The Prison Diaries: If You're Arrested...

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Christopher Reina is doing a five-year sentence in federal prison. In his writing he shares how he is surviving prison life as a gay inmate. Chris is paying it forward by donating his compensation for this column to The Pet Project, an organization near and dear to his heart.

So, I have a confession to make. My recent legal trouble is not my first. I have in fact been arrested on prior occasions. Once for driving on a suspended license, twice for possession of meth, and twice for drug-induced mutual combat occurring in a chemically imbalanced relationship. I received a fine for the driving violation. The drug charges, six months apart, resulted in probation, and the domestic violence charges were dropped. It's embarrassing information to own up to, but there you have it. What's the worst that could come from making it known, a few less Christmas cards this year? Regardless, it's all a matter of public record, and all a part of the unmanageability of life that comes with addiction, that, and being exceedingly unlucky.

What it all boils down to is that I have learned the ABC's of getting arrested. Have you ever gotten high, or drank too much at a bar or party and driven home? Ever miss a court date? Ever hit your boyfriend or girlfriend back because he or she hit you first? Then let me share a few helpful tips with you, just in case.

If you are stopped or questioned by the police, do what the cops order you to do. If you are handcuffed, chances are good that you are going to jail. Do not run or try to resist. Do not admit to any wrongdoing, and do not lie to the police. Keep your mouth shut. Do not give cops permission to search your vehicle, home, or person under any circumstances. If you feel like crying, do it on the way to the jail. Get it out of your system. If you own pets, do everything in your power to make sure there is someone on the outside who can take care of them. This is an excellent idea for any pet owner, regardless of the nature of an unexpected incapacitation.

Otherwise, the police may have no other option than to call animal control. When you get to jail, do not expect that your mug shot will be anything but hideous. Expect to freeze your ass off in the holding cell while you await processing, which can take up to eight hours. Do not bother asking when you can make your free phone call or what time your bond will be posted. Doing so will only antagonize an already hostile jail staff. Even if you make bail relatively early, expect to be detained for 12 to 18 hours. Do grab a seat on the bench in your holding cell as at some point it will likely become standing room only.

Do not discuss your case with anyone except your attorney. Words can come back to haunt you. If you need a cover story for the nosy Parker sitting next to you, make up something benign. Conversely, do not ask another inmate why they were arrested. Keep in mind that the phones are monitored. When you are processed, do not admit to being suicidal at that moment or at any time in the past. If you are fairly certain that you will be released relatively quickly, do not admit to taking psych meds. Trust me, you will not like where you end up. If you need to take HIV meds or the need for psych meds is urgent, tell the intake nurse. Educate yourself on the names and dosages of any medications you are taking.

If you end up being moved into the general or even the protective custody population, keep your head down and your eyes open. Avoiding asking other inmates for favors like placing 3-way calls for you or passing messages along to someone on the outside. Favors in jail are often tit for tat and you may not like their terms. If you inadvertently step into another inmate's personal space, always excuse yourself. Jail culture is very keen on matters of respect. However, unless you really messed up like I did, you will eventually be released, at which point you will no doubt tell yourself that you will never take sweet freedom for granted again. Better yet, save yourself the trouble and don't break the law in the first place.

Next time: Life goes on on the outside. Till then, stay safe everybody.

#50095-004Chris Reina


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