It Happened to Me: I'm a Mommy With a DUI

I didn't think twice about the fact that I had downed a couple of beers until I saw the cherries spinning behind me on the Interstate.
Publish date:
August 16, 2012
motherhood, therapy, jail, drunk driving, substances, human rights

Wife. Mommy of a toddler. Daughter. Young professional. Marathon (cough, half-marathon) runner. Hybrid driver. Semi-regular church attendee. DUIer. Yeah, not DIY. DUI -- driving under the influence. That’s me.

I was proud of myself for volunteering with a young professionals association at a local festival earlier this summer. Not only was I putting myself out there, I was doing it at the beer tent, which meant all kinds of opportunity for awkward conversations and people getting all up in my personal space.

For donating my time and sacrificing my comfort zone, I received only the ubiquitous volunteer T-shirt that’s destined to live in my dresser until I box it up for Goodwill six years from now. Free beer was not included, as one of the Alpha Volunteers reminded us when my friend and I signed in for our 7 pm shift, so we were pleasantly surprised when one of her superiors rode up on a golf cart halfway into the evening and handed us two drink tickets.

“Look, we don’t expect you to stand out here for five hours in this heat and not have a drink or two,” she explained, and obviously none of us argued.

Until nearly midnight, we fished 16 oz. cans of beer from an ice bath for thirsty festival-goers. The amount of beer that sloshed on my hands all night could have kept a frat party going until the wee hours of the morning, but I just absentmindedly wiped it on my shorts.

I finally partook of my free beverages when the beer line slowed down several hours later. After five hours in the wet heat, they tasted like God himself had poured them from some a barley-filled stream in Heaven. Shortly thereafter, I hopped in the car and headed to my house about eight minutes away. I didn't think twice about the fact that I had downed a couple of beers until I saw the cherries spinning behind me on the Interstate.

I was acutely aware that I smelled like I had gone swimming in a keg and figured that explaining was in my best interest. When the officer asked where I had been, I told him that five hours volunteering at a beer tent had left me smelling a little hoppy.

"Well, ma'am, I obviously smell alcohol," he confirmed, and asked me to take the field sobriety test.

Again, thinking full cooperation was best, I agreed. Despite performing the tests on the shoulder of a busy Interstate with headlights glaring in my face, I thought I aced them. Then the officer asked me back to his car to take a breathalyzer, and again I said yes. I blew into the device, and the next thing I knew, I was standing outside the squad car being handcuffed.

After a ride that seemed to take eons, I was escorted into an office at the jail where my cuffs were clipped to a desk (flight risk, I suppose). Then I was allowed to call my husband, who was worried sick since my volunteer shift had ended two hours before.

“I... got arrested,” I blurted, and that’s when the floodgates I had been holding back finally burst. “I only had two beers,” I sobbed.

I explained the situation and, his anger somewhat mollified, we tried to figure out what to do. While he started working on the process of getting me out of jail, I began the process of getting booked into jail. I took the “official” breathalyzer -- they can’t legally use the mobile one in court -- and blew a .102.

The officer took me over to the “real” jail, where I got a taste of the incarceration experience. First, with legs spread and hands on the wall, I had a patdown from a female officer that made the TSA look like massage therapists.

Save for my clothes, all personal possessions were taken from me, including my wedding ring and my hair tie. If you ever see someone in a mugshot with bloodshot eyes and wild hair, don’t judge them. It’s possible that they’ve been crying and someone took their damn ponytail holder away.

After I was fitted with a chain belt, I joined a couple of other people in a locked room with concrete benches and a combo toilet/water fountain/sink. If you had to pee, you did it in front of everyone, including officers who can see through the large window. (I didn’t pee.)

While waiting for my paperwork to be processed, I mostly thought about what a horrible person I was and hated myself for making my husband wake up our two-year-old up at 3 am to be toted to the bail bondsman and jail. At the same time, I kept telling myself I didn’t belong there.

“I’m not you. This is a mistake,” I thought as a 60-year-old woman called her daughter collect to report that she had been arrested for fraud and a girl in her early 20s spewed obscenities at the cops.

After an hour or so in the tank, I was taken to answer some basic questions like where I was employed and if I had any tattoos. I watched the lady tick a box to affirm that I visibly drunk, which I felt was unjust and unscientific -- this was now at least two hours after I had been breathalyzed at .102, and I have no doubt my blood alcohol level was well below the legal limit (.08), let alone in "drunk" territory.

I can only assume she determined I was drunk from my red eyes and batshit-crazy hair. Despite being pissed at the woman for her snap judgment, I forgave her a little when she kindly told me they had received my bail bond paperwork and I would be going home soon.

I was pretty surprised, then, when I had to relinquish my clothes -- all of them -- a few minutes later. They provided an orange prison jumpsuit, a baggy T-shirt and beige underwear and asked me to describe my personal clothes so they could make a record of what I needed to receive when I was released later.

“Red T-shirt, blue shorts, black bra, flip-flops,” I recited. “What color underwear?” the female guard monitoring my wardrobe change asked.

“None,” I said.

“What color?” she repeated.

“NONE,” I said loudly, and the male guard taking down the information raised his eyebrows. Add “Doesn’t wear underwear” to the list of things I was being judged for.

I was then directed to a cell until they came to take my mugshot. My photo was not of the Cat Cora variety, by the way, though I did do better than Nick Nolte (maybe they took his hair tie).

Next, I was able to change back into my clothes, collect my paperwork and go claim my Mother and Wife of the Year Award. I rode home in the backseat with my daughter, somehow reasoning that cuddling with her and soothing her back to sleep would make it all better.

The lesson, of course, is don’t drink and drive, which you already know (and I did, too). But the reality is, people do. I’m not saying I condone drinking and driving by any means -- you can bet I’ll never do it again, even after just a beer or two -- but I do believe you should know your rights so you’re prepared if it ever happens to you. I didn’t.

Here’s what I wish I had known about the laws in my state when I saw those lights flashing behind my car:

●Per the Fifth Amendment, you don’t have to incriminate yourself. That means if the officer asks you where you’ve been or if you’ve been drinking, you have every right to withhold that information. Do it nicely by evading the question or simply stating that you’d rather not say.

●In some states, you can decline all field sobriety tests and the car breathalyzer. This is probably going to piss your friendly policeman off, but from what I’ve read, most officers aren’t going to give you a passing grade on the field sobriety test anyway, even if you’re stone-cold sober.

●You do have to consent to the breathalyzer at the police station. Refusing that is an automatic driver’s license suspension of at least a year, even if haven’t had a drop to drink. You do, however, have the right to request that the official breathalyzer be conducted at a hospital or clinic.

●You have the right to call a lawyer, usually after you take the official breathalyzer. You also have the right to request a phone book. When my officer asked me if I wanted to call anyone else, I told him I had left my purse in the car and had no phone numbers. He’s not required to offer a phone book, but he would have given me one if I had known to ask.

Laws vary slightly from state to state, so I would recommend checking yours out even if you think you’ll never be in this situation.

It’s now been a month and a half since my arrest, but the ordeal is far from over. I’m looking at more than $3,000* in fines, fees, substance abuse counseling, drunk driving courses and lawyering up. I also have to serve two mandatory days in jail and pay for high-risk car insurance for the next three years.

I've been getting a lot of these in the mail lately.

Then there’s the stress. I’m ashamed to admit that I was arrested for drunk driving, so I’ve been expending a lot of time and energy into hiding it from friends, family, co-workers and our daycare provider. Our daughter had a weird rash and had to be taken to the doctor before daycare this morning, meaning that by the time my husband had driven us all to the doctor, dropped her off at daycare, dropped me off at work and then made it to work himself, he was an hour-and-a-half late.

“I’m going to lose my job if this keeps happening,” he said, and it was all I could do to not cry.

And I feel bad about myself in general, which is the worst part. But I’m working on it. Good people make mistakes. All I can do is try to remind myself that I am a wife, a good mother, a daughter, a young professional, a (half) marathon runner, an eco-conscious consumer and a semi-regular church attendee. Those things define me. My DUI doesn’t.

* Tally of fines/fees/expenses:

●Substance abuse counseling session, $75 (they determined that I’m at low risk for substance abuse, by the way)

●Fine: $625, which is a “bargain” because getting a work permit driver’s license requires me to have a breathalyzer in my car for the next five months. I get a credit for the expense of the breathalyzer. The non-discount fine is $1250.

●Breathalyzer fees: $70 a month for five months: $350. This does not include the fines you get for testing positive for alcohol, which can happen based on food consumed, beauty products used or fumes in the air.

●Lawyer fees: $750 so far

●Mandatory two days in jail: $365 (yep, you have to pay to stay in jail)

●12-hour substance abuse class: $115

●SR-22 insurance: $200 extra annually for two years for total of $400

●$200 to get license reinstated

●$20 for new license

●$120 for bail bond

●$2,820 total