Ins and outs (Part 5): Caught in the system

Who you know in the system can get you pretty far. If you have connections with people high up in the chain of command then you can pretty much get away with anything. Matt said that his grandma knew a judge and, after meeting with him, all Matt had to do was make a “small contribution” to the judge’s “campaign fund” and he got out of his D.U.I.

Some of my other friends have told me similar stories about getting off the hook with their D.U.I.’s. Others get treated differently. One time, when Matt was a teenager, a cop intercepted him off the road while he was riding his dirt bike and nearly killed him with his police car. Another time Matt’s probation officer gave him two drug tests. The first one he failed for weed and the second one, in court, he passed. The officer suggested to the judge that he go to jail for the first attempt, and he was hand-cuffed in front of his mother in the courtroom and hauled off to the jail, leaving him absent from school.

St. Tammany Courthouse. Photo by April Curran.

Another time he was walking in front of his mom’s house in broad daylight and a cop pulled right in front of him and illegally searched him and charged him with weed. Matt said, “I felt violated because I felt like the cop messed with me because I was so young and the cop knew there was nothing I could do about it.”

My junior year of high school, a resource officer at Fontainebleau High School beat me up on camera at lunch in my junior year of high school. My family filed a lawsuit with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office for the incident. In retrospect, I cannot help but think that the lawsuit may have been why the court system gave us such a hard time.

One night when I was 17, I took my grandpa’s car to hang out with some friends in Madisonville. I didn’t have any money and forged one of his checks. My aunt pressed the charges against me. What was a family matter around my bad decisions became multiple felony charges of “Theft of Assets of Elderly/Disabled Bank Fraud” and “Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle.” My mom paid back the money immediately and my grandpa certainly did not want me to go to jail. When the cops came to pick me up the next morning, they illegally searched my purse, and gave me a charge for “Possession of Marijuana.”

I sat in the squirrel cage overnight. I slept in the 3X3 foot space overnight waiting for a cop to sign a paper saying that I was booked. Then they put me in a concrete holding cell that’s about 10 x 7 feet full of sometimes up to 20 women. They keep it 60 degrees and do not give you blankets or pillows. You have to sleep next to another woman if you want to stay warm. They bring the women to the showers at a maximum of once a week because they don’t want the inspectors to see that they are over-crowding the jail cells against code. I lost 15 pounds during my stay there.

Matt calls St. Tammany Parish Justice System “St. Slammany.” “Juvenile delinquents,” as the court system calls them, whose families are not well-connected with the judges or who are not wealthy, are forced to go through government programs like the Youth Service Bureau and the Juvenile Drug Court System. The Youth Service Bureau, or YSB, is a place where they force priorly arrested adolescents to take drug tests once a week. Some counselor makes collages with you while getting you to say that you were only experimenting with drugs and that you promise you will never ever do them ever again. Each sessions cost your parents money. And then bam, they are done with you.

I made collages at home before with my sister’s exotic car magazines (which she got furious with me for cutting up) so I didn’t see how the YSB counseling sessions were supposed to of been helping me. But when I got out of jail, my first probation officer was a new rookie, and wasn’t, as Matt says, “power hungry.” She liked art. When she checked on me at home, I showed her my newest art that I had made and we got along well.

Part 6: Her vessel

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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