It was an arraignment. The defendant officially enters a plea. I was there so she could see me, that's all. Let her know someone in this world cares where she is.
She's brought in a few minutes before her case is called. She wears the orange jumper with Lake County Jail stenciled on the back. Her eyes are red. There's a wide leather belt around her hips. Her handcuffs are chained to the belt.
She huddles with her attorney, a youngish public defender named Mike. She has to turn away from me to talk to PD Mike. I can't read his lips. Sometimes he shakes his head yes, other times no. Seems he does a lot of explaining to her. He does this from a half-squat position so she doesn't have to look up at him. I find this considerate. The other lawyers didn't do it when their defendants were brought in. Mike's okay, I think.
The case number is called. She stands behind a line on the floor in front of the judge. Assistant State's Attorney to her right in a dark suit, PD Mike to her left in a lighter one, grey. I wonder if they do that on purpose.
I can't hear much. Charges are such and such, trial date set for so and so, pretrial a week or so sooner. You understand these charges? Yes, sir.
Then Mike asks about bond. He and the ASA talk. The judge asks where she will go. Mike says she's homeless. Her parents put her out a year or so ago. She's been with her boyfriend, with his parents. But there were problems. She can't go there.
The judge is puzzled. I don't think judges like to be puzzled after asking a question and getting an answer. He asks again, where will she go?
Mike says her father is in the courtroom, but he hasn't had a chance to talk to me. The judge says get him up here and everyone looks at me. I spoke to PD Mike once. I told him why she doesn't live at home. I explained this to Rose on the phone. She thinks I'm trying to get her sent away for life and instructs Mike not to speak to me. Hence this awkward, unexpected moment.
Well, the judge asks, can she go home with you? I feel my shoulders shake, then my knees. While they wait, I focus on breathing, deep in through the nose, then out, slowly. Okay. I won't fall down. I wonder how many blubbering parents the judge sees every day. I breathe again and catch a glimpse of Rose, her mouth moving without speaking.
O please daddy.
I close my eyes and start to shake. The judge is waiting for me but he's going to have to wait a minute longer. I close my eyes and breathe again. I decide speaking is not going to work. I open my eyes and look at the judge. I shake my head no.
Everyone exhales. I close my eyes again. The judge slumps back in his chair. Mike asks to hold on until he can speak with me. Let's move everything up to Tuesday of next week. The judge appears exasperated. With me. He says he understands Rose was put out of the house. He asks why.
He's going to make me talk. I breathe and it comes out.
"Booze. Drugs. My home overrun with criminals. She steals from us even now when she visits. She crashed three cars. Her younger sister was traumatized growing up. My wife is a wreck. You can see what she does to me."
The judge sighs. He agrees to continue until Tuesday.
Two months ago. The boyfriend's dad calls. She's gotta go. He got up to go to work. They were "partying" downstairs at 6 a.m. There was a row. The boyfriend shoved Mom, threw something through a window. I say okay, but it won't do any good unless you change the locks. With your son on the other side of the door. Otherwise, you and Mom go to work, Rose returns and we're all right back here tomorrow.
He says he'll work something out. But he's very worried about her. I call next day. She's gone. I'll come down in a day or two to pick up her clothes and stuff. Okay.
Couple days later I go down and get stuff, talk to Mom, Dad, boyfriend. She'll come to me if she can't come here. Change the locks. Don't let her in. Let her call me. I'll come get her. On the way home, my cell buzzes. It's her. There are meds at Walgreens. Can you pick up and bring over? I pick up. Drive 20 minutes. Rose says a friend has allowed her to move in. She'll be fine. Just needs meds.
I arrive. She's sitting in the yard on a hefty bag full of clothes. Whose house is this? I recognize the name. Mother of one of her high school pals. Things got a little messed up here, she says, I guess I can't stay. I call. (I never delete cell numbers. One never knows.) Mother of high school friend says get her to a hospital. However you have to do it.
Rose says it's cool. She's got another place to stay. Few blocks away from boyfriend house. Coincidence? Hmmmmm. I drive north toward my house. Pull in circle of hospital emergency room. You are going in. Or you can sleep in the park. Fuck you I am. Asks to use my cell to call police to report the battery I am about to perpetrate upon her.
I go in hospital and explain. They send a counselor out. Just let us check you out. If you're okay, we can't force you to stay. No. I call cops. Two squads show up. I explain. They talk to her. One comes over to me. Walks me away from car across hospital entrance. She smiles, thinking maybe they're going to give me what for. Cop says they can't force her in. Did she threaten you? Does she appear suicidal? I consider lying, but don't.
This goes on for an hour. I wake up her doctor. (It's about 10 p.m.) Can he tell cops to force admittance? He talks to cops. Then tells me cops don't need him to sign off on it. They can do it. Cops say doc refused to sign off on it, they can't do it. These laws are designed to protect adults from being hospitalized against their will, a good thing. Except now. So here we are.
Cops tell me to go home. They'll let me know what happens. They won't let her just walk the streets. She says all she wants is a ride to the train station. There's a friend in Skokie who will let her stay there. She has money. Everything's fine. I go home. Gotta work the next day. Fuck it.
Get a call at work from boyfriend's dad next morning. How did she get back down here? Long story. He wants me to know he dropped her off at my house on his way to work this morning. She won't get in there, I say. I changed the locks.
She walks across town to my brother-in-law's house. No one home. But she knows where they hide a key. She lets herself in. Gramma shows up. Hi gramma! Just looking for cousin but she's not here. Oh, how nice to see you, dearie. I'm just dropping off casserole. Say hi to cousin for me.
She now helps herself to anything of value in the house. Laptop. Cameras. X-Box. Playstation. Watches. Heirloom jewelry from Italy. Brother-in-law calls that night. Stuff is missing. Rose was here.
I don't know where she is. Three days pass. I tell brother-in-law to file police report. I call cop and give him phone number of boyfriend's house in Skokie. Fill him in on her history.
We get a call from Evanston Hospital, a psychiatrist. There was a car accident. She seems okay physically, but said she needed meds and gave us your number. We fill him in. Mom goes to hospital. She's dazed, but uninjured from the crash. She flipped an SUV on the Edens Expressway. Crashed into concrete median, and flipped. Remarkably, no other cars were hit. (I tell a guy at work the next day and he says he saw it on the TV news. Highway was shut down while they pried her out.)
Me and Mom go back next day. Docs say she is okay from the crash. Can probably release her soon. Release her? To where? I ask them to admit her to psyche unit, per her doctor. They'll call us back. I tell her she needs to authorize admission to psychiatric unit, just for a few days. Get stable, back on your meds. She turns into exorcist child. Tries to go outside for a cigarette. There are IV's and heart monitors attached. Two aides are called to hold her down while nurse pumps something strong into IV. In ten minutes she's asleep.
Mom calls me next day. Hospital called. They're releasing her. Someone has to go pick her up. I call the cop. The car she crashed was stolen. He's picking her up. I go to cop shop later. He comes out and talks to me. I can't see her, but I deliver her meds. I'm good at that.
They know she did it. Some of the stolen stuff is in her purse. But she's being cagey. Not admitting anything except stuff she knows they know. They won't let me see her. I write her a note. I'm not posting bond. I'm not hiring a lawyer. Your best bet is to tell these guys everything. They'll know if you lie.
She calls next day. It cuts off in a minute. A recording tells me I have to set up a pre-pay account to receive calls from the jail. Four dollars per call. They waive the six dollar processing fee if you put in fifty. What a deal! She calls back. I tell her I won't post bond of $5,000 cash. I won't hire a lawyer. She robbed a house and stole a car and crashed it and she's in jail and I don't know what's going to happen next.
I drive 30 minutes to the jail in Waukegan. I don't know what I'm going to say. Doesn't matter. Boyfriend visited. She's allowed only one visitor a week. I can't see her. I call boyfriend. Next week's visit is mine. Okay. I return next week after refilling phone card with another $50. My phone is the only one she can call. She asks me to pay for boyfriend's phone. So she can talk to him. No.
Next week I visit. I wonder what I'm going to say to her. Going in I say a quick prayer. I ask God to take my anger. There is a lot to learn about jails. Like phone cards. And lockers. And waiting. I enter a waiting room get in line to check in. Twenty or so people. Lockers on one wall. What are they for? I check in before 6:30. Girl tells me I'll be in the 7:15 group. Only so many can go at once. Okay. Another woman/guard comes and gets the first group.
No hats, no jackets, no pens or sharp objects. No phones. If we find you bring any of these things in, you will be ejected and barred from further visits. Someone hurries to the lockers. Everyone else knows and has already stowed prohibited items. I have time. I walk to the lockers. I don't have a quarter. I go back to my car and find some change under the seat, then return and place stuff in locker.
I wait. At 7:30 the first group comes out and the second group is called. I notice there is only one other white guy in the room. The rest are black and hispanic. Everyone is cordial. No one seems terribly upset, besides me. I ponder the things we get used to.
We are let into another holding area with small plastic chairs. The guard calls names. People get up and get on the elevator. I wait. I am called for the next group. The guard says something about where to go off the elevator and I miss it. Everyone exits but me and a few others going to another floor. I don't know what floor I'm going to. Five, she says. Women are on five. Get out and to your right. Just go in any room.
I enter a foyer of cinder block painted yellow. Everyone else is already in rooms, so I don't know if I open a steel door if someone will already be in there. Fuck it. I go in a room. No one there. I'm surprised and disoriented. I expected a common room with tables like I had seen on TV. I am reminded of porno booths from hazy decades ago in New Orleans. I chase the thought and try to figure out what happens next. There is a stool in the booth. About a foot off the ground. Too low for me. I figure I'll stand, but I can hardly shut the door behind me, so I sling my legs under a metal shelf and put my butt on the one-size-fits-all stool.
The glass is an inch thick. I look for a phone or speaker, but there isn't one. There is metal grate at the bottom of the glass window. Small holes, and something like steel wool in the middle so nothing can pass through but voices. The door on the other side is open. Women peer in curiously from a common room on the other side. Rose enters and sees me shaking. Says if I cry she's leaving. I ask her to hold on a sec. Just give me a minute. She sits. I listen.
"You know I don't belong here," she says. "I made a mistake. I'm sorry. You have to get me out."
It goes on for a while. I say maybe some good will come of this. You aren't doing drugs. You are taking your meds. You are safer in here than you were last week.
But you have to get me out. You are my father.
I didn't put you in here, I say, and I can't get you out.
Won't get me out.
Won't, can't. Whatever you prefer.
She tells me to leave. I take the elevator down and walk past the plastic chairs. A guard comes out of a room. She's mad. Why am I here? When visitors leave they are supposed to wait until the guard comes for them in the elevator. Visits are 30 minutes. Mine took only 15. So much to learn about jails. I call boyfriend, tell him he can visit next week.
So this is how I came to be standing in front of a judge last Thursday telling him she can't come to my house.
Public Defender Mike pulls me into a conference room. I had asked him last time we spoke if the judge would sentence her to in-house jail rehab. After that maybe she would be stable enough to come home. That's not going to work. It's complicated, but no, forget it.
Also he explains there really is no trial. She wrote out a confession after getting my note at the police station. The facts of the case are not in dispute. She is pleading guilty. They just have to decide what to do with her. Without an opportunity to serve her probation, she will be sentenced to four years in prison. I tell him I'll call. I speak to wife, younger daughter. We agree we will let her come home. We agree it is going to suck. We talk about how maybe it can suck a little less.
So I will go back tomorrow and tell the judge she can come here, and she will be home for the first time in 18 months. She and the tornadoes she creates.
One foot in front of the other, I tell myself. And remember to breathe.
UPDATE: It's now close to 6 p.m. Chicago time. We got home a couple of hours ago. Court was 9 a.m. and she was the first case. Nothing about dealing with the criminal justice system is fast. I had some concerns about what I could stipulate regarding her release, but I'm happy to report the judge anticipated my concerns and took care of them for me. No visitors. No contact with anyone from her previous life. She is sad she can't see her boyfriend. But aside from that, she told me, she is happy not to see her old cohorts. The judge insisted she attend AA meetings, and she will start tonight. That is the only reason she can leave the house, unless she is with me. Twenty-four-hour curfew.
In explaining her choices, the judge pointed out that due to funding cutbacks, inmates rioted at a prison in Illinois last week because there was no toilet paper.
We have a few weeks to see what type of treatment program she can get into. She has been extremely gracious and pleasant and has told me several times how much she missed us and appreciates us giving her this chance. She was in for 30 days.
How quickly we go from big picture to smaller, immediate concerns. She has no shoes. No coat. Apparently she signed up for food stamps a while back, so I told her I'd trade her buying groceries for clothes. She had a dish of fettucini alfredo we got at costco. Bet it tasted pretty good.
I had turned her room into my office. So I will move my computer into my bedroom for the time being. I saved the hospital tray tables from when I was taking care of the old guys and I can just fit my mac and keyboard on it. I have a wi fi connection, so it should be no problem. If you don't hear from me for a while, you will know it was a bigger deal than I thought!
Don't know how much day-to-day stuff I'm going to post, probably not much. I'd like her to write her own story. But I had to mention how overwhelmed I am at the response to this post. Perhaps part of our problem is the expectations that if we play it straight, we get to live in the land of "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver." There never was such a place. It was just an entertainment people enjoyed watching for a while.
Real life is a struggle. For food, for health, for love, for grace. There's just one alternative and I'm not prepared to go down that road just yet. We breathe, we live another day. And here on OS we scribble about our struggle and are comforted when someone says, "Hey, me too," or "So sorry. Hang in there."
Never alone. What a remarkable gift. Thank you.