Ten Months In Jail
Imagine spending ten months in jail waiting for your day in court? That’s exactly what happened to Justin. Here’s his story about getting arrest and waiting for his day in court:
Hi, I’m Justin and I’ve been out of jail since mid-September. Back in November of 2015 when I found out that there was a search warrant for me, I panicked and fled from Florida to Texas. I can’t tell you why I did that, I knew I was innocent of the charges, but I was scared and gave in to my fears. I didn’t tell my family or anyone else, I just fled to Texas and found a place to stay. The people whose house I stayed at did not know there was a warrant for my arrest either.
Shortly after I arrived, law enforcement found out where I was and the Marshalls came to the house and arrested me. They had gotten a key from the owner of the house and entered the house and took me into custody. Because I was in another state I was being extradited back to Florida.
I spent time in the military and actually performed duties similar to the Marshalls, so I was familiar with the process and followed their orders. They brought me to the county jail where I spent two weeks waiting for extradition. Florida had ten days to pick me up to take me to Florida and when the time was almost up, the local law enforcement put me in a holding cell. They could keep me here until someone from the Florida prison system came to pick me up, or they could release me and re-arrest me because there was an active search warrant for my arrest. So they held me until the van came to pick me up. Like I said, I was there about two weeks.
When I was first taken into custody I was able to make a phone call. I had one telephone number I remembered (everyone has cell phones now). I called a friend who lived locally and she contacted my uncle, who then told the family. I stayed in contact with him the whole time I was in the county jail. It took me a couple of weeks to get in touch with anyone else of significance other than my friend who had the number. She went on Facebook to get the family numbers and to get accounts set up with the jail. My friend was able to come see me (don’t know how she did it). The visit was through the glass with the phone – like in the movies.
The trip to Florida took about five days. The van ride was probably the most horrible part of the whole ordeal. They had my hands and feet shackled the whole time. The van windows were blacked out so we sat in the dark. We stopped at other jails along the way so we could use the restrooms and pick up and drop off other prisoners. We did stop to sleep and eat at one of the jails. Otherwise we traveled 24 hours a day sitting upright in the van. They fed us a Sausage McMuffin for breakfast with water and two cheeseburgers with water for lunch and dinner.
When I was brought to the Florida jail I was put into maximum security with murderers and thieves. I was put into a two-man cell. There was a common area and that’s where they served the meals, all in that one common area.
At first nobody spoke to me in the jail and nobody wanted to be around me. Throughout the course of being there I had to fight a lot and I had military training and was a good fighter. Eventually they started to befriend me and got to know me and they were pretty cool. They shared what little they had, like food. People are typically not terrible human beings. It was jail so there were a few exceptions, but it was a community that they were all in this together and so by the time I went to trial everyone knew who I was. When it was my final day for trial everyone in the cell block got up at 4am to wish me well and see me off. They never did this for anyone. This had a tremendous impact on me because I’d never seen it done before. Everyone knew me as a person and believed my innocence once they got to know me. They all banded together as sort of a community and wished me luck. This was one of the most impactful things that happened to me in a positive way. There were plenty of terrible things, but this was one good thing that was pretty awesome.
During the ten months I was in jail I could have three visits a week for 30 minutes on a video screen. Once I was allowed visitors my girlfriend came to see me. The whole time I was in the jail the visits were through video conferencing, no physical contact. My old boss, who I’m close with and is like a family member, came to visit several times. I didn’t really want others to visit and I didn’t encourage them. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen in the future and I didn’t want the last vision of everyone to see me was on a video conference in stripes, even though I knew that I was innocent.
My girlfriend visited a few times in the beginning, then maybe once a month and then it tapered off. Then she moved on; she didn’t come to see me the last four to five months. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. In the beginning, everyone wants to see you and then after a while they don’t want to see you as much. My old boss visited once every couple of months. Maybe five times the whole time I was there.
Calling and Writing:
Each person that I wanted to speak to had to set up a phone account with Am Tel phone company. I believe they had to log into a website to open an account and add money to the account. Local calls were 10₵ and long distance calls were $3.00 for fifteen minutes. If you have money, it’s not an issue. There were 70 people in the cell block and only four phones that stayed occupied 8am to 10pm. I always had to stand in line to get to a phone. Once I got to the phone I had 15 minutes to talk and then would get cut off. If I wanted to make another call, I’d have to get in line again.
My friend in Texas set up a local phone number for me to call. I spoke to her almost daily for four to five months and then it tapered off to once a week and then every couple of weeks. I spoke to my girlfriend almost daily and that tapered off, too. I spoke to my uncle every couple of weeks. When my uncle was going to visit my granddad, he would tell me so I could call his phone when he was there so I could talk to both of them. Setting up an account was beyond the capabilities of my granddad so I had to call when my uncle was there.
I wrote to my granddad, too. He has Parkinson’s and couldn’t write back; it was a one-way communication. My grandmother died while I was in jail and I was close to my grandparents. When I found out that she died I didn’t have anywhere to grieve – I couldn’t cry in front of the other prisoners. So I wrote to my granddad quiet often to try to keep him up to date on how I was doing. I was concerned about him because he lost his wife of 60 years. I wrote him often.
I wrote to a few other family members. I wrote to my girlfriend and she wrote back for a few months. I wrote to my friend in Texas, but those were depressing so she stopped writing as well. Everyone communicated initially and then it all tapered off.
My girlfriend put a little bit of money on my account. I also received a disability payment from an injury in the military. My friend in Texas was able to put that money on my jail account to.
What money that I got went to buying food. What little food that they gave us was nutritionally the worst possibly imaginable food. Daily we were served two processed meat (bologna usually) sandwiches as an entire lunch. PB&J counted as a meal. And the rest was almost exclusively highly processed starches, e.g. cereal or some sort of bread in the mornings, potatoes, rice, or most often pasta for dinner. The days that we got patties of whatever processed meat for dinner were the happy days. In the entire time that I was there I never once saw anything resembling meat on a bone, or meat that hadn’t been ground and mixed with god-knows-what, and reformed into shapes. So aside from necessary personal grooming products, e.g. soap, deodorant, shampoo, and writing materials (notepads, pens, and stamped envelopes). All of my money was spent exclusively on trying to get whatever nutrition that I was lacking: usually protein. I truly believe that our diet affected cognitive abilities. I had trouble thinking, concentrating, as well as physical functions. Many inmates got giant pot bellies because of tremendously excess carbohydrates. I bought anything I could to counteract that. I ate tuna fish nearly every day as I was able to afford it because it was the only real source of protein available even through our commissary accounts. Many weren’t as fortunate as I was to have any money and went grievously malnourished. Even the items available from the commissary was high fat, high carb. Mostly Ramen noodles, chips, sodas, candy. Most of the guys didn’t know any better and just ordered whatever they could afford just to fill the nagging hunger that we all had from being under-fed.
The guys who didn’t have any money would often do anything that they could to get food. They would wash other inmate’s clothes, make trinkets, do tattoos, clean cells, draw pictures for loved ones, anything they could do to get the people with money to give them some extra food.
On a sunny day in September of 2016, I was exonerated and all charges dropped, but it took over 10 months to do it. The whole time I was in the county jail in a maximum security (not solitary) holding area and stayed 10 months waiting on trial.
When I first arrived at the county jail in Florida my girlfriend found an attorney and he came to my first court appearance. The attorney wanted to charge like $25,000 and I told him I couldn’t afford him. He then asked how much I could pay and he agreed to take the case anyway. I had a low opinion of attorneys until I met this guy.
The first couple of months we went to court about once a month. Then on March 12 the State put my trial off until June 15. The depositions were scheduled for June 7, which didn’t give them time to prepare or review the transcriptions so the trial was postponed another three months. So I went from March to June to September with one court appearance. I was there for my birthday, too.
When I went to court my girlfriend showed up to the first court date, then nobody did until my actual trial. My old boss showed up at the trial.
In September, we had a hearing for motions that the State put in to allow certain testimony and I went to court for that. Then a week later was the trial. It started at 8am and lasted all day. I was sitting there when they selected the jury and I was part of the selection process. That was nerve wracking! The way it worked was the defense and prosecution attorneys asked questions and each got six strikes to remove people until they got down to eight people. There were six people total on the jury and two alternates who didn’t end up being used. I didn’t know anything about picking a jury and my attorney was asking me what I thought about this person and that person and I listened to questions and answers to help decide if I wanted these people on my jury or not.
I was so nervous when they read the verdict. I had envisioned myself being ecstatic and jumping for joy, but I wasn’t. My knees buckled and I sat down and I wanted to cry. I was emotional that it was actually over. It was the only thing to process after being a prisoner for so many months. It was actually over.
My old boss had brought me clothes to wear for jury (he bought the clothes). And I went to trial in and walked out of court in these clothes. He had to give them to my attorney and my attorney gave them to me and I changed in the courthouse prior to the trial.
When I was awaiting trial I was a prisoner; I was in stripes and the guards treated me accordingly. I felt that they didn’t treat me as if I was awaiting trial, they treated me as a convicted criminal until the not-guilty verdict. The minute they announced that I was not guilty the guards were my best friends, cordial, nice and told me I’m free to go. Difference of night and day of their attitude towards me.
So I was released and walked out of the court house. The first thing I did was walk to the fountain outside the courthouse and I smelled the air and enjoyed the sunlight. I love the water and that’s why I live in Florida. When I was in jail I was only allowed to be outside 30 minutes on Mondays weather permitting (winter time I went 58 days without seeing the outside, no sunlight at all). It was a tremendous toll psychologically because we were not allowed to go outside and when we were inside there were no windows so we couldn’t see the daylight. I just wanted to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight for as long as I could.
So I’ve been out since September and trying to get my life back together. Because I was in jail so long I lost my job, apartment, vehicle (impounded), and came out with the clothes on my back and that’s it. Since then I’ve been trying to get things in order and looking for available resources to help me. Since I’m a veteran I’ve reached out to the veteran’s group for help. They help provide housing for homeless veterans. Through the HUD Vash program they provide a voucher for x amount of dollars for Section 8 housing. I need to find a landlord that takes the voucher. Since I’ve been out I’ve been lucky to have friends who let me stay with them; I’ve been sleeping on a lot of couches. There is still a lot of stress and trauma associated with my incarceration that I didn’t really expect.
I also receive a small disability check from the VA every month for hearing loss from explosions when I was in the military, but I can still work and am looking for a job.
Like I said, I’m working on getting my life back together. I am extremely fortunate to not have been put in prison for the rest of my life for a crime that I didn’t commit. I personally witnessed this sort of travesty happen over and over and over again. Inmates would often be coerced into pleading guilty to a crime that they didn’t commit by being told (similar to me) that there would be months and months until their trial, months which they would not be able to work, provide for their families, see their children, and all they would ever be for those months would be a financial burden to their families instead of providers. Since they were typically lower socio-economic classes who couldn’t afford legal representation, I saw entirely too many people plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit just to see their families again. I am an extreme exception to the norm in that I was able to hold out until my trial and justice prevailed. I am in the tiny minority which that happens to. It seems that people in America assume that when you are arrested, you have committed the crime which you were arrested for. Innocent until proven guilty no longer exists in the psychology of almost all Americans. Many men plead guilty to crimes just so that they can go back to work and their children won’t starve. Please stop letting this happen. Raise awareness. In any way you possibly can.
If you want to reach out to Justin you can comment on this post or send messages through firstname.lastname@example.org.