My time in prison was short, but I remember enough. I remember the strip search and the vaccination. Though, I don’t remember what the vaccination was for. I remember the arresting officer asking my highest level of education.
“BA,” I said.
“Really?” he said.
I hope I laughed then. What else could I do?
I remember singing Johnny Cash’s “I Hung My Head” in the holding cell, a song I later learned was written by Sting.
And then I woke up. It was a rude awakening.
“Get the fuck up!”
I did not know who the man was dragging me out of bed, a bed directly below another bed in the small 5’ by 10’ cell where I found myself the night before. They had given me a toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, a bar of soap, and a wax paper cup, beside the sheets, pillow, and blanket. I remember leaving the toiletries on the small counter surrounding the cell’s washbasin. I remember the steel toilet. Then I threw aside the sheets, threw down the pillow, and cuddled under the rough blanket, still drunk and not caring in what capacity my rest came.
“Get the fuck up!”
He ripped me out of bed, the prison’s sergeant. They stood me up facing the cell’s door and put my hands behind my back. They handcuffed me. I might still have been drunk because I took all of this with a good-natured, blissful ignorance.
They marched me out of the cellblock.
They took me to the infirmary. This was a mild enough period. I sat staring around me, still marveling at my situation rather than trying to make some sense of it.
“You still drunk?”
I looked up into a kind face.
“You still drunk, or you just hung over?”
“Hung over,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. He laughed.
He reached down and took my manacled hands and undid the handcuffs. I saw a nurse watching this suspiciously.
“It’s alright,” the guard said. “He’s just hung over. He’s no problem.”
I looked at my savior and then again at the nurse and then promptly forgot everything except my poor fitting uniform and oversized footwear, which my cellmate had left me with the night before.
“What size are you?” he asked when I was first issued into the cell. “Those look like they would fit me.” He took my sandals off and exchanged them for his which were much too large. And I wore them for the rest of my internment.
“God has a plan for you.”
This was from the doctor, for lack of a more accurate term, who interviewed me regarding my physical and mental state.
I was hung over, I admitted, and depressed.
Did I have thoughts of suicide, he asked.
Yes, I said, truthfully. But I did not have a plan. “Plan” was jargon I had picked up from my years in psychological therapy.
“I had a plan,” he told me. “My wife left me, no explanation. Took the kids. I found I had no legal recourse. I had a plan. But a friend took me under his wing and got me back to God. And now I believe that, no matter what I’ve been through, God has a plan for me.”
I took this in with the permeable acceptance of one who has so recently been off the alcohol train.
He let me go back to my cell.
“God has a plan for you.”
I remember that.
There is so much that happened after that it is hard to know where to begin. And it is hard to remember in what order.
I spent some time in my cell. I tried to sleep. I tried to meditate. I tried anything to take me away from where I was, because now the hangover was in full swing.
I remember lying on my back on my bed looking at the supportive board of the top bunk and seeing an illustration. The illustration was Asian in influence, resembling something of a Manga or Animae character, and the character had a speech bubble projecting from it:
“I have lost my mind.”
I remember staring at that and beginning to lose hope.
After that was my arraignment.
The entire process of the arraignment lasted hours. First, we were put in a holding cell in between the cellblock and the rest of the prison. I do not know how long we were left there. Long enough for some of my fellow prisoners to become indignant. They banged on the glass. They shouted. Men who were still in the cellblock, relatively free compared to our condition, came to the glass and gave their opinions of our plight. One man still in the cellblock caught the attention of a man in the holding cell and drew his finger across his throat. The man on our side of the glass played tough and indicated he was not worried about what a man already imprisoned could do to him. The smell was awful. The weight of human fear and belligerence was worse.
“You know what would be good right now?”
This I heard from some unseen face in the crowded cell.
There was laughter. Compliance I supposed with the mentality that surrounded us. No one wanted to be thought of than less than a man.
From that cell we were ushered into a hallway, from that hallway down another hallway, and from that hallway down some stairs to yet another hallway where we again were ushered into a cell. This cell was longer and more spacious than the one before and we could breathe. This did not take away from the interminability.
And then they ushered us into a new room with pew-like benches. Then they showed us a video. A video describing our rights. It seemed similar to videos I had seen in elementary school, videos describing the dangers of unprotected sex and smoking. That was the nature of the video. I watched it appalled, realizing this was my introduction into the legal system. Then I realized I had to take a shit.
If you have ever been drunk, and you have ever been hung over, then you recognize the necessity brought on by the post-drunk shit fermenting in your bowels.
I had to shit.
And there was nothing for it.
There was a bathroom at the back of the room. I went. I had little choice. Did I mention I was handcuffed? I do not remember at which point they handcuffed us, but I was handcuffed then, and I took the first shit of my life while handcuffed, and I cleaned myself, though I will not describe that process.
When I came out of that bathroom, aware of the feat which I had just accomplished, the rest of my fellow prisoners had moved into the courtroom.
Hours. The arraignment took hours. I kept looking at the clock, wondering if there was any way I could make it out in time to make it to work. I was assuming they would let me go. There is no telling how many indictments I listened to as I sat still handcuffed in the still pew-like seating of the courtroom, where the accused were separated from the rest of the proceedings by a wall that was mostly glass.
One man was accused of attempted rape. Another was accused of driving his car drunk onto a sidewalk where he hit a light pole. Then he ran from the wreck and called the police, attempting to claim his car had been stolen. Another man was accused of violence toward his girlfriend brought on by alcohol.
I listened and observed all of this, hearing potential sentences and beginning to fear mine might not be as light as I first believed. My foreboding grew.
Then it was my turn.
Trevor O’Hara is a lifelong writer who was raised in Anchorage, AK where he earned his degree in English Literature at the University of Alaska Anchorage. UAA is also where he met and befriended other founding members of the Anchorage-based writers group, The Life Partners. Trevor finds himself currently in the area of Seattle, WA and though he maintains professional aspirations toward the field of education, he will never cease to write and create.