A Winter Escape

How to bungle a good thing.

A Winter Escape
Author at 70

I was 16, a juvenile delinquent, and incarcerated in Camp Mendenhall, Los Angeles County.

One day a friend showed up in suit and tie, posing as my attorney. He took me out to lunch, then proceeded to take me on a road of escape.

After some questions, he admitted to stealing the front-wheel drive Oldsmobile. We went to L.A. where we gathered some things, saw my girlfriend, picked up a stash of black tar opium I had, then lit out for Colorado.

He drove while I caught up on cigarettes, whiskey, and opium. It was deep night in February on I-10 east. There was new blacktop and the new reflectors lining the pavement. There was a dusting of snow in the Arizona desert, a clear moonlit sky, and my opium buzz was kicking in hard.

We switched drivers, but I lasted less than 15 minutes, as the road began swaying back and forth like a swing, then turned all the way over so I was driving upside down. When it flipped again, I promptly pulled over and let him drive again.

Later that night we drove through Prescott, capital of Arizona. It was bitterly cold up there and snow blanketed the town. I remember clearly the quaint gas street lamps and cobblestones on the main drag. The only other car we saw there was an Edsel - the county Sheriff’s car.

The road down the mountains to The valley was nothing but icy switchbacks, and it took us until dawn was billowing up from the desert.

We drove up to and through Flagstaff, then on east toward the New Mexico border. We had passed Holbrook and my friend was driving fast when the lights came on behind us.

So it was we ended up in the juvenile cells at the Pueblo County jail.

Now, things went very slowly from then on. We had a hearing, and then extradition proceedings proceeded. Two months went by. We were going nuts in our cell, tearing photos out of magazines and using soap to glue them up on the painted brick walls. One of these was a rifleman in a kneeling position pointing his rifle right back off the page. Wherever I went in that cell the gun was pointing right at me.

There were two cells on that block, in the back and upstairs of the main jail. There was a shower on the block that was open to us on alternate days. They would send a trustee to open the cell then lock the cell block door. Down those stairs was the back door of the jail.

We devised an escape plan. We would take our showers then wait for the trustee to come lock us in, then leave the block door open for meals the next day. We would pack sticky paper in our cell door to make it seem as if it was locked, then late at night sneak down the stairs and escape to the freight yards and hop a train.

All this depended on ifs: if the trustee left the block door open, if the trustee did not tug too hard on our cell door, if we got out before the U.S. Marshals came to take us back to California.

Well, all the ifs came to pass, but when it came time to go I got cold feet. I did not want to go on the run again. So my friend made his escape, but the Marshals came that morning to takes us, so the escape was discovered in under three hours.

I later found out he had boarded a westbound freight and was caught in Needles, California.

As for me, well, I was taken to Coconino County Jail in Flagstaff, where I waited another two months before being driven back with two Marshals in a private Citroen.

I did some more time in jail, then was sentenced to the California Youth Authority at Preston.

My friend turned eighteen in jail and was sent to Chino to serve out his time. I turned eighteen in Preston School of Industry, became eligible for the draft, but was not selected due to attitude problems.

My young life was very challenging. I now counsel the youth I meet to hunker down, tow the line, develop a trade or two and a sideline profession, be kind to mothers and babies, and to not be a part of any car thefts.

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Jeff Fraser
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