Here is a good ice-breaker game to find things people have in common. It is simple and not very physical. It’s called “Have you ever…?”. You think of something you have done to see if others in the room have done the same thing. You might ask,
“Have you ever gone to Disney World?”
Anyone who has done it, raises their hands, or stands up, switches chairs…whatever.
So, by show of hands,
“Have you ever been arrested?”
Anyone? I have.
Sit back in your seat because I am about to reveal a gripping tale of how I ended up in the slammer. My first brush with the law came at age 14. I grew up on a bike. At least in the 1970s and 80s, learning to ride a bike was a major leap forward in a life of greater independence. There were almost no boundaries to where you could go on your bike. We were literally all over town. In eighth grade, it got tougher. You weren’t old enough to drive a car but the cool factor of riding a bike was starting to wear off.
Thankfully, my family had a moped (like a scooter with pedals). I was so glad when my brother Scott got his driver’s license because that gave me free reign on the moped. I can’t tell you how many times I took that thing up and down the alley behind our house since I couldn’t legally drive it on the streets until I had a driver’s license myself. Even though my state allowed motorcycle riding without a helmet, at 14 you had to wear a helmet while riding a moped.
It didn’t take long for me to decide to hit the streets with the moped, and of course, I wasn’t going to wear my helmet. I made it four blocks from the house when I met an oncoming police car. Busted. I panicked. Instead of just stopping for what might have been a friendly reminder to get off the street, I made a break for it.
Now picture this. I am on a moped which has a top speed of 20 MPH (32km/h). I was going away from my house and the police car was headed toward my house. I “whipped” it around and ducked into the alley to make my way home and avoid any ticket. (Think of parallel roads with houses back to back. The alley was a narrow gravel path between the houses.) The policeman calmly watched my folly. No lights or sirens, he made no turn in hot pursuit. He just slowed down and paralleled me back to the house. While I was behind the houses, I was hidden. But at each intersection, there he was. My adrenaline was pumping and I went full throttle. At the next intersection, I’m sure I saw him grinning. I had one last escape. I would get back to the house and run inside like nothing ever happened. I ditched the moped in the back yard and sprinted in the back door only to look up and see the policeman at the front door in a conversation with my mother. I think they were laughing until I sheepishly walked up. My mom put on her“you’re-in-big-trouble-mister!” face.
A brief lecture. No more moped for a while. No ticket. No handcuffs. I escaped the jail this time. Mostly just an opportunity for the policeman to go back to the station and say,
“You’re not going to believe this one.”
Read below to see how the law finally caught up with me.
I once heard a lady say,
“Don’t judge me by my 18-year-old self.”
I would like to invoke that privilege on this story.
My Life of Crime Continues
I went to college in Springfield, Missouri, USA. The youngest of my three sisters, Janna, lives in the Branson, Missouri area. We were about an hour away and saw each other too infrequently. I was long overdue for a visit. The only problem was that my old truck was having problems and I was too penniless to fix it. I borrowed my roommate, Aaron’s truck and headed down to Branson for the weekend.
I was halfway to Branson on I-65 when the red lights came flashing behind me. I wasn’t speeding so I thought the officer would go around me quickly, but he kept following me and off to the shoulder I went. On the vehicle tag is a 1”x1” sticker. It is the one that signifies if you have paid your vehicle taxes for the year. Unbeknown to me prior to this very moment, Aaron’s tag was expired. Somehow this officer spotted that from a distance.
The encounter was very brief. I answered a couple of questions about where I was headed and pulled off with a ticket and a gentle reminder that the ticket needed to be paid in two weeks. I had a wonderful visit with my sister and promptly handed the ticket to Aaron as soon as I walked back in the door on Sunday. I also passed the same reminder I was given. Aaron apologized and I never gave it a second thought. Unfortunately, neither did he.
It must have been six months later, another weekend trip, another borrowed vehicle. This time I was driving a small car that belonged to my friend Lane. At that time, my best friend Russ was in chiropractic college in St. Louis, which is a four-hour drive from Springfield. We met up for a weekend of hiking in the Ozark Mountains. Saturday morning, we got up very early, threw some food in Lane’s car and headed out to our destination. I didn’t pay any attention to the missing tail light on the car, but someone else noticed about two hours into the drive. I couldn’t believe I was getting pulled over twice in one year and wasn’t speeding either time. The trooper let me know about the missing light but, this exchange wasn’t so pleasant. He was very suspicious and scanning the vehicle. I’m sure we looked like a couple of ragamuffins and it might not be an overuse of the word to say that he interrogated us about where we were going.
I could tell Russ was getting agitated. He didn’t appreciate the questions at all. His answers kept getting shorter. After a few minutes, the trooper went back to his car with my driver’s license in his hands. He was in there long enough I knew I was getting another ticket. I was wondering how much a ticket for a missing light could be. Mostly, I was thinking about hiking and ready to get down the road. Imagine my surprise when the officer came back and said,
“Mr. Burris, there is a warrant out for your arrest. I need you to step out of the vehicle slowly and place your hands on the top of the car.”
I simultaneously heard Russ yelling, “What!” from inside the car and the trooper behind me say,
“I am placing you under arrest for an unpaid ticket and failure to show up in court.”
My right hand went in the handcuffs first and then the left. Russ was instructed to move to the driver’s seat of Lane’s car and follow us. I was led to the back of the trooper’s car. My head was spinning. I don’t remember the drive, but I remember pulling up to the station and being driven around back. An automatic gate, lined with a coil of razor wire at the top, slid open to let us in. Next, was a short walk in the door. Handcuffs come off. Stand on the spot. Look at the camera. Roll the fingers of your right hand on the black ink pad. Now the left. Press each digit down in the proper square. Rock them side to side. Wipe your hands with the paper towel and take a seat in the holding cell.
I don’t know if all holding cells smell like urine, but this one sure did. Thankfully, I was the only one in this cinder block room so I got the stainless steel bench all to myself. The wait was long enough I knew hiking was out of the question. Eventually, someone came to the door to tell me bail had been set at $400 and you had to pay in cash. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, it just never crossed my mind that I would have to pay money to get out of jail. $400! That was my net worth. I almost never had that much in my checking account but, as it happens, there was a bank error just prior to this weekend. I had been double charged for an item and had unexpected money in my account that gave me a balance of $450. I handed my debit card out through the door. They carried it down the hall to the waiting room and gave it to Russ.
All this time, I couldn’t hear what was happening in the waiting room, but Russ was not happy about our detour. When the waiting room door opened, I heard Russ sarcastically yell,
“You’ve got a real hardened criminal back there!”
He drove and got the money and paid the bail. Aaron and I had a little talk when I got home.
“Oh yeah, I’d been meaning to pay that thing.”
Actually, he was very apologetic, he paid the ticket immediately and got my money back to me. The court date was a non-event except to hear the excuses that every “poor victim” in the packed court room had to say when their turn came before the judge. I waited four hours to stand in front of the judge for all of 15 seconds and hear him say all charges were dropped since everything was already paid.
There you have it. My scandalous history is revealed. I hope you find time for a good laugh this weekend, especially if it means remembering the ironic moments of your past that remind you that all you have done is not the measure of all you are capable of doing. It is great to have messy stories to share. Tell someone yours Friend.