This one may be a bit long, so grab a cup of coffee and settle in. I’m not sure how I feel about writing this, it’s a bit personal and embarrassing to an extent. I think it may help someone else that finds themselves in this situation, so I’ve decided to go ahead with it.
Previously in my life I truly believed that this could never happen to me. I don’t break the law, I’m respectful of the Police and generally don’t live a lifestyle that puts me in situations where I have to deal with these sort of things. Well, it did happen to me and I am not alone. Everyday, throughout our country, innocent people are arrested and incarcerated for crimes that they did not commit. It happened to me. I want to share my experience with you. Hopefully, none of you will ever have to deal with this situation, but that is what this site is about; being ready for life when things go sideways. If I’m going to share my experiences with you all, I’m going to have to be honest and real. I have to share the good with the bad. This whole ordeal consumed over a year of my life, put me in tremendous debt, embarrassed me and taught me a lot about myself and what kind of man I am.
A few years ago, after my marriage ended, I became involved with a much younger woman. While she was quite a looker, there were many red flags I chose to ignore that I wish I would have paid more attention to. She was, what in Mississippi would be referred to as a “Tree Climber”. A “Tree Climber” is someone that would rather climb a tree to tell you a lie, than stand on the ground and tell you the truth. Don’t misunderstand, she wasn’t a good liar, she just did it all the time. Mostly about totally inconsequential, stupid things. It was like a bad habit that she couldn’t stop. When she stole money out of my account and asked me to move out of my house and leave her with all of the furniture, I decided that enough was enough (smart guy, huh?).
Now that I’ve sort of “set the stage”, let’s get to the real subject of this article…
I’m sitting at work talking to my employees one day and in walk a couple of police officers. I figured that an employee may have gotten into some trouble or something, so When they asked to speak to me I gave it no real thought whatsoever. Once we entered my office to “talk”, I was told to, “turn around and put your hands behind your back”. At this point, I thought that one of my co-workers may be playing a practical joke on me (if you knew them, you would understand how strong of a possibility this really was). My response was, “Yeah right, what for?” The officer told me not to play stupid and that I knew why they were there. I tried to explain that I had no idea what he was talking about, but it was clear that this was no joke, so I complied with his request and assumed that there was some sort of misunderstanding that would be figured out soon enough. As he placed me in handcuffs, he told me that I was under arrest for “Aggravated Battery of a Household Member”. I was absolutely stunned! Anyone that knows me would know that this is one thing that I would never be involved with. I asked him what the hell he was talking about and his response was, “you did quite a number on your old lady’s eye”. I explained that I had been at work since 8:00 am, on camera continuously, and that I spoke to her for approximately 3 minutes before leaving the house to tell her that she had until the following Monday to move out or to start paying rent until she could find a place, because our relationship was over. The officer was not interested in the fact that maybe she had lied to him or (as I found out later) that she reported the crime around 11:30 am and claimed that it had happened about an hour previous to her calling them (which could have been disproved right then and there). At this point I was walked out of my place of employment, in handcuffs, and taken to the Police Department for some paperwork.
I was still of the opinion that they would take a statement from me and I would be released due to the facts that: #1) I didn’t do it and #2) there was no evidence that any crime had occurred. I was incorrect. The officer locked me in a holding cell while he did some paperwork, then brought me out and photographed my hands and shirtless torso (neither of which had any marks that would show that I had been involved in any type of physical altercation). After he finished, it was off to the County Jail! At no time, was I asked if I did this or for any kind of statement (something that completely puzzled me at the time) regarding what had gone on that morning.
Upon my arrival at the County Jail, I was booked, made to shower in the presence of two Correctional Officers (referred to hereafter as CO’s) and asked a few questions regarding my health, mental state and whether or not any of my family members were in Law Enforcement. I told them that other than being a little confused, I was fine and that yes, I had family members in Law Enforcement. They asked me what family members and I ran down the list (none of which are my Mother, which becomes important later). I was then placed in a cell in the Protective Custody pod. This was a Saturday, so I figured I would be arraigned on Monday and be released. Again, I was dead wrong. I called my Father and told him what was going on. He wanted to bail me out immediately ($10,000 Cash Only), but I refused. After all, I had not done anything and I figured I would be OR’d or at least the bail reduced on Monday, so why give them that much money?
The weekend in PC, was fairly uneventful. The only contact with other inmates was as you walked by to get your meal, make phone calls and to shower. Only one inmate at a time was allowed out of their cell, so contact was very minimal. The only issue to really contend with was boredom. I occupied my time working out (push ups, burpees, etc.) and watching whatever was on the TV outside my cell. There was reading material available, but the lighting was so poor and I wasn’t given my glasses, so that wasn’t an option for me there.
On Monday morning a CO came to my cell and escorted me to an office full of CO’s. The Lieutenant or Captain (I don’t remember) asked me who Linda Higginbotham was to me. I said, “My Mother”. He then asked me her date of birth and I told him. He then informed me that I was incorrect. I assured him that I was not, but he wasn’t having it. At this point, all I could think of was that someone had told my Mother that I was there and that she had been calling them. (My Mother is an amazing and wonderful woman that has always loved me whether I deserved it or not. It was not uncommon for her to call and check on me when I was in the Marine Corps if I didn’t call frequently enough, so I just figured this was the case here. Instead of being embarrassed by the fact that I am perpetually a 10 year old boy in my Mother’s eyes that she needs to look after, I am thankful that I have someone like her. A lot of people don’t and I am grateful everyday). As it turns out, there was a high ranking CO with the same name and they accused me of trying to exploit that to get better treatment. So this guy looks at me and says, “We’re gonna put you in General Population with everyone else, Smartass, and if I were you, I wouldn’t talk about my family”. I realized that he was trying to get a reaction from me, so I gave him none and walked out with the CO that brought me in there. He walked me straight to my new home which was set up like a squad bay in the Marine Corps, just a bunch of racks lined up.
My only expectations of what was going to happen to me were based on movies and television shows. I thought I would walk in and be taunted by the other inmates, maybe spit on good stuff like that. Instead what I got was several inmates chanting, “Shower” at me. I thought maybe this was supposed to be some kind of sexual thing or maybe that’s where other inmates “discipline” each other. Turns out, nobody wants to live in close quarters like that and smell someone else’s stinky ass. I was assigned a rack and began to make the bed when I looked up at the guy across from me and saw that he had an Eagle, Globe and Anchor tattoo on his arm. I asked him when and with whom he served and we chatted for a minute while I tended to my rack. So far, so good. At least there was another Jarhead for me to pass the time with, if nothing else. Shortly after this they announced that they were bringing in lunch. Everyone lined up, picked up their tray and sat at the stainless steel tables in the middle of the pod. Seems simple enough. So I grab a tray and grab a open seat. The guy sitting across from me didn’t even look up at me, he just said, “get up”. Now, I’m still going off of movies and TV here, so I figure this is some type of “test” of my manhood. So I answered, “Come again?”. He told me, “Get up. That’s not your seat, it belongs to someone else”. I replied, “Looks like mine now”. He just shook his head and kept eating. Then this very large tribal guy stands over me and says, “You’re in my seat”. My thoughts at this point were, “Shit, this is the fucker I’ve got to fight!?!”. I can hold my own and have a lot of training, but this MF was big and did not look like he couldn’t handle himself. So I responded, “Looks like it’s mine now”. He looked intently at me and asked me if I worked for the local tribe. I said, “I did until they brought me over here”. He then said, “Come over here (indicating the back of the pod), I want to talk to you”. My thought was, “Here we go!” and I followed him. He asked me if I knew one of the tribal members and I told him I did. He then told me that she was his Mother and that he had seen me at her house to celebrate their Feast Day. Turns out that he and his Mother liked me and felt that I was very respectful of their culture, so he gave me a rundown of how things work in there (Note: You never know when treating someone as you would like to be treated will come back to you). I was supposed to sit by my rack and eat until I was invited by the other white guys to join them. Apparently, Tribal members ate with each other, Hispanics ate with each other and Whites ate with each other (I only saw three Black guys while I was there. One was in PC, the other two were there for a few days each and hung out with the Whites. (Something that you wouldn’t have thought based on movies and TV). While we were having this discussion, the Marine I met earlier and a couple other guys walked up and said, “Come on over and eat with us. We have a seat for you.” They proceeded to tell me some of the other “rules” of the pod. The outside toilets were the only toilets for pissing, the inside ones were for sitting down and nobody wants to sit in anyone else’s piss. Don’t stare at people in the shower. Keep yourself and anything you use (sinks, tables, etc) clean. If anything happens, you’re with the Whites (the term “Peckerwood” seemed to be interchangeable with White) no matter what. You can play cards, dominoes or handball with the others, but you eat with your own and stick to your own if there are any disagreements. Don’t “give” anyone anything and don’t take anything without compensation. Don’t be a problem for the COs, but don’t be friendly with them either.
Now that I had been through “orientation” I felt a little more comfortable, but I was still way out of my element. Unlike a lot of the inmates I had money on me when I was arrested and was able to purchase items from the Commissary. Drawing on my background in Supply from the Marine Corps, I decided that I would be in a better position to settle any disputes if I had items to barter with, so I purchased a shit ton of tobacco (you were allowed only their “roll your own” cigarettes), instant coffee and Top Ramen. These were luxury items that a lot of guys couldn’t afford, so they would barter for them. Plus, if I was removed to another pod due to any trouble with other inmates, they would lose the ability to get them. I felt that that alone may keep me from any unnecessary altercations, that was the first thing I got right in there! Everyone pretty much tried to stay congenial with me just in case they needed to trade with me. Now, if I had appeared to be weak and unwilling to stand up for myself, I’m sure someone would have just taken the stuff from me, but I’ve never really projected that image to people so it wasn’t an issue.
I’d like to say that I never had any issues that led to physical confrontations, but that wouldn’t be true. I tried at all costs to avoid any altercations and maintain a persona of someone that would not hesitate to get physical. Unfortunately, not everyone in jail is particularly bright. I did not want to catch any charges for anything while in there for two reasons: 1) I didn’t need the legal hassle and 2) if I was involved in a violent act inside, it could very well hurt me in my current case. With that being said, I was unable to totally avoid these situations. Basically, if there was physical contact, it was done away from the CO’s and it was done QUICKLY! That’s how I handled my issues. Not because I was told to do it that way, but out of instinct and a sense of self preservation. All I can really say or recommend is that if you find yourself in a situation like this, the worst things you can do is hesitate and/ or treat it like a sporting event. The first one makes you appear weak in a place where weakness is exploited every minute of every day and the second one will get you caught and charged. It’s better to catch a charge than a beating, but if you can end it fast and leave the area, chances are no one, including the other party, are going to cooperate with the CO’s investigation.
I was in there a little over a month before my bail was reduced and I was able to leave (so it was not like a weekend in the “drunk tank”, nor was it like time in the penitentiary) and another year of court dates, etc to get the matter dismissed and the truth out. That doesn’t make me an expert, and I’m sure that every jail is a little different. I’m just sharing my experience and what I feel helped me to get through it in one piece and even stronger afterwards.
The following things are what I feel helped me to come out of this whole mess:
1) Attitude. I never let my situation bring me down, I refused to surrender my integrity, my dignity or my self-esteem and give up. I stayed true to who I am.
2) My Family and Friends. I would only speak to my Father and one local friend while I was inside. They supported me 100% and believed that I was innocent from jump street, never once entertaining the thought that I could have done what I was accused of. I knew that if I spoke to my Mother, my ex-Wife or my Daughter I would have become emotional and I didn’t feel that was the best way to get through this. My Father communicated with everyone else for me and let me know each time we spoke that everyone was behind me. The love, concern and prayers from the people I care about most is what enabled me to maintain a positive outlook through this whole thing. I owe them a debt that I can never hope to repay.
3) The Ability to Shut the Fuck Up and Listen! Instead of walking in there talking shit and trying to prove I was a tough guy. I kept pretty much to myself and paid attention to who was who and what was expected by the inmates as well as the CO’s.
4) Minding My Own Business. I did not get involved in other people’s drama. I didn’t interject myself into anything that didn’t involve me. I think this earned more respect from the other inmates than anything else. I never had anything to say about anyone else and because I didn’t participate in the drama, I had nothing to say to the CO’s when they were investigating something. In short, no matter what went on around me, I never “snitched” on anyone. I dealt with my shit and no one else’s.
5) Kilvinski’s Law. Some of my LEO friends are probably familiar with this term. In Joseph Wambaugh’s novel, “The New Centurians”, the veteran officer (Kilvinski) teaches his rookie partner this gem, “Be civil to all, courteous to none”. This applied to inmates and CO’s alike. I was never an asshole to anyone, but I wasn’t friendly either. This avoids any misunderstandings that you may be friends or on anyone’s particular side.
6) Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. I learned this as a young Marine and have always kept this mantra first and foremost in my mind when I’m faced with any difficult situation. I had to Improvise and come up with a way to present myself as someone that would not be victimized, yet also not get into a position where I could catch another charge. I had to Adapt to a very foreign environment as well as becoming comfortable with people that I normally would not be spending this much time with. I had to overcome every obstacle that our (while better than most) less than perfect Justice system threw at me.
7) Self Control. I kept ALL of my emotions under control. I refused to show fear (yeah, there were times I was scared), sadness, frustration, anger or disgust. I believe that being able to maintain my composure no matter what was going on earned me respect from inmates and CO’s.
8) Don’t Talk Continuously About Your Case. EVERYONE there has their own shit to deal with. If you’re not asked, shut up. No one wants to hear someone bitching an whining about his problems while they are dealing with their own (this includes me, it was one of my biggest pet peeves in there). (Oddly enough, the other inmates recognized that I was innocent right away. They know who the other criminals were and they knew that I was different from them. Not one cop even entertained the thought that I might be innocent. One female CO did, in all fairness, ask me about my case and said, “You didn’t do it. Did you? You don’t belong here.”)
9) No Favors. Do nothing without something in return and don’t accept anything from anyone without giving something in return. Almost every confrontation I saw in there involved someone feeling that someone else owed them something. Avoid that bullshit and just do without if you can’t pay someone back.
10) Keeping My Sense of Humor. While jail was not my choice of where to spend my time, I managed to keep my sense of humor throughout the whole thing. Laughing relieves stress and there was a lot of stress involved in this whole process. I maintained the ability to see humor in my circumstances as well as the ability to laugh at myself and recognize the funny in things that were going on around me. Having a twisted sense as humor like I do probably helped quite a bit.
I sincerely hope that none of you ever find yourselves in a similar situation. If you do, though, I hope that some of these things help you to get through it with the minimum of damage and please: HIRE A GOOD LAWYER, it made all the difference in the world in my case!
The charges in my case were dropped. The woman that did this to me was afraid of facing charges herself and wrote an affidavit/ confession of what really happened. While I am grateful that she did the right thing in the end, I know that she did it solely for her own interest. As it turns out, her and her new boyfriend wanted to start a new life together and decided that this was the best way to get me out of the picture and keep my possessions. It’s all over and has been for 2 years or so, except for the debts incurred (still working on that). Be careful of the people you let into your life. I have always been diligent in this area, but this time I let my guard down and paid dearly for it!