Trouble And What It Taught Me

In the New York Times on January 9, 2012, the editorial “Paying the Price, Long After the Crime” read “A stunning number of young people are arrested for crimes in this country, and those crimes can haunt them for the rest of their lives.” It went on to say that about half of American males will be arrested for a non-traffic offense between the ages of 18 and 23.

Where I’m from, small-town, Midwestern kids get caught drinking in high school. That’s the most common non-traffic offense my friends and I experienced. Cops like to bust parties and arrest kids. It’s their way of making you familiar with the police state at an early age.

For a lot of teenagers their first minor in possession is a rite of passage. Almost a badge of honor. Getting caught means you’re living a life of your own beyond school and your parents. Get an M.I.P., do the community service, try not to get another one before you turn of age. Learn to run faster from parties. Always tell your friend who is driving when you see a cop.

With five alcohol-related tickets before I was 20, I probably got in more party trouble than your average Nebraskan youth. The fines and rehab and jail time were a waste of money, but not a waste of time. Having the world collapse on you imparts a lot of valuable lessons. You learn that the government wants to make money off of you. That your freedom can be taken away. That being locked up with people with real problems provides perspective.

For a lot of reasons, this time in my life has always been hard to talk about. I can’t really tell stories about going to rehab or jail without feeling ashamed. I have a few good anecdotes about jail — how the food got made, how there were guys smoking weed on the basketball court.

Jail was mostly embarrassing and depressing. And not depressing in the way a movie or a song or a comment about Afghanistan is depressing, but depressing in that it caused real depression. The actual time in jail itself was a breeze. But when you’re young and still dependent on your family for so much, no matter how terribly you’re getting along with them, to disappoint them at that level turns into guilt that’s far worse than any week-long stint in a minimum security prison where you get to wear your own clothes, play basketball and read.

It teaches you that the worst, longest-lasting, most depressing feeling you ever have in your life is when you screw up and let the people that care about you down. When you do something stupid enough that your parents change the way they feel about you. The only real salve for it is time, but we all have long memories. We’re not very good at forgiving, and nothing ever heals all the way once it’s broken.

In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald wrote “personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” While that’s true, your failures matter just as much as your successes, if not more. How well you recover from them matters most of all.

Making mistakes has always been a necessary part of growing up to be a good person — I have a hard time trusting people who have never gone through any hard times in their life.

But becoming depressed or sad about your life because you got caught only means that the cops have power over you. This can’t be allowed. I’m more ashamed that I got depressed while I was in jail than that I had I go to jail.

Still, for a long time I didn’t think that screwing up would matter in the long run. The truth is, it took a lot of living to learn that not caring about consequences didn’t make them any less real. All the trouble taught me that everything counts; everything matters. Even if some of it was bad luck, or I didn’t deserve it anymore than anyone else did, or it was just the result of some asshole cop having a bad day, I still had to own up to my actions. I had to admit that I had put myself there, allowed myself to be trapped and run down and locked up.

America’s police force is there to make money off of you as much as it there to protect you. I’m too consumer-aware to spend my dollars that way. No one likes letting the police win.

Although getting treated badly by governments is nothing new and miniscule in comparison to what people in a lot of other places endure — watch just one documentary on North Korea — having your freedom held from you is something you never really get over. It’s an ugly lesson to have to learn at a young age, but it’s a valuable one.

The thing about making mistakes and getting in real trouble is that as long as it doesn’t do you any real long-term damage, like barring you from being able to get a job or wrecking your family completely, you come away from it smarter, stronger. Better able to deal with adversity, with tough times. Because even if you do pull yourself out of whatever problems you’re having at the time, life still has a way of testing your resolve.

Just try not to get busted, whatever you do. And, as always, f-ck the police. TC mark

image – Shutterstock


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  • timmyt

    wow you area  pussy

    • Star Jonestown

      How do you figure that, Timmy T?

      • Guestropod

        w * h  = pussy

    • BlueTrim

      That’s cool, you area  good speller.

  • Idrinkcrocodilespit

    I liked this story, actually. I thought it was brave of you to mention your past experience with a fresh perspective.

  • Bryan Susie

    Interesting lives, like interesting books, contain positive and negative experiences, but you can impact how fully you experience both through your own exploration of it- life.  just don’t get caught.  

  • Anonymous

    Funk the police

  • 123

    you had to do  a week in jail for alcohol related offenses? kinda nervous cus i got two mip’s pending

    • 123

      1 of them was a public intox as well

  • macgyver51

    Did you really just compare your experience to that of a North Korean? Geez, my generation is about as embarrassing as it gets.

    • Guest

      He didn’t compare his experience to that of a North Korean, he contrasted it; thus lessening the seriousness or severity of his experience when examined from a larger, global perspective.

      Read more carefully and cut your generation a break.

      • macgyver51

        Surely you and the fools that liked your comment aren’t serious. That’s just like saying “with all due respect” and then completely disrespecting the person with whom you are speaking. Sorry, some guy that couldn’t stop drinking like a fish(and very likely putting people’s lives at risk), is not some wise old sage that knows about freedoms being taken away. He’s a guy that had some problems and even to this day, wants to blame them on someone else, then hide by being backhanded about it.

      • GuestAgain

        The intention was not to disrespect. I was merely correcting a technical error you made in your reading of the article. It might be easy to think that someone is making a comparison when they use the word “comparison,” however the author modified the noun with “miniscule,” thus inferring (I assume) that a comparison with his experience and that of a North Korean would be terribly far-fetched, a stretch, impossible.
        Additionally, I only corrected it because it was an error that you then used as a means to make a dig at the author and, through some strange gymnastics of logic, your generation as a whole. Thus, by pointing out your misinterpretation of the text, I simply destabilized your core contention that your generation is “as embarrassing as it gets.” That might be why you made no mention of your misreading in your second comment and instead decided to lash out with more severe and less cogent insults.

        As your core contention has been destabilized, I’ll offer you some new ones: have a little faith; give some credit to those people who are doing the terribly difficult and intimidating work of putting themselves and their ideas out into the world; be a better reader and try to make sure you have a basic understanding of what an author has written before you anonymously make unfounded attacks against them.
        Just because he wrote (and decided to share) an article that deals with an issue that seems to be very personal and emotionally complicated, doesn’t mean that once you read it you know him. It doesn’t mean you can rightly imply that he has endangered anyone’s life or is the kind of person who reassigns blame. You simply don’t have enough information to make those judgments.

        Lastly, and in response to your insult to me and the others who liked my comment, Benjamin Franklin’s words seem to be more fitting than any I could write myself: 
        “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” 

      • macgyver51

        Fine… You want to defend this, go ahead. If you really think that it was a true contrast, I can’t really help that. Let me rephrase the comment. It would be like me being a female student at a private school that has to wear uniforms and saying “Man this isn’t nearly as bad as Saudia Arabia, but I’m never going to forget having to wear this uniform and how oppressed I feel.” Yes, the person would be attempting contrast, and yes it would fall on deaf ears. Its a contrast of unintentional hyperbole. There would be no other reason to bring up an incredibly oppressive regime next to the story of a kid that was arrested on alcohol related charges a number of times. I understand that he used the word miniscule to try and bail himself out but it works just like a humblebrag. Its there but seen right through.

        Now that my deflector shields have been restored… Obviously my comment about my generation was actual hyperbole. No, I don’t think the entire generation is shot to hell. There’s a ton of good out there, but it already well recognized that each American generation is continuing to be infected with a greater sense of self absorption and self centeredness.

        People rarely serve any kind of significant time on alcohol related offenses unless they are becoming a danger to others. As much as we’d like to blame it on the police and compare them to the SS, they just don’t have time for it. Were it marijuana, it’d be a different story.

        Fun, we’re quoting now. Since we decided the author decided to go economical, here you go.

        “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad
        morals; we now know that it is bad economics.”- FDR

  • Jbrenn

    Do yourself a favor and NEVER, EVER drive after drinking, even if it’s 4 or 5 hours later. No matter how sober you think you are. I got jail time, classes and a $3500 fine for blowing a .08. Reason I got pulled over? Doing 55 on a freeway I was unfamiliar with at 4 a.m. Reason I was driving at 5 a.m.? Slept at a friend’s place after the bar and woke up early to make it home for Father’s Day breakfast. Seriously, I pay like $250/mo in car insurance and I’m still paying off the fine 2 years later. And I still have nightmares about jail.

  • Maxwell Chance

    A close friend of mine got messed up with the law. I think they have a very similar perspective as you and it’s nice to see where they are coming from. I’m glad you shared this.

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