4 Things You Should Know Before Spending a Weekend in Jail
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.
Don't Think What You're Doing Isn't Enough to Get You Arrested
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.
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.
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 ...
Save on Bail Money by Hunkering Down for a Night
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.
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 ...
Hope for a Single Cell
It's all fun and games now that I'm almost two decades removed from all this, but the moments between finding out I was actually going to have to spend a few days in jail and finally seeing the inside of the cell for the first time were some of the most unsettling of my life.
For one thing, all that strip search stuff you see in the movies really happens, and nothing starts a visit off on a bad foot like having a dude get you out of your clothes using nothing but his outside voice. It also has a great way of evoking thoughts of another terrifying jail stereotype. That, of course, is the one where you have to share a cell with a dude who's probably going to sell you to a prostitution ring for a carton of Newports.
Your approximate value in jail currency.
Was I going to be sold for smokes by my celly? There was no way to know for sure until I finally reached my cell, but even that turned out to be more of an adventure than I expected it to be. When the guard led me into the cell block, it was eerily quiet, which made sense because it was like three in the morning. What made less sense was what the guard said next, which was something to the effect of "Your cell is up there in the corner."
Exactly the words you'd expect to hear in that situation, except for one thing. "Up there in the corner" for some reason involved stepping over the body of an inmate who, unlike everyone else, was not confined to his cell during sleep hours, but was instead allowed to roam free. Even better, he was awake and cackling like a maniac.
I inquired as to whether the guard realized that there was a dude talking the talk of the insane a few short feet from the cell he'd just assigned me and was met with something about how they couldn't lock this one guy's cell because he was epileptic. "Cool, wouldn't you like to walk me up there at least?" was the next question that I wanted to ask, but I assumed that the guards will rape you like anyone else if they think you're soft, so I bravely climbed the steps and nervously stepped over Shakes while making my way to what would be my new home for the next few days. When I arrived at the door, I saw something that instantly made me feel a little better about the predicament I was facing: a single-person cell.
I don't know if those amenities are available in every jail, but knowing that I didn't have to contend with a horny roommate for the duration of my stay was comforting, to say the least. I'm guessing the availability of a single cell is going to depend on the crime rate of the city where you're arrested. If you regularly read stories in the news about jail overcrowding, don't be surprised if you have to share a cell. If that happens, my only advice is to remember as much as you can for when you write an article about going to jail someday. Beyond that, I've got no tips for dealing with your new criminal roommate.
Maybe hope for this guy.
I do have some pointers for another famously rape-y area of jail life, though.
Don't Be Afraid to Stink
So here's what happened my first morning in jail. I woke up to find that the activity of choice in the Peoria County Jail on a lazy Saturday morning is to huddle around the communal black-and-white television to watch Soul Train. As this was approximately one color television and a debilitating hangover away from being exactly how I spent my Saturday mornings at the time anyway, I immediately recognized this as my best chance to integrate myself into jailhouse life.
The comedy rule book states that I must tell you that this image came up when I searched for "Soul Train."
After about 10 minutes of watching chicks in biker shorts dance to Wreckx-N-Effect songs or whatever, I had a conversation that immediately changed the course of my stay in lockup. I'd spoken with a man briefly earlier that morning, long enough for him to tell me he'd been arrested for rape but that he expected the accuser to drop the charges any day now. I assumed he probably used lies like that one to make the chicks he wanted to rape feel comfortable in his presence also, so I replied with a polite "Cool" and made a mental note to avoid this man at all costs.
I put a gold star on that mental note and marked it with an enthusiastic "100 percent!" for accuracy after my next conversation with him, the one I promised to talk about like 15 sentences ago. At one point during the Soul Train party, the raper materialized seemingly from out of nowhere and walked into a room with no actual door. Just an opening in the wall, kind of like it's maybe a ...
Again, the rule book leaves me no choice.
Oh, shit. I just watched a confirmed rapist walk into a jailhouse shower. Which reminded me that I should probably take a shower at some point. That thought was immediately jettisoned when the rapist stepped back out of the shower room, looked directly at me, and said, "Hey, young blood!"
Right, he called me "young blood," because jail is one of like five things in life that are exactly like TV and movies make them out to be, except worse. Anyway, the rest of what he had to say was much scarier. Here's the complete text:
"Hey, young blood, the shower only works for three minutes at a time, but if you jam this under the shower head it will hold the button as long as you need it. I can show you how to do it quick if you want."
For the record, "this" was a sawed-in-half broomstick that he was clutching above his head as if it was the weapon he'd chosen to take to battle.
On the bright side, the sky is beautiful in jail.
So, to recap, we have a man who's been accused of rape standing in front of a jailhouse shower clutching a broomstick that he's promised to "show me how to use" if I join him in that shower.
Naturally, I declined his offer, opting to just not shower at all for the remainder of my stay. That's not a joke. I knew I would get out sometime Monday morning. It was Saturday morning, and my last shower had been sometime Friday. Things were going to get pretty ripe, that was for sure. But if that was what it was going to take to make sure my asshole was never ripe for being blasted by a series of broomstick-wielding criminals, then so be it.
By the time I got out on Monday, I smelled worse than I ever had up to that point in my life, and probably worse than I ever will again. At least it's the worst I'll ever smell until I die, which is exactly what I'd do before I'd ever step inside a jailhouse shower at the suggestion of a dude holding a broomstick.