Contemplating the Painful Questions That Haunt Me
Unforeseeable Consequences In The Dark Game of Justice
The Wind Down in Mexico
The warm wind is magic to the soul on these long night walks along the border wall. The international street is deserted except for an occasional border patrol truck parked along the side of the road. The ten- o- clock siren blares down in Mexico creating a symphony with the slow-moving night train.
Then there is me, an obviously white woman, transferred here from the mountains of West Virginia, walking alone with her dog, in what most would consider one of the most undesirable towns in America. Safe, unsafe it all seems irrelevant in my mind. The wind is soothing, my dog is slowly panting to the rhythm of our footsteps and I am content. Very few things make me content these days so I will take what I can get. I feel safe as I’ve been in this environment for well over a year with no drama, only peace, and quiet.
Tomorrow I will be fifty and it feels like a surreal dream. Me fifty! I still remember making mud pies in the back yard with my cousins like it was yesterday. I remember picking persimmons with my granny as we walked alongside the road by her house.
I would always seem to taste the ones that were not ripe yet, but I never gave up because the sweet ones were worth the bitter taste I seemed to endlessly get from the others. What a life lesson.
I had decided that I would stay home tomorrow and not risk venturing out. I knew the routine too well. I go to buy my groceries and some elderly lady always stops me to tell me how beautiful my little girl is. I thank them and add that she is my granddaughter. The reply is always the same, “you are a grandmother? Well, don’t you look fabulous! Not old enough to be a grandmother!”
This birthday I could add to my list. I would be fifty and I do feel fabulous most days with my red lipstick and Marilyn Monroe blonde hair, however this birthday I would be a felon.
Step Out of the Car
I remember Monday in March like I was standing there still. The air was crisp and still smelled of the last lingering snowfall. I was exhausted after a long day on my feet teaching first graders how to read, write, and not be naughty. My feet hurt and yes, I had known they would hurt but my students loved my purple cowboy boots. It always made me happy to see them smile at something as simple as a pair of boots, so I suffered the aching feet gladly. I
would be home in my warm fleece house clothes in less than ten minutes so no need to fuss at this point.
I remember my phone ringing. I always kept it in my console in case I had the music too loud I could see it light up and not miss a call. It was my daughter calling, again! I picked up to her screaming and crying so loudly I could barely make out what she was saying. I distinctly remember hearing “Rob” and “police.” My heart did a flip and then sank to the bottom of my stomach. I’m sure my heart knew with all it’s being and was trying to escape the inevitable. I turned my car around and drove toward the police station with tears in my eyes.
I had driven only one block when a patrol car came out of nowhere with their lights on.
Slowly I exited the road into a parking lot, stopped the car, and rolled down the window. I expected the usual traffic stop but that was not at all what happened. No one asked for my license or my registration. A very angry officer asked me to step out of the car and then he proceeded to shove me into the side of the car and handcuff me.
I hate tears, I always have. I see them as a sign of weakness, but there I was, a very weak, crying woman. He did not read me my rights, instead, he took my purse and my laptop bag and put them in the patrol car, opened the back door, and shoved me inside.
I have seen news footage of arrests and often wondered why the perpetrator always fell into the car, well now I know. There is no graceful way to enter a patrol car in handcuffs and high heeled cowboy boots.
The police station was just minutes away and on the drive there I couldn’t help but stare at the poster of me in the front seat. It was an enlarged copy of my driver’s license they had used to identify me, which meant they had been looking for me, but for how long I wondered.
The rest of that afternoon comes and goes. Some days I remember every demeaning element and others I don’t allow myself to even think about the basic details. I do remember the fingerprint machine would not read my prints so the process had to be repeated several times and each time the officer would apologize. I had to remove a piece of jewelry that I have never taken off in my adult life and I started to cry again, to which the officer apologized again. I was put in “shackles” and could not wear shoes because I had chosen on that day to wear my now-famous cowboy boots, again the officer apologized. It wasn’t until after the seventh or eighth apology that he caught my attention and I looked into his eyes.
He looked as if he was more horrified than me and had he not been a grown man and an officer I think he would have been in tears as well, but why?
That Place is Haunted
I had moved to the town of my arrest three years prior. The town was small and quaint, and the people seemed friendly enough. I soon found out that like most small towns the drama was rampant, but I kept to myself. I had my career and my children and very little time for small-town shenanigans. My first graders kept me busy as well and after working all day most afternoons were spent in a hammock in the backyard listening to the crows and feeling the trees sway in the wind.
My daughter, however, was in high school at the time and was the epitome of the phrase “drama queen.” One afternoon as I drove her home from a friend’s house, she pointed out this very large house in the middle of an open field.
“Mom,” she said, “that house is haunted!” “The kids say it used to be an old folks’ home and everyone that stayed there died there! “
The next day at work I mentioned the house to a co-worker. My daughter had been a victim of a local legend of sorts. The house had initially been built as an assisted living home but the owner’s grand plans to make the house continually larger put them into debt and they lost the house. There it had sat, empty for eight years. So much for a haunted house, I suppose.
A few months later I was discussing plans to open a private preschool with the same friend, and she stated that my “haunted house” would be perfect for that endeavor if anyone knew how to contact the owner. Apparently, the owner had left the town after the foreclosure to never be heard from again. That weekend I did a google search for the house and found the aerial view but no address.
My curiosity was sparked. A house with NO address. Was this even possible?
I obtained the address from the house across the street the following Monday and called the county tax assessor’s office. They were able to give me the property number and I found the address from there. I was also given the owner's name and address by the nice woman on the phone who liked to talk more than I do. When I did a search under the property number, I was shocked to find that the taxes had not been paid on the property for the past two years. I tried for weeks to contact the owner with no success. One day as luck, bad luck as it turned out, would have it I was able to reach the homeowner by phone. He was the rudest little man I think I have ever had the pleasure of talking to. He told me the house was not for sale, rent or lease nor would it ever be, and good day! I went to my husband in shock to relay the details of the conversation.
The conversation led to the discovery that the county would have a tax sale in the spring, and we would just wait and see if the property would be listed in the sale. “Hang on haunted house here I come!”
Taxes, Triumph, and Tears
Winter was uneventful except for the arrival of three new grandchildren. I was kept extremely busy and oh so happy with the new additions to our family. January brought the news of the online tax sale and I checked the second the list was displayed. I was right! The property was listed online with the option to purchase the lien for one year’s delinquent taxes.
The size of the property resulted in the taxes being close to five-thousand dollars. I didn’t give it a second thought. My salary from teaching along with money from tutoring and writing had made me a very financially secure woman and I had done my homework on the property. The state in which I resided was very clear on tax lien laws. The liens had to be purchased for three consecutive years and then the investor could hire an attorney and foreclose on the property. The property had been vacant for over eight years, so it was just a matter of purchasing the liens and then repeating the process for three years.
The sale ended on February 12th, my youngest child’s birthday. The entire family considered this a good omen as he was the most excited about his mom owning her own preschool. His preschool experience had been spent mostly in a wheelchair due to an unfortunate accident on a trampoline. He wanted to help ensure that the children attending this preschool would have an exciting year to remember. He was also the one who answered the door that Saturday morning three weeks later. I went to the door to find a well-dressed elderly gentleman standing there smiling at me like he was my best friend. He stated that he had heard through the grapevine, small-town gossip vine more likely, that I was interested in opening a preschool in the “haunted house.” He said he was a lifelong friend of the new owner and he was willing to lease the house to me if I was interested, we could discuss the details. We set up a meeting the following day as my husband was not immediately available.
The next day we arrived at the property to meet with the gentleman and see what he had in mind. I was not prepared for what I was to see inside the house. The outside of the dwelling was not perfect mind you. The grass was overgrown, and weeds dominated the property. The inside, however, was a disaster! The pipes had obviously burst at some point, or many points, during the past eight years. The bathroom tiles were buckled, and the walls were water stained. The plumbing had been ripped out rather than repaired it would seem. The roof had several leaks, and all were over windows. The windows would all have to be replaced and who knows what we would find in the walls.
To my surprise, the gentleman stated that the owner was aware that the house needed extensive repairs and was willing to consider the cost of repairs when determining the lease price. We came to a tentative agreement that the lease would be three thousand a month and any repairs that were made would be deducted from that amount along with a thirty dollar an hour labor cost. A list of repairs was jotted down on the open lease agreement he had shown us, and he said he would present it to the owner for final approval.
In the meantime, it was agreed that we would work with the water company to ensure that the water was able to be fixed for a reasonable price so we wouldn’t end up over our heads with repairs we couldn’t possibly fix. The next week was spent discussing the water repairs and the fact that the meter was not up to code. Just as we expected the meter would have to be moved to meet code expectations and the cost could exceed twenty-thousand dollars.
We were ready to back out of the deal altogether when we received another call from the water company on Friday stating that they had found an alternative to moving the meter. There was a half-finished shell of a house on the side of the property that had its own meter. The water company assured us that this meter could be used, and the cost would be minimal.
The next Monday my husband met with the water company on the property around eight am to start the work. He had his copy of the lease writing down the details of the water meter move. The supervisor from the water company agreed to turn the water on temporarily so that the extent of the leaks could be observed. Two very small leaks were discovered, and my husband opted to stay at the property and start to work on the repairs as he had already decided the property was worth the time and energy to restore. He knew how badly I wanted a preschool and he only wanted me to be successful and happy. He had been at the property for approximately one hour when the police arrived, and he was arrested.
Legalities, Learning, and Lies
I’ve often laughed at the concept of a bucket list and the fact so many people add riding in a cop car to their list. That fateful Monday I added the ride, the cuffs, the cell, and the orange jumpsuit to my list that I never even wanted to make in the first place. I am not a small-town girl with one traffic ticket anymore and the road ahead did not appear to be a smooth ride.
I was released early the next morning as I had no previous record. My husband was not released. The judge said that they had found prior arrests and convictions in his home state that consisted of criminal trespass and breaking and entering. I was in shock.
I thought I knew this man and it took this horrific event to find out I knew nothing. I knew nothing about him. I knew nothing about the police that I had never had anything but pleasant experiences with up until that menacing Monday. I knew nothing about nothing.
They set my husband's bail at twenty-five thousand dollars but did not contact me. He thought I was still in jail and as we had no other family, he called his brother who made his bail with a property bond. My husband walked into our house cold and shivering around ten pm on that Tuesday night to a wife that had died inside. I couldn’t even look at him and didn’t even try to talk. My daughter convinced me the next day that it was all a mistake, that they must have him confused with someone else.
The initial court date was set for one month away. The day came as all days of doom must. We arrived at the courthouse only to be told by the clerk that the case had been vacated. Ignorant as we were in all things legal, we were sure that there had been an investigation and the judge had learned that it was all a huge misunderstanding.
The chain of events that happened next tore my soul from my body and left me a shell of my former self. We received a letter from the county superior court saying that a grand jury had indicted us both on the charges of criminal trespass and we were to appear in court in less than a month. Within that month I learned that my fingerprint information had been sent to the state department of education and my teaching license had been suspended pending a verdict of guilty or not guilty. How could this be? I did nothing wrong. Or did I?
My eyes turned into universal black holes from lack of sleep. I would stay awake night after night wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently. I was told that if the issue was not resolved by the end of the school year my contract would not be renewed for the following year. I lost my tutoring contract as well.
The court appearance was in May and I had no lawyer and was terrified to spend money when I had no clue as to the future of my finances. The court day came I was automatically assigned a legal defender and my husband was assigned a public defender. We were charged with criminal trespass, but not just any criminal trespass, felony criminal trespass. I was told it was because of my husband’s prior records that no one had seemed to confirm one way or the other. A new court date was set for the end of June.
The June court date was the destruction of my faith in the legal system as well as humanity. The prosecutor informed the judge that the severity of the charges was a direct result of the fact that my family and I were squatting on the property.
My brain was going to explode! Squatting!?
I had lived at my present address for over two years! I had a lease with my current landlord and the rent receipts and utility bills to prove that I had never lived anywhere else. I was told by my lawyer that there was NO lease found on the property or in my husband’s truck, however, my purse had been found in his truck and that implicated me as being present on the property. No one was going to attempt to find the sweet little man that presented himself at my door that fateful Saturday morning because the prosecutor in his tyrannical rants had convinced them all I was a lying, fraudulent woman. She also informed me that my husband had been given a plea deal of a low-class misdemeanor. I, on the other hand, would be given the option of pleading guilty to a class six felony or being charged with fraud as well, and the sentence would be an automatic four years in jail.
I knew at that instance why I had been born a woman! Had I been a man I fear I would have been jailed immediately for breaking my smug lawyer’s nose.
My husband had been arrested on the property so in a far-reaching stretch that could be construed as criminal trespass, however, we had a lease! I was arrested in my car while driving home from work!!!!!
I had no words and no clue how to fight for my innocence in a system where I was obviously guilty until proven innocent.
Small Town Gossip…Again
The gossip web in that small town never ceased to amaze me and it held true to character with unexpected information about the “haunted house.” My husband had made a fast friend with an old rock and roll band member down the street. He told my husband that he had heard from his neighbor that “two fools” were attempting to mess with his gig at the haunted house?!
As it turns out this neighbor was the unofficial caretaker of the haunted house and he was the biggest methamphetamine dealer in town, maybe even the county. The house was being used as a drug drop house and its haunted reputation kept any unwanted visitors away.
The owner of the property also owned a helicopter rental business at the Calexico border. The drugs were flown to the local airport then picked up and taken to the house to later be distributed. My husband's friend told him to check a name he remembered hearing from the neighbor. The name was “Sleeping Pines Respite Facility.” Later that night I did a google search and the first thing that came up was a picture of the haunted house!
Apparently, the owner had a current website advertising respite care for handicapped adults. How could this be? The house was empty, with no running water and in a horrid state of disrepair. I immediately made printed copies from the website and jotted down notes for my attorney. I was going to be absolved of this mess I was sure. I had stumbled into a nest of drug activity and the people involved wanted me to disappear. Once my lawyer knew this she would go to the judge with the information and this bad dream would end.
My lawyer explained that all of this was not presentable as evidence and I should take the plea deal, serve my two years’ probation and feel lucky that I was not in prison. She then did something I will never forget. She looked at me with more hatred in her eyes than I had ever seen directed at me and stated,
“While you’re at it you may want to consider another career because you will never teach again.”
What? How? Why would she say such a hateful menacing thing to me?
All Good Things
These are the things I ponder as I walk the quiet streets on this warm summer night with the wind blowing through my blonde hair. My lawyer was right it has been over two years and I now do freelance writing projects when I can get them. I may never teach in a classroom again. I live in a slum house two blocks from Mexico.
My days of new cars and Vegas vacations are but a memory as I sit in the food stamp office once every six months waiting to renew my EBT card. I walk nightly now with a purpose, however. I walk to formulate plan after plan to ensure that what happened to me with never happen to another woman or man again.
I have almost completed my Ph.D. in research psychology. My dissertation will focus on the injustices of the court systems in terms of evidence, interviews, and plea deals. I will combine the hermeneutics of law with the hermeneutics of humanistic psychology and hope for the best.
I was forced to accept the plea deal because after two years with no employment it was the only option that seemed to have a finite ending, not to mention I could not even afford the gas to drive to the courthouse anymore.
I wonder if this was the plan all along and if my lawyer spoke words of infinite wisdom when she told me to change careers.
I wonder why the haunted house is still vacant even though the liens have been bought for over three years by someone else and the owner has over one-hundred thousand dollars in back taxes due for several of these vacant homes he keeps for what reason?
I wonder if the pleasant lady I the tax office gave my friend with the phony lease my name and address with a smile and pleasant conversation as well.
I wonder if the apologizing officer thinks of me as he lies in his hospital bed after being involved in a drug deal gone bad. I wonder if he thinks about me without a career as he has no career anymore either.
However, I quickly snap out of my wondering as my neighbor yells “Buenos Noches Miss” when I pass by. My neighbors are known cartel and I find that oddly soothing. I will never own a gun, but I am surrounded by the toughest gang of gun owners in the United States and they all adored the “Rubia Miss” next door. They are the shadow culture that Eugene Taylor spoke of in his infamous psychology book, but they are firm in their culture, and I will never have to wonder if their ethical code is subject to change. I cannot say this of the lawyers and judges I had come to know over the past two years of court continuances and constant refusals to use evidence that would exonerate me.
Tomorrow night I will walk this same sultry street again and I may take a moment to wonder what the punishment for lying to a judge would be if he knew I said I was guilty simply out of frustration, fear, anger and need for peace.