Sunday, March 13, 2011

My First Offense

Someone close to me once said that I'm "always doing the right thing, the wrong way." A truer sentiment about my character has never been spoken, especially when you consider a project I tried to start last November.

This "project," if it can be called that, involved me going to large corporate stores during the busy holiday season, stealing toys, and donating them to charities that help children in need. I called it "Retail Robin Hood," and while I won't give the details of my previous escapades for fear of what could possibly happen if they fell into the wrong hands, I do feel safe talking about the time I was caught.

Aside #1: I can't tell people to do what I did, but if you do try it, let me know how it goes.

It was late in November, and on a whim one morning, I'd decided to go to a Wal-Mart not far from the apartment I was living in to see what I could get away with getting away with. Like an idiot, I deviated from my usual fool-proof methods (avoiding cameras and people and quickly putting things in the messanger bag I'd brought in), and decided to try something new. Walking by the electronics department, I picked up a discarded shopping bag and put it in the cart I was pushing. After that, it was more of the usual, with me filling up the shopping bag with the items I'd planned to steal.

But apparently, around this time, I'd caught the attention of an plainclothes loss prevention employee. Just as I was walking out, he approached me, and asked me for proof that I'd bought the items in the bag.

Naturally, I had none, and started freaking out, telling him to "get away from me," and that he had "no right" to approach me like that, never stopping walking.

Aside #2: Totally grasping at straws, here. I wish I could say that I was calm and collected, but I was nowhere near it. I panic easy.

I suppose me not having a car threw him for a loop, because he eventually stopped following me, and I started running. Hiding in an adjecent parking lot, I put the bag of goods in my messanger bag, filling it up completely. After this, I took my sweatshirt off (because I knew he'd submit a description of me to the police, whom he'd said he was going to call), and hung it from my bag since it wouldn't fit inside.

Bad idea. Almost immediately after I'd left the parking lot, two police cars pulled up next to me, telling me that my sweatshirt matched a descrption given by the man at Wal-Mart as someone that had stolen a bag-full of things.

At this point, I realized all hope of escape was lost, admitted my theft, and was immediately put in handcuffs and read my rights. I was then put into the back of a police SUV, which took me back to Wal-Mart to tally up how much the stuff I'd stolen was worth.

Aside #3: You have not experienced embarrassment until you're caught stealing a bunch of little kid's toys from Wal-Mart. It was impossible to explain and not look like either a weirdo or an idiot.

After plenty of sitting and waiting, I was informed that everything I'd gotten away with was worth $155.60, after taxes, meaning that in the state of Texas, I'd committed a misdemeanor offense (which is over $50, less than $500).

So naturally, we went to the police station where I was fingerprinted, photographed, and essentially treated as if I was a murder suspect. I was put into a cell, where I would remain for the next few hours, sitting around with four other people whose offenses had been considerably more serious than mine and trying to sleep.

Aside #4: I take back what I said in aside #3. It's far more embarrassing to admit that you stole $150 worth of toys to a hardened criminal that is in jail for shooting someone.

Then, around midnight, we were informed that we were all going to be moved to an actual jail rather than a holding cell. We were handcuffed, legcuffed, and all waddled into the back of a transport van in the freezing weather.

One particularly bumpy ride later, we arrived at the facility, where we were split up in relation to the offense we'd committed. One of the people that had been with me since the police station, a twentysomething guy named Manuel who was in for drug possession.

Aside #5: I find it necessary to note that he was wearing a Led Zepplin shirt and had violet-tinted (prescription) glasses. He also was not talkative. At all.

The two of us were ushered into a waiting room, where we met up with another pair of offenders that had apparently been waiting for a while. Sitting down next to them (far away from Manuel, who took it upon himself to sit as far away from us as possible), they started talking to me.

This is what I learned about the both of them:

Criminal #1: Brandon
Age: 19
Appearance: Black, handsome, wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt.
Job: Worked at a gym teaching kids gymnastics.
Hobbies: Gymnastics, smoking weed.
Reason for being in jail: Punched a guy in the sternum for getting "all up in his face." Nothing else happened past this, he assured me. The person called the police on him and they came to his house and arrested him.

Criminal #2: Juan
Age: 43
Appearance: Hispanic with a lot of tattoos, most religious. Wearing khakis and a polo shirt.
Job: Cleaning pools.
Hobbies: Raising his three kids, smoking weed.
Reason for being in jail: Breaking probation by smoking weed.

The three of us sat there, whispering back and forth to one-another for a few hours while we were waiting to be processed. At one point, a kind-looking female woman in scrubs came out of an office, wrapped Manuel in a thick woolen blanket, and whisked him off to places unknown. We didn't know why.

Eventually, the three of us that remained were ushered into a small bathroom with a half-dozen individual showers. After undressing, rinsing off, and redressing in our one-piece dark blue prison jumpsuits, we each underwent physicals before being lead into a glass-walled holding cell where we had "breakfast" waiting for us.

After finishing our meal (which consisted of terrible oatmeal, a few chunks of syrup-soaked fruit, a roll and a small carton of milk with some burned coffee), Brandon became bored and decided that he wanted to practice doing backflips in our confined cell, much to Juan and I's amusement. He did three before a guard posted outside threatened to come in and "make him stop."

Luckily, before Brandon could find another apparently rule-infringing way to entertain himself, we were removed from the holding cell and taken to a small room with a televison where we were locked in and forced to watch a 15-minute long, decades-old video four times in a row before someone outside the room realized it.

Aside #6: Making fun of that video with the two of them was one of the funniest things I've ever experienced. Brandon's silly, naive sense of humor meshed with Juan's dry, bitter sense of humor perfectly. They made a good comedic duo.

We were then lead into a series of rooms to get our cots, pillows, toothbrushes and other such things before being taken to the block and having a cell assigned to us. Splitting up for the first time in hours, we entered our respective rooms to set up our living areas.

Upon entering mine, I introduced myself to my cellmate (who was covered in gang tattoos and named "Eddie"), and we began talking about what had brought him there. He explained that he'd been cut a deal in a nonviolent robbery case, and was currently on his second day of a six-month stint he'd be serving.

This admission opened a lot of doors for us, conversationally speaking. The two of us sat side-by-side on the bottom cot for an hour, talking about the road that had brought him here and the things he had done wrong in life. He said that he'd promised his girlfriend (by whom he'd had a daughter) that he wouldn't be breaking the law anymore, and that he promised to be a better man after he got out. She'd agreed to stay with him, as long as he kept that promise. It was touching, in its own weird way.

Aside #7: Sometime during this discussion, I brought up the fact that I'd seen Manuel wrapped in a blanket and taken somewhere else. Eddie informed me that this was standard procedure for people that were at risk of harming themselves.

The two of us left the cell after our discussion, and mingled with our "neighbors." After sitting down at a table with Brandon, Juan, and a few people they'd made friends with for a little while, I noticed a small bookshelf tucked away in a corner, and decided I'd walk over and see what sorts of reading material they had in store.

To my absolute shock, I found a copy of one of my favorite books, by my all-time favorite author: "The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" by Douglas Adams. Elated, I took it back to my cell and began reading it immediately.

Two hours later, Eddie entered our cell, saying that that I'd "disappeared," and that he was "afraid someone had made [me] their bitch." Laughing, I told him that no, I'd just been excited because I'd found the book, that it was one of my favorites, and that I was sorry to have worried him like that.

Suddenly, a voice came over our cell's intercom.

"Walters, your bail's been posted by your father. Walk up to the front desk with your things," it said, before crackling into silence.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye," I said to Eddie, taking the blankets off of my cot. "Good luck over the next six months. I think you'll be fine."

"I hope so, man," he replied. "I really do."

"Here," I said, offering the book I'd been reading to him. "Read this, it'll blow your mind into a million pieces. You can thank me later."

"Oh, thanks! I was gonna check it out after you'd finished, but I guess I don't have to wait anymore," he grinned.

"Promise you'll read it?" I asked.

"Yeah, I promise," he said, still smiling.

"Alright, because if you don't, I'll come back here and kick your ass. You don't know the things I'm capable of," I joked, keeping my face as straight as possible.

He stared back at me, completely serious, before erupting in laughter and reaching out to shake my hand.

"Nice meeting you, man."

"You too, Eddie. Again, good luck out there in the real world. Don't be an idiot anymore."

And with that, I left the cell. After saying goodbye to Brandon and Juan, I left the building hoping I'd made an impact on at the people I'd met during my 24-hour stay. Because they definitely made an impact on me.

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