Jail Prepared Me For This Journey

It was the night before I took my plea. I had been arrested four months prior for my first felony charges and, with the reluctant help of my father, I hired a lawyer who was going to get me a deferred judgement and probation. The deferred judgement would be sealed and effectively allow me to put my unfortunate life of meth behind me. I just had to show up and not be high.

Oh, the trouble with simple tasks while on meth! I told myself I would stop using three days before my court date, but the night before I was so high, the abscessed tooth I had been ignoring became excruciating and my friend and I were pulled over with drugs in the car while on our way to the hospital. The police ran our IDs, realized who we were, made an excuse to search the vehicle without our consent, found the drugs, and we were arrested with new felonies.

I had been arrested and gone to jail twice before on minor offenses and was easily bonded out by my mother or friends. I remember standing in the Sallyport (the garage entrance to jail the police used to access from their vehicles), handcuffed and ashamed of my first felony arrest, and swore confidently that I would never be in this miserable place again. Little did I know I would be there a dozen more times, having been picked up on warrants or with new charges.

I had only been to City Jail up to this time and never for more than a day or the weekend. This is where you go if you will be bonded out quickly or are waiting to be transferred to another facility. My new arrest and third felony charge ensured I would be transferred to County Jail with a bond of $50,000. I wasn’t going anywhere soon.

The fear of what waited for me at County was all consuming and the guards found me doing the squirrel dance in my cell in the middle of the night during a bed check. They asked if I was alright and I, in a foolish moment of honesty, said “I don’t know.” Jails are not equipped to handle psychiatric issues and if you are not alright, you are viewed as suicidal and there is a protocol implemented.

I was stripped of my clothes, provided a weighted vest, and put in a cell by myself with a Plexiglas door in full view of all the male and female Sheriff’s Deputies for monitoring. I tried to sleep but the cries of another inmate who refused to vacate his cell and subsequently broke his arm in a scuffle with the deputies kept me wide awake. It was 3:00 am and the doctor would not be on to assist him until 8:00 am.

At 7:00 am I was clothed, handcuffed, had my legs shackled, handcuffed to another inmate, loaded onto a bus, and driven with 60 other men to County Jail. It is only eight miles from downtown Denver, but you might as well be in another country. The clang of the metal door behind us marked the seriousness of our collective future.

After processing I was put into a large open room called a pod with 80 men in bunk beds. There was no room for me and the other new arrivals, so we were put into “boats,” kayak-shaped, plastic beds, in the middle of the room, which were in everyone’s way. I tried to sleep and not think about what trouble I had caused while people openly grumbled and cursed as they had to make their way around us.

Most of the people there were career criminals on their way to prison. Despite me being 35 at the time, I was a boy among men. I was petrified. Nothing in my past had prepared me for this experience.

I pleaded with my mother, 2000 miles away, on a collect phone call to bail me out and she refused. She confided that it helped her sleep at night knowing where I was and that I was alive. She hadn’t been able to say that for years. Regardless, I was furious and let down. I felt abandoned. I couldn’t believe she would let this happen to me.

With no other choice, I fell into the routine of life in the pod. During the waking hours the room was filled with a din that was inescapable. There was a flurry of activity that included gambling, making hooch (jailhouse alcohol), tattooing, arguing, posturing, fighting, and running stores (businesses which resold commissary items at a buy-one-repay-two exchange). I didn’t participate in any of it. It just reminded me too much of life on the streets and what had brought us all there in the first place.

Having a head clear of drugs for the first time in years provided the motivation to make some changes. I walked around the pod for an hour, three times a day. I wrote letters to family and friends while others watched TV. I attended classes on the subject of anger management as I certainly exhibited a shortage there. I also attended some Twelve Step meetings regularly. My mother sent me some books and, for the first time since college, I read for pleasure.

Periodically I would be summoned for court by being woken up early in the morning and told to get dressed. I would get shackled, transported on a bus to the court house, be paraded through the halls handcuffed to three other prisoners like a chain gang, sit for hours in a cramped holding cell, see the judge for a few minutes, go back to the holding cell, and then be bused back to County Jail in the late afternoon. It would take about 13 hours and completely exhibit the process of hurry-up-and-wait while instilling the feeling of entire helplessness.

I had been in County for a month and a half and after a trip to court, we returned to jail too late for chow. In these situations, we ate by ourselves in the mess hall and were served sack lunches which consisted of baloney sandwiches with packets of ketchup (YES, ketchup!) and a warm container of milk. I opened up my bag and to my surprise I had been given a Chinese mustard packet! I knew the kitchen had mustard (they just didn’t serve that with baloney as one more FU to us), but Chinese mustard?! One of the inmates that had been handcuffed to me all day jumped up and exclaimed, “That’s a sign! You’re getting out!” We all had a good laugh about that.

The next morning the Deputy on duty yelled my name and the most satisfying words I had heard in 50 days, “Pack it up!” I was being released. How about the power of that mustard! My excitement was contagious. People crowded around my bunk and helped me pack. They asked me to reach out with messages for friends and family on the outs(ide). I was wished well with my new sobriety and we were all brimming with confidence that I was past this tragic chapter of my life. My “new leaf” was waiting to be turned and I was led away to begin the discharge process.

So, a month later I was back in County Jail. Stunned and disheartened, I tried to figure out what had happened. I managed to stay clean for a week, but I couldn’t find a job with three pending felony charges. A friend (fellow dealer) offered to pay me to just deliver some drugs to customers for him but that lasted only a few days before I asked to be compensated in meth, rather than cash. I missed a UA and an appointment with my probation officer and was on the run until I was picked up for the warrant that had been recently issued.

A cycle of getting out, trying a new way to use while on probation, failing miserably, and going back to jail ensued. This ate me to the core and it seemed nothing would change, except going to prison. A string of new felony charges and an indictment did just that. The DA recommended I serve the 12 years associated with my original felony charge. I was sent back to jail to wait for prison to pick me up. That night, laying in my bunk with the weight of the world pressing against me, I had a moment of clarity and realized I had been living in fear of every aspect of my life and my answer to any situation was to get high. I finally figured out my problem now that it was too late.

A week later it was a friend, not prison, that came for me. He had bonded me out of jail. This was not a small feat. He had to pay $2,000 cash to do it. He stated he wanted help with his business and felt I would be invaluable. Actually, he really needed my skills as a dealer so he could have a steady supply of meth while he ran his business into the ground. I found him drugs and while walking to his home, I swore to myself I would not use.

So, we are both high sitting around his place. For the first time in my life the drugs didn’t do what I needed them to do: stop my mind from telling me I am a piece of shit and I deserve every bad thing I have coming to me. I was frantic. I was scared. I left and walked home, freaking out the whole way. The next morning a friend called and asked if I wanted to go to a meeting and I had no excuse. I agreed, and I have been here since. I was able to arrest my erratic behavior and replace the need for drugs with a need for Twelve Step recovery. I worked on my program while I prepared for what seemed an inevitable trip to prison that loomed on the horizon.

I found a home in the fellowship of Crystal Meth Anonymous. Meetings, sponsorship, and servicework became a part of my daily life. I found work and saved for the cost of an attorney. Even though I was getting better, I was still me. I did have to go to jail once for missing a court date through carelessness with my schedule. I was sober and had some means of addressing my own problems. I called my employer to let him know what happened. I had some money and was able to bond myself out and only had to be in for a weekend. This was a valuable lesson in accountability.

I shared often in meetings about my legal situation and the fear it brought. People would try to encourage me by saying “You can carry the message in prison.” That was not comforting, at all. I did not want to go! My sponsor continually reinforced the idea of living life on life’s terms. This meant accepting whatever happened and knowing I would be alright regardless. I regularly prayed to my Higher Power to prepare me for this journey.

Eight months later I appeared in court ready for whatever was in store for me. That same DA had been observing me from a distance without me realizing and knew I had made a change for the first time. He changed his recommendation from prison to probation and the judge agreed. I have had continuous sobriety since my first meeting. I haven’t been to jail again, either. I am fortunate that jail allowed me to hit bottom at just the right time. Many do not get that chance or do not recognize it when it is happening. I would never have admitted it before but jail saved my life.