This is how our greatest hero has fallen: face first at the mercy of a court system that doesn't understand. Like Captain America (a face I often brazenly wear across my chest), I am standing before a court system that has failed its population. I am the one who will change our social system for the better. My understanding of the shifts that need to happen for democracy to actually work in our capitalist system, of how we can utilize our criminal justice system for social betterment and not just punishment, of the very essences of what could heighten America's sense of self, and birth from its ashes a glowing phoenix of social change wearing a red, white and blue top hat while crying tears inscribed with the constitution and singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in a phoenix-voice so powerful it would shatter the need to teach Political Science in schools because we would become one united nation under our own personal higher power… all for naught.
They have taken away my tools in my fight for justice and my ability to leap from tall buildings in a series of rope pulls.
I am facing off against a corporation on unequal footing because I cannot prove that attempting to rappel off a building under construction means I am innocent. Apparently, it actually means I am guilty.
There is a judge. I hope he understands me. I hope he understands us. And I pray that my hope is well-founded.
* * *
I mean, jail (jail, mind you, not prison… an overnight cell, being held in there against my will sans stylish jumpsuits, shivs, and the infernal racket caused by "the dropping of the soap") is pretty terrible. I'll posit that it might be as terrible as people make it out to be (specifically, not having a proper surface to sleep on when you're so physically exhausted that the only ways to resuscitate the body are sleep or,… uh, sleep), though we were certainly doing our best to make it entertaining. I may not have been fully aware of my situation, but I was fully aware of my boredom. So was Aaron. This is what started the contest.
"You know, I bet if we get put into a mental institution, we won't go to prison." Aaron's musings were both clear and loud.
"Yeah, but how are we going to do that?"
"I have a plan…," and it should be noted that it was Aaron's plan (the only plan we could devise under the screaming buzz of neon surrounded by blocks of concrete that, I believe, were actually made of the essence of cold itself)that put me in "the slammer" in the first place. And it should also be noted that trying to get put into a mental institution after being in jail (…not prison) for a time frame that was closer to minutes than hours was probably just going to get us in more trouble. There I was, jumping off a slab of concrete and slapping the walls while Aaron rocked back and forth in a fetal position singing what might've been the first song he ever wrote, containing the lyrics, "I'm an egg, I'm an egg, I'm an egg." I also took the opportunity to moon the people in the other cell while they were getting their mug shots taken. I should have thought about how the idea of me pressing ham against a tiny window that was facing the back of an officer's head was probably the best way to stay in jail. At least they eventually brought us breakfast. A hot cup of coffee (which Aaron turned down out of spite and moments later infinitely regretted) on a cold January morning was probably enough sustenance for me to think about how to get out of here and to my job interview that was only hours away.
Also, "pressing ham" means placing butt cheeks against a window… in essence, mooning someone while against glass. The two butt cheeks give the impression of "pressed ham."
Yes, it is just as funny as it sounds.
* * *
I had just left the monastery (yes, a real monastery, full of monks and bourbon fudge and head cheese and fruitcake) a week previous. That Friday night, I was hanging out with one of my only lasting friendships, Caleb.
I've been informed that you can't actually hang out with a "friendship." But I like the tone of it and I'm going to keep it that way.
At the time, C and I were (I'd say) pretty good friends and I was using his place as a launching pad for "something to do." "Something to do" consisted of anything that I could use to open my veins and drain the boredom from them. I could feel stagnation hardening my arteries, forcing boredom clots to litter my person. After having spent an extended period of time in reflection (remember the monastery?), I decided that night needed to be one of action. Moments before the fateful phone call, "something to do" was consisting of which field we were going to do some target shooting in. And by "target shooting," I clearly mean pumping lead into unwilling fields of agriculture.
Caleb's phone suddenly (to use the hilarious colloquialism) blew up. It was Aaron, he had two people with him… and they were primed for rappelling. Now, Caleb and Aaron are two of the reasons multiple facilities have all night security in the Franklin/ Brentwood/ Nashville, Tennessee area, having spent innumerable hours of their lives devoted to rappelling down buildings under construction, investigating/ tampering with said buildings under construction, or any other number of activities associated with urban spelunking. Traditionally, they went with groups of friends as well, always finding it more interesting to play Indiana Jones with others and not just themselves. I, however, had never been on one of these sojourns. What crawled down my pants and bit me on the fleshiest part of my butt in a way that drove me to accompanying them on this excursion? Nary a clue… nary, I write. Perhaps it was a need to do something hyper physical, maybe a simple need for socialization; it might've even just been a chance to show off. I don't know. What I do know is that without hesitation, Caleb and I were off to meet up with three other people. I also know that all of us were dressed in dark clothes, carrying large duffel bags of gear, and clearly up to no good.
* * *
I am not a social revolutionary. I have never been a political prisoner, even in gulags of my own making. I have yet to discover the sweet taste of freedom earned and not freedom freely given by free people who want to share their "free"-ness… freely.
What am I?
I am a superhero or a spy, running around my basement or apartment depending on my age. I am movie scenes or artist-inked pages coming to life. Alternating between ultimately lethal and completely non-lethal, I take out enemies with precision and a vengeance that can only be borne of childhood trauma. I leap couches like they're buildings, and I roll on carpets than can burn as easily as the lava on either side of a narrow volcanic bridge. I am a swashbuckler with earrings, my armada against a cadre of ninjas. I am every fantasy character come to reality, slinging magic like arrows and swinging broadswords like pendulums, ticking off demons and goblins in a metronome whirlwind. Deadly and unstoppable and constantly moving forward.
I am never, ever a peaceful revolutionary.
I live off the adrenaline of my imagination. It is why my reality is too often peppered with the stupid things that I do. I have trouble drawing the line between one and the other. I don't know if that problem is something I ever want to correct.
* * *
The quick run-down: we parked in a well-lit parking lot, we (five people in dark clothing) ran across a street while carrying large duffel bags, we plodded through mud to a framework building with wide-open access and no security, and we began climbing the floors of Embassy Suites.
Once we ascended to the summit of Mt. "Embassy Suites," we were preparing to hook up and start our descent into mad darkness. I was the definition of adrenaline, second in line and ready to fall into a pitch black pit of dark madness. There is no English word to describe the feeling that punches you in the gut when you're staring into the unknown with that very real awareness of danger which is only barely trumped by a very real sense of… masculinity? Machismo? Herculean undertaking? Why is there no word for that feeling? Our language is so complex that we can craft sentences that go on for pages, but is too limited to give us simple words for complex feelings. I want that essence distilled into a word that I can look up and play in Scrabble. I want to be able to craft my sentences like I'm speaking a romantic language: multiple emotions folded into single words, so I can speak simple sentences layered in meaning. I want to speak in poetry instead of extended prose. I want accountability for the flaws I perceive in English, man! Who do I talk to? Where's the manager?
There we were, atop the building. The center of the building had been cut out, leaving it open to the ominous rushing of January wind. Earth was a physically dangerous distance from us. We were at our intended location: the elevator shaft. It was real. We were braced, the five of us, for an excellent and provocative excursion.
I steel myself against the wind, face directly into the void. That was where I would be, where I needed to go. Why is the world's fate is always up for grabs, any megalomaniac with cash and influence could holding the world hostage week in and week out? Our government lives a step behind, handcuffing itself by archaic rules this planet no longer lives by. I know we defend freedom. I don't know why defense is a rection. What do I know? I know why the responsibility keeps falling on my shoulders. They’re the only ones broad enough to carry it. I know I carry thirteen pistols, always fully loaded. And I know what they call me and why they call me.
I stand on the rooftops to scour my city. I breathe in the night air. I don't taste much crime tonight. Maybe my palate is too sharp for the tastes of common lowlife and street thugs. The cold wind bites at my chest. I'm sweating despite razor sharp artic winds slicing my face. Rethinking the costume, a full mask for my face would be helpful for these days.
Directly below me, I hear her screams. Three guys think they're enough to take her. They were right. I will make them wrong. My arms are wide, ready to leap into the air and drop like a stone of justice –
…there was an interruption in my monolog-ing. That moment was when a higher power allowed the least enticing sight into the peripherals of the five people standing on the rooftop. Flashing red and blue. When we looked down, we saw an open expanse and heard a strange war-whooping, similar to what you would expect a… I don't know… an owl? maybe? to make. Claiming our positions like gothic gargoyles, we went silent and stationary as an ever-increasing police force flooded our view. Catcalls from the officers filled our ears: "We know you're in here," "There's no use in hiding," and "We've got you surrounded." I was as trapped as the villains I had been imagining moments before. While terror grabbed our boots and shook our cores, we remained steadfast. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we received our reward. The officers lessened their force and began to depart from the scene of the crime. We breathed in the air of freedom.
That was, of course, moments before a cop car actually drove inside the building with its lights flashing and blasted its siren in the middle of what would eventually be the main entryway of the Embassy Suites. The mantra of, "This is the police, we know you're in there, come out with your hands up," was sung to a visual accompaniment of flashlights retracing our steps in the building and ascending up the stair and walk ways. This was all way too fast. When a group of officers were immediately outside of the door behind which we were hiding, Caleb and the other two people in the group volunteered themselves for arrest. The idea was that Aaron and I were going to wait it out and post bail later. It was a solid plan, but suffered from a fatal flaw: Aaron and I lacked the wherewithal to stick to it. Maybe it was because of the verbal abuse from the officers washing over our friends, maybe it was because the cops kept screaming they knew there were five people and not three, who really knows? Aaron and I opened the door, letting it swing, and surrendered ourselves.
Perhaps a mistake.
The officers immediately forced us to turn around and put our hands on our heads. Keeping a solid 20 feet between us and the guns, they began drilling us. Our response was the silent treatment. We did eventually hit a point where the cops started singling us out and asking direct questions. The officers' probing of Aaron (who, at that point, had been illegally frisked a number of times greater than he was years old) caused a bit of a rift between us and the people with guns.
“You, in the Circus Clown Outfit [I don't actually remember what he was wearing, but I think Circus Clown Outfits are funny – ed.]. What kind of car did you come here in tonight?"
"Pft. A Honda." The tone in his voice echoed nothing but disrespect. I was floored.
"You watch your tone!"
"I am watching my tone!"
And so on. Brilliance, really.
When running this story by Caleb, he let me know that at some point, he started pleading the Fifth with the "evil female cop." Apparently, it was quite amusing. Apparently, she was furious. I (shamefully) still experience a bit of glee thinking about her being upset.
* * *
What is it that drives people to do the things they know they shouldn't do? And, as the next logical step, what is it that drives people to punish? I'm not talking about helping someone to, say, learn a lesson. That makes sense. I'm wondering what causes people to punish for simple vindictiveness. What's the purpose? Vengeance, revenge, eye for an eye… I've felt the impulse. I'm human. But truly unleashing said impulse, flinging punishment? I don't understand what pushes people, Norse gods, hotels, any entity really, to the point where that vindictiveness is the ultimate goal.
I would like to be Batman. I cannot be Batman. I cannot be Batman for many reasons, but the main one is this: Batman cannot exist in my reality because I, ultimately, cannot understand his emotional justification behind punishing. I can only rationalize his need to punish.
Batman also can't exist in my reality because he's fiction. That’s a hang-up/ flaw of mine.
* * *
They eventually slammed all five of us (did I mention that one of us was a girl? Yeah, well, one of us was a girl smaller than my wrist) face first into the brick. While the officers apparently knew there were five of us, they didn't have enough handcuffs, so they chained Aaron and me together. Of course, they called us the Wonder Twins. Of course. I still think that's funny. When grilling us for names, Aaron volunteered that he was "Jonathan J. Andrews." I heard it's a good idea to make up a name when officers arrest you, but that's only the word on the street. That name was eventually enough to get him an additional 5 month suspended sentence and an additional 5 months of probation. When the officers found our climbing gear, Aaron let them know they didn't need to go through it because, as he said, "There aren't any bazookas or anything in there." Some of the cops laughed. Caleb screamed. The female cop raged. And I just sat there stunned.
While the officers were dragging us down the stairs, at the time I didn't get it. I kept thinking to myself, "this is ridiculous, this is ridiculous, this is ridiculous." I couldn't figure out how on earth the officers could justify wasting tax payer money putting some idiot kids with rappelling gear into handcuffs. I was missing, at the time, the entire picture. The full justification for a squad of officers being out there, the reason behind the arrest, all of this makes sense now. But then? "Oh, whoa is me, poor Chamberlain, being assaulted by the law, I'm such a big deal, whine whine whine." Man, I sucked.
One officer… we chatted a bit, he was laughing, I asked him if he would let us go, and he said, "No," in the same laughing tone. I guess he thought it was a joke.
The weird part of all of this was the blame that I kept shuffling around.
What pushed this over the top, what really blew my mind, was that the sergeant was called at home by the female cop and was pulled, off-duty, to a non-violent crime scene. Even in retrospect, this flattens me like a tank crushing a kitten. Even knowing what the cops were hoping to accomplish that night, this boggles my uncomprehending mind. There were 5 people in cuffs, no weapons, and suddenly 6 cop cars with ten officers and a sergeant? 11 people and 6 cars for 5 people. I've typed this in numbers to precisely drive home the ridiculousness all of this. This was unnecessary. This was completely unnecessary. I buy the need for the first 5 cars based on what they thought was happening, but calling the sergeant at home? What we did was wrong. We knew we were actively breaking the law. It was stupid, but why call the sergeant… we didn't… I just… can't… fathom… and my brain just exploded.
Ultimately, we were driven around, questioned separately, and when the officers had the information they wanted, we were taken to jail and booked.
I'm willing to bet the officers were far less excited to be busting 5 people for breaking and entering than they would have been for getting the biggest drug bust in Williamson County history. Did I mention that? The Franklin police department sent five squad cars because they thought they were going to get in on the biggest cocaine bust in county history. Right, so that explains the double digit number of officers. It makes complete sense that at least that many officers were sent.
Afterward? When they knew the situation and the sergeant was called out of bed by the female officer? That was stupid. That was just stupid. That I don't understand.
* * *
There is this need for camaraderie… it's something that we, as humans, share. I believe this as a core truth, one of the things I hold onto. It is one of the few things I believe is universal to human nature, that without it, society would explode like a potato in a microwave and everything would turn into unstoppable civil war. This need for society, actually, is all that I believe has been staving off the apocalypse. I have yet to find a singular instance where this isn't true, where some misanthrope or sociopath couldn't have been helped by human interaction.
Of course, there are situations where people continue to suffer when surrounded by humanity, but that is a flaw in the society letting down the individual. The social network the person is within has let them down, not the other way around. In my mind, it's never the other way around.
* * *
I don't think putting us in jail cells together did anything beneficial, but they didn't want to question us. I think they just wanted to leave us in jail. Which is totally fair, since we were, you know, illegalling up the construction site. Since the point of questioning was well-past and the officers probably wanted to warm up a bit, this group of "punk kids" was allowed to hang out in the cells, making jokes underneath the dangling Sword of Damocles. I'm sure the officers were bored, sick of dealing with idiot groups like this day in and day out. The daily grind must wear down people who (hopefully) just wanted to keep the public safe. Another routine night for them was a life-altering one for me.
I mean that it was life-altering in the way that I can check one more thing off of my lifelong "To Do" list. Arrested, specifically for something not involving drugs or alcohol? Check. Next on my list is jumping from an airplane (parachute optional).
That was a joke.
* * *
Why does the bullying need exist? Is it a function of our being, the need to feel superior to others and to brow beat them until they hit a submissive level of agreement?
* * *
I can only assume that we went to jail because we were just one more idiot group they hoped would learn to not stupidly and brazenly break laws. That's what I'm hoping. I may blame the police for arresting me, but I can only hope they had my best intentions in mind. I mean, I haven't been arrested for Breaking and Entering since, so that should count for something, right?
Also, I didn't break anything. Shouldn't it have just been for entering? I think it would be funny to say I was arrested for Entering.
But what if they were just arresting us without the hopes that we wouldn't mess up again? What if we were just arrested because someone who had a little too much authority just decided to blow off steam that night? How is that even kind of justifiable? Arrests should be justifiable, right?
I type this, realizing I'm jumping back into the mindset of a chip-on-his-shoulder 19 year old. I'm taking this stance right now: I deserved to be arrested. I wanted to be let off the hook. After all, if arrests don't have to be justifiable, why should my actions? If they don't have to justify the arrest, why should I have to justify my need to satiate an over-active adrenaline gland and a super-hero complex that can only be appeased by leaping from tall buildings in a single, rope-secured bound?
* * *
Jail was fine, we all got to chat a bit and maybe talk about the weather, we had our pictures taken, and we were served a multi-part breakfast. It was a bit like a very cold bed & breakfast. Of course, I also wrote a sizable check to get myself out of jail (it's Bond… Jail Bond… I'm hilarious), so that was less awesome. Had it been a real bed & breakfast, I probably would've complained about the price. But we got "outta da slammer" (not before Aaron, of course, asked one of the clerking officers for a copy of his mugshot… it didn't go over well with any of his audiences). I chose to ride back with Caleb.
"I mean, I know it was only a few hours, but the idea of being free is really, really nice." "I don't want to spend any extended time in jail." "What do you think is going to happen?" Caleb and I kept volleying sentences like badminton. We were scattered, disorientation ruling our thoughts. I understand the officers (I hope), and that they were trying to keep the public safe. I am part of said public. I was being an idiot and endangering myself. They were trying to keep me safe from myself (whether or not they should do that is debatable, but something I'm uninterested in at this point). What really stood out was that, after we spoke with our lawyer, we found out just how much trouble we were actually in.
* * *
If we thought the cops were being unreasonable, we had no idea how over the top Embassy Suites would go. While the cops were hopefully punishing us with the goal of teaching us a lesson, Embassy Suites just wanted to punish us. It's not like they were going to try and make examples of us: they were going to keep this out of the media and simply throw four of us in jail for months. They wanted Aaron in jail for almost a year (because of that name thing, right?). Unreasonable is a broad word, but it isn't wide enough to contain this. Sending corporate lawyers to punish young people who were trying to do something stupid? Wrong. Mean. Bullying. Sick. It's these kind of morally reprehensible actions that disgust me, that remind me that maybe my faith in the good of humanity is misplaced, that the ignorant not only inherited the earth, but decided to run it into the ground, that my trust in a democratic capitalist society is about as widely misplaced as my unshakable faith in the Cubs.
At the end of the day, it's the "why"s that bother me. Why did they do that? Why did they refuse to see or speak to the defendants? Why was the district attorney given the full support of a corporation and its lawyers to attempt to ruin the futures of people they didn't know? If they were just trying to punish us (which is all that I can assume, since they wouldn't speak with us), then why was that their goal? Years later, I still can't figure these out. The "why"s are the missing pieces to this idiot puzzle.
I don't… ugh.
Okay, this is older Andrew yelling at younger Andrew: "Why are you so focused on the police? They were doing their job, which is to arrest people who have no concern for the law. This is your fault and no one else's. You should be mad at Embassy Suites! What they're doing is wrong! Punishment for a crime that had no victim is wrong! Just because you were in the wrong doesn't give them an excuse to be in the wrong as well. Change your focus. What's the cause of the problems? 1. Your stupidity. 2. The unnecessary and barbaric nature of punishments that don't fit crimes that wealthy corporations want to enforce on the public? You want a lesson?
"Don't blame the government, Andrew. Blame the corporations that control the government, that misuse laws, that corrupt from the inside out. Don't blame the effect, it does nothing. Focus on the cause. You're smart enough to do that."
But that night… it was pure idiocy. It would have been fun and fulfilling, but yes, it was dumb. Of course, knowing what I know now, I'm sure I would have done it again, just with better planning. Blaming everyone else for over-reacting means I need to reexamine this: independent of any punishment, I was going to jump off a building with a rope and harness tied to my body, a four or five story descent into pitch black and construction materials. If nothing else, I deserved to be arrested for a complete lapse in any mental ability. That is entirely justifiable.
* * *
I made the job interview that day. And got hired. I think I forgot to tell them that I was arrested.
Also, we lucked out. As I stood before the court in my Guardian Angel costume, the judge looked us over. He saw right through it, to the near-man who hadn't left his kid mentality. He saw potential standing underneath the district attorney's storm cloud, ready to rain unjustified punishment and sick vindictiveness, which could easily ruin me, based on an evening's misjudgment.
Final sentence? Four people with no criminal history were given a 30 day suspended sentence based on a 30 day probation and 28 hours of community service (from which I picked up my 3rd simultaneous job, janitor at the YMCA). A fifth person (I can't remember if it was Aaron or Jonathan J. Andrews) was given a 6 month suspended sentence based on a 6 month probation and many more hours of community service.
And all of had our records expunged. Which means if I'm ever in court, I'm absolutely testifying that I've never been previously arrested. It may not be fair, but it's legal. You know what would be messed up?
If that was the final lesson I learned from all of this: to play inside of the system by obeying the letter of the law and not the spirit, instead of the other way around.
* * *
Just before the hearing, I was riding around Franklin with Caleb. I mentioned to him that I was freaking out, that I was positive I was in a ton of trouble and that I didn't know what I was going to do. I talked about how this was going to mess up my life forever and that I had ruined my future by being stupid.
Caleb simply and calmly pointed out that, some day, this would be a story I would tell people. I would probably laugh about it. At the time, I knew he was right, but it didn't help.
Today? Caleb is still right. And it still doesn't help.