Going to jail can be a terrifying thing. In fact, I take that back. Going to jail should be a terrifying thing. If you're on your way to jail and you aren't at least a little bit frightened, you probably belong there. As for the rest of you, should it come to pass that you find yourself on the business end of a cops-and-robbers transaction for the first time, you might find it comforting to have a few pre-memorized rules tucked away in the "going to jail" bag of your mind that you can use to make your stay a bit more tolerable.
Fortunately for you, I spent three days in jail back when I was barely legal, and the stay supplied me with all the data I needed to make an informed decision about whether or not I wanted to make getting locked up a regular thing in my life. And now, I'm going to share that information with you.
Here are four tips for surviving your first trip to jail.
Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images
One of the first mistakes people make when it comes to jail is wrongly believing that their actions aren't extreme enough to warrant an arrest. That's how adorable little flowers like Reese Witherspoon end up with unfortunate mugshots like this one on their IMDb credits:
Copy Zooey Deschanel's quirky look by falling asleep while standing!
Much like Ms. Witherspoon's famous alcohol-drenched "Don't you know who I am?" traffic stop breakdown, I suspect that my first arrest also had more to do with my attitude that night than any hardcore criminal mischief on my part. I was 17 and, with the help of my mom and a few years of toil in the fast food industry, had just purchased my first car ever. It was a beat-to-shit Mustang that set me back like three grand because I bought it from one of those "We'll finance anyone!" places (they mean it) and didn't yet realize what kind of financial ruin comes with that sort of purchase agreement.
It also didn't matter at the time, because I finally had a car that wasn't embarrassing to drive in front of girls. So I did a whole lot of that stuff. Getting in your car and driving in the vicinity of where the opposite sex will be can keep teens entertained for hours, in no small part because kids are stupid and headlights are shiny.
It was during one of these pointless high school skirt missions that I was arrested for the first time. My crime? Driving without having my driver's license on my person.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Ask me about my thug life!
Wait, driving without having your license on you, as in "I have a license but just don't have it in my pocket right now?" Yes, imaginary conversation partner, that's why I was arrested. You sound surprised in my head talks, because that probably doesn't strike you as the kind of thing you haul a minor to adult jail over, right? I mean, it's not like I didn't have a license. Not only did I have one, but I was able to produce a state identification indicating that I was who I said I was, making the task of verifying that I did actually have the license I claimed to a pretty simple one.
So why in the hell would I be arrested for something so minor? I can't confirm it for sure, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's because I acted like a cocky asshole during the traffic stop.
Safety tip: If you leave your windows rolled down, cops can hear you being a prick from their car!
Correction: Me and three friends acted like cocky assholes during the traffic stop. After pulling me over and hearing my lame explanation about having left my license at home, the cop who stopped me returned to his car for a bit, as police officers often do in these situations. Realizing that being stopped in traffic by a law enforcement official to be told you're breaking the law (my headlight was out) is a situation worthy of at least a modicum of respect, me and my friends sat in nervous silence.
Ha! Just joking. We were dickhead teens. Instead of sitting there quietly and drinking in the gravity of the situation, we started cracking jokes. A lot of jokes. Loud jokes, accompanied by even louder laughter. Even better, a lot of the jokes centered on how hilarious it would be if I was actually put in handcuffs and taken to jail for something as stupid as not having my driver's license in my pocket.
Doug Menuez/Photodisc/Getty Images
Get ready to laugh!
Needless to say, when the police officer came back to my car, I was promptly arrested. And, you know, why the hell shouldn't I have been? Put yourself in that cop's shoes for a second. You've just pulled over some punk kid who, on top of the crime that prompted the stop, also doesn't have his driver's license on him, and instead of taking it seriously, he's Def Comedy Jamming the situation.
Yep, you arrest that asshole, even if you don't charge him with anything, which they definitely did not. I wasn't even in jail long enough (that time) to leave the holding cell. The police eventually just let my mom come get me because I wasn't 18 anyway. The cop who arrested me knew I wasn't 18, though, so he also had to know that I wouldn't face any real justice for my crime once I made it to jail, so what was the point? It seemed obvious to me: Shut the fuck up when people who might arrest you are working. Or at the very least, don't break out into uproarious laughter at the mere mention of them doing so.
If that's more silence than your busy mouth can bear, don't be surprised if it gets you taken to jail someday. When that happens ...
Upon being taken into custody, your thoughts will likely turn to the most Hollywood step in the arrest process short of the part where your manginity is taken in the showers on Day 4. I'm speaking, of course, about your "one phone call."
Well, relax -- we told you a long time ago that that "one phone call" thing is bullshit. I'm sure the rules and setups vary from place to place, but in "my" jail, there was a phone on the wall of the holding cell that looked kind of like the intercom outside of an apartment complex. You were encouraged to call as many people as it took as often as it took to raise the money to get your obnoxious, petty-crime-committing ass out of the jailer's hair.
For my part, during my two arrests, I never bothered with bail money. For one, I didn't have any. So there was that obstacle. Beyond that, I always figured that paying bail money is a waste when, in most cases, you're just going to be let out the next morning with the understanding that you'll return to face a judge at some point in the future. It's called a PR bond, which is short for personal recognizance, and if it's a concept you're not familiar with, for the love of God put the book down and turn on an episode of Law & Order once in a while. Or, you know, read a book about going to jail. Whatever.
They're better on television, though.
The point is, if you just hold tight, the next morning a state's attorney or someone of the like will review all of the arrests from the night before, and most likely you'll be kicked out into the street so the police can turn their attention back to dealing with actual crime. Bail money is for rapists and murderers and people who have the money to flee the country and are willing to start the trip by just handing the police a few thousand dollars that they'll never see again. These are the bad guys of the world, the people who actually have a reason to run.
You're not a bad guy, though. You're a pussy. But not enough of a pussy that you can't stomach one night sleeping in jail, right? Sure, if you post bail and your case works its way through the system, eventually you'll get some of that bail money back. But since when is letting the government hold on to your money the winning option?
That's probably not even the real Uncle Sam.
Sleep a few hours in a jail cell and use all that expendable cash on whatever gift makes your wife OK with the fact that you were arrested for "unknowingly" letting some dude in a Lady Gaga wig named Trevor (the dude's name was Steve) "help you relax" in the parking lot of a Home Depot for $50. That was a questionable decision. A little quiet time in a jail cell to reflect on it probably wouldn't be the worst thing, you know?
Waiting around for a PR bond is a great option, but it comes with the unfortunate catch that you need to be arrested between Sunday and Thursday, preferably late at night, to avoid any actual jail time. The people who make those decisions don't typically work weekends. If you're arrested on Friday night and you don't have bail money, it's not totally time to panic, but you should expect to spend a few days locked up. That's what happened to me the second (and final, Mom!) time I was arrested, this time for missing a court date related to the first incident.
Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
Still barely a crime!
I was taken in during a traffic stop on a Friday night. Because the only person broker than me was every single person I knew at the time, bail money wasn't an option. That meant I got to rot in jail (more appropriate than you realize, stay tuned) until at least Monday morning. A few hours in a holding cell is not really being arrested. The fun doesn't really start until you're actually given a place to sleep for a few days.
In those cases, if you can raise the bail money, do it. You don't want to spend an entire day in jail, ever. It's not fun. If you must, though, as I did, there is one thing that will make your stay infinitely less terrifying if you can get it ...