Friday, October 22, 2010

Do They Have Wi-Fi in Prison?

Because it seems that might be where I'm heading, thanks to the great state of California, and I'd hate to have to leave the blog behind while I'm doing 10 to 20 in Folsom state prison.

Why the hyperbole, Sarah? Why the absolute breach with reality? Because. They are driving me to it (no pun intended...really).

A little background. During the first week of September, I was stopped by a cop, for the first time ever, for failing to come to a complete stop on a right hand turn on red. I was coming off of the Interstate, the light was yellow, I slowed way down very close to a stop, checked to see that the line of traffic waiting for the green had not started moving, and when I saw that it hadn't, I made the turn. By the time I got through with the turn, my light was red. I suppose you could argue that I turned on yellow, but whatever.

So I got a ticket. Fine. It sucks, but that's life because let's face it, I (and you) have probably crawled through more than our fair share of right hand turns on red without coming to a complete, count-to-five, wait-to-feel-the-tires-roll-back, stop. I know this because since getting the ticket, I have keenly observed the driving habits of others and almost no one stops completely at a right hand turn on red unless there is oncoming traffic. And in my research (google, you bitch), you'd have to make something like 1 million rolling-stop right hand turns on red before being the catalyst for a life-threatening accident. So in the name of all things law-abiding, this is not the hugest crime that police are facing today. But still. Whatever, I got a ticket. And I'm not really all that interested in fighting it.

But what I would like? Is to know how much I owe. So I can pay it. Before there are late fees. And drivers licenses revoked. And bench warrants out for my arrest. Because that's what Google says will happen.

But Sarah, why are you relying on Google for all of your information regarding your traffic violation??!! Surely that information is somewhere on the citation you were issued at the time you were pulled over? Right? Because that would make sense. That would be...what's the word? LOGICAL.

Alas, reader, you are correct. That would be logical et al, but that's not how it works, apparently. I was told I would receive a more thorough ticket in the mail, with fine amount, a court date should I choose to fight it, information for traffic school options, etc. All really helpful information when trying to be a good citizen and pay off your debt to society for, well, not doing anything all that terrible or egregiously hurtful to anyone. I was told I would receive this information. But I have not.

There was one thing on my ticket and that was a "tentative court date," which said I was to appear in court "on or before 10/20/10 @ 1:30pm." Go ahead and try to plan your month around that. Can I show up at 1:30pm on 10/20 and get this taken care of? Can I show up at 10am on 10/4 and pay my fine? What exactly does "on or before" mean in Superior Court-ese?! Because I can't imagine they have some shlump hanging around the Superior Court to deal w/ people just wandering in on their own time to try to fight or pay a traffic ticket. That would seem like a waste of resources and we all know that states don't ever waste resources....right?

The other thing I found on the "this is test, this is only a test, if this had been a real traffic ticket you would have received valuable information regarding fine and traffic school" ticket was a phone number for the Superior Court and the words "if you do not receive notification by mail, it is your responsibility to contact the court for further instruction."

If you know me, you know I do like further instruction. And so after a month went by and the mail had brought with it no sign of a traffic ticket, I started "contacting" the court. I put the word contacting in quotations, because my attempts to "contact" them all kind of ended up like Jodi Foster's attempt to "contact" the aliens in the movie, well, Contact. I dialed the number and then my entire being was sucked up into a vortex of pre-recorded voice messages, muzak and redirections from not-attached-to-any-living-thing voices until I was spit back out of the black hole by a busy signal that meant I'd been hung up on by a machine. Again. I did this for days. I may have punched a wall. or two.

Then I decided to call the police station in the town I was driving through when I received the ticket. Random-person-who-answered-the-phone lady told me that no, I should NOT show up to court on the day specified on the quasi-ticket I was issued because that's just a date the officer puts down and he does not make the court schedule. It's not the "real" date of my court appearance. So...that's helpful.

I asked her a hundred times if she was sure, because really truly I just wanted to pay the fine and find out about traffic school and I don't want to end up with bench warrants and police coming to my home to arrest me for not showing up in court and I *may* have gotten a little weepy in my frustration and my sincere desire to be a good citizen (who really didn't do anything horribly wrong, anyway. Did I mention that?). She laughed and assured me that I would not go to jail for not paying a traffic fine. Well, okay, but that's NOT what google said. She told me that traffic violations are super back-logged and the ticket was probably not even filed yet, sitting on someone's desk. I shouldn't worry about it until I get something in the mail.

"But, the initial ticket says I might not get anything in the mail & that it's my responsibility to contact the court or I might incur late fines and suspended license and bench warrants," I said to her.

"Yes, that is possible; we don't guarantee you'll get anything in the mail."

"But, you just said I shouldn't worry about it at all until I get something in the mail..."

"Well, you might get something in the mail. Don't worry about it."

"Oh. Okay."


So it was a really helpful conversation. Don't go to court, and don't worry about the ticket until you get the ticket. But you might not get the ticket. So then you won't know when to even worry about the ticket. But don't worry about it right now on my phone line because I've got other things to do now, mkay, honey?

This led me to the panic attack I had on Tuesday morning at 2am, the day before my not-really-my-court-date court date. I woke Husband up at 2am, in full-on teary hyperventilation mode rambling about how I didn't know what to do? Go to court? Not go to court? If I didn't go to court and never got a ticket, what would become of me? The court is 1.5 hours away and when am I supposed to be there? Can I take Ethan to court with me? Do I want him to see me standing in front of a judge??!!! Am I even going to stand in front of a judge?!

I think my biggest problem is that I had no idea what to expect. Aside from an address an hour and a half away from home, I had absolutely no concept of what I'd be facing. Yes, there are bigger things to worry about in the world and life. But like I said, first traffic ticket in 20 years. Miss Never Gets in Trouble tends to get her feathers ruffled when she's in trouble and doesn't know how to make it right.

So the next day, after assuring me that I would not be arrested and sent away for rolling through a right turn on red, Husband also tried to contact the court for some answers. He experienced the same vortex of unhelpful recordings and hang-uppy busy signals. So he called the same police station to double check on the "don't go to court on your not a real court date court date" advice I was given by random-person-who-answered-the-phone lady. Funnily enough, he was told by random-person-who-answered man that I SHOULD go to court on my not a real court date court date, even though it wasn't a real court date.


That if I didn't go to court on 10/20, it might look bad and that at least by showing up I was showing good faith and could maybe get an answer from someone there about what to do next. Maybe I'd be seen that day, but he doubted it.

So fine. FINE!!! Go to court I did. Which I realize should have been the anxiety-free plan all along, but without any idea of what would happen there or even how much my fine was, it was all just daunting. And no one wants to drive 1.5 hours to court if they don't have to, am I right?! With my little carbon copy quasi-ticket in hand, I drove in morning rush hour traffic (because Husband was told by RPWATP-man that it was possible I *might* be seen earlier than 1:30pm since the wording is "on or before 1:30pm.") and arrived at Superior Court in downtown Place I've Never Been, CA around 10am.

The first thing I saw when I got through security (which I bumbled through like a nervous chihuahua--I might have an underlying fear of courts that I don't know about because I was a trembly wreck. I don't know how criminals do it, really.), was the "traffic court" schedule, printed out in impressive dot-matrix style and thumb-tacked up to the wall.

Would you like to guess?

My name was not on the list. It was not my court date.

Sooooo, I found the first real person I could (and was mightily surprised to see so many of them behind the partitions--real people!!! drinking coffee!! and chatting!!! Not a voice recording in sight!) and asked her "What. Am. I. Supposed. To. Do.????" to which she directed me to follow a red line on the floor, showing the way to the "You're a Crap Driver" division of the court. I thanked her far more profusely than was necessary for the help she gave and followed the red tape road to join the rest of my fellow traffic losers awaiting their fate.

Thirty minutes later I found myself face to face with another human being who confirmed that I was indeed "not supposed to be here today", but that she'd fill out some form for me to let the court know what a good do-bee I was for showing up anyway. She told me, as a matter of fact that my ticket was not yet even in the system. It has yet to be filed by the officer who wrote it.

Apparently, the officer has A YEAR to file the ticket. A year. I know I'm melodramatic, but seriously?!!! Mama's got a bit of anxiety here. It would seem to me that drawing out this process for a YEAR is cruel and unusual punishment for making a rolling stop right hand turn on freaking red.

She told me that I *should* receive a ticket in the mail after the officer files it, but they don't guarantee that, so I should check back with the court, every 2-3 weeks until the ticket is filed so that I don't incur late fees and "other penalties" (read: hard time and solitary confinement and the fashion disaster that is the orange jumpsuit) for failing to show up to court and pay the fine.
Check back with the court?!!! The way I'd been "checking with the court" for over a month, with the recorded messages and the transfers that lead to busy signals and the hanging up?!!

I asked her why no one ever answered the phones here--that I'd been calling for a month, sometimes multiple times a day, to try to get an answer and had driven 50 miles to stand in this line just to be sent home, that I was trying to do the right thing here, and she laughed at me. Or perhaps she'd say "with me," but I assure you I wasn't laughing. Her response was, "honey, we answer the phones all day long. If no one's answering your call it's because they're answering someone else's. You just have to keep trying."

She sent me home with my carbon copy quasi-ticket that has my not really my court date court date on it, and a piece of paper that proves I showed up at court for my not real court date. And now I go back to waiting for the ticket in the mail....for the next year. And "contacting" the court every 2-3 weeks...for the next year.

So even if I don't go to prison for failing to pay a traffic ticket, I suppose it's possible that sometime in the next year, after eleventy billion unanswered phone calls to the Superior Court and countless 3-hour round trip drives up to the court to stand in line just to be sent home, I might find myself in cuffs for losing my ever-loving mind and streaking naked through the court with my hair on fire, screaming obscenities....


cicadalady said...

that sounds miserable. i had a similar experience with a health insurance company. the story involves me in tears on several occasions and ends with my friend, a lawyer, sending them a letter, to which they responded immediately and right away cancelled my $3,000 "debt" (i "owed" it for the birth of lucy, even though i was insured at the time and it was supposed to be covered). anyway, what i'm trying to say is i feel your pain. also that it helps to be a lawyer sometimes in life.
ps - i think california is trying to save their debt through traffic tickets. i had three in my life before LA and got three THAT ONE YEAR for "rolling" through stop signs.

Becca said...

OMG, they're lucky you didn't punch someone. What a trainwreck!! I was so spoiled to get my tickets in a small town where you just walk into the courthouse, go to the "Traffic Ticket" window, and write 'em a check. Have a nice day. Stop going 40 in a 30. You'd think they'd just want to be paid and stop making it so difficult!

Amy said...

All I can say is UGH.

Anonymous said...

Sarah...I believe this post holds the record for most sarcastic comments for the year 2010. I am going to send it to the Guiness people ( do they own the beer company, too, because if they do, it might take me awhile to send this to them) but I have to go now and google their address. All my love, Uncle Al.