• Tue, Mar 20 2012

What I Learned In Jail (Beside That Orange Isn’t My Color)

woman in prison

George Clooney may have just been arrested, but I’ve already been there. That’s how badass I am! Or, to quote my friend Meg, “That’s how ridiculous you are.” However, I’ve always felt that “ridiculous” is subjective.

Before anyone starts thinking I’m an ex-con or that I have a record, I’ll stop you there: I am not and I do not. It was one night and it’s a night in which I learned quite a few things. The most important lesson being that eight hours in a jail cell, in an orange jump suit, is the longest eight hours of your life. It’s also during this time that you start to look at things differently because you are, after all, in an orange jumpsuit in a jail cell.

I had been feeling overly depressed, more than usual, and had gone to see my doctor about maybe changing my medication or upping the dosage. He didn’t like the idea of increasing the dosage because you can’t really do so without bringing on some withdrawal symptoms should you want to go back to your regular dosage. Instead, we figured we’d try adding a drug to the one I was already on and had been taking for years. Since it would start in small increments and I was feeling as low as I could possibly feel, desperately low, I was willing to try anything. Hell, if I thought a lobotomy would rid me of my depression, but yet keep me and every single one of my memories in tact, I’d even try that, too.

I went home — I was with my parents — and took the medicine as I was told. Later that evening, after a glass of wine, I went a little crazy. We could attribute it to the depression having its way with my brain, or the medicines not getting along in my system — the exact reasoning is still up for debate. In my state of mind, I feared my parents were out to get me. Not only that, but they wanted to have me locked up. So I did what any “rational” person in a fear for their freedom would do, I called 911. As my mother tried to grab the phone from me, what the 911 dispatcher heard (keep in mind most of this information is what my parents gave me later, as I do not remember a thing from this point in the evening) was my mother yelling at me to “hang up the damn phone!” When the line went dead, the cops were sent in to investigate. [tagbox tag="jail"]

As my parents tried to calm me down, four cops well over six feet tall, showed up to see what all the ruckus was. Well, it was a 5’1″ girl having a breakdown of sorts. It was also a 5’1″ girl who, angered by their presence, threw the remote control at the wall in the opposite direction of everyone in the room. Do you know what they charge you with when you assault an innocent wall? Simple assault. Because obviously, I meant to aim it at someone. And since they weren’t leaving without taking someone into custody, and I was clearly the one who needed some time to calm the fuck down, I was arrested. But not before they charged me with “resisting arrest” because I pulled away from them. And off to jail I went.

I was put in a room with other women, the type you see in movies that frequent such places, and told to strip to the “state issued” undergarments and then put on the infamous orange jumpsuit. Being an asshole and wanting to make sure that the female cop knew I was not like these other women, I protested. Did she not know my underwear and bra were from La Perla? Did she even know what La Perla was – did anyone in this room? When she wasn’t paying attention, as one of my fellow jailbirds was throwing up, I pulled on the jumpsuit over my clothes and tossed the state issued underwear and sports bra in a corner. Then we were led to our individual cells.

My bond was $5000 cash, and since it was the middle of the night, there was no way in hell my parents could come up with that amount in cash. The correction system doesn’t take checks apparently. That was when I realized I was going to be staying put for the next several hours.

From my jail cell I made demands as if I were at the Four Seasons, because to reiterate my friend Meg’s statement, I’m ridiculous. The toilet was dirty (not that I ever used it), the water bubbler obviously had herpes on it (I mean, obviously) and lastly, did these small town cops not know who I was? I am Amanda Chatel! I am a nobody, but I wanted someone, anyone to think I was a someone as if that were going to get me out of there any faster. The cop’s response to this, and a perfect response to say the least, although it really enraged me at the time: “Yeah, you’re an over-privileged brat in an orange jumpsuit.” He didn’t look up at me when he said it, but I saw him smirk, so then I cried harassment. I was being harassed! No one else was being harassed — and that was because no one else was saying a word.

I was removed so I could make my one phone call. Which I did to a crying mother who swore they’d have me out of there the very second the banks opened. I was also fingerprinted and had my mugshot taken. I had always said that if my mugshot was taken, I’d smile. I not only smiled, but I put my hand on my hip and actually fucking posed. They had taken a quick photo of me when I first arrived when I was a bumbling mess, but by the time the official mugshot rolled around, I was feeling cocky and arrogant. The truth was, I was out of my mind.

The cop made a photocopy of my mugshot and attached it to the outside of my cell, as he had done with all the other women. While I looked around at the other photos, everyone looked so somber, especially in comparison to mine. It was during the few minutes that the cop took my fingerprints that I started to cry and he promised me that I’d never be there again.

I went back to my cell and cried for the next several hours. I had cried so hard that when I faced the judge the next morning, my parents thought I had been beaten because my eyes were so puffy. My court date was set, I was given a $1000 personal recognizance, went back to my cell and waited for the paperwork to be handled so my parents could take me home. It was also during that time that a younger cop asked me what my PR was, and in true “Mandy World” fashion as my friends and family call it, I thought he meant I needed to call some sort of public relations team. You know, so they could handle all this hoopla discretely. As my mind raced to figure out if I knew of any PR people, the cop could tell I was confused and clarified that PR was just a fancy, quick way of saying “personal recognizance.” Yes, that’s how my brain works.

I was released to my parents’ custody and told that I must stay away from all firearms, because as anyone who knows me can tell you, I have an addiction to them and can’t get enough of them, so that was going to be tricky for me. It would have made sense that I should stay away from remote controls, as we had already covered that they are serious weapons, but no, it was firearms. Outside of movies, I have never even seen a gun in real life.

And so I went home where I proceeded to cry some more and be ashamed of what had happened. When I went to court a couple months later, both the charges were dropped, the file was closed and if I could steer clear of, once again firearms of all things, and not get myself arrested in the next year, it would all be expunged. So now, I do not have a record.

But what I learned that night, including that insulting cops about their brown uniforms will get you nowhere especially when you’re in an orange jumpsuit, is that when you find yourself in jail, you are no better than the people around you. As I found out the reasons why the other two women were in their equally cement and lifeless cells – one for driving drunk and the other for trying to kill her husband — a reality (finally) kicked in: in that moment we were all the same.

It didn’t matter that I had an education, had read Dostoyevsky (I accused the cops of never even having heard of him), or that when all was said and done I’d go back to my apartment in New York City to a life that those women would probably never know. In other words, despite what my parents having been telling me my whole life (in a condescendingly, yet loving way) I am not special. Well I am, but not in the way that I sometimes like to think I am.

Although my friends and family can now joke, slightly, about my stint in the clinker, it was actually the worst experience of my life. Had I not been out of my mind and crying, I can’t even tell you the level of boredom that probably would have set in after the first 10 minutes. Eventually, they got me on the right track with the correct medications and although I’ll always suffer from depression and there’s no telling where I may find myself someday, one thing is that it won’t be jail. And especially for something so “ridiculous.” Had it been for a political or social cause, at least that would have been admirable.

One thing is for sure, orange may look OK on Lindsay Lohan, but on me — ugh. It definitely doesn’t work. I didn’t even mention that two of the snaps on the damn jumpsuit were broken or that the white shoes they gave me were about three sizes too big. I thought I’d leave that image until the very end. You’re welcome.

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  • Amanda Ernst

    Where’s the mugshot?! I want to see it now that you gave such a great description of it.

    • Amanda Chatel

      One of these days I’ll get my hands on it… I’m assuming I must have some claim over it, right? My sister would also like a framed copy for her living room.

  • Lilac

    It was the wine. With many of the SSRI and mood stabilizing drugs available you can’t have alcohol with. Please read the information packet they give you at the pharmacy when starting any new drug.

    • Talimtaki

      This. Most even come with a warning label on the bottle not to drink while on the medication. There are some drugs you should never mix with alcohol no matter how long you’ve been on them.

  • D.

    I don’t understand why you were taken into custody at an actual jail if it had to do with your medication. That’s terrible.

    • Amanda Chatel

      It was the particular state. In fact this particular state has just changed the law so that they no longer have to arrest anyone in cases of domestic abuse… in other words, they can leave the husband behind to beat the shit out of his wife again. It’s a shitty state to say the least… and not New York.

  • Raerae

    I LOVE this story! The first time I drank on my brand new Prozac anti-depressants I lost. my. shit. Poor boyfriend :( Glad to know I’m not alone…and now I can tell said-boyfriend that no matter how bad it was at least I didn’t go to jail! Wait, no. Then he’ll respond that I could have, but he didn’t call the cops. Nevermind.

  • martin

    great story ive been there but ion the otherside of the fence im bi polar and have a habbit of wakingup in a cell if i do not take my med but never last more than a night and im happy to say i take my meds knowing it keeps my freedom intact