Christmas Eve in Jail: A Cautionary Tale

Some people spend Christmas Eve in front of a roaring fire, cozying up to loved ones, chugging egg nog – I spent mine in jail.

Not that I was behind bars. Rather I was witlessly wandering about outside them.

Don’t fear – the cops have yet to nab me for stalking woodland creatures.

Rather I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who spent the holiday season in the big house.

The hoosegow.

The people kennel.

(I might have made that last one up.)

When invited to help a friend drop something off at the local jail on Christmas Eve, is there anything else to say but yes?

Having found the visitor parking lot and having our choice of spots, we braced the wind and set off on foot to find the jail entrance.

Assumptions that we’d stop and ask people in the guard boxes were ruined with the discovery that they were empty. Apparently that’s a position that gets off on Christmas Eve.

Walking into the first set of doors that weren’t located behind fences topped with barbed wire, we entered a dimly lit room. There were two rows of chairs and a few vending machines. A long hallway had a sign reading “Lobby” with an arrow pointing straight ahead, directly towards a locked door. A man sat in one of the hard, plastic chairs, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, staring at the doors.

Seeing no employees or information desks or anything that resembled Andy Griffith’s office, I stumbled to a stop.

But if you can’t fake confidence in jail, where can you?

So I walked down the hallway to the locked door.

Trying to open a locked door is always an awkward predicament.

Trying to open a locked door in a jail adds a new level of discomfort.

Midway down the hall there was a box with a call button and a place to put an I.D. card. So we pushed the button and said hello. Then said hello and pushed the button. Then just held down the button for a while. Then decided to move right to the I.D. stage, so I slid my driver’s license into the slot. It seemed more likely the requested I.D. was prison identification, but I don’t have one of those so I was hoping my driver’s license would do.

As nothing continued to happen, as no one continued to walk by, as no voice responded to our requests, my discomfort grew.

Similar to that of a middle school boy, my discomfort expresses itself in one way.

With loud, uncontrollable laughter. Though given the seriousness of our surroundings, I tampered down my natural instincts to the level of short giggles.

It seemed the time had come to make my first jail friend, so I approached the man sitting by the door, smiling and loudly requesting “excuse me, do you know where to drop off medicine?” My smile slowly disappeared as the man shook his head, saying “no” in a voice almost inaudible, almost immediately returning his attention to the wall.

I fight my natural awkwardness by being unnaturally friendly, but when friendliness fails, awkwardness rushes forward to take its place, especially as I started to wonder why a man would be sitting alone in an abandoned part of jail on Christmas Eve.

My friend spotted an elevator, and after a quick stop to look at some useful pamphlets (what should I do when I’m released?), we headed up one level.

Relief arrived as I did at the first floor, when I was greeted by the sight I had expected upon entering the jail – rows and rows of chairs against one wall and a large information desk against the other, surrounded by ceiling-high plexiglass.

In what was becoming a disturbing trend, the room was completely empty. There was a sign taped to the information desk informing us it was closed for Christmas Eve, a fact self-evident.

Further into the room, immediately before a dark hallway sloping gently upward, was an iron combination mailbox/safe. On the top was a horizontal handle, opening into a small shelf for items that would send them sliding downward once closed, into the bottom section which was guarded by a combination lock. Above, two giant bulletin boards described the rules for leaving prisoners money. I gave them a cursory glance before noticing the bulletin board to their right, listing the rules for dropping off medications.

After quickly assuring myself I’d followed said guidelines, I knelt down and, upon pulling open the top slot, deposited the medication into the safe. In an instinctive reaction to years of mailing letters in college, I immediately opened the slot again to check on the medication, only to find it still sitting there, un-fallen.

“Huh” I brilliantly muttered, before closing the slot again, this time with enough force to convey my desire for falling.

My third try at pulling back the metal handle was met with stoic solidity. I paused then tried again, and again, and again.

Either there’s a two-opens-per-person limit, or I broke the safe.

Assuming the safe has yet to achieve sentience or the ability to tell one opener from another, the latter seems more likely.

Looking frantically around, as though we’d stumble upon a jail employee or a sign reading “What To Do When You’ve Broken The Safe,” we found two machines. One enabled searching for people within the jail system; the other allowed transference of money into prisoners’ accounts. Neither gave us safe-cracking abilities, and after tugging uselessly for a few moments I started feeling suspiciously suspicious.

Laughing hysterically, I declared there was no more to be done. Best to find our way out of jail so I could make my mom’s Christmas Eve dinner on time. My friend was not as amused, nor as convinced there was nothing left to achieve in jail, but after wandering for a few moments we headed toward the door.

Discussing whether whoever retrieved the meds would check the top slot, I spied something out of the corner of my eye and remarked upon it as we neared the elevator – “look, there’s another safe.”

Before I finished my sentence I could feel time slowing, my brain grasping the significance of the safe’s existence and the realization of my newest mistake. My dread was justified as I turned and walked toward the safe – once I got within a few feet the words “Medicine Safe” were clearly etched into the metal. Rather than a mailbox-type slot, this safe had a huge rotating top, clearly geared toward the acceptance of larger items like prescription bottles.

Turning back, it was obvious we’d deposited the medicine in the money safe, only to jam it with items significantly larger than a folded wad of cash.

We laughed and laughed and laughed, with equal parts humor and acceptance.

If someone was watching us on security cameras I hope we made their Christmas Eve merrier.