True Story – Jail Sucks

True story. In 1983 I was working for Sutton Taylor at Capital Bail Bonds in downtown Dallas. Some of my Texas friends remember Sutton. I was a bond runner. The duties of a runner are what you might expect. There are many city jails (Mesquite, Irving, Addison, Garland, etc.) throughout Dallas County. My job was to run bonds to those city jails and get them signed by the defendant. I would then drive back downtown to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office to obtain a release form. I would return to the city jail, turn in the release form, and haul the defendant back to the office where I would complete an application and get four pictures of the defendant in the photo booth. Remember photo booths? Once completed I would start on the next transaction. Rinse and repeat.

I put thousands of miles on my 1978 Chevy Nova at all hours of the day and night, six days a week. On occasion, Texas Highway Patrol would take issue with the pace of my travels and issue me a citation. Well, as these things go, I did not always take care of my speeding tickets in a timely fashion.

One pleasant evening I was driving home to Richardson from work. I could see the front door of my apartment, even in the glare of the blue strobe lights in my rear view mirror. Damn. What did I do now? Apparently, the police officer didn’t like how I dodged a sprinkler that was hitting the street. You see, my Nova did not have A/C so I always drove with the windows down. Another ticket?

The nice officer ran my license and then informed me I had outstanding unpaid speeding tickets, several in fact. Would I please step out of the car? Crap! I’m a graduate of Plano High School, did that not qualify me for a little leeway? I left my Chevy on the side of the road and received a free ride downtown to the brand-new Lew Sterrett Justice Center a/k/a Dallas County Jail.

After being booked I was placed in one cell of a five-cell pod until I was given my one phone call. I didn’t call my dad, I called my boss. Get me the hell out of here! As someone once eloquently put it, jail sucks. Being put behind a locked door for an undetermined amount of time can put an indelible mark on your psyche. It would be twelve hours before I was handed my release paperwork and let out of the pokey. A night to remember.

Following my brief stint of hard time, I had to pay for my bond (after my employee discount:)), pay for my traffic tickets and obtain an SR22 as a high-risk driver. I don’t recall what all that cost me, but it was a lot for what I was making as 20-year-old runner for a bonding company. Since that awful night (what I do remember and still do to this day), I try not to get caught speeding but when I do, I pay the ticket immediately. If I have a few glasses of Cabernet at dinner, I toss my keys to my spouse. I never want to spend another night in jail.

What I can tell you, if this same experience happened to me today in some counties in Texas, the officer might simply tell me to pay my tickets and send me on my way. Or, if he chose to arrest me the court would immediately release me on my own recognizance. Had I been treated the same way in 1983, I’m not sure I would have taken anything away from that minimally traumatic experience. I would have thought, wow, that wasn’t as bad as I thought and went on my merry way unconcerned about the repercussions of not paying my speeding tickets.

Unfortunately, more and more jurisdictions across the country are watering down expectations and deterrents to bad behavior to include serious offenses. Is there no wonder the criminal justice system is quickly becoming a joke to those who run afoul of the law? Arrest is now a mere inconvenience and not a costly one at that. Law enforcement is electing to not make arrests in some cases because they know the system no longer holds people accountable, so what is the point? Arrests are down, so crime is down so why not go easier on those poor suckers who do get arrested.

I did not have a lot of money when I was 20-years-old and could have probably claimed indigency. But I had parents, family and an employer who I could reach out to for financial assistance as most people do who find themselves in that predicament. Simply because someone is arrested with no money in their pockets does not mean they do not have access to financial support.

I’m still holding out hope that lawmakers will begin to see through the charade known as bail reform and reduce those efforts down to what is real and work to preserve a pretrial release system that has worked in the United States for decades.

I don’t miss my jail experience, but I do kind of miss my Nova.

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