Friday, March 29, 2013

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment
Arrest icon. Image copyright 2007 Abu Badali
CC 2007 by Abu badali

My family has a strained relationship with the criminal justice system.

I mean, it’s not like the justice system and my family hate each other. It’s just that, like an old married couple, their quirks are really starting to get on each other’s nerves. It’s, you know, just your typical couples stuff:

“You’re a control freak.”

“And you won’t stop defecating on police cruisers and blaming it on the K-9 unit.”

“Do you always have to be so judgmental?”

“Well, I am a judge…”

But hey, they give each other a reason to get dressed up on a Tuesday morning, so there’s still a spark there. Click the "Read More" below, to see how that spark becomes a fire.

Finding yourself in front of a judge is kind of a rite of passage in my family, as sacred as Holy Communion and losing your virginity in a smackhead's VW bus. When my cousin, Toby D, went in front of a judge at the age of 15, my uncles took him to TGI Friday's to celebrate commisserate his first arraignment.

It would not be his last. Within a few short years, he blossomed into an accomplished and prolific alleged perpetrator. He would sit with my mother and uncles, around a bar booth, and compare the amenities of the surrounding counties’ jailhouses.

“Manatee County Jail is a shithole, man. Don’t ever get arrested down there. My feet still itch from those goddamn showers.”

“Pinellas is nicer. They bleach the shit out of the showers in Pinellas. And there’s this, like, orange cleaner they use. Smells really good. Like oranges.”

“Oh yeah, oh yeah! That orange shit! I’ve been looking for that in stores. Where do they sell it?”

“I can’t find it anywhere. Next time I’m in at Pinellas, I’ll ask where they get it.”

“But you know you can’t buy cigarettes in the Pinellas commissary anymore?”

“Yeah, yeah. Same thing in Hillsborough. They wouldn’t even let me keep those cigarettes you sent for my birthday.”

“You can still smoke in Pasco jail.”

“I heard they’re trying to stop it there, too.”

“Shit, man. You can’t smoke anywhere anymore.”

“Yeah, what is this, fucking Russia?”

They have less experience with prisons, which I take to be nicer than even the most chic county jail. That's because most of the hijinks my family get into are minor drug violations and civic disturbances. Outright felonies are few and far between and, when a felony does pop up, they can usually plead it down to a misdemeanor on the grounds that the district attorney’s office is, like, crazy overworked. Oh, and they get reduced sentences through a clever loophole in Florida state law. It’s called “being white.” I think that’s maybe Latin for something?

My family’s contact with the justice system usually starts and ends with alcohol. They go out to celebrate something (e.g. “Fuck yeah, it’s Thursday!”,) get pissed drunk, then engage in a noisy brawl or, in one case, hump a fire hydrant.

Technically, I believe that the charge in that case was “molesting” a fire hydrant, but humping is the image that popped right into my head the first time I heard about it. I haven’t been able to shake that first impression since. With that impression in mind, I once calculated that, given the time it takes the police to respond to a minor disturbance call, the liaison with the hydrant must have been either tantric or dulled by alcohol. Uncle Hunter leaned in to look at me, becoming suddenly angry, and said, “It was more than one fire hydrant, smartass.”

That shut me right the hell up, not just because he had me dead to rights, but because I was terrified he might share additional details. There are some skeletons that should remain in the closet.

When a family member does something like this, and the police show up, the family member will almost invariably greet them by first name, frequently asking after their family, pets, and etc. Once the pleasantries are over, the family member and police officers will engage in a spirited debate over whether said family member ought to be arrested. Typically, the police will be for it and the family member will be against it, but there have been exceptions stemming from the family member forgetting which side he was supposed to be arguing, and/or which side is supposed to arrest the other. It must come as a shock when they win the debate by a wide margin and then find themselves being handcuffed.

Jerk Judy
Then comes a drive to the county detention facility, where the guards must share very little camaraderie with the officers, because they apparently never follow the officers’ admonition to “take good care of this one.” Uncle Curley once commented, without any apparent irony, that they “treat you like you’re a criminal.” You might think that I made a comment about that, but by this time I’d learned my lesson, and would henceforth keep my trap shut until I was about 18.

A day or two after arrest, the issue of bail money comes up. For my family, making bail depends on how my grandmother is feeling about you, and whether the bail bondsman already owns the title to your car.

Then comes the arraignment. This is usually the family member’s last contact with the courts, because by now they’ve either cut a deal or decided to plead nolo contendere (Latin for “I have a shitty lawyer.”) From there it’s either time served or 30-90 days in the county lockup, where I hear the showers are of inconsistent quality.

In any event, the sentence is up soon enough, the family member is released from jail, and everyone goes out to celebrate their freedom... by getting pissed drunk.

And the circle of life moves us all.

1 comment:

  1. Fucking Democrats. Only they would make humping a fire hydrant illegal.


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