The First Time I Went to Jail

Yes, there was a second time.  This is a two part series.

The first time I went to jail, I was barely legal. I was a senior at Ottumwa High School. It must have been a weekend, and it must have been in the spring (since I was 18), so the year was 1995.

Either my friend Dave Roland or I had somehow scored a case of Busch Light. A case of beer as a high school student is like gold. One protected it as such. You just didn’t give that stuff away for free.

Dave was not yet 18, but as you will soon find out, that didn’t matter. There were two others with us, one of which was 16 year old Melinda Chadwick, the other was Jake Hammond, who was either 16 or 17.

My memory isn’t good enough to recall the events that lead to all four of us hanging out under the Jefferson Street bridge on the north side. There we sat, enjoying bottles of this elusive substance, talking about what high school students talk about.

Then, an Ottumwa Police officer turned down the alley in which we sat. In a ridiculous panic, I remember screaming something like, “Oh shit! Cops!” and running away as if I were a fugitive.

Once I got around a corner, I remember jumping in some bushes. There I was, an absolute idiot in the truest sense of the word, hiding in the brush. An officer shined his flashlight at me and told me to come out of the bushes. I remember being crunched up in a ball with my eyes closed thinking there was no way he could see me.

After finding some half empty bottles under the bridge (we didn’t even have the intelligence to dump out the contents), I was hauled to the station with a charge called “Persons Under the Legal Age.” They informed me that since the other two were under age, their parents would be called and they would be picked up. I remember wondering what had happened to Dave.

They gave me an option of calling my folks to come and bail me out for the night. I declined. They put me in an orange suit and gave me a tiny cell. If there was anyone checking out the video feed from the camera in my cell that night, they got some cheap entertainment.

I didn’t sleep well that night. There was a long wait in the morning before they hauled me over to the courthouse in shackles. I plead guilty, left, and finally went home that Saturday. For the rest of that day, I made the foolish and futile attempt to convince the Ottumwa Courier not to put my name in the paper the following day.

What happened to Dave? When I was overcome with panic, Dave simply sat there. He watched as the cops drove by chasing us, then got up, picked up the case containing what remained of the beer, and walked away. Hearing this story later made me absolutely furious. It wasn’t a fury at Dave. It was fury at myself. I had a humbling moment, in which I had to wallow in my own stupidity.

All we had to do was walk slowly away from the beer. To not spark suspicion, we should have walked directly toward the cop car. Nothing would have happened. We probably would have had to answer a few questions.

While I believe it was complete overkill for the police to put me in jail for the night in an orange jump suit, and drag me to the courthouse in shackles the next morning, it was definitely something that I needed as the young, immature, dumb-ass that I was.

If my friend Dave wrote about all of the stories he has of narrowly escaping trouble with the cops, he could easily fill a book. I can think of at least 4 chapters off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are a few more. He is by far one of the luckiest people I have ever known.

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