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Sign above a bail bond office
Photo by zimmytws on iStock

If you find yourself needing to post bail, your life has likely devolved beyond your own ability to pick things back up. Whether you can afford bail or not doesn’t address the underlying issues.

I was in my mid-20s the first time I was arrested and needed to post bail, on account of a domestic incident with my soon-to-be ex-wife. Somehow my father was notified, he posted bail, and I was released a few hours later. But there was no help, instruction or guidance about what I needed to do next.

I was ordered by the court to have no contact with my wife — direct or indirect. I asked the probation officer how I was expected to arrange contact with my two small children, while still complying with the court’s order. I was told to figure it out. I did not speak with my children for the following year.

The second time I was arrested, the bail was roughly $200 for charges of menacing and harassing my then-girlfriend. We were deep into drug addiction at the time and living in a house with no electricity or running water, and she had already punched out three of the house’s four windows. I had overdosed a few times prior to this and, to be honest, I was looking to end the pain I was feeling badly about my children, including how the divorce and my inability to peacefully communicate with their mother was affecting them.

This time around, my father told all of my friends and family to not post bail. He knew I was on a self-destructive path and believed keeping me in jail was the best thing he could do for me. And to some extent he was right.

A jail’s purpose is to separate individuals from society until their criminal case is adjudicated or until their sentence has been served. I spent three months in jail before my case was dismissed. In that time, I ate, exercised and played cards. I also listened to others glorify the crimes they’d committed and the drugs they made or consumed, and I heard them talk about how the first thing they would do upon release would be to smoke, drink, get high or get laid — or all of the above. The jail did offer a general education diploma class and I earned my GED, but that was the extent of resources offered.

When I was arrested, I had been wearing jean shorts and shoes with no socks. By the time I was released, I had gained weight and couldn’t button the top two buttons of those shorts. The jail gave me a tank top and bus ticket. While I may have shared many of the same impulses as my fellow prisoners, I was determined to get my life back on track. I had two options: go see the girlfriend who had my clothes and few possessions at a house that was manufacturing drugs, or go see my ex-wife who had recently separated from her second husband and had my children. I chose the second.

The bus fare was not enough to get all the way to my ex-wife’s home, so I had to sneak onto connecting transit. But my boys were glad to see me; I will never forget their excited faces. I spent a few days with them, but I realized it wouldn’t work out when my son woke up to find the tooth fairy had not taken his tooth — I didn’t have a dollar, and their mother was too consumed by her own addictions to take notice.

I needed a job so I could get housing, food, clothing and some basic stability. But I couldn’t look for a job wearing the jail-issued tank top, jean shorts with the top two buttons undone, and sockless shoes — so I went to see my girlfriend to get my other clothes. Two weeks later, I was still at her house, nearing a drug-fueled psychosis.

I was lucky to have my father and stepmother, who took me in and provided me with the basic care and necessities I needed to get back on my feet. Many of those I was incarcerated with either had family in the same jail or had family struggling with their own issues and did not have the resources to help.

I eventually found stability. A good job with good pay, a nice apartment and regular time with my children. I credit this to the support of my family and also Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Prior to my first arrest, I had sought help. I was suddenly a single father with a mortgage, a car payment and less income. I was in need of a new babysitter to watch my children while I worked because their mother was not there to watch them and her income went with her. 

Searching the Yellow Pages, there were numerous women’s shelters and resources, and I managed to find one that looked like it was for men in my situation. When I called, I was told I had to be hit by my wife before they would accept me. When I called the police, they said the same thing. When I attempted to get a restraining order, the judge laughed and it was denied.

Before my second arrest, there honestly wasn’t much anyone could do, as I was not ready for help. There were plenty of drugs in the jail — as is the case in most jails — but I was ready to change and avoided most people. If there had been situation-based resources provided in that three-month timeframe and a safe place for me to go upon release, along with continued resources, I would have been so much further ahead.

Bail reform without situation-specific services is not true reform. In domestic situations, one person is removed from their home property and restrained from the other individual — but there are little to no pathways for you to communicate about the relationship, financial issues or your children. 

For those in the middle of addiction, there is little you can do other than receive information about services — and those can only be accessed when you are ready. Finally, there are little to no resources to address housing, clothing, food and job opportunities, to say nothing of mental illness, which dragged many of us down here in the first place.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jeffrey McKee is a writer incarcerated in Washington.