I can only imagine what was going through the young policeman’s mind as he hauled me away to jail on Christmas Eve night. I had never really considered myself the type of person who would need to be frisked and placed in handcuffs, but then the young policeman didn’t know anymore about me than what he had seen since he pulled me over – and I was more than a little sarcastic.
My Christmas Eve incarceration took place in 1997 in the relatively small and tranquil city of Rochester, Minnesota. I was living in Dana Point, California at the time, but since both of my folks resided in Rochester, that was where I found myself December 24, 1997.
My sister, who was living in Vancouver, Washington with her husband and three small children, was also home visiting mom and dad. Her three kids were under ten back then, and since it was relatively warm and snowing beautifully, we all decided to jump in the car and find a hill to slide down. There are plenty of hills of snow around Rochester in the winter time, but I had one specific place in mind.
Years ago, before I moved away to start my own life, we would always go over to the parking lot of Longfellow School to play. In the winter, there would always be huge mounds of snow left behind by the snow plows. My mom’s place was less than a mile away, so we loaded up the car with my overdressed nieces and nephew and headed for the school.
The entrance to the school was located across from the street leading to the housing area where my mom lived. There is a traffic light at this intersection, and once the light changed green, I started to make my way to the school’s parking lot. I stopped short, however, when I realized that the newly fallen snow was accumulating more than I had anticipated. I was concerned about getting stuck in the snow so instead of continuing ahead, I made a fateful left turn at the traffic light.
After I made the turn, a police car appeared out of nowhere behind me and signaled me over with flashing lights. I pulled over dutifully and opened the door to get out. I was instantly commanded to close the door and keep my hands in view. I was a little surprised and more than a little miffed, but I followed the policeman’s instructions and waited for him to approach the car. He then instructed me to lower the window. He bent down to survey me and the other occupants of the car. He demanded my license and I handed it to him. He took it with him back to his squad car and after a few minutes or so, returned with it but did not hand it back to me.
“Do you know that your license is suspended?” the policeman asked me.
“What?” was all I could manage in the ten or fifteen seconds it took me to form the word.
“Yep, your license was suspended back in 1985. You shouldn’t have even been able to get this California one.”
My mind was taking in the information, trying to make sense of it, but still I was left without anything meaningful to say.
“I have friends at LAPD, you know,” he stated to me, apparently convinced that this sharing of information should somehow impress me.
My mind was still working and finally things started clicking. “Oh, I see. Yes, I did lose my license in 1985, but I paid the fine and waited the year and so I am able to drive again now.”
“That’s not what the computer says. It says you never took care of that suspension and so that makes you ineligible to drive in Minnesota.” The policeman paused for a moment to look at me a little closer. “Say, what were you doing pulling into that school parking lot anyway? I noticed you changed your mind when you saw me. You were looking for drugs, weren’t you?”
“Oh yeah, I was taking my sister, nieces, and nephew out to buy drugs.” I quipped sarcastically.
“Don’t get lippy with me.” He raised himself up to his full height then. “Get out of the car. Get out of the car right now and don’t you try anything funny.”
I exited the car and tried not to do anything funny, but the policeman was less than impressed by my performance. Well, it could have been my ragged beard or my long hair as well, but something I was doing convinced him that he needed to be careful with a trouble maker like me. He shoved me up against the car and began to frisk me. My nieces and nephew peered out over the seat to see what the nice policeman was doing to Uncle Tom and I guess, the three of them together must have appeared a bit threatening to the nice policeman as he then pulled me by my wrists back to his car to finish frisking me.
I couldn’t tell, but I think he was disappointed when he didn’t find any weapons, drug paraphernalia, or anything else with which to justify throwing the book at me. He didn’t let the absence of evidence sway his actions, however, as within five minutes from being pulled over, I was handcuffed and sitting in the back of his squad car. The policeman took me in at 8:30 on Christmas Eve night, but he at least had the decency to let my sister and my two nieces and one nephew get off scott free.
The sarcasm spewed out of my mouth almost nonstop the whole way to the station house. After checking me in and absconding with all my personal belongings, he put me in a small cell that was directly in front of the reception desk. By this time, I had quit my witty utterances and instead just kept staring at the policemen with an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ grin on my face. Now, this isn’t the easiest task in the world, seeing as how they were free and I was locked up, but somehow I managed to make everyone who looked at me so uneasy that they wouldn’t even sneak glances at me after that.
Eventually my family showed up to bail me out. It was a singular moment, and I heartily recommend all who read this to find some way to get themselves in need of bail on Christmas Eve night. It may not make the family closer, but it definitely solves the whole ‘What do we talk about’ dilemma for the rest of the holidays.
The week after Christmas, my sister and I tracked down the computer error that had me unfit to drive and on January 2, 1998 I won my day in court. I was vindicated and the bail money was returned. Overall, the experience was very empowering and the only disappointment was that the policeman that attempted to humiliate me didn’t even bother to show up to the hearing. I wanted to see his face when I was exonerated, but seeing as how I couldn’t keep my trap shut during the arrest, it was probably for the best that he was absent.
Did I learn anything from almost spending Christmas in the slammer? Did I learn to not talk back to authority even when I knew I was in the right? Well, in a word, ‘No’, but then this story isn’t about morals and lessons garnered – it’s about my most memorable confrontation with the law.over 6 years ago