Confessions of a Drunk Driver

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A Night in Jail

I was arrested, my car was towed, and my friend and I were taken in the backseat of the squad car to the local jail. My friend was arrested and charged for being drunk in public and released a few hours later. In a way I was actually relieved to be in custody, because somewhere in my wine-sodden brain I realized that I had been driving a potentially lethal weapon while out of control (or as a friend so bluntly put it later, "drunk off my ass") and that I could have killed myself or someone else -- or both.

Many consequences have flowed from my decision to drink and drive -- awful consequences, given new, stringent DUI laws that, as it turned out, went into effect in my home state about a month before I was arrested. But I am grateful, for I was forced to get help. Until my arrest I didn't realize how much I had come to depend upon alcohol to get through some painful episodes; the drawn-out separation and divorce from my husband of 28 years, a volatile relationship with a new man who liked to drink himself. I had been depressed, even suicidal at times, going as far as imagining drowning myself in a swift-moving tidal channel at my favorite beach.

It was 3:30 a.m. when I was finally taken to the women's cell block. The magistrate had ordered me held over until I sobered up. Deputy sheriffs placed a thin mattress on the floor of an approximately 6-by-12-foot cell and gave me two wool blankets. Neither of my two cell mates spoke to me when I entered -- both simply pulled their blankets over their heads and turned their backs to me. That's how one of them remained the entire time I was there. I pushed my feet against the in-cell toilet, my head knocking against the bars. Toilet smells were everywhere -- urine, stool, and vomit -- and the air conditioning was up full blast. I didn't feel like crying, but I was good and scared. I had never been inside a jail before and without knowing exactly what price I would pay next for my mistake, I feared that my life would change forever.

By daybreak I felt sober but was still blowing above zero on the breath analyzer. No release, not yet. It wasn't until after lunch that I blew zero and was sent before the magistrate. He set my arraignment date and ordered my release, once I surrendered my driver's license. Until this point I was completely unprepared for the fact that this was something I would have to do. After all, when I worked briefly as a court clerk, I saw first offense prostitutes who were immediately put on probation -- they were never stripped of their privileges, such as driving. The impact of what I had done and what would happen next was beginning to hit me.

I called a local lawyer from the jail phone, where they give you no choice but to call collect. He took the call and said he would represent me, but that I should steel myself. For first offenders convicted of blowing over 0.15 (which was me), five days in jail was considered mandatory under the new state law. I also faced the possibilities of a $2,500 fine, a totally suspended driver's license for one year, and an interlock device on my car, which requires you to blow into a tube to start the engine. The device will prevent the car's ignition if it detects more than a certain amount of alcohol on your breath.

I washed my face, combed my hair, straightened my clothes. I called the man who'd been with me the previous night to help me retrieve my car. I called him because he already knew what had happened and I didn't want any of my other friends to know.

Continued on page 3:  A New Life


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