A few years ago, a friend of mine went into a pretty bad tailspin of drugs, divorce, mental issues, and physical ailments. Hard to say exactly what caused what, but all of them going on at once definitely made everything much much worse. We've been able to rebuild our friendship recently because he's been back in town settling some outstanding criminal matters. If you have warrants on you for something relatively minor, you can hide out in another state without worrying about the law coming to get you, and even if you get picked up on something there, they likely won't bother with the extradition process. So, you're pretty much free to live like an outlaw until such time as you want to rejoin society, at which point they have you by the balls. He wanted to have a driver's license and a bank account again, and that meant finally facing the music. I don't know too much about crime and courts and jail, so I found the whole process pretty eye-opening.
He caught the bus in from out of state, so I picked him up and we got lunch and talked before heading to the jail/government building complex downtown. They have a designated place to go surrender yourself at, and my first surprise was how similar the experience was to going to the DMV. I don't know, I guess I would have expected more of a reaction to someone announcing that they're a wanted criminal and wish to turn themselves in. The cops there'll just look at you like, "Why are you even wasting my time with this shit" before grudgingly directing you to the proper room. No one jumps up and claps you in irons, no one cares. You go up to the window and give them your name, they monkey with the computer for a while and give you a court date maybe about a month away. I assume that if you were wanted for something really serious they'd bring somebody in to arrest you right there, but where that line is I have no idea.
This was a much better deal than we had anticipated, because it meant warrants canceled, no bail, no conditions on his release, and as a Broncos fan he was happy that he'd get to watch the Superbowl. He came back up for his court date, which he sat through fruitlessly, watching the judge dispense with minor case after minor case. Finally, at the very end of that day's session, the judge got to him and was like whoa, this case is complicated. He wanted to give the DA's office a chance to look it over and figure out what kind of L&O style deal they were willing to make, so he set him a new court date a few weeks later. My friend could have said no and insisted on settling things then, but their immediate reaction would have just been "Fuck it, max him out," and since his intention was to plead guilty to pretty much whatever they offered, it was in his interest to give them all the time they wanted.
The charges were three counts of hit and run, reckless driving, driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance, and a few others I'm forgetting. What happened was all the drugs and the mental shit and the stress combined to bring him to this paranoid belief that he was under constant surveillance. He decided to confirm this supposition by deliberately smashing into parked cars, and he wreaked havoc across three separate parking lots before realizing that the police probably weren't watching him after all. If anyone remembers the Michigan Freeway Shooter case from 2012, there was this three day period outside Detroit where another guy was on drugs and having paranoid delusions about the government, and his method of acting out was to randomly wing shots at cars. Through some miracle, no one was hurt, but he got charged under post 9/11 terrorism statutes, and I saw from his sentencing the other day that he won't get his first chance at parole for another eighteen years. That could EASILY have been my friend, as his tailspin included at least one full Yosemite Sam style incident.
It's always been interesting to me to see what different crimes are "worth," so to speak. I guess I have some faith that the system for deciding this is rational, but it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense as far as I'm concerned. In any case, having proved his willingness to show up in court on time, the prosecutor bothered to look at his case and decide what sort of charges they'd allow him plead guilty to. The deal he got was ten days in jail per count of hit and run, with two counts to be served concurrently and one consecutively. He got a fine for the suspended license, a thousand dollars into the crime victims fund, and they dropped the rest. They gave him thirty days to report to jail, but he wanted to get it over with and I dropped him off at intake the next morning. He gave his mom my number, and she texted me once he learned when he was going to be released. He ended up doing twelve days out of the twenty, and the night before I went to pick him up I got on Google to see what I could expect. Turns out the jail has a Yelp page, and I read one negative review from a young woman. She said that she got arrested for drunk and disorderly at the lake, and they turned her out on the street at three AM the next morning in flip flops and a bikini with no money, no ID, and no cell phone.
Jail's pretty shitty, no surprise, but I was shocked to hear that you don't even get a pillow! I would find it very hard to sleep. This was in CA too, so with the AB 109 bill to reduce the prison population, there were a number of convicts serving years in the county jail alongside everyone else with their little DUI bid. My friend said that it's a good idea to keep to yourself for the first few days and then find someone to buddy up with. With his personality, he's looking to laugh and bullshit and make the time go faster, so he tends to hang out with black guys. Apparently, whites are more likely to do their time with a super serious negative attitude. Crossing racial lines is kind of frowned upon, but he says he's like "Come on guys, we're all on the same team here — we lost!" He also said that a surprising number of DUI guys coming in for short stretches do so with contraband up their butts. Tobacco, weed, coke, whatever. They trade it all for commissary just so they have stuff to snack on while they're inside. Food's also the currency you use to gamble with. For the poker game that's running at all times, you go to wherever they're holding the bank at and exchange your top ramen and honey buns for homemade poker chips.
On the morning of your release, they call you out of your bunkbed dormitory at about two AM to start the outtake process. It ends with you sitting in a room in your street clothes, kind of released but still under jail rules. This is where a lot of people come to grief, because they get cocky and start talking shit, banging on the windows demanding food, attention, that the release process be sped up for them, whatever. What makes this an extremely dumb decision is that pretty much everyone is getting released early thanks to overcrowding. It's incredibly easy for a guard to put you right back into jail clothes to finish out your sentence for mouthing off or copping any sort of attitude. You're only hurting yourself, and it doesn't trouble them in the slightest, but some people just cannot back down from any sort of confrontation — even one they're guaranteed to lose.
My friend caught the bus back out of town a few days ago, so now that the process is complete I have a few thoughts. First of all, staying on the run for a while seems to help rather than hurt. Having the crime years in the past appears to make everyone much more willing to dispense with things quickly and easily, without bothering with stuff like contacting the victims and arranging restitution. Just don't blow off your court dates – that throws a wrench into the process and makes the judge treat you like a dirtbag. If he decides to lock you up to ensure your attendance and you do all your court stuff as an inmate you're pretty much screwed, because that is a shitty position to try to negotiate from. If you're already inside, your punishment's pretty much guaranteed to be way steeper than it would otherwise. Also, I award myself the good friend award, because getting that shit taken care of would have been hard without help. I feel bad for someone trying to get their life back together without access to transportation or a place to stay. If you're already on the margins of society, trying to climb back in and play by the rules might just be too difficult or too expensive to bother with.