Fifteen trails and over 100 miles. 2016 was an epic year for hiking. The beauty of the Pacific Northwest never ceases to amaze me. The meadows burgeoning with wildflowers, scree slopes, forest, lakes, and waterfalls - heaven on earth.
Many of my hikes this year were solo. Nothing more frightening or peaceful than spending time with yourself and your psyche. I’m not a powerful hiker, but I have stamina and persistence. My 43rd birthday hike to Mount Storm King on the Olympic Peninsula last summer proved to be the most challenging. The shortest hike I’ve done, the mile and a half narrow climb to the summit, had a near 2,000ft. elevation gain.
Pure hell, this vertigo-inducing trail was relentless. There were leafs with happy faces leading to the summit. I think it was someone’s way of encouraging weary hikers like me. These happy leafs brought a smile to my face, but I was still plagued with thoughts of quitting. With my heart pumping, legs burning, and knees aching my mind played tricks on me.
“You’re never going to make it to the top, Carla.”
“If you get hurt, no one is here to help you.”
“You came out all this way. Finish the damn trail, Carla!”
Ah yes, the good and bad angels sitting on my shoulders twisting my thoughts. They usually rear their ugly heads on my solo hikes. My personal failures embodied in physical pain. That’s the game they play.
For two years I’ve kept quiet and carried a heavy burden. A major fuck up, that unfortunately, will follow me for the rest of my days. A DUI.
Holy shit, getting a DUI was the last thing I’d ever thought would happen to me. Dinner and drinks with a friend turned into a nightmare. While my friend made it home, I was sitting in handcuffs at the police station. The cop who arrested me told me that my alcohol level was over the limit and that I had a car accident. I’d hit a parked car just a block away from my house. Fortunately, no one was in the car.
Dazed, confused, and overwhelmed with disbelief, many things flooded my head, but the thought of potentially having killed someone if not myself, hit me like a ton of bricks.
The police released me after 2 AM and took me home. My car, at the wrecker. Eyes swollen from crying, I was in a state of denial and terribly frightened. A difficult phone call with an attorney made it all too clear that the worst was yet to come.
I met a couple of young lawyers at a coffee shop. The download of depressing information was so intense, my head was spinning. They spoke loud enough that people heard our conversation. I couldn’t handle the stares. So much for discretion.
“You’ll have to do time in jail, Carla.”
“We’ll work our best to minimize the time, but jail is inevitable.”
Jail is inevitable. Those words echoed in my head over and over again, the shame of it all broke my heart. It was bad enough strangers were staring, what would my family, my boss, and my friends think? Let’s be honest, we all judge as much as we say we don’t. The look of disappointment on some people’s faces, the What? You? look. Yes, that’s judgment.
What followed were months of court dates. Each time, I was so scared I couldn’t eat or sleep. Stand up, sit down, say yes, say no, and look at the judge. Always look at the judge. I never learned this in school. My lawyer was understanding and determined to help me as best he could. He defended my previous spotless driving record and having this offense in my forties was an advantage; however, when it comes to the legal system it’s all up to the luck of the draw and the moody prosecutors.
- Prosecutor #1: 10 days in jail, 7 days work crew.
- Prosecutor #2: 4 days in jail, 3 days work crew.
- Prosecutor #3: 2 days in jail, 24 hours community service.
How does the system even come up with this? The sheer inconsistency of the sentencing was maddening. Any of the sentences meant loss of work and income. In the end, I was to do two days in jail with 24 hours of community service.
It was a rainy fall morning when I took the bus to the county jail and turned myself in. The clock started as soon as I was frisked by the guard. I was led to a room where I was asked to remove all my clothing and stripped searched.
The officer had me open my mouth wide so she could check for drugs. I then leaned forward as she checked behind my ears and looked through my hair. I spread my toes and showed her the bottoms of my feet. The last and perhaps the most degrading part of this was having to squat and cough a few times and while bent over, spread my bottom.
I was given clothing for the next two days including an underwear, bra, and pair of socks.
Next, I was asked to sign a waiver stating that a cop had explained and warned me about potential rape in the cells. I was in an all women’s cell. Potential rape.
- Don’t tell people why you’re here
- Don’t accept a ‘gift’
- Don’t let them be your ‘friend’
It wasn’t even 9 AM and another shit-ton of bricks slammed me in the face. The good and bad angels make their appearance once again.
“You got yourself into this, Carla.”
“If you get raped, it’s your fault.”
“This too, shall pass... maybe.”
I learned quickly not to ask questions in jail. I walked into a three-tiered tank where the cells were arranged around an open central space that contained a security booth for the guard. I picked up my mat and soap and walked into an eight-by-six-foot room with a metal bunk bed bolted to the wall, a sink, a toilet, and a slither of a window looking outside.
My cellmate joined me later that afternoon. She was a multiple offender of identity fraud. On trial, she was on the verge of losing her three children and she was pregnant with her fourth. Strangely enough, I recognized her face as I had seen her in the news months earlier. She was caught on camera with her husband and brother reeling in an elderly lady with dementia and charging her credit card with large electronic purchases. She was absolutely gorgeous, unbelievably street smart, and about to deal with a life sentence. I don’t know what became of her. She was 29.
There were women of all ages in for things like domestic abuse, stealing prescription drugs, and other crimes and misdemeanors. I never told anyone why I was in there. The women already knew. One cellmate sat next to me and said, “you’re in for a DUI, huh? Yeah, I can tell.”
I sat stunned she read me so well. Female intuition is a powerful thing.
A small TV (monitored by one bossy cellmate who had the ultimate say in what we’d watch), a handful of books, and a table is all that furnished the block. One and half hours for community time, twice a day. On my second day, two women started a fight and all of us lost evening community time. Feminine hygiene products were thrown to us from the door and it was a contest of who could stash the most.
The water tasted like ammonia and the food was horrific and the lowest grade. On the verge of vomiting, I didn’t eat my meals at all. Everyone had a chore and we were carefully monitored by the guard. Do it wrong and you lose community time. I made the mistake of not shutting my cell door correctly and all the women yelled at me as all the doors electronically trigger the TV and phones.
My senses were heightened and working overtime. A combination of sheer shock and scared shitless, I neither smiled nor cried. I felt nothing and yet felt everything.
I was wildly amused at an unusual talent from the bossy cellmate. She was a strong-featured woman, six feet tall with a lot of harsh life experiences under her belt. Serving 10 months, it wasn’t her first time behind bars. She pulled the string of an unused tampon and threaded the eyebrows of another cellmate. Hot damn! She MacGyvered a tampon! I chuckled under my breath at our desire to look fabulous even under the shittiest circumstances. Maybe it’s our way of keeping our sanity.
The day of my release was a long and arduous shit show, literally. An elderly woman blind in one eye was released alongside me. She was a heroin addict. Frail, thin, and obviously going through withdrawals, she couldn’t control her bowel movements and unfortunately the toilet overflowed and it made her vomit. We were in an even smaller holding room and the stench was revolting. I banged on the door for help. No one came, not immediately anyway.
All my energy depleted from lack of sleep and suffering severe cramps from not eating, I was beyond desperate. Several hours later, I was finally in my own clothes and waiting to get my cellphone and sign final paperwork. Stuck in yet another room with a cop and five male cellmates, I thought I was home free until one of the men said, “Oh Mamita, you must have one fine pussy... I want some of that.” Another man repeated it in Spanish.
What. The. Fuck.
Despite my sheer exhaustion, my blood was boiling and violent thoughts ran through my head. I looked to the cop in hopes that he would do something. He said nothing, rather, he looked at me in pity.
As I walked out the door, it was raining hard and my eyes were adjusting to colors and scenery. Dizzy, I managed to walk 11 blocks to one of my favorite restaurants. My first meal in two days. I ordered coffee, eggs, pancakes, toast, hashbrowns, a fruit cup, and a mimosa.
Alone in the restaurant, I stared out the window for a while. The first thing that came to mind was that I was out and the other women were still in hell. Thinking back to their stories, I felt ashamed of my past judgments. I finally broke down and cried until my face was numb.
The system is not there to help you, it’s a dehumanizing experience meant to break you down. You’re deprived of mental stimulation and physical activity. Just two days of staring at beige walls drove me to near lunacy. I understand why some lose hope.
Since then, I’ve seen the bossy cellmate and the elderly blind woman around downtown Seattle. As for the elderly blind woman, she was hanging onto the arm of another woman. She seemed under the influence again. As I walked passed her I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.
I’ll never forget this experience and thanks to the state of Washington, they’ll never let me forget it either. Still dealing with the aftermath, legally speaking, my life fuck-up can never be expunged and it’ll affect potential job prospects. In addition to debt, having a breathalyzer in my car has been the ultimate bane of my existence.
There is an indescribable loneliness one feels when going through things like this and my initial coping mechanisms were not stellar, to say the least. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. Keeping it under wraps has done more harm than good to my mental and emotional well-being. The more I’ve opened up, the more friends and acquaintances have shared similar stories and naturally my compassion for others has deepened. Self-compassion, on the other hand, is something I’m still working on and perhaps God’s focus for me.
As I embrace my authentic self (the sweet, loving, infinitely flawed person that I am) I’m embracing what it means to be fully human. There will be plenty of life’s ass-kicks to be had during my time here on earth and whatever happens, I vow to LIVE BOLDLY!
Here’s to hiking, writing, and conquering mountains!