The first OWI is what they call a “slap on the wrist.” It could have changed, but back then it was pretty standard- you get a 30 day jail sentence with 28 days suspended, and you have to do a weekend class that counts for the other 2 days. You also are placed under state supervision, aka probation. The rules of the probation are relatively simple:
Seek and Maintain Gainful Employment
Don’t Leave the County
Don’t Break the Law
You meet with a probation officer once a month. Quick meetings, go over a little check list of things you need to be doing and that’s that. Basically, you follow these rules, complete your weekend class, and pay off your fines and you’ll be off probation in 6 months. As long as you follow the rules and complete probation, the 28 day suspended sentence never has to be served.
I had already been through this process a couple times by now, once in Polk County and once in Warren County. I knew what I had to do.
This probation, however, didn’t go so smoothly.
Two weeks after I got my first OWI- before I had even met my probation officer- I was driving home from work. I think it was a little before midnight- we typically closed the bar around 11 on Sundays. I had stopped at the gas station and picked up a 12 pack. With that, and a couple Xanax, I was looking forward to a very relaxing, low key night. If you are thinking 12 beers and a handful of pills seems excessive to relax, you are right. Everything in my life was excessive. “There’s no success without excess” was one of my favorite things to say back then.
I pulled into my driveway, opened a beer, and started browsing through my large black CD case. I was flipping through the pages, looking for the perfect album to catch a buzz with, when the officer knocked on my window with his flashlight and shined it right on me. Same officer that had arrested me a couple weeks earlier. You know, the one I lost my shit on. He asked why I was driving, because he assumed they had taken my license for that very memorable OWI. I gave him a poorly-concocted bullshit story. Turns out the question was rhetorical. He also asked what the hell I was doing with an open container. I took another shot at fooling him, and it again turned out to be a rhetorical question. He arrested me for driving without a license, and also gave me a written warning for going 56 in a 55. I assume that’s because he needed probable cause to stop me. Then he impounded my car right out of my driveway. I must have really made an impression on him.
When I met Roy the probation officer a couple weeks later I was already red flagged. I had already broken several, if not all, of the rules. Roy was a nice, older man, probably in his 60’s. If I remember correctly he was a former Air Force Pilot and had awards and things like that hanging on the walls of his office. He was also nearing retirement and seemed a little checked out from the role of adult babysitter. I put on my best charm and explained how I had just gotten a little off track but was ready to turn everything around. Honestly, I think Roy just wanted to believe me because if I kept my shit together it would be less work for him.
Unfortunately for Roy and for myself, that was not the case. The first thing I was supposed to do was stop working at the bar, but I never did. Instead I had a pretty elaborate scheme. I conned a friend, who owned a business, into printing off fake check stubs that I would give to Roy to prove I was working somewhere else. I took my chances that he would never actually stop into my job, as it was in Des Moines and Roy was way out in Adel. I was also taking a big risk that no one from the Dallas County offices would ever stop into the bar I worked at. I would have gone straight to jail if any of this had ever been uncovered, but my relationship with alcohol had become so important to me that it was worth it to risk my freedom. Alcohol and the bar life had become the most important thing in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time and it only became clear to me years later, despite how obvious it may have been to everyone else.
It was an abusive relationship. Alcohol was controlling me mentally and causing a lot of problems for me, but not unlike that of a spouse in an abusive marriage, I defended it at every turn. If you really had a problem with my relationship to alcohol, I would, for the most part, cut you out. It had turned me into a manipulative liar, doing whatever I had to do to protect the relationship. I had no fear of breaking laws in the face of the court system and legal officers. Writing about this now, it sounds completely insane to be so brazen. At the time I believed I was just doing what I had to do.
Things were going well for a couple of months. I earned the trust of ole Roy. I could be very charming when I needed to be. I could sound remorseful. I was good at saying all the right things and I was paying my fines, which is really the main concern- they want their money!
But when you are living in a world full of shit, eventually you will step in it. The first time I stepped in it was when I went to Iowa City for the weekend to visit friends. We ended up getting into a fight in the street after the bars. It’s really a funny story, but I’ll save it for another day. What I will tell you is that the police pulled up right as I punched a guy. They ran my ID and noticed I was on probation in Dallas County – so I was a long way from where I was supposed to be. For some reason, they let me go that night but the next time I met with Roy he asked what the hell I was doing in Iowa City punching people. It was another one of those rhetorical questions. Roy yelled at me like a football coach, and threatened to throw me in jail. Ultimately, he didn’t throw me in jail and all of this just added to the braggadocios stories I would tell about my thug life adventures. I really was not learning anything. I wasn’t “scared straight” by any of it. It’s like something was clouding all of my judgement and giving me some type of courage to keep breaking the rules and laws with the looming threat of certain jail time.
They call it liquid courage when you get drunk and do something daring (or stupid) like pick a fight with a guy twice your size. For me, like everything, I just had to show my liquid courage on a grander scale.
I fought the law and you know how the rest of that goes.
Less than six months after my first OWI, I was arrested and charged with my 2nd. It was one of those nights where I made a series of stupid decisions that ultimately ended with my being pulled over on the interstate exit near my house. I was driving someone else’s car because mine had an ignition interlock device (blow tube) in it. I was covered in Dewar’s and I blew a .27, over 3 times the legal limit. You would have thought that maybe this would be the time that I realized I had a serious problem, and that my relationship with alcohol was a terrible relationship, but no. I was so blind to all of it. I could walk you through the list of all the things that just didn’t go my way that night. Of course it had nothing to do with the fact that my entire life had become high risk behavior. It was still just bad luck. Simple bad luck that made me decide to drink while working that night. Simple bad luck that made me decide to take a to go cup full of scotch. Simple bad luck that made me decide to drive through West Des Moines. Simple bad luck that caused me to swerve on the interstate. Simple bad luck that ultimately ended with me doing 28 days in the Dallas County Jail.
I didn’t go to jail right away though- I was bailed out that night and went home and slept it off. When I woke up, I knew I was in trouble so I started on a pretty good bender. When I met with Roy, he was so disappointed. It was clear to him now that I had been lying about everything. There was no level of charm or remorse I could turn on that would get me out of this. I had to go to jail.
Roy was kind enough to let me spend the holidays with my family before I had to turn myself in. Except I didn’t spend that extra time with my family- my controlling spouse wouldn’t let me. Instead I went on a 2-week bender of booze, drugs, and strip clubs. That’s what they do in the movies before they go to jail. My life was really becoming morally bankrupt. Somehow, I still managed to romanticize the whole thing. It felt like I was pretty cool. I wasn’t. I was pathetic.
On December 28th, 2003, capping off a terrible year, I drunkenly ate a handful of Xanax and turned myself in to the Dallas County Jail. My plan was to sleep for all 28 days. Another terribly flawed plan.
I was afraid and alone and about to sober up for the first time in years.
That’s where we will pick up next time.