Go Directly to Jail: Why You Need an Emergency Fund

hand with a handcuff on the wrist, pointing a finger to the words "it wasn't me"

We’ve all heard “I don’t belong here”,

or “I’ve done nothing wrong” whenever someone is in trouble.  Though I like watching murder mysteries on TV, and any type of real forensic program, I’ve never had a desire to study criminals up close.  Nor did I want to spend the entire day hanging out in the Redwood City Jail waiting room, but that’s exactly what I did.  It was a painful reminder of how important it is to have an emergency fund in order to be prepared for the unexpected.

Several years ago,

my late husband was driving from a project in his truck, towing a small bobcat sized excavator.  cartoon image of a yellow and green tractor with big black wheelsThe trailer was small, and its width was not much wider than his truck.  It was a narrow and winding road, and the car behind him honked and flashed their lights.  He thought he was going too slowly, and pulled over to let the car pass.  A lady got out of her car and approached him.  She said when he drove past a bicyclist, the cyclist fell over.  She also said she did not see him hit the bike.  He got out and looked at the excavator.  It was evenly covered in dirt, and showed no markings of contact with anything.  It appeared that the cyclist fell while avoiding the towed load, and not by being struck.

Even so,

my late husband called the police to let them know what happened.  He stayed on the side of the road without moving. As the police passed him, he flagged them down.  He explained what happened.  In the meantime an ambulance arrived to attend to the cyclist.  The police told him to stay at the truck while they drove a short distance to speak with the bike rider.  They returned to his truck, and decided to arrest him for hit and run, and attempted vehicular manslaughter.

There was an older male officer, and a younger female partner. figurines of male and female police officers next to a police car figurine The younger partner began to question the older officer’s desire to arrest him.  She pointed out that as soon as he had knowledge that the cyclist fell, he stopped, and he himself was the one to call the police.  The older office was not swayed by her argument, so he was cuffed and escorted to the county jail.

I had finished work early,

and had headed to my late husband’s company to help with some administrative work. man having his hands cuffed behind his back Right as I walked in the door, his employee told me that he had been arrested, was on his way to jail, and this was not a joke.  I didn’t have the full story, but needless to say my heart sank.  With no idea what was going on, I had even less of an idea of what to do next.  I suppose if you live a life of crime, when these things happen you know what to do.  I’ve always been a rule follower, and other than some occasional speeding on the freeway, I live a pretty lawful life!

I spoke with his corporate attorney

who directed me to a criminal attorney.  It wasn’t as if I had the best criminal attorney on speed dial.  I called the lawyer, and set up a time to meet.  During our meeting, he contacted the jail and determine that bail was set for $50,000.  I was then directed to go to Bad Boyz Bail Bonds so I could post bail.  This was one of the craziest experiences in my life.

I was still in a state of denial while the bail bonds guy asked me an endless stream of questions.  They wanted to be sure if he skipped bail, a bounty hunter could find him.  “Where do you like to go for vacation?” is not a conversation starter, or mindless chit-chat.  Neither is “do you have family living abroad?”  As I got through the questions and paperwork, I was also half listening to the others in the room who were now just like me.  Or maybe now I was just like them.  We were all there to bail someone out of jail.

I had to come up with $3,500 for the bail bond guy.

As life long, law abiding community members who had lived here our entire lives, the fact that he was not let out on his own recognizance was infuriating, insulting, and expensive. a judge's wooden gavel resting against a sounding block I did not have $3,500, so I put it on the credit card.  This was an emergency…  I also learned something I never knew, and why would I?  I’d never bailed anyone out of jail before.  When you pay the bail bond company to spring someone from lock up, you don’t get that money back.  Regardless of the outcome, the money you pay is forever lost.  I suppose this little tidbit of info would not have made a difference, as I was not going to let him rot in jail.  Somewhere along the process I thought I would get the money back.  I was wrong.

On my way to the county lock up, I stopped to buy a book.  I didn’t know how long I’d be there, and needed a good distraction.  I arrived at the jail, and entered the waiting room.  The waiting area was also where people would get in line to “turn themselves in”, and serve whatever time they’d been given.

I went up to the “check in” line, and explained

the situation.  I was told that he had not been processed yet, and was still in a holding area, and I could not see him. cartoon image of empty jail cell They’d taken all his belongings away from him, but he was able to call me collect from a pay phone.  They kept him in a chair in the holding area, and never actually put him behind bars.  Perhaps it was his clean cut looks, or him breaking down in tears that lead to them having some small mercy on him. He called me about 3 or 4 times, and I updated him on the process of trying to get him out of there.  He told me rather than being punished behind bars, his punishment was sitting in the holding area, watching daytime TV shows geared towards women.  It could have been worse.

The bondsman did arrive with the paperwork

and cashier’s check for the jail about 30 seconds after the clerk closed for lunch.  It was closed for 1 ½ hours.  There is no sense of urgency to process paperwork, and no real desire from the employees to get anyone’s friend or family member out of jail quickly.  I was glad I bought a book because I knew it was going to be a long evening.

As I sat quietly in a corner trying to concentrate

on my book, the waiting area slowly started to fill up. cartoon image of an open orange book, with a face peeking over the top of the book One by one, people approached a table that had been set up, and announced their arrival.  They were “checking in” for the evening, or weekend.  I didn’t hear anyone say their jail sentence was longer than that.

After rereading the same sentence 5 times and still not knowing what I read, I started to observe the lives of all the people coming into that place.  One man was turning himself in for the night, and he handed an officer a pocket full of prescription medication that he needed.

A young couple sat on the bench across from me,

facing me.  We struck up a conversation.  He was going to check in for the weekend to do time for running a red light.  He explained that he was behind a large truck. As the truck went through the intersection he could not see the light changed to red. extreme close up of a traffic light, in red, yellow and green He was pulled over and got a very expensive ticket.  He went to court to fight the ticket, and was told he had two options.  Pay the fine, or spend the weekend in jail and avoid the fine.  They could not afford to pay, so there he was, having to spend the weekend in jail because he ran a red light.

I am not a softie on crime.  I think most people who are in jail are there because they deserve it, but this was heartbreaking.  The fine was $550, and honestly if I had the money, I would have given it to them on the spot.  I don’t personally know anyone who would spend time in jail instead of somehow finding the money to pay to avoid it.  But there I was, right across from a couple who would be separated for the weekend for lack of $550.

Redwood City is not a hotbed of criminal activity.  Over 90% of the arrests made (this statistic from my day of jury duty) are for driving under the influence.  I suspect most of the people checking in that evening were there for driving offenses, and not hardened criminals.  While I still have no mercy for hardened criminals, I did feel really badly for the string of folks arriving at the jail for the weekend.

Slowly the waiting room emptied out,

as the weekend inmates checked in, or the incarcerated were released on bail.  They rejoined their friends or family who had patiently waited for them.

By 10:00 pm (he had been arrested at noon), my late husband had still not been released. human shaped wooden figures sitting on chairs in a waiting room The waiting room for the jail was closing.  Two sets of doors formed a rectangular area a little larger than an elevator.  Those of us who remained waiting, were told we could wait there.  At least we didn’t have to wait on the street, but it was drafty and cold, and there were no chairs.  There were seven of us still waiting, telling each other our stories of why we were there.  Finally, the last of the “prisoners” were freed, and we all left with our respective people.

The criminal defense attorney discovered

the bicyclist filed very small lawsuits against seven other motorists over the years. purple and white multi speed road bicycle He sued for amounts small enough to keep him under the radar, and not make it obvious that his side career was falling off his bike as cars drove past him.  Despite this discovery, and the threatening message on our home phone to “pay up, or else”, he still won an award of roughly $3,000.

After wasting a day in jail, $3,500 bail money, $3,000 law suit, and attorney fees, no criminal charges were ever filed.  Technically the case was not even dismissed because there was no case.  It was as if it never happened, but it did.

I’ve not been back to the jail since then.

The justice system is not always fair. one male and one female police officer figurines in a jail hallway Though I could have lived without the entire experience, it did show me that sometimes bad things happen to good people.  I also learned what it really feels like to say “I don’t belong here”, and not have anyone care, or believe you.

It is so important to have an emergency fund.  We have limited control over what happens to us.  I never thought I’d have to raise bail money!  My emergency fund is small, but I do have one.  I didn’t at the time of the arrest, but mercifully still had enough room left on a credit card.  I would rather have been able to write a check, and forget the entire episode ever happened.

I’d love to hear about your craziest emergency.  Did you have enough money saved to cover it?

Feel free to comment on my Facebook page at Elaine’s Lane.

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