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Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Assignment, Part 3

Mike Runner is my Sunday Guest Contributor, and he brings a perspective to Wings Like Eagles that is unique and challenging. 

I normally cover topics relating to the horror of having someone else bring darkness into the home.  Mike covers the same topics, but from a completely different angle.  He was the one who brought darkness to his family.  Mike is an alcoholic.

It is my hope that the perception of what we think we know about Family Crisis is shaken up a bit.  Because there is far more involved than we think.  Much can be understood by examining the other side, and I deeply appreciate Mike's willingness to help us gain understanding as he shares with us the mind as it is affected by alcoholism.

He isn't just an alcoholic.  He is an intelligent mind, has a bright, hopeful future, and he is my friend.  And this is his story.

The conclusion to On Assignment will be next week.   I expected to finish it this week but it turns out that adequately explaining my jail experience takes far more than 900 words.

Before I continue my story about my fascinating and wonderful retreat in county jail, I realize it has been a couple of posts since I have put up a joke.  You know you might be an alcoholic if:
  1. You think the pill bottle warning that says, “Alcohol may intensify the effect” is a serving suggestion.
  2. The doorman asks for your ID just to see how long it will take you to find your pants.
  3. The producers of the TV show “Cops” send you Christmas cards.
  4. Vampires get woozy and fall down after biting you.

If there is recovery, and true recovery involves more than not drinking, I promise you that you and your family will laugh again someday.  A day after this column comes out, I will be at a different jail finding out if I am going to do work off of a jail bus on the side of freeways every weekend for about a year and a half, or if I will be put on house arrest. 

My circumstances are rather trying right now, but I still can laugh and would never trade my current situation for the helplessness and fear I continuously lived in as my condition progressed.  I am fully human again in contrast to the hollow mannequin I had become.

I have been blessed in the last few weeks to have heard both first and second hand from some alcoholics or potential alcoholics and their families.  It takes a lot of courage to admit that your way is not working.  It is humbling to face the fact that you no longer control your drinking, but that your drinking controls you.  It is difficult to say that your life has become the definition of insanity.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I said in my second column that people have often told me I don’t look like an alcoholic.  The stereotype of an alcoholic on the curb with the brown bag could have been me, but I was more fortunate than some.  It might well be me if I ever return to the bottle.

After being a veteran of about a half dozen trips to jail over the years before my extended stay, many people have told me that I don’t look like I have been in jail.  Looks can be deceiving.

If you spend the night in jail because you are drunk, you will start in the “sobering up” cell.  No benches, just a very hard concrete floor with a toilet in the back corner.  You pass out or sleep there and are later taken to a holding cell.  I remember the floor being particularly cold in late November when I had the interesting experience of spending the day and night in jail on Thanksgiving some years back.  1 slice of bologna on dry bread on Thanksgiving is a bit of a letdown when you were thinking of turkey and stuffing.  That’s a teaser for a story I will tell at a later date.

My first stop was turning myself in to the court in Chino, California.  Up I went with my attorney, fully surrendered, and I had to sit to the side of the courtroom for about a half hour, wearing the handcuffs the bailiff tightened around my wrists.

It sounds strange, but though extremely uncomfortable, I liked this part of the experience, which I knew was coming.  The court room is always very crowded.  I think that it was extremely healthy for people who were in court for the first time to see someone put in handcuffs and then eventually taken away by a sheriff through the back door.  Hopefully the show caused some people who were in court for the first time to realize that they didn’t want to be in my shoes.

I was then taken to a cell in the back of the courthouse and waited for the jail van to pick me up.  They shackled me to another prisoner for the ride which was a new experience for me.  It was a tad awkward as the other guy wasn’t particularly in the mood to have a discussion.  There were 8 of us in the van and eventually we were dropped off at West Valley Detention Center and pushed along by deputies and into holding cells.

Holding cells are particularly horrid but I knew what to expect as I had been there a number of times before.  When full, and they usually are, there are about 20 people in a holding cell.  The benches seat 7 or 8 people so when you come in you are usually stuck standing or sitting on the floor.  The single cold steel toilet again sits in the corner, this time behind a tiny waste high wall.  Going to the bathroom in a crowd is always fun.

People are in the holding cells for all sorts of crimes.  Alcohol and drugs, domestic violence, physical violence such as stabbing someone, gang activity, etc.  The people who are regulars are usually friendly enough, new people, much less so.  It is best to be careful with people until you know their story and personality.  If you offend or “disrespect” someone, you have a problem as you will be in close proximity to them for many hours. There are always at least one or two people that have either vomited on themselves, or worse urinated or defecated themselves.  You cannot change clothes so those unfortunate people sit there for hours with everyone else.  It goes without saying that things are not very sanitary and smell putrid.
It is in a holding cell that you first realize a couple of things.  Certain realities set in.  When you try to ask a deputy a question through the bars, they completely ignore you at best, yell at you or threaten you at worst.  Over the years I have seen a number of people beaten up by the deputies simply for mouthing off a little.  My first time in, I had the wonderful experience of being tackled to the ground by six deputies because I shrugged and put my palms in the air.  My face was on the floor with my armed pinned behind my back and the guy on top of me was yelling, “Do you want a piece of me?!” Perplexed, I said, “No sir.”

For the first time, you understand that you are locked in a cage and have absolutely no rights and absolutely no one cares.  You also notice that there are no clocks in jail.  I have heard that this is done purposefully because not having a sense of time is very psychologically damaging to people.  I know that was true for me.  Eventually they take your finger and palm prints, take your pictures, and do a DNA swab if you are a first timer.  My DNA has been on record for many years.

I was in holding cells from 10:30am on Tuesday until 5am on Wednesday.  It was only 19 hours, but it seemed like a number of days.  Each second goes by with great tedium and there are no windows so you don’t know if it is day or night.  Eventually, you get tired of standing and try to find a spot to lie on the floor.

Hospitals have hospital smell and holding cells have holding cell smell.  I much prefer hospital smell.  Holding cell smell reminds me a tad of opening an old container in the refrigerator that has a combination of rotting meat and mold in it and taking a big sniff.  At the same time it has kind of a dull, continuous body odor scent.  You can’t escape it and eventually you and your clothes absorb it and you become part of the smell.

When my name was called at 5am, which I only knew because I got a glimpse of an office clock, I was in new territory and didn’t know what to expect next.  I was being admitted for the first time.  It was not the usual having some sad family member pick me up the day after some debacle or catching a cab in the parking lot.

Next week:  Orange clothes, the long walk, and my time in cell block 14.           

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