Looking back, this is a pretty funny story. Here’s the scene: I was 20 years old and had just been stationed at Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City, UT as Active Duty Air Force. It was my first placement as a new troop. I’d recently had a couple of my biggest chapters; I was reeling from them and trying to get a lid on my PTSD (mostly failing). Ready? Let’s do this.
My assigned dorm room was pretty pitiful, but considering what I had been through it felt like a five-star hotel. It had all the furniture I needed and one of the walls was exposed brick, a look I loved. I had been at the base for a couple weeks and had bought my first-ever car the day before. I was grief-stricken, totally confused over my surroundings and severely depressed, but that weekend, I felt on top of the world.
The vehicle I’d bought was a ’96 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and I adored it for the junker it was. I had made a few friends with other troops in the short time I was there. I had met them while driving the drinking-age troops around a few nights before. Yes, I was the DD. We had gone out to a local bowling alley; one of the guys had smiled at me from a distance. It wasn’t creepy like most guys. It was interest and genuine like. I remember two things: His eyes were a penetrating blue and when I drove all the drunken guys back to the house they were meeting at, he appeared in my backseat with the rest of the guys. Once we got back to the house, he and I started talking; his name was Brock and he seemed like a sincere, kind guy who apparently suffered from a severe heavy metal addiction. We spent the week together after duty hours just ‘hanging out’.
When the weekend hit, we went to a house party and drank heavily. I was already waking up to the fact that many new military troops were ready to anything to get laid, and considering the fact I was a young, single female, I was often the target. I had a couple close calls that night and in my foolhardiness, decided I didn’t care. Let’s zoom back in on that Saturday evening right after I bought the Jeep, where Brock and I met up to go to the same house as the night before and party again. The night before, I had drunkenly collapsed in a random bed and a few minutes later, some guy had entered the room and started to lift the blankets off me. Thankfully, another gal stepped in and kicked him out. Because of this, I decided I wouldn’t drink and come back to base once I was all partied out this time.
Boy did that not last. I sat around drinking a can of pop (yes, it’s called pop) and made every attempt to connect, but everyone was either playing beer pong or a drinking game with cards called ‘circle of death’. I decided to grab a beer and join in the game, even if I had to spend the night. I lost circle of death. Miserably, actually. As a result, I ended up drinking three beers. By this time I was more than seasoned in the drinking, drug and crime world. I considered the Air Force to be my rehab. I killed some time chatting with Brock and taking ‘celebrity shots’ at beer pong, then went out onto the porch to smoke. It was an unusually high second story structure and as I was leaning on the railing, puffing away and texting, someone bumped into me, hard. I lost my grip on my phone and it hit the wet grass below. I booked it down the steps, ran out of sight under the porch and began to search for it.
I picked up my phone and wiped it off. This was just before smartphones became a thing, and my slider phone wasn’t especially vulnerable to water damage. Nonetheless I stood there carefully wiping it with my shirt. I heard footsteps and looked up; the ridiculously tall skinny kid who had bumped into me had fit himself under the porch. He was wasted and stumbling.
Drunk kid: Hey ya wanna f***? We could do it down here.
Me: No…I just dropped my phone.
Drunk kid: Then give me head.
I went to step around his swaying frame. He moved quickly. With one hand he seized my wrist. With the other he ripped open his pants.
Drunk kid: Come’ere bitch and give me head first!
I could hear other troops above us smoking and laughing, and called out to them. They came down the steps and saw me standing there with his kid, who had with his thing out. He turned around and I hurried by him and went up the steps. As I stepped back in through the porch door I could hear the guys rounding on him. It was time for me to leave.
Let me preface this next part with two things: First, I didn’t know how to buy a car. I actually had to get on Google and teach myself the process of a private auto purchase. That said, I truly had no experience or way of knowing one had to buy insurance. Second, I purchased my happy little Jeep after business hours the previous Friday. The guy selling it told me he would keep the policy active through the weekend. Not really knowing what this met, I had just kept nodding and eagerly eyeing the keys in his hand.
I told Brock I was leaving but didn’t explain why. As I was settling myself into the driver’s seat of my Jeep, trying to slow my heart rate, an underage kid grabbed the door handle to my passenger side and jumped in, wanting to go back to his dorm room on base. He’d had enough too. We took off.
It was a misty night, and the headlights on my old Jeep weren’t making the cut. I flipped the high beams on and we agreed to stop at a McDonald’s a half mile away to get food and make sure we didn’t smell like alcohol before driving on base. They always caught people as they drove through the base gates. We were rolling along and suddenly there was a swirling flash of red and blue behind us. I kid you not; we rolled to a stop directly in front of our destination: McDonald’s.
I was smoking a cigarette when the cop came up and asked for my license and registration. He had pulled me over for driving with my high beams on. I explained the headlights were very poor and then…no joke…asked the cop what insurance was. He stared at me. I asked him if he minded, then flicked my cigarette butt past him into the road. I didn’t hate cops, but after what I had been through, it didn’t even cross my mind to worry. It didn’t even occur to me that my casual behavior was so unusual for being pulled over. He looked surprised; I shrugged.
He returned to his cruiser to write me a ticket for not having insurance. The kid in my passenger seat was drunk. Feeling that the danger had passed, he was joking and singing as the cop returned to the car.
Cop: So I know you’re going to think this is really harsh but I promise I’m hooking you up right now-
He paused suddenly, looked up sharply and asked with more curiosity than anything:
Cop: Hey have you had any drinks tonight?
He glanced down at my license in his hands. Not realizing the smell of my now-extinguished cigarette had been covering the blast of alcohol coming out of my Jeep, I decided to play it cool. Heck, it was worked more often than not in the past.
Me: uh. No. I’ve been DD all night.
The cop hesitated. He was a young guy and pretty amicable at that.
Cop: Well to be sure, could you step out of the vehicle for a moment?
First, he radioed in for support (I was a 5′, 110lb gal. He totally couldn’t take me on his own). He had me follow his pen with my eyes and frowned. Next, I had to completely extend out my arms to my sides and touch the tip of my nose. Still pumping with adrenaline from my close call under the porch, I executed both tasks smoothly. Then he had me walk the line, pivot and walked back. Time and again since this I have tried, but I’ve never been able to complete this perfectly sober. Coordination is something that has never made my list of skills. I lost my limited balance and stumbled during the pivot.
He asked me to step over to his cruiser. He got out the breathalyzer and held it in front of me. At this point a female cop had also arrived at the scene and I could hear more pulling up. I guess there was nowhere else to be that night.
Cop: Ok last chance; have you had anything to drink tonight?
Me: Ok fine. You got me. I had a couple beers.
With that I puffed into the breathalyzer, scoring a 0.04. I raised an eyebrow. Not bad considering I had three drinks.
I must explain: I wasn’t thinking about my Air Force career at this point. I was thinking about fighting off gangs, trafficking, street fighting; compared to that, I felt totally safe. Even though I knew I was in trouble, compared to everything I’d seen and survived, this was about as adorable as getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar.
They told me my rights and cuffed me behind my back. I was sporting a small little satchel purse. The female cop frisked me. When she jammed her hands up into my bra, the flashbacks rolled in. I hadn’t been expecting it and I gasped a little. She removed my ankle knife, then my belt knife and even found the penknife I had in my hair. She found the last one on a chain around my neck and gave me an incredulous but slightly kind and concerned look. I knew she was wondering why a young girl like me would feel the need to be armed to the teeth.
For the strangest reason, she didn’t look in my little satchel purse. I started laughing; why search someone so thoroughly yet leave the most dangerous spot unsearched? The kid in my passenger seat had also failed his breathalyzer test and was cuffed as well. As we sat in the back of the police cruiser, more cops arrived. Didn’t these guys have anything for interesting to do?! They were standing in a circle (roughly ten of them), chatting and catching up.
It suddenly occurred to me that I ought to call my supervisor and tell him I was going to jail. I had always been incredibly flexible; with my hands cuffed behind me I reached into my satchel, grabbed my phone and selected his number. I was glad I had him on speed dial. When I heard it ring, I twisted my arms up next to my right ear. He answered sleepily.
Sgt. Supervisor: Muuuuuh?
Me: Hey I just got arrested for drinking and driving. I’m underage but not drunk.
Sgt Supervisor: Muuuuuuh not funny.
Me: I’m not kidding. I’m out in Syracuse and I’m not sure which jail I’m-
I lost my sweaty grip on the phone and my shoulders suddenly snapped back into socket. The phone went flying underneath the passenger’s seat. With the call still connected and the police radio blaring, I figured he would gather that it really wasn’t a joke. I was a model troop and he had been excited to have me because I was a strong candidate for early promotion. Still, it should be proof enough. I had to coordinate with the kid next to me to get my phone. Still cuffed, I had to reach out behind my back, lying face up on his lap to get it. The moment my hand closed around my phone, the call disconnected and the door on my side was ripped open by a cop.
Cop: You are NOT giving head in my car!
Me: Relax. I was just talking to my supervisor to let him know and I dropped my phone.
The cop seized me and pulled me back out of the cruiser, leading me to stand in his circle of cop friends.
Cop: She says she was on the phone. (To me:) You’re CUFFED. You can’t talk on the phone.
Me: Huh? Sure I can.
To demonstrate, I popped my left shoulder out of socket and brought it up against my ear in exactly the same way I had before. The reaction was both hilarious and instantaneous: Several doubled over, completely sick. All of them groaned in shock. Though it wasn’t what I intended it was a moment where I was the one in control. I started laughing. The cop, sick of my antics, stuffed me back into the cruiser, got inside and started driving us to the local jail. I was already in trouble, so I kept my roll going a little longer.
Me: Hey Officer. What did the drunk driver say to the officer from the back of the car?
He was not amused. I have very tiny wrists and I slid out of the cuffs to ease my discomfort as we pulled into the jail. When we parked and the cop came around to pull me out of the car, I tried to slip them back on but I couldn’t fit my hand through. I imagine as a rookie cop, this really peeved him. He had made the new guy mistake of not cuffing me carefully, and his ego was hurt. He roughly re-cuffed me and cinched the cuffs tightly. I grimaced but didn’t let anyone see it.
He left us at a processing desk. During our walk from underground secure parking to the desk I had lost the feeling in my hands. Someone removed my satchel. My hands were sliding out of joint and the pain was intense. I started making a huge fuss and refusing to cooperate until my cuffs were loosened. Of course, I also urgently needed to use the bathroom at this point so I included that in the loud stink I was making.
A female cop came up behind me and I her her intake of breath as she saw how tightly the other guy had cuffed me. She kept her tough ‘tude on but loosened the grip and led me to the bathroom. Apparently they’re required to watch if you have to go before you’re processed.
At this point in my life I had gone from being incredibly awkward to more charming than I really care to admit. I got her to tell me about the time they had arrested a guy dressed in garbage bags and had to force him to shower to get all the fecal matter off him. Once I was done with the bathroom I was led to an interrogation stall. I sat back and said I wasn’t willing to say anything without legal representation. I was very familiar with this process and knew how to handle myself. This arrest was for so much less than I had previously been taken in for that for me it was pretty casual. On the other side of the divider I could hear the kid who was with me telling his interrogator everything. What a new guy. I smirked.
They led me into the standard waiting room. Just beyond that was a mugshot photo booth. They gave me a card to hold and right before they snapped my shot, I struck a pose. The cop behind the camera was annoyed. They tried again….and again…and finally just snapped a photo while I was off guard. I have looked online numerous times for the photo but always without success.
I was seated in the plastic chairs in the waiting area. There was a TV with the news blaring. Looking around the plastic seating area I saw only the underage kid and two other people. I ended up charming and goofing off with the cops located in the raised area, watching over us. I don’t remember much about the guy that was there with us but I remember the woman. She was dressed in her Hello Kitty pajamas. She looked roughly 30-40 years old and had a crazy look in her eyes, so I avoided her. It felt like forever but roughly two hours later we were led into cells. I know my supervisor was already on the move to come get me so when the crazy-eyed pajama lady was also led into my cell, I was annoyed. She sat with her knees curled up to her chest on the far end of the single metal bench we had. There was a toilet as well but neither hell nor high water would get me to drop my jeans with this lady twitching in front of me. I didn’t question why she was there or what her past was like. Then she started squawking. Shortly thereafter, it turned to screaming. The guards rushed in and hustled her out. I have no idea what happened to her.
I lay on the bench. The lights were blasting down on top of me so I covered my face to sleep. The PA system blared in my cell, telling me I couldn’t hide my face from the camera. Finally I fell asleep. When I woke, long term inmates were slugging breakfast trays into each cell. If I have any advice on jail food: The oatmeal is delicious but STAY AWAY from the eggs. I didn’t think it was possible but they were even worse than the eggs in basic training. I dozed on and off for several hours after breakfast until someone clanged on my door. I really wish they’d at least have let me rest a few hours longer.
Since for some insane reason I had a LONG arrest record but no convictions, they had to let me go without bail as long as I blew zeroes (this means having no alcohol blow into a breathalyzer). I stuck my hands out of the door for cuffs and strode with the new shift officer to the interrogation stalls again. I blew zeroes. Apparently my supervisor had arrived at the jail just then; I strode out of the jail and joined him in his Mazda.
I was so tired that we didn’t have conversation on the way back to the base. He was in trouble, as was I, but we both knew it and didn’t find it worth dwelling on. He dropped me off at my dorm. I pulled the blinds and tumbled into bed. Man did I sleep well. I woke up to my phone ringing. It was Brock. No one had heard from me since I had left the night before. I didn’t have to tell him; he had figured out what had happened. I had imagined the first question would be if I had ratted anyone out, but he asked if I was ok. I told him yes and that I hadn’t given any information. He sounded relieved but more preoccupied with my situation. We both knew I probably had to meet with my commander (a pretty scary guy) and that in itself equaled total dread.
THREE WEEKS LATER
I wasn’t allowed to drive on base for a year. The good news was that not only had I sold my Jeep, but I had upsold it and made an instant $500 to my new supervisor. I had been transferred from my missile workshop to a trailer maintenance shop. I could live with that, but on this particular day I had my court date. My former supervisor (since I had been moved) and I rode mostly in silence to the courthouse. Thankfully, he hadn’t been chewed out the way we both worried he would be. After about 15 minutes we arrived and entered the court room.
I had always dodged the law; it had never come to a court date. I was nervous. Glancing around I saw people of all types. There was a Sgt in service dress uniform. In my civvies, I felt disdain. This joker was using the uniform to soften his sentence. Even then, like everyone else, he pleaded not guilty. There was a handicapped guy who couldn’t pay the rent for the millionth time, and then my name was called.
I have always been afraid of audiences and I had quite a large one behind me as I stood before the judge. He presented me with three misdemeanor charges. After all my years of conning, lying and and beating the system I was exhausted. As he asked me to present a plea to the first charge, I was standing at attention at the microphone, my plan dissolved before the screen in my eyes and I answered honestly and with relief:
He read the nest charge and asked me how I pled.
And then the last charge.
To this day I don’t regret answering my charges this way. To answer as “No Contest” felt just as dishonest as claiming innocence; I had done everything the judge asked if I did and no matter the punishment, my integrity was intact for once.
I was led into a small conference room after my pleas and sentencing. I was to serve a YEAR long suspension of my license, pay several thousand in fines and attend an alcoholism class at my own expense. I could be ok with that; after all, I had been homeless. I had a bicycle and could more than easily get myself to and from work (if I couldn’t coax one of the doting guys I had met on base).
11 MONTHS LATER
I dug through all my personal files, gathering everything that the DMV website said I would need to get my license reinstated. Once I had hit six months of my license being suspended I had all but lost my mind. It was past time. I was taking a rare day of leave to get my license back. In excitement, I had already bought my next car. It was a pretty new Volkswagen GTI and I was STOKED to drive it. My buddy (Bill again) was taking me the very next day to get my UT driver’s license. As I flipped through the UT DMV website I came across a notice in red print.
Apparently, My suspension had been commuted during a statewide policy to six months. Twelve months into my sentence, I read it for the first time.
Life can be rough sometimes I guess. I definitely smacked my head and mourned over 6 months of unnecessary suspension.