Note: the writer of this article has actually been tossed in the pen and is therefore probably the last person you should actually trust for advice. That being said, his thoughts are quite amusing. Still, this should not be considered a substitute for professional legal advice. Always consult an lawyer.
Guess what! You’ve just been arrested. You’ve got cuffs on, you’re sitting on the weird plastic bench that serves as a back seat in a police cruiser, you might be drunk or high or otherwise out of your skull, and the only person you can talk to is some pudgy cop with a crewcut and a Glock, who is currently busy typing your driver's license and personal information into a police-issue laptop.
No matter how ‘faced or stoned you were when they put the cuffs on you, it’s likely that there’s still a part of your brain that’s trying to ramp up your nervous system to full Incredible Hulk mode for a desperate attempt to bust out of the cop car or paddy wagon. Your first duty is to shut that panic signal down. Anything you do to resist or escape arrest is only going to make things worse, so try to get your brain back on a sensible, reasonable track.
If you’ve been arrested and you’re about to be sent to jail, you need to be thinking as clearly and rationally as you possibly can. The next few hours are going to be weird and scary and confusing, but you can still get through them if you’ve got your mind right. Here are 10 tips to know if you ever get snagged by the five-O.
TRY NOT TO FREAK OUTThis is the first, most important, and often most difficult thing you need to do when you’ve been arrested. Confronting a cop can be a stressful event in itself, and when they decide to put the cuffs on you, it’s very easy to lose your grip in one way or another. Your brain is very likely going to be pumping gallons of adrenaline through your system in order to set up your fight-or-flight reflex, but you absolutely have to ignore that impulse and be as polite to and cooperative with the arresting officers as you can.
Most cops deal with all sorts of crazy assholes all day, and if you make a point of being helpful and pleasant, they will remember it and note it in their report, which might be really helpful if/when your case goes to court. Besides, it’s best to keep as clear a head as possible for the next few stages of your arrest/jail experience.
YOU CAN BOND OUT DURING BOOKINGAfter your arrest, you might spend an hour or two in a paddy wagon until whatever police division (city, county, state, etc.) decides that the rickety old armored van you’re sitting in is filled with enough people in handcuffs to drive out to the most convenient jail. When you arrive there, the corrections officers will bring you out one by one, confiscate your wallet/phone/keys/shoes/etc., swap out your clothes for a jumpsuit that may or may not fit you, and herd you into a holding cell with 10 or 20 other men or women while jail staff sorts through the paperwork of your arrest.
During this time, you will probably be presented with a few posters, or maybe a bilingual video that briefly touches on your rights as an American citizen in jail, which is mostly worth listening to but generally fails to provide you with any sort of useful legal information. The time spent in this holding cell is best spent taking naps to sober up, talking to fellow cellmates, and using the bathroom and the water fountain (especially if you’ve been drinking a lot or otherwise getting dehydrated).
The one time you need to be fully awake and sober is when they call you into their little office to verify your personal details and possessions, because at some point they’ll offhandedly mention your right to a phone call and it’s extremely important that you make use of that right however you can. Typically, they won’t allow you to look at your cellphone to get the numbers of your friends and family, and sometimes they won’t even allow you to call anything but a landline, but remember that you absolutely have the right to phone a bail bondsman while they are processing you. The corrections officers will almost never mention this, but you can ask for a list of bail companies and put in a call that very hour which may well save you a day or two of jail time.
THE “CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS” WILL PROBABLY NOT HELP YOUAfter years of hard-fought civil-rights cases, most police officers are required by law to inform you of your rights as an American citizen and human being even as they are placing you for arrest against the hood of their car. There are no such laws that apply to jail-based correctional officers.
That means that you can expect every request, no matter how reasonable, legal, or constitutionally mandated, to be flatly rejected and mocked, and that if you try to complain about such treatment, you’ll be targeted as a troublemaker and problem inmate. Outside of a few exceptions, the men and women guarding you have an enormous legal advantage over you (few juries or judges will value the word of a prisoner over a guard).
Stay quiet and obedient for at least as long as you’re stuck in the “processing” cellblock. No matter how legally solid your case is against the guards, they have an enormous advantage against you that you can overcome only by waiting it out.
YOUR CELLMATES WILL TRY TO HELP YOUThis is apparently very important: no, you are not going to get raped in jail, you’re not going to get stabbed in jail, and you’re almost certainly not going to have anything bad done to you in jail by the people you’re sharing a cell, cellblock, or building with. Too many people think that a city or county jail is somehow a microcosm of “Oz” and is rife with all sorts of gangs and intrigue, when most people in a jail are going to spend at most two weeks there before either being released or moved to real prison.
During that time, inmates try to communicate with each other as much as possible, sharing information about the least cruel guards, the best parts of the jail to get rehoused in, and general legal tips on how to eventually get out of jail. While your cellies mean well, their legal advice may not be ideal. They’re usually concerned with getting out of jail as soon as possible, so generally they’ll tell you to plead guilty as soon as you’re arraigned, which may get you back in your house or apartment sooner rather than later, but can also result in crippling long-term punishments like driver’s license suspension, heavy fines, and even house arrest.
You may be desperate to get out of jail (because jail really is awful) but think carefully when presented with a court-offered “get out of jail free” card. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
EAT WHAT YOU CAN AND SAVE WHAT YOU CAN’TYour first night in jail is likely to be scary and anxious and crazy and weird, and the first time you get offered jail food, it’s quite possible you’re going to maybe take two bites before throwing up everything you drank or ate over the last 24 hours, hopefully into the little sheet-metal toilet right next to your bunk. The guard (and your cellmate) will probably assume you’re coming down from some assortment of pills, and may take back the rest of your meal tray.
This is the only time you can let this happen. Every other meal you're served in jail represents the bare minimum of nutrition necessary to carry you through a third of the day, and if there’s a part of the meal you can’t eat, you need to save it or trade it with your cellmate. The food is going to be incredibly awful -- I remember eating some kind of fried patty that neither I nor anyone else could distinguish as chicken or beef -- but it’s all you’re going to get.
PLAN AGAINST BOREDOMIf you weren’t able to bond out during processing, you’re going to need to hunker down and buckle up for a lot of random cruelty, pointless boredom and naps. During your first 24 hours, you’re probably going to get stuck in the jail’s processing block, which is as absolutely bare-bones as a modern jail cell is legally allowed to be. You'll get three meals a day, you usually have a cellmate to talk to, and depending on your position in the cellblock, you might be able to hear or even see the one television in the common area that is typically left on throughout the day.
While talking to your cellmate can be extremely educational as well as intellectually stimulating, it’s generally best to spend as much time as you possibly can asleep, because there is literally nothing else to do.
You can’t have books, paper, pencils or really anything else until later in the jail process, so if you’re awake and bored and going crazy, you need to look within yourself to find something to do. Were you thinking about a story or song or poem or whatnot? Try to perfect it in your head without pencil or paper, or maybe try to confront some sort of philosophical problem you’ve always wrestled with.
GET MEDEVACKEDEvery jail has a special medical wing for prisoners with digestive, circulatory or neurological problems, and this wing is always staffed, it seems, by the few corrections officers who have a sense of empathy and kindness. Something as seemingly insignificant as high blood pressure can get you rehoused to the medical wing, where you get a cell all to yourself, you have access to the tattered remnants of whatever books have been donated to the jail, and (most importantly of all) you can talk to a corrections officer who can and will actually help you contact relatives or bondsmen.
The people working in the medical wing will probably treat you the nicest, and in some cases they’ll even honestly explain the rules and regulations of the jail to you, and even help you get in touch with a bondsman. In the meantime, you can often find a wrecked paperback book that can keep you entertained until your next free period, or maybe even a stubby pencil and paper to write on. Bottom line: if you’ve ever had any sort of medical issue that required medication or hospitalization, make sure you mention it to the jail’s medical staff in the hopes you get moved to the medical wing.
GETTING ARRAIGNEDIf you’ve missed all your chances at bonding out (because believe it or not, some bonding agencies flake out and never show up) your other way to get out of jail is through the arraignment process. In America, arraignment must occur within 72 hours (three days) of an arrest, and is a way of formally announcing the charges against you and your legal options.
At this stage, you are not required (no matter how much you’re told to) to enter a plea of guilty or innocent or crazy (and please bear in mind that an insanity plea is much, much harder to establish than TV and movies make it look). This initial stage of arraignment can actually be conducted by video. You may be able to teleconference some judge on the weekend or some other holiday in order to work out the first part of your arraignment.
Otherwise, arraignment is typically a tedious and confusing process in which you're shipped from the jail to a courthouse, wait through what seems like hundreds of other court cases, and finally get to talk to a judge who will typically offer you the chance to plead guilty.
Many of your cellmates will urge you to take that chance, and you’ll be tempted to do so just to get out of jail as soon as you can, but if you keep a clear head and understand your financial situation, you may well find that pleading innocent is the best and cheapest way to keep on living life the way you want.
Next: Epically Hilarious Photos
GETTING THE HELL OUTRegardless of what the corrections officers may or may not tell you, bond agents will generally get you out of jail for 10-15 percent of your bail plus tax, so you may be able to get out of a $500 bail for $87 as long as you have that much cash available in your wallet or on your debit card.
If you can remember your friends or relatives’ phone numbers without your cellphone (and if your friends or relatives have land-line phones -- some jails feature phones that dial only to land lines) you can call them during the booking process, or you can call a local bonding agency and arrange for them to show up at the jail, formally take possession of your wallet and debit/credit cards, and pay your bail that way.
If you can’t get in touch with a bondsman who bothers to show up (and really, you should talk to your cellmates to figure out which bondsman is the most reliable) there’s still a chance that you’ll be released on your “own recognizance,” particularly if you’re a first offender.
This is a long shot, but if you’re in jail long enough and you’re pitiful enough, you have a decent chance of finding a judge who’ll take pity on you and get you out of jail before your arraignment.