How to Get Arrested Without Really Trying
Being arrested was on my bucket list. I assumed it would be for unpaid parking tickets, but hoped it would be for overturning a cop car at a protest. But I got arrested in a strange way, I suppose. Here’s how you too can go from being a working class professional and wind up a criminal without doing much.
WHEN A SWAT TEAM IS THE ONLY GUEST AT YOUR HOUSEWARMING PARTY
Dear, Penthouse. I was sitting on the couch in a pair of pink panties and a wifebeater. It was the third of May, but also unseasonably warm. My partner, Shawn, and I had recently started a labor-of-love blog about terrible motels called MurderMotels.com. The rule is you have to find a terrible motel using TripAdvisor or some other site and then force yourself to stay in it all night, save a little exploring of the city it’s in. I’d been eyeing one in the small town of Morley (Michigan’s trucking capital based on number of truckers in residence) for a while and tonight, we were going. Having watched too much Dexter, I’d ordered a supply of Luminol and was mixing it up in a small bottle.
It was mid-afternoon on a weekday. I was home because I work as the Managing Editor of a publication that specializes in news about urban revitalization, entrepreneurship and social justice. I’m an independent contractor, so I work from a lot of places that aren’t an office. But today, I was done with work. Shawn was on break from school. So, we were sort of relaxing. I had just moved into his place the night before. We were in love, I think. I was the happiest I’d ever been in my life, perhaps.
Then there was a guy on the lawn. I thought maybe it was this catering company that’d been outside earlier, but it was a police officer in full SWAT gear. I said, “Look. It’s the police!” I think I was excited, maybe.
And then’s when the officer seemed alarmed that we’d seen him, and looked towards our door, where a small group of them had gathered. And just like on TV… “Open up. It’s the police.”
There were several of them. One guy had a battering ram and was disappointed, maybe, that he didn’t get to use it because we’d opened the door on our own. Cops, usually, are like vampires. I don’t invite them in. But I was convinced they needed help. Perhaps this SWAT team needed a place to hunker down. Maybe a maniac was on the loose. They said they had a warrant. They told Shawn to have everyone in the house come outside. I put on pants and met them on the porch. They must be confused, I decided. So I asked them who they were looking for.
“It’s not who,” the officer with us on the porch said. “It’s what.”
Then he took off his sunglasses and The Who started playing. Wait, no. No, that wasn’t it. I asked him “what” he was looking for, and he said, “Marijuana.”
Well, here’s the thing. I had just moved into Shawn’s house the night before, like I said. Prior to this, I lived by myself in a one-bedroom apartment where no teams of armed, flak-jacketed police officers with battering rams ever came over. Shawn’s roommate before me was a guy who had a card to grow medical marijuana. I knew he had a card, and I knew he grew marijuana in the basement. I knew that medical marijuana was legal in the state of Michigan. That’s all I knew.
When this guy moved out, he didn’t take all of his things. We boxed up most of them and put them in the basement. We were enjoying our first day as a co-habitating couple together when the raid occurred. They were looking for this other guy. We told them he didn’t live there anymore, but were compliant in telling them where his remaining things were. I asked why they were even here, since the one thing I knew was that this guy had a card to grow. “He’s in a shitload of trouble,” the cop said.
When cops tear apart your house looking for a plant, they’re not particularly gentle. They rip out drawers, dump them out, don’t put the drawers back. They make you sit very still and watch. They block off your street, surround your house, and all the neighbors watch. I managed to post on Facebook that we were being raided, but was unable to take any photos. The thing about a raid is that you don’t know it’s happening, so you’re not prepared to tape them. The cops wanted to ask us questions. We declined to answer any without a lawyer. I asked one of them what they thought about the ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana. They had two arguments against the decriminalization of small amounts of pot.
1. Look at all the problems we have with alcohol.
2. You could smoke weed one day, and then drive around the next day thinking you’re fine with marijuana still in your system. Given that marijuana can stay in your system for up to 30 days after smoking it, if you’re high even 12 hours later, it must have been… well, not weed. But apparently, the police were trained by watching Reefer Madness.
It’s in a drawer that they find a small amount of hallucinogenic mushrooms. The kind of thing you forget about for weeks and weeks and months and months and years and years. They take this, a small amount of marijuana (not even enough to make a charge with) and a bottle of antibiotics in a pill bottle that is not the original. They tell us if they’re going to charge us with anything, they’ll give us a call.
AFTER THE RAID
I talk to several lawyers. Every lawyer says it would be ridiculous for a prosecutor to want to charge anyone in the house for a tiny amount of mushrooms. It’s got to be embarrassing enough sending a whole SWAT unit to a house where a guy no longer lives looking for a marijuana yield he never had. So, that’s that.
At one point, my friend Ryan and I are petitioning in SouthTown, a neighborhood predominantly populated by minorities, for Decriminalize GR. We meet a teenager here who is in for possession because he got pulled over walking carrying half a joint. Pulled over walking. Yeah, that’s right. Now, he can’t go to school. Because he had half a joint. So what happens to people who are denied opportunity because they’re misbehaving? Well, they certainly don’t go on to become the President, though the President admitted to doing the very same thing. This is what we’re fighting for.
ONE MONTH LATER
A month later, I’m packing my bags to go to New Orleans on a business trip. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been too afraid to answer the door. I know it’s irrational, but I can’t do it. Shawn has to do it every time. It’s the neighbors, his brother-in-law, a guy that comes around to collect cans and bottles. It’s never the police, but there’s something about them that I can’t shake. It’s been suggested I have PTSD, but I find that to be silly. It wasn’t like anything seriously traumatic happened to me. They didn’t touch me. They didn’t drag me away. I simply do not feel safe. I feel violated, the way I suppose any woman feels when a man she doesn’t know rifles through her panty drawer.
But this time when there’s a knock on the door, it is the police. Four plain clothes officers. Two are at the back door, waiting to see if we try to run away. From what?
What surprises me is that despite the fact that I don’t own the house, I don’t really know this marijuana grower they’re so keen on, and was not on any lease attaching me to the home when they came, they have a warrant for me. Not for Shawn. But for me. In a way, I had wanted them to come for me and not him, because I have my degree already, and a drug conviction for a student gets them kicked out or their federal funding stripped away, depending on the school. But that’s not a mandatory requirement for, say, beating the fuck out of someone in a bar.
The officers tell me to put on some shoes and remove any drawstrings from my clothing. We have to go to jail. They tell me they won’t handcuff me, and they’ve done me the favor of coming in plain clothes so my neighbors don’t gossip about me, as though our neighbors may have missed the SWAT team a month prior. The answer for me, however, is no. No. I have to go to New Orleans tomorrow on business, and if you detain me, I will probably lose my job. So they make a phone call and the person on the other end of the line says I can just come to the jail when I get back.
The deputy tells me that I should come meet him at 7 a.m. on Monday morning when I return. This is just “a bump in the road,” he explains. I tell him I work every week and he says that’s why I should come early. He hands me his business card. He works for Fugitive Investigative Services Team. Or FIST. A likely acronym.
I call my friend who is a lawyer. I met him because he played saxophone in a Bruce Springsteen cover band I was in to raise money for a shelter that houses women and children who have been the victims of domestic abuse. His name is Joel.
THE BIG EASY
In New Orleans, I’m attending a conference on reclaiming vacant properties. Because when I’m not in trouble, these are the kinds of issues I involve myself in. A voracious writer, a weekly editor. I focus on being a compassionate and laid-back boss to my small staff, and I work on finding interesting stories about the second largest city in Michigan, a place I used to hate but grew to love and now… no longer feel safe in. Because I am in Louisiana with a warrant out for my arrest, I am technically a fugitive.
My first night in the city, I meet Vinnie Jones at the hotel bar. He’s here filming a movie called The Tomb with Sam Neill and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I tell him I’m a criminal on the lam. In response, he buys me a glass of champagne. He tells me it’s tiresome traveling all the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think staying on the lam might be the best thing I can do.
At a break in the conference, I run into Vinnie again, who tells me he’s off to shoot a scene in Vegas. Vegas seems like the perfect place to be on the lam, and I’m pretty familiar with it. I covered the AVNs earlier this year and by chance, he’s going to be staying in the same Penthouse where Wicked Pictures legend Jessica Drake poured me a screwdriver and Randy Spears and I lamented the late Jamie Gillis. I start fantasizing about having my friend driving my car to Michigan City, IN. I’ll take it from there, head South. I’ll make single-serving friends, get jobs in seedy bars… no, strip clubs. I’ll bartend at strip clubs. I’ll pick up smoking. I’ll make my way to the coast. Extradite me over some benign, non-addictive, non-lethal drugs you found in a house I’d lived in for less than a day? I’d like to see you try, coppers.
This idea sounds even better every day in New Orleans. I meet a cancer survivor named Danny at a bar who has some kind of fascinating environment job that deserves its own article. He shows me his radiation tan and the port where they administer his chemotherapy. We make a pretty good pair of adventurers. He’s smart and funny and kind. For fugitives and cancer survivors, the drinks are on the house. After two shots of Bohemian-style absinthe on Bourbon Street, we decide to go to Jackson Square and let a fortune teller give us our fate. While a stringent atheist, this sounds like as good a plan as any.
We stop to talk to a tarot reader. He’s a young guy, maybe late 20s, in a red robe. His reading is conflicting. He seems to indicate I should go back to Michigan to reunite with Shawn, who is a soulmate for me if there ever was one. But I could also be perfectly successful on the lam, perhaps more successful. Then he looks at us both very seriously and says, “In New Orleans, we only extradite for murder or attempted murder. Just to let you know.” And treason, of course. We should never turn our backs on the country with the most people in jail. We go to a voodoo shop and I buy the creepiest doll there, with a tag that simply says, “For protection. From Haiti.”
The other person I meet in New Orleans is an ex-mayor and a lawyer who tells me there’s no way anything bad is going to happen. He can’t believe this is happening in the first place. So with that in mind, I decide to go home. Danny drives me to the airport at 6 a.m. “I feel like a made a new friend this weekend,” he says. “Me too,” I say. “… I might be back.”
IT’S A TRAP
I wake up on Monday at 5 a.m. My mission is to make myself look as plain and uninteresting as possible. This is because I already don’t trust police. A “bump in the road” could mean anything. I’m paranoid to the point where I’m already regretting flying back from New Orleans. if I can just be uninteresting, maybe I won’t end up on the cover of Busted. Maybe they’ll just dismiss me. Maybe someone will realize how silly this all is.
In a pair of black slacks and a houndstooth button-up, I head down to the jail. I’m there by 6:30 a.m. It’s dark. I call the deputy who’s supposed to turn me in, and he tells me he’s busy with a homicide case. I guess I had assumed all the murders had been solved since they were busy raiding homes over plants. Can I wait until 8?, he asks. I tell him I’m already there and he says he’ll send another guy over to get me. What he fails to tell me is that anyone who is not booked or processed by 7 a.m. will not leave that same day.
When his buddy arrives, it’s a short, but muscled man who looks ex-Army. He tells me everything is procedural. He gently slips a pair of handcuffs on, allowing my hands to be in front of me, not behind me. He has me sit in his car and we wait. And wait. Until finally, we head to intake.
I’ve never been to jail before. I’ve never been detained before. It’s kind of exciting, so perhaps I’m one of the more chipper prisoners they’ve seen. He makes an inventory of all my belongings and uncuffs me. He leads me into another room where a few officers and a woman from court services ask me questions about my job, my schooling and oddly enough, my religion. I have to talk to a nurse and tell her I have no illnesses or allergies and that I don’t want to kill myself. The latter is something that will change later on, but for now, I’m in a good mood. They give me my phonecall. I waste it on my mother. Neither she or I are taking this very seriously. “Over mushrooms,” says the woman who says she’s only ever had a sip of champagne at a wedding and a puff of a Winston cigarette that made her cough. She doesn’t get it. Neither do I. I bid her goodbye and I sit back down and wait.
They bring in a man who’s pretty unhappy about everything. While one guy screams at someone about how his child support arrest is not his fault on a telephone, this guy is bashing his own head against the door of the holding cell, screaming “motherfucker” and other assorted profanities. Everyone is laughing at him. The nurse suggests he has some kind of illness, and a cop tells her it’s called “being a prick.”
After several minutes, a female cop puts me in a holding cell with several other women. One of them immediately says, “You look like someone’s secretary. What are you doing here?” This woman is in for drunk driving. She is still blowing above a .00, and so she must stay until she is sober. Another woman is in for a warrant from Missouri that she says is 10 years old, another for violating her probation, another for not paying her insurance ticket. The woman here for not paying her ticket will have to stay here until she can pay off her fines by sitting in a jail cell doing nothing. It’s called pay-or-stay, and it’s this thing where if you can’t afford your fines, each day in jail is worth $50 (at least in our county). Meanwhile, she is unable to go to her job or communicate with her children from jail. She will be in for eight days. With the exception of a woman who can barely walk being charged for assault with a deadly weapon (a kitchen knife), no one is particularly dangerous.
We sit in there for a long time. People get taken to court. People get released. I sit next to an older woman named Carmen. She tells me about how she used to deal meth a long time ago and served five years after being caught by an undercover cop. She said while she was in jail, she served as the editor of the prison paper. She loves writing, she tells me. What she’s in trouble for is drugs. She slid back into crack after becoming frustrated with the politics of her local town. It’s been an ongoing problem, peppering her otherwise productive life. She’s especially kind to me, it being my first time in jail at all, and I tell her to look me up when she gets out. Maybe I can find her some work to do, being a writer, after all. She says all she needs is something positive in her life.
There is a young woman in my holding cell who is seven weeks pregnant. She is in for embezzlement and her bond is $13,000, but when I look her up on the computer days later, he charge is embezzling less than $200. She tells me her trial was six years ago. Her probation officer let her move to Chicago, but then stopped calling. She assumed everything was over. And it was, until she came back to Grand Rapids to visit her adoptive parents and got pulled over.
When you’re in a holding cell, there is a small, half-wall that blocks off a drinking foundation/toilet combo. You must go to the bathroom in a small room with several other people. When the girl finally gets up to go to the bathroom, she pauses and looks over the half-wall at us. “Should I tell them I’m bleeding?” All the other women, all mothers, tell her yes. So, I knock on the window to call the nurse over.
When we tell her this, a guard comes by and says she doesn’t believe her. They should have asked her last night, why didn’t she tell them then? I don’t know if this girl is telling the truth or not, but no one asked me if I was pregnant. The guard slams the door shut. We are later fed a bologna sandwich, an orange, a packet of saltine crackers and a carton of milk.
ANYTHING BUT THE GOD POD
After several hours, the only friendly guard in the whole place comes and tells us we’re being moved. I tell her a deputy told me this would only be a few hours, and it’s been several. She says she wishes they would stop telling people that.
She takes us all to another room where we are instructed to change into our jail uniforms. Loose pants and a shirt, navy blue, and a pair of plastic shoes. You get a duplicate of this uniform and a nightgown as well. We are led into a transitory “pod” where prisoners are held before they are classified into another pod. If you have no bond and no arraignment set, you can be kept for up to 72 hours here before you see a judge. Here, you cannot access your commissary, go outside, work out or do anything but sit in your cell or what they call a dayroom — an open room with a few cafeteria tables and one television. All the books provided are about Christianity, except the novel left in my cell which is a horrible fantasy novel about a place called Krondor. You are issued an inmate handbook full of crude drawings done by prisoners of anthropomorphic sheriffs (a dog and a bear). The cover is a drawing of two hands sadly grasping at the bars separating the hands from a sunny day.
Because you might kill yourself, you’re not giving anything with strings. I think about writing about my situation, but I can only get paper from the commissary, so my golf pencil is useless. The bed is uncomfortable, but comfortable enough, even though the cell is cold. I stay here until dinner time, which is a disgusting array of food-like substances which my handbook assures me will, when combined with breakfast and lunch, equal 2400 calories a day.
When in dayroom, you are allowed to make phone calls. But because you have no money and no access to money, you must call collect. The other party must pay via a card and it will cost them either $10 for 5 minutes or $14 for two, depending on what kind of phone they have. The calls do not always work. I am able to talk to Shawn, who is in class, but there’s not a lot he can do.
To communicate with the guards, who are generally an unpleasant and condescending lot who have seemingly been trained to think of all prisoners as less than human, you must use a KITE. You can fill this slip of paper out with your query and put it in a box. They will then call you and answer your question… if they feel like it, apparently. When I ask them what is going on, they say, “You’re in here for felony possession of a controlled substance. You will be here until you get a bond or see a judge. We don’t know when that will be.”
The most interesting thing about the KITE to me is the part where you can check off what kind of thing you need to discuss. One of those things is “Religion,” and you are offered two choices: Catholic, or Protestant.
I came prepared to convince a judge that I wasn’t a threat to society. I came in a pair of nice slacks I bought from the GAP on Black Friday, a button-up shirt I bought from a Goodwill, but the tag said Banana Republic. But now, I am in a prison uniform and I am not a human being with a job and obligations and loved ones. So I sit at a table with a bunch of other non-humans and try not to cross into that dangerous territory of having lost it.
A woman there tells me she is in there often because she can’t stop doing drugs. She is an old-timer and she tells us we’re doing well as first-timers, who usually cry a lot. I have not cried even once. She tells me if that if I pretend to want to kill myself to get into another pod, I will be kept for an additional two days. She also says that if I want to go outside, I can go into the God-pod with all the Christians, but I’m not ready to pretend. She says that if I want clean underwear, I need money in my commissary, and that needs to be in cash and that means I need to release my debit card to someone else who will get cash from it and bring it back, but I can only have access to a commissary once I’ve been classified which occurs only after I’ve been set a bond or had an arraignment and that can take up to 72 hours. So, here we are and here I am.
It’s now that I begin to wonder if they will really keep me for 72 hours without an arraignment. All the guards are too amazingly busy wandering about and insulting prisoners to answer questions, but I know one thing. And that’s if this takes 72 hours, I will not be able to publish the website I run and maybe my staff won’t get paid and maybe I’ll get fired. So maybe everything is over. Maybe everything I’ve worked for in my life is done. Just like that.
At some point, it’s time to go back to our cells. Each pod door is opened in succession. I miss mine twice. The guard pages me and says, “It’s not rocket science. You’re going to have to learn to get used to this. Pull on your door when you hear the one in front of it click.” So, I do. And she’s right. It isn’t rocket scientist. Bitch.
The thing about jail is they never let you sleep for very long, even though that’s all there is to do. There’s this thing called headcount that they do all the time, even though it is seemingly impossible to escape. I mean, perhaps, PERHAPS, you could sneak into a different cell than your own so you can, what, shit in front of another person? But they do this headcount thing several times and for every shift change, and it requires getting out of your uncomfortable bed and pulling out your hideous mugshot and presenting it to the guard through your tiny door window. And if you don’t do it right on time, even though it takes her 20 minutes to get to you from when she calls for you, she will threaten you with extra days.
This happens around 5 a.m. or so, before breakfast. This happens when you lay down. Then again. The old-timer… she knows.
The old-timer tells me about a woman who smuggled a crack pipe in between her fat rolls. She tells me if I’m not out of jail by mid-day, she’s gonna press the intercom button in her cell, citing a medical emergency, because my case is driving her insane. I call my mother and tell her to call anyone she can think of.
They call me for court at 1:30 p.m., more than 24 hours after I complicity turned myself in. Instead of showing up in nice clothes, I show up in what they call “county blues,” makeup smeared down my face from sleeping in contacts. My lawyer is there, sans saxophone. I was hoping he’d just play the riff from “Baker Street” or something and get this whole thing cleared up. The judge tells me she’s charging me with felony possession. I am being released on a PR Bond, which is good since I turned myself in, which I think was very nice of me. I didn’t even make my husky captor chase me around the parking lot once. I am told that I am not allowed to drink or do any drugs and if I do, it’s back to jail.
To get out, I must go back to my cell and wait for someone to take me away. One of the women there has spotted her husband and mother outside and begs me to stop them and not let them leave her there. She is afraid they’re just coming for her property. She isn’t sure they have enough money to get her out, but she is afraid she will lose her job if they don’t. She’s also worried about her children. Her gigantic crime is not having insurance on her car. I promise to do my best, but in order to get out, I am led through a series of confusing doors. I am so out of it that when the guard barks at me to go to the right, I have to think about what that means. In one room, they let me put my own clothes back on. In another, they give me back my driver’s license and earrings. They’ve taken the money I brought for my booking fee. Then they show me to a door and outside, it is a bright, hot, sunny day. If all they wanted was to shove me in a video arraignment for five minutes, why didn’t they just give me an appointment and have me show up? What was the point of housing me in a cage for a day and a half?
I call my lawyer and drive home. I sit at my dining room table. Shawn comes home and asks me how I am. And I cry, for the first time in a long time. A lot. Which is something I don’t usually do. I’m often angry, but rarely sad. He awkwardly cracks open a beer to calm himself down, and I only feel worse. For me, drinking a beer will cost $2000. I think I would have rather been robbed or assaulted. At least then, you’re not the bad guy.
By sheer coincidence, I have a meeting with the ACLU for work a few days later. They bring up how pay-or-stay is unfair. Because of course it is. It’s punishing someone not just for their crime, but for being poor.
My pre-lim isn’t until a month from now. So, in staggering sobriety, I deal with the aftermath of jail. I feel violated in a strange way, and I don’t trust anyone and I can’t open the door to the house without panicking. It is suggested I should see a therapist. I spend the next several weeks hunting for a secular doctor. Meanwhile, I am angry and feel alone. My relationship deteriorates. I vaguely remember being really happy. I don’t even know what we’re fighting about, except that I can’t keep my shit together. It wasn’t my house, that wasn’t my stupid roommate, and I am the only one this is happening to. Every day, I remember a new thing, like how I can’t go to Canada anymore. How I won’t be able to apply for federal grants to get my Masters. Trivial problems, perhaps, but one day you’re not a criminal…and the next day you are. And maybe it would be different if I had done something interesting, like driven my car drunk into an orphanage or killed a man with an ice pick. And everyone I tell gets that troubled look on their face, the one where their eyes shift focus because they’re thinking of things in their homes they’re not supposed to have. That little film canister of pot you save for when you’re sick. The couple bars of Xanax your friend gave you because you hate being on planes, but once a year you visit your grandparents in Florida. The half gram of coke you can’t bear to part with because it reminds you of college. The tab of acid you’re saving for the next time you see The Flaming Lips. The unlicensed handgun that belonged to your dead uncle. I don’t know what you’ve got. But a lot of people have something and you live your life just assuming a team of armed cops will never come and rip apart your home. You’re mostly a good person. You pay your taxes and you try not to get parking tickets and you always give a dollar to whatever charity is getting the dollar when you check out at the grocery store and you don’t even fill out the little paper hot air balloon with your name on it. You try to be modest. You eat cage-free chicken eggs. You don’t buy clothes made in sweatshops. But if a SWAT team could come to my door, couldn’t they come to yours? Would they shoot your dog? Because they can.
The thing that’s in mushrooms that makes you hallucinate is psilocybin. According to the Michigan Benchbook for Controlled Substances, to have it in small amounts is a misdemeanor. However, every single person that we encounter seems to a) not know how to spell it and b) not know what it is. This includes a prosecutor who looks like a kindergarten teacher and filed it under a felony. When my lawyer points her to the statute, she admits her mistake and offers us a plea for usage. To be high as fuck is less of a crime than to be holding drugs in your hand, apparently. My lawyer advises me to take this plea, so I do. The judge grants my request to travel for work purposes. Here’s a question: how many other people don’t have a lawyer who cares enough to read a statute and correct someone who is wrong?
I see a guy in the probation office who tells me about how a joint fucked up his brother’s life. He thinks marijuana will end up being legal. He wants me to admit the drugs were mine, which is something I have been instructed to never do. He is assertive about it. I tell him I was “aware” of them. He writes down in my report that I am “evasive.” He tells me I can get six months of probation where I cannot drink or use drugs or misuse prescription drugs. If I agree to this, nothing will happen to my driver’s license. But the judge doesn’t have to take his recommendation. He can give me six months in jail. I can also be forced to go to some kind of treatment program. This is waived for now, which is a bummer, because I’d really like to see mushroom rehab.
Being a journalist, I go to other places sometimes on assignment. This time, I take my friend Megan with me. It’s Pitchfork and Exxxotica, which is pretty good for a laugh. I promise her I’m going to be fun, but I end up not being fun at all. Before we left, I start getting a number of messages. Not only is my mugshot featured in Busted, an exploitation piece of shit that takes peoples’ mugshots and compiles them all into a cheap, shitty, paper magazine sold in gas stations and liquor stores — it’s on the front page. And it’s not a great picture of me, and it’s not interesting compared to all the crackheads that grace the pages, but it’s the featured one. Right on the front. We pick up a copy on our way out of town and she and I both agree on one thing: “Who reads that shit rag anyhow?” But it turns out a lot of people do. And they will take it to the bar and show it around and then deny it was them like a pussy when you KNOW it was them. They will be ambiguous and try to vicariously live through you as the authority on your life. They will have the nerve to tell you, “We all just wanted to know what happened!” but somehow they never think to stop showing it to people, never consider how it might impact your job and future opportunities, and just CALL you or text you. No, that would be what a person with tact would do, and these are people who don’t care if you’re okay, only what happened, only what is interesting to talk about in public.
But that’s not enough. People post it on their own Facebooks and say, “What’s going on?” They post it on yours. They tell your staff that their boss is in trouble. Someone even sends me a message saying they went to the 7/11 at 3 a.m. to get a copy. Some people want to frame it. A memorabilia shrine dedicated to your humiliation. And it’s July 11. So everyone is going to 7/11 for a free Slurpie. The messages do not stop. The texts do not stop. Everyone asking if I knew about it, as though somehow I forgot that I had been arrested.
That’s not enough either. It makes The Smoking Gun’s 16 mugshots of the week, so it makes the Fark Photoshop contest. And people leave comments like, “Have her washed and sent to my chamber,” and talk about how you look like Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks and Kristen Stewart, or how your eyes look crooked. They’re all so clever. I don’t really look like that photo. Mugshots never make you look amazing, I suppose.
I research this a bit and find out that there are websites that will display your mugshot online until the Apocalypse. It will be one of the first things people find when they Google you. Your mugshot is taken when you are arrested. Your charge may change or your case may be dismissed, but the mugshot only applies to what you were brought in on when they booked you. So, the mugshot is not accurate. The disclaimer that all people are innocent until proven guilty means nothing to the voyeurs who give a fuck about mugshots.
If you want your mugshot removed, you can pay someone to have it done. It’s $100 to have mine removed, I find. There are some cases where the company who collects the mugshots will send letters to your neighbors with your photo and charge if you do not pay them. This is blatant extortion, but all considered legal in areas where mugshots are released. I suppose someone might argue it is for the public good, but I don’t feel any safer knowing who on my block got a DUI or got caught with a joint or had less than an eighth of mushrooms in a drawer somewhere. I feel disgusted by this kind of invasion of privacy. And I always have. In 2009, I wrote a song about how the magazine was bullshit, after a few of my friends showed up in it. It was on my band’s first record. One of my friends lost her job. The other was too humiliated to go out in public. We went to a Blockbuster to get some films to stay in and watch together, and a woman there came up to him and asked him about his photo in Busted. We were only outside for 15 minutes that day. 15 fucking minutes.
It gets worse. Certain mugshot sites will let you choose to browse by race, or find women who are “cokewhores.”
And one of our local radio stations, WGRD, has “Busted Hottie of the Month,” where they choose the most attractive of the mugshots. And the comments are, of course, exactly as you can imagine. Do enough Googling, you can find out where this hottie lives. Maybe stop by and say hello. What’s her privacy to you? She’s a criminal. And she probably knows how to party.
Upon returning home, I wait in more sobriety. I am something of a basketcase. I am still looking for a secular therapist. If I get six months in jail, I won’t be able to keep my job. It simply isn’t a job they can hold for you. It involves assigning, editing and publishing a lot of content and I am the only one on my team who even knows the entire ins and outs of our content management system. Not to mention, what will I do when I get out? I will have no money and a lot of fines.
And right before it’s about to be the trial, I realize that I am alone. Shawn and I break up, but I don’t have enough money to move out. Perhaps the damage caused by this whole thing is irreparable. I could have kept my shit together, but I was mean and accusatory and paranoid and angry. And he got nervous and didn’t feel comfortable around me. We aren’t happy anymore, and I know that if this whole thing had never happened, we would be.
I decide I’m going to kill myself in jail, somehow. I know this is irrational, but this is how I feel. I feel like when you work hard, graduate college early, work your way up in your mid-sized city to a job you love and do well, find the right person and move in together and find yourself so happy you don’t even think it’s a real thing, and then seven armed assholes show up with guns to tear that away from you, you’ve earned “the coward’s way out.” Fuck this. Fuck starting over. Fuck panic attacks because you had enough of a plant in a drawer somewhere to roll around on your own living room floor and think albums sound amazing for six hours. Fuck every time you go out, people trying to get in your life when you know they don’t give a fuck. It’s all so stupid-sounding now, but staring down the barrel of everything you’ve worked for disappearing is not something a person should have to be sober for.
When the day comes, I meet my lawyer who shows me what the recommendation really says. Twelve months of probation, no traveling, 21 hours of workcrew (this is typically spent in a recycling facility) and $1200, roughly, in fines. Megan is the only person that comes to the hearing, and it’s something I never even imagined anyone would do. She has brought me a book to read that she says is too depressing to read if I’m depressed about my relationship, but it’s really good and she wants me to have it.
When I finally get called up, the judge breezes through the recommendation and asks if we have any questions. My lawyer asks about traveling, the six months I was told versus the twelve months listed, and wonders if the two days I have spent in jail can be swapped for some of the workcrew, since I do work full-time as it is.
The judge pauses and he looks up at us. And this is the first time I think anyone has offered any sort of mercy. He says, “You know, I’ve read this police report. And you are just a very unlucky woman.” He acknowledges that the person they were looking for no longer lived in the house and that I was only in the process of moving in. That my interaction with the legal system was one of bad luck, and that for most of my life, it would seem as though I had been a relatively normal citizen. He tells me that while it’s true that you are not allowed to have the things I had, “enough is enough.” He waives the workcrew and gives me permission to travel for work. I will be re-evaluated in six months. Megan gets a little misty.
My probation officer is a woman named Gail who is overwhelmed. She rushes me through our meeting. She tells me she’d like it if I told her where I was going when I traveled, and that I can email her if I’d like. She says if I screw this up, I may lose my driver’s license and have to go to rehab or back to jail. I can screw this up by drinking a beer.
When I get home, I send Gail an email about where I will be and when. She responds with, “Thanx!!”
THE MOST LAWLESS PLACE IN AMERICA
What Gail doesn’t ask about is why I’m going to Kentucky, which is to cover The Gathering of the Juggalos, a five-day music festival put on by horrorcore rap group The Insane Clown Posse, for Kerrang Magazine. The Gathering is the most lawless place in America. They keep the cops out and the people inside do whatever the fuck they want.
I am, of course, obligated to be sober. We spend four days here, writing and interviewing and photographing. One of the days, ICP has a seminar where they announce that they are fed up with their fans — the juggalos — being classified as a gang. There have been reports of Juggalos who are on probation getting violated for affiliating with a gang or wearing gang apparel. So, ICP has decided to sue the FBI and have even secured a Juggalo lawyer to help them. I write a story about it and publish it on MurderMotels.com.
Perhaps I will be violated for being “down with the clown.”
It’s a long awkward drive home of highs and lows. This is what it is perhaps like when you are desperately in love with someone, but things have been dashed on the rocks.
A few days later, I go out alone. I’m at a bar where everyone is drunk, but of course, I am not. I am sick to my stomach because I am pretty sure that tonight is the night we are truly single for the first time since it’s all happened. I try to relax. I am at a familiar bar with familiar people. One of them, the bass player in my band, leads me to the dance floor and tells me to have a good time. And it’s during this good time that the same woman who told my friend years ago in the Blockbuster that she saw him in Busted hands me a card. It’s a postcard featuring six paintings of faces and underneath, it says, “Mugshots.” It’s her ArtPrize piece, she says. 100 portraits of mugshots, including my friend and myself. It will be on display at the J.W. Marriott. “You’re much prettier than your mugshot,” she says. “I couldn’t get your eyebrows right.”
This is why she’s been looking at Busted. She’s been working on this project for a long time.
Perhaps none of this will ever go away. I wait until 2 a.m. Part of me wants to find a stranger and go with them to their house and do the kind of things with them that will leave them asking me if I had been abused as a child. But shaking, I go home. And when I get there, I am there alone. Sometimes, people just want to be alone. Sometimes, people just don’t want to be with you.
SO, FUCK IT
The only thing left to do is to embrace what has happened. It’s not as though I was ever allowed any kind of privacy. It is kind of funny, if you think about it. And one day, everyone else tells me, I will think it is hilarious. One day, I will no longer be in this sort of dull pain. “It is what it is,” everyone likes to say. So I hope I don’t screw it up. I hope I don’t eat too many poppy seeds, I hope I don’t get caught with one of the albums ICP sent us in my car (actually, that’s hilarious already), I hope that everything returns to a state of logic.
Eventually, I find a therapist and agree to pay to see her, even though I have no insurance because I suspect I need it and I suspect I will also have to. Sure enough, Gail tells me it’s good I’ve sought one out on my own, because it’s mandatory that I must seek counseling. The only other option beyond finding my own doctor would be to attend (and pay for, with my money) a drug rehabilitation program for an addiction is has been conceded I do not have. An addiction, frankly, that does not exist. My therapist has a schnauzer that sits in on our sessions, so that’s cool.
I hope that people stop asking me questions. I hope that people stop flipping out over benign drugs and ruining lives that were otherwise fine. I’m not gonna say that I’m a stranger to drugs. I mean, I went to college. I was a teenager once. I was a music journalist. I was in a band. The only difference between me and say, someone like Barack Obama, however, is that I got caught holding in a freak twist of fate. I never hurt myself. I never hurt anyone else. I never ate anyone’s face. I had some magical moments. And then I settled down. Or, I tried to.
I hope if you are a registered voter in Grand Rapids, MI, you go out on election day and vote YES on Proposal 2 to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the city of Grand Rapids. It has to start somewhere. It can start with you.
I am a writer, a college graduate, an activist, the owner of a mid-sized Sedan, an iced-latte-with-whole-milk-drinker, a tax payer, a musician, an ex-girlfriend, a size 5, a gym member and now, a criminal. I am angry now, angrier and sharper than I ever imagined being. And maybe this is a gift. A disgusting, messy gift.
UPCOMING ON MURDERMOTELS: The MM team intends to cover ArtPrize as it rages on in their Midwestern city. I might try to steal my mugshot painting out of a luxury hotel. You can vote for it (52924). In the mean time, locals are encouraged to play ArtPrize Bingo.