A Day in the Life of a Hardened Criminal.
Until today I had very little sympathy for those people who find themselves living in jail because of breaking the law. For years, I ignored a friend of mine, a former police officer, who said that he gave up law enforcement and moved to another state because, in Louisiana, he “couldn’t drive to work without committing two felonies and thirteen misdemeanors.” In other words: our legal system sucks.
I, your faithful blogger, ran into this system head on today. But this story, like all good stories, doesn’t start with the climax. It actually starts long before, in late-2003 and early-2004, when our Monroe City Court System landed in its own legal hot water and began shuffling certain small offenses (like traffic violations) to the parish court–which operates under a different set of rules, fines, and judges.
You see, we’re on the Napoleanic “Parish” system in Louisiana, meaning that city municipalities are wholly independent from the ‘county’ government. Sherriff’s deputies can’t even arrest people for crimes committed in the city limits, unless those crimes are federal and felony. So enter your tireless hero.
I’m driving home from work late one night. Blue lights go on behind me. My tags are expired, lo and behold. The police officer (not a deputy, that’s important later) writes me a ticket and says “call this number for your court date.” The next day, I call that number. There is no ticket in the system yet. Call back tomorrow. I call this number for about a week, until, at last, the Monroe City District Attorney’s Office tells me to quit calling, there is no ticket.
I’ve phoned twice since then. No ticket. Yay. I’m all clear. Today, though, I had to appear in court for an unrelated legal matter pertaining to my divorce. After clearing THAT matter up, two deputies detain me. “Do you remember a traffic citation in Monroe on __ Date??” Um…Yeah. “Well, why didn’t you appear in court for it?” Um…what court?
The police officer sent the ticket through the PARISH court system (which is his perrogative and in his defense, he was trying to be helpful as the fines are MUCH lower in the Parish rather than the city). I had been given the number to the *CITY* District Attorney. Needless to say, I’m under arrest.
Now, by under arrest for a traffic violation, you’d think it involves a walk to the DA’s office in the fricken LOBBY of the court house. But no. Handcuffs–the belt variety–and shackles around my ankles. I’m then told to ‘sort of just fall back into this minivan here’ as I can’t step up. And I have to ride TWELVE MILES to the Ouachita Parish Correctional Center…a PRISON.
That’s right…because of a wrong phone number, a typo, I’m sent to prison.
Well, I call family. Nope, my family can’t be inconvenienced with a phone call to a bail bondsman. So I call the next best thing: friends. Friends are great. They do things for you. And when your airplane crashes on the mountain, they help you eat the other passengers rather than getting eaten. Two dear friends of mine make phone calls and FINALLY, after SIX HOURS, I’m released on bail. The judge on the case is a friend of mine. (And told the booking clerk at the facility to call me by my nickname, and tell me that “CARL said get your ass to court.”)
While I was there, no one offered to read me my rights. When I began asking questions about those rights, I was told to shut up and wait. When I demanded my phone call, I was informed that I don’t get a phone call ‘until after I’ve booked you…which will take hours, if not days.’ I was not allowed to speak to an attorney, to call my family, or to use the restroom until almost an hour and a half into my ordeal.
Then the real fun began.
I was shoved — literally — into a Six and a half foot by six and a half foot ‘room’ (read: closet) with SIX other people and ONE phone. This room was sealed, under surveillance via the windows, and had no air conditioning and no clean-air return. The six men I was in this room with were a forger, three burglars, one drug dealer and one person being held on battery charges. After standing there for almost ten minutes while the dealer called his suppliers to get him out, the booking deputy steps back in and yells “Hey! Get off the phone, he’s got someone to make him bail!”
So I got to call people…for about two minutes until we were herded from the room and into another holding cell. While crossing the hall, I repeatedly tried to inform the deputies that I was attempting to make bail, that I had not completed my call, and that I had serious questions about what needed to happen next. Mind you, I’ve still got shackles on my feet at this point, and they are beginning to cut into my achilles tendon. In this room there is thankfully air conditioning and places to sit. There is also a large cooler of water — but no cups. One of the men in the room began trying to gesture for attention and tell the deputies that there were no cups.
The deputy that responded came across the room and began tapping the glass like we were zoo creatures, mocking his need for a cup from which to drink water. “You wanna dwink of wa-wa?? Whaaaaaaahhhhh.” His badge number got mentally bookmarked. 🙂
After about another half hour, the deputies herded us BACK into the phone booth closet, where I got to call and discover that my fine had been paid and I was a free man. That was 2:30.
At 3:30, one of the deputies threatened to hit me for asking why I was still there and how long I would be detained. His response was, since this was a holiday weekend, probably until Tuesday. Another round of phone calls and yet again, Tuesday…for NO CRIME, mind you. For no reason other than ‘it’s a holiday’. (Can we say unlawful detention?)
A new person, another ‘hardened criminal’, was tossed into our phone booth. This man was arrested with no warrant on ‘battery charges.’ The deputies there made special note to ‘treat him with care’ because they didn’t think they had the legal right to hold him. (This turned out to in fact be the case and he was released after a judge called and yelled at the booking clerk.)
When I asked about the shackles cutting (literally) into my heel, I was told that “that’s not my problem is it?” And then to “So sit down and shut the hell up about it.”
When finally all of the ‘paper work’ was done, the booking clerk informed me that we had paid the wrong people (at her instruction) and that I was “lucky the judge decided to let you out”. Um…why? I paid my fine and my bail and you had no legal rights to hold me any longer.
In short, the court system in this state is fucked. As I was leaving, the mocking deputy made a remark to me about “oh so you’re finally getting out of the big house???” To which I couldn’t help but reply, “Isn’t there a looter somewhere you should be shooting?”
More later on teh continuing saga of this as I meet with people I got elected on Tuesday.