This story is just one of thousands of driving-under-the-influence arrests and convictions each year in the Maricopa County Jail System. Arizona now has one of the stiffest DUI laws in the nation.
For the record, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is against my principles and values. I am a 47-year-old writer, and never dreamed I would get a DUI. I was wrong. I strongly agree there should be serious repercussions for using poor judgment, and as I walk you through the process, I am hopeful that this will serve as a wake-up call for anyone even thinking of driving after consuming alcohol.
If you have kids old enough to drive, or if you yourself have ever driven under the influence, I pray that sharing my experience will stop you from becoming the next statistic.
As my sister and I left a local bar one evening last summer, a police officer was conveniently parked across the street and began to follow us. We drove about 300 feet before I was pulled over. The officer asked if I had been drinking, and I responded, “Yes.”
As the officer was going over my paperwork, another officer pulled up. Officer Rick Royston, a 35-year veteran of the DUI force, then asked me to take a Breathalyzer test. I did not pass. I was handcuffed and put the back of the police car, while my sister got a cab home. Per protocol, my car was impounded.
I was promptly booked at the Scottsdale police station, then thrown in “the tank” for the night. It was freezing cold, and my cellmates were in for a range of charges from prostitution to attempted murder. I asked the woman in the bunk below me for a blanket (as she had three) and she replied that she was in for just having carved up the face of a woman who looked just like me. I passed on the blanket. The next morning, I was released.
I soon found out that this was just the beginning of my ordeal.
ADDING UP THE COSTS
When the blood-alcohol content results came in — three long days later — I tested at twice the legal limit; because of this, my car was impounded for 30 days instead of 48 hours. The cost of a rental car was $450. Getting my car out of impound was more than $600. I had to go to the Motor Vehicle Division to see an officer about my DUI, and my driver’s license was suspended for three months.
Thankfully, I work at home. If I had a 9-to-5 job, I would have had to disclose my DUI to my employer; with no transportation, I could have lost my job.
I had to go in to court several times to complete the sentencing process. I pleaded guilty and was sentenced by a Scottsdale Superior Court judge to 30 days in jail, with 20 days suspended. I got a $2,500 fine from the judge, and an additional $1,200 fine for the 10 days in jail — that’s right, folks, you have to pay to be housed in jail!
I had to go to Driver’s Survival class, at a cost of $55. An alcohol assessment screening was $110. Getting set up in alcohol education classes was $30. I was given the lowest amount of classes for an extreme DUI: 36 hours at $20 per session, for a total cost of $720. You are allowed one unexcused absence during your 18 two-hour classes. If you miss more than one class, you have to start all over.
Then, the MVD ordered a Breathalyzer be installed in my car for one year. It was $80 for the installation, and $75 a month for a year, for a total of $980.
Add up those costs, and the total is $5,495.
The cost of taking a taxi one mile home instead? About $7.
When I arrived at Lower Buckeye Jail to turn myself in, it was 116 degrees outside. I was anxious, not knowing what to expect. I had to sit and wait with other incoming inmates for the huge, airplane hangar-like doors to open. (There was a faded canopy over the waiting area, and there were two drinking fountains, but neither was working.) When we lined up to enter the building, we were all told to face to the wall; hands against the fence and searched. Then we were escorted into the facility.
Just as we entered the building, some male inmates were being brought in. The women were told to wait in the tank, while these men filed in, dressed in black-and-white stripes and wearing pink handcuffs. The men were whispering obscenities to us, making vulgar gestures, and so on. Once they were gone, the booking process began.
We were called out of the 5-foot cell. We received booking numbers, photos and black-and-white stripes to “dress out” in. We had to strip down to nothing, and wear their pink underwear, bras and socks, along with the black-and-white striped top and long pants. We were then moved to another holding cell for fingerprinting. In this new cell, everything from wet toilet paper to peanut butter was stuck to the ceiling. The walls were covered with dirt and stains. There was one bench, the rest of us had to sit on the filthy floor. I was in that holding cell for 13 1/2 hours, until 2:30 a.m., and finally chained to the other women, and sent to Estrella Jail.
I have valley fever and could not be housed in the tents because of the dust and dirt. I also had medications to take, so the judge ordered me to be housed in the infirmary. Because of this, I could only do 48 hours at a time, according to the jail nurse. However, the first week I was locked up with 130 other women in a “pod” at Estrella Jail for 48 hours, not the infirmary.
The jail gives you only one sheet, one thin blanket and no pillow. You are given breakfast in a plastic bag with bread, runny peanut butter, a small orange and a carton of milk. The only other meal served is dinner, or slop, as they call it. It looked and smelled disgusting. I did not eat.
The next four weeks were like the movie “Groundhog Day.” I had to be re-booked, dressed out, and put in another filthy tank to wait for fingerprinting every week. I was sent to the infirmary most of the time, locked in a four-bed cell with a shower and toilet, and hospital beds that did not work. I got my medications here. The water fountain was barely running, the sink was clogged, and the toilet — well, let’s just say it was very unsanitary.
My third week, I was put in solitary confinement; 48 hours alone in a small room with a toilet, three brick walls and a glass window. By Day 2, I was exercising, counting the bricks, pacing my cell; I had a lot of time to think. I do not know why I was put in solitary, but was glad to hear the jingling keys opening my cell door for release.
The last two weeks, I bunked with several other women; one almost 70 years old. She had sleep apnea and had to use a breathing machine at night so she would not die. I lay awake all night, listening to her breathing machine, staring at the ceiling, wondering what she had done to find herself here at such an age. The next morning she was gone, driven to another county where she had several warrants.
I had a single mom, about my age, in for a bank robbery. Destitute and with two children at Christmas, she went to a bank in Gilbert and robbed it. She was not caught until the following July. I don’t know what happened to her kids; I assume they went to Child Protective Services. This woman was about to serve six months. I cannot imagine not seeing my kids for six months — or being in jail for six months!
I also had a roommate in for “white-collar crime” with no release date pending. But, by far, the most haunting event was a woman down the hall, crying and screaming from her cell; a guttural cry. The corrections officers “four-pointed” her, holding down her arms and legs to keep her safe; yet she cracked her head open on the padded floor. This went on for hours; her wailing and sobbing terrified me.
I walked down “The Green Mile” to the kick-out tank for the last time. I got dressed in my street clothes and was booked out. After five weeks of this, I had seen so many women with frightening stories; and such a range of age, race and income. Jail has no prejudice; all offenders are treated equally. The faces of depression, and the overall filth, I will never forget.
If my story isn’t enough to keep you off the road, think of the thousands of alcohol-related deaths in our country each year. Could you live with the fact that you were responsible for the death of another person?
I learned in Driver’s Survival class that 50 percent of all DUI offenders repeat the offense within two years, while 75 percent of offenders repeat the offense within five years. Also, if you are using your cell phone, talking, texting, reading, eating, writing, putting on makeup, shaving or countless other acts of distraction while driving, you can put yourself in the same category.
It’s a sobering fact, and it is why every time an inmate is released from jail for a DUI offense, the corrections officers say, “Don’t come back!”
Shirley Lind is a Queen Creek-based freelance writer.