Archive for February, 2013

Are you experienced?

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Justice
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From 1985 till his death in 1997, my self-appointed “mission” was to save my brother from a life of drugs and crime.

Before then, I had never seen the inside of a prison, never stepped inside a courtroom, and  my only face-to-face experiences with police consisted of talking to them through the rolled-down window of my car, when they pulled me over for speeding.

Well, okay, I take that back – I had been inside a police station once,  thanks to a boy I’ll call “Alex” that I dated for a short time in my senior year of high school.  It was 1971, and I had a job as a clerk at Dressler’s Drugstore, a Mom and Pop establishment located in the midst of the main strip mall in downtown Fox Lake, Illinois.  Alex surprised me one evening by showing up at the checkout counter and offering me a ride home from work.  His timing was perfect, since he arrived about 9:50 pm and I was done at 10:00.  What I failed to notice, in my teenage hormone haze of excitement, was that Alex was drunk.  Drunk, underage and transporting open liquor to boot.  He wasted no time making that obvious, traveling only about 100 feet out of the parking lot of the strip mall before he swerved across the center line, in full view of an alert Fox Lake squad car.

I had zero prior experience dealing with the police, so when they pulled us over, and Alex started to panic over the booze on the floor of the car, I felt sorry for him but wasn’t worried about myself.  I hadn’t committed a crime, and how was I to know about the liquor in the car?  After all, he had just picked me up.  Facts are facts, right?

Not exactly.

When the officer said we had to get into his car and go down to the station, I tried to set him straight, explaining that I just got off work.  Couldn’t he just drive me back to the strip mall and I’d call my stepfather for a ride home?

No.

Before they decided to drag me down to the police station, I might have been grateful.  Grateful that they’d saved me from a possible drunk-driving accident on the way home with my inebriated date.  Instead, I felt frustration and disappointment at their immediate assumption that I was guilty simply by virtue of being in the car.

At the Fox Lake police station, they put us in separate rooms and “grilled” us, treating me as if I were an accomplice to a bank robbery.  They used that word a lot, too – “accomplice”.   I found the whole experience ludicrous and laughable, though I wasn’t dumb enough to laugh.  I mean, c’mon–the only way I could have been my date’s accomplice was if I had popped open the beer cans and poured each one down his throat while he held his mouth open…all in a matter of seconds.  Still, I refused to let the officer intimidate me.  I knew, in my heart, that he would have to make up a charge, because he certainly didn’t have anything to charge me with, and I told him just that.

As I expected, the police let me go, but not without a warning that “next time, I wouldn’t be so lucky”.   Lucky?  I sure didn’t feel lucky as I listened to my stepfather read me the riot act on the way home.  He and the policeman who’d “grilled” me had a lot in common when it came to justice.  They both seemed to suffer from justice dyslexia, managing to twist  “innocent until proven guilty” into “guilty because we said so”.

That was my first taste of police and the sort of “gestapo power” they can wield, and I didn’t like it at all.  I suppose that for a teenager, that could be a good thing – I certainly didn’t want to repeat the experience.  In fact, from that point on, I simply wanted to avoid the police and police stations like the plague.

Little did I know that my brother Frank would introduce me to them all over again.

Are You Experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have

(excerpted lyrics from the song ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? by Jimi Hendrix)