes.
As I sat on that bench more prisoners were being brought in. One man was so obviously inebriated that he was not able to sit upright and slid off the bench several times. Another looked if he had been on the losing end of a ferocious fight and still another looked almost proud to be wearing jailhouse orange. It was surreal.
My name was called and I was ushered into a room with several machines about the size of a toaster oven. The machines had a tube attached to them and I realized that they were the breathalyzers used to test for blood alcohol content.
I was told to sit beside one of the machines and an officer went about the process of calibrating and testing it. As he busied himself with the machine he informed me that I had the option of a blood test, but that would require transport to the nearest hospital and I would be responsible for all charges.
“What happens if I refuse to take the breath test,” I asked.
“Your driver’s license will be automatically suspended for one year,” he informed me. “Rather than the six month suspension you face if found guilty of a first offense.”
I took the test.
In Florida, the legal limit is .08 blood alcohol content (BAC). I blew .12 more than three hours after the initial incident. Later, during conversations with my lawyer and during trial, the time interval would become an important factor. But, at the time of the test, it meant just one thing; I was legally impaired and would be spending the night in jail.
After the test, the final stage of coping – acceptance – set in. I was booked, had a mug shot taken and was presented to a nurse who gave me a cursory physical. I was hurried down a long hallway, crowded into a tiny elevator and then lined up against a wall where I was again frisked.
Finally at three in the morning, I was issued a mattress, a fitted sheet and a top sheet. I was moved down a hall past a number of large, secured rooms with cells along the back wall. When we stopped a guard opened one of the rooms and told me a cell number. I stepped through the door and waked towards the cell I had been assigned to. There were loud mechanical clicks as the door to my cell opened.
Inside the cell I could see two other prisoners; one on the top bunk of a bunk bed and the other on a bed along the other wall. Both looked unhappy to have had their sleep disturbed. The bottom bunk was unoccupied and I set my mattress on it. I crawled on to the lumpy, thin mattress, put my back against the wall and curled my knees to my chest.
To read the next part of this series click here.
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