by Jaki Thomas
I’ve been thinking for the last few years that I’m pretty tough. After all, I live in the heart of Chicago, in a tough southside neighborhood. I come from the “wild wild hunnids.” I work on the westside, near one of the few remaining projects.
If I can navigate my life, I have to be tough. Right? I am about that life. I thought.
Well, life gave me a reality check last week.
I was driving home. I had stopped to pick up my son from volleyball practice, and he was still in his uniform(a bright yellow tee and maroon shorts). We headed through an Englewood neighborhood, chatting about his day, and I made a right turn onto Halsted.
Flashing lights. I was positive it wasn’t for me. Positive…. And wrong.
The officer peered down at me. “Ma’am, why are you going so fast?” I know I wasn’t speeding, and I was dumb enough to say so. “Are you trying to argue with me?” Quickly, I corrected myself. Of course I wouldn’t argue with the police officer that is leaning into my car. “You took that turn fast,” she says. “And you didn’t signal.”
Didn’t signal?! I was pretty sure I had signaled, but I had learned my lesson already about denying the errors of this cop. “Lemme see you license.” I pass her what I think is my license. Wrong. She quickly tells me that’s a state ID. My heart stops because it’s all I’ve got.
And then she asks for my insurance. My son goes into the glove box to search for the insurance. I’ve got proof of insurance going all the way back to 2008…but I know he’s not going to find my current proof of insurance. I know because I’m certain that my insurance expired the day before, and my new card is still in the mail.
The officer goes to run my information, to prove I have a license while we look for the insurance that isn’t there, and I tell my son that I’m going to jail.
I’m right. The officer comes back with the news that my license is expired. And we have no proof of insurance. And, by the way, did you know your sticker on your plates expired? As a favor to me, she’s not going to impound the car, but we’ll have to go to the station so someone can pick us up.
My relief is short-lived. We’re going to the station in the back of the police car. My son gives me the look reserved for parents when their child has proven to be a huge disappointment. I hang my head and refuse to meet his eyes as we are both frisked and asked questions like “do you have something in your pocket that can stick me?” and “do either of you have weed?” I know he’s still staring at me, but I refuse to look.
Our ride to the station is quick, with the officer telling me I can call someone to come get me, but continuing to keep up a steady stream of conversation so I cannot make the call. When we arrive at the station, the officer’s partner tells me, apologetically, that he’s going to have to handcuff me. Let me tell you, they aren’t like the handcuffs you play with. They’re heavy with no wiggle room. My son gives me the look again.
I’m hauled inside, to a back room where there are actual criminals. One looks me up and down and shakes his head. Although he is handcuffed to a wall (like I am about to be), he disapproves of me. I look down and realize that I don’t fit in. I’m the only female on the side of the room with the criminals, and I’m still dressed like a schoolteacher. He continues to stare at everything, from my long cardigan to my comfortable Sketchers for Work.
I am distracted from his staring by the fact that I’m now handcuffed to a wall and sitting in a chair that is fixed to the floor. I can’t get comfortable, and I’m sure this is by design. The officers tell me it will only take fifteen minutes for them to fill out my tickets. This is a lie. I’m chained to the wall for more than an hour while she writes out four tickets.
While I’m chained there, I watch The First 48 play out all around me. In the interview room behind me, they tell the man that he’s not allowed to have more than one pair of pants when they take him to 26th Street, so he will need to remove his extra pants. And the pants hit the floor behind me. First one pair. Then another. And another. I can’t figure out for the life of me why he’s wearing so many pants or what in the world happened that it would be a rule that you can only wear one pair of pants. Then they tell him he has one shot to get his story in because they’re over in the other room talking to the other man that came in with him (they weren’t though). This man was down to a tank and a pair of shorts while they cataloged what had to be a hundred tattoos.
Over the intercom: Does someone have a Thomas back there? I hang my head. I know what that means. My mother has arrived. Ticket writing is delayed while the officer goes to talk to my mother. She has brought my goofy brother, who tells her they are there to break me out. I’m glad she thought it was funny.
I wasn’t fingerprinted, my rights weren’t read to me, and I wasn’t put in a cell, but my brief time in jail has led me to the conclusion that I’m really not about that life. I know if they had put me in a cell, I’d have cried for my mommy and gotten a beat down from my future prisonwife Big Bertha.
I’ve seen all of the big house I plan to see.by