Reflections upon Doing Time (Eight Hours of It)

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Superball’s glass is half full — the top half.

Yes, jail was something I wanted to try once in my life. In a purely detached way, it will amount largely to inconvenience: dealing with the bail-bond place and going to court, possibly going to AA meetings and probably dumping a few paychecks into the system.

In a slightly less detached way, it was overall a good experience. I got to glimpse a side of life that I had only imagined before, and I got to add the experience to the long list of things I have packed into my thirty-five years.

In a profound way, it was an experience that I’m beginning to think will be deep and transformative, for several reasons. For one thing, I got to face down old fears about repercussions—punishment—from family members (my grandma and my parents). I found that, first of all, this confession was easier than ever—even though getting arrested is probably the “worst” thing I’ve done at face value—because I have a better grasp on why I do things. Knowing why I do things, I no longer feel debilitating shame (at least not like I once did), because I know that I’m doing the best I can with what I know. If I don’t like the outcome of a decision I make, I can revise it for the next go-round—no shame in that.

And you know what? My grandma and parents actually still acted like they loved me. Nobody yelled or lectured me as they once might have done. (They very well could have—which would have taught me something else.) I think everyone’s starting to see more clearly what really matters. Acceptance and understanding show love better than anger does—and lead to more love in return. I’m learning this from the other side (as the angry person) in other parts of my life—but that’s a whole ‘nother story. (I’m happy to talk about that more, by request.)

To get into the other reasons my jail experience is becoming an inspiring one, I need to give some background about my current situation. (For those of you who already know this stuff, bear with me.) I’m living with my grandma in California, making a little part-time cash away from Seattle so I can work on my novel without the fun “distractions” that all of my Seattle buddies offer. I have free room, board, and Internet, as well as an ostensibly peaceful environment in which to attend to my writing. My grandma is quiet; she sleeps and watches TV a lot of the time.

Enter the challenge: As most of you know, I am free-spirited. My grandma likes routine, rarely leaves the confines of her house, and worries a lot. There’s nothing wrong about any of that (except that worrying doesn’t do anyone any good). To date, I’ve been viewing this challenge as an opportunity to learn how to work within limitations and to help Grandma overcome some of her limitations and be happier. I think I have been at least partially successful.

I have continued, however, to beat my head against an anxiety that I feel as long as I’m in the house. That anxiety might or might not have anything to do with why I ended up as I did Thursday night—but I still look back on the night as a positive one because I got to be myself. I had fun socializing with new friends, I got to dance, and the cops and other jailbirds at least accepted me for what I was. To them, a drunk person (or roofied, maybe—whatever) was no big deal. In fact, I think I helped some of the other inmates get through a tough spot.

No telling about the cops, though. The jailers ranged from barely civil to full-on nice, but I felt like only a couple of them saw me as a person like them. One thing that struck me, as I was escorted around with my hands behind my back, was how afraid they all were. In order to feel safe from even someone like me, they needed to take all of my stuff and carry guns and nightsticks. These are the symptoms of a society so choked with fear that even someone who falls asleep at a club requires incarceration if no one’s around to take responsibility for them.

So the main lesson I’ve learned, in regard to the supposedly deterring factor of being in jail, is that it is a crime not to have friends. In a way, maybe it is—a crime against myself. Maybe this experience is telling me that I should not force myself to stay where I don’t belong. Learning lessons is one thing, but if I’m a fish, I should be in the water. If I’m a free spirit, I should be with other free spirits. That’s how I can do the most good.

The lesson I’m “supposed” to learn, according to some, is that I shouldn’t drink. I have considered that: Should I stop drinking? Might I have a problem with alcohol? I’m open to thoughts on the matter, but I think that alcohol is not evil. It is a catalyst. In my experience, it shows me what’s really going on with me, better sometimes than I can see with sober introspection. For example, it helped me realize when I had forced myself to battle jealousy head-on one to many times. Also, it can be a fun toy in happy, social situations. Even in my heaviest periods of drinking, I didn’t drink alone. I can go months without missing it. In this case, what I think I gained—besides getting to see the inside of a jail—was a reminder that I need my support crew. I let my support crew go on without me that night (thinking I’d be all right—which I kind of was), and I’m not supported where I’m living.

A final thought about jail: the other inmates who shared “the DMV room” with me (once I got out of my own personal drunkard’s cell) all just seemed like people. They seemed bewildered, lonely, or beat-down (even the angry ones). Do bewilderment, loneliness, and anger lead to a better society? Because that’s what I think the prison system is breeding. It’s a product of the fear felt by our society as a whole, represented by the jailers with their nightsticks. I’m not sure where my train of thought is leading with this part, but I think it’s gotta have something to do with love. It has to do with redirecting our fear toward the kinds of things we innately want to do.