This post, originally published at Jalopnik.com, was written by Patrick George.
You never really get a good night’s sleep in jail. In the middle of my second night inside, I woke up on the uncomfortable plastic mat in my cell, my neck and back aching. I looked down at my orange jail scrubs and up at the buzzing fluorescent light and thought, “I am here because I drove too fast in a Camaro ZL1.”
At that moment, the whole thing seemed pretty funny. As funny as it could have been considering I was in jail for three days, at least.
I knew I would be in trouble a month earlier, when I blasted the ZL1 down a rural straightaway in Virginia and then saw the state trooper’s blue-and-silver Ford Taurus peeking out from the side of the road. I slowed down when I saw him, but his lights came on right away.
The trooper pulled me over and said he had me on radar doing 93 mph in a 55 mph zone. I figured it would be a nasty ticket. It wasn’t, because I got nailed in Virginia, a state where the police and the courts take speeding more seriously than possibly anywhere else in America. A fun day in a very powerful car just got a lot less fun.
On Friday, July 25, my wife dropped me off at the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren Regional Jail in Front Royal. I was escorted inside by a guard, handcuffed, booked, and had my mugshot taken. I was given a set of orange and white striped jail scrubs and a plastic mat and ushered into a big room with two stories of cells on either side. This would be home for the weekend.
I’m not trying to sound like a hardass or anything, but I wasn’t scared. I just wanted to get the three days I had been sentenced to over with.
To answer your inevitable questions right away, I didn’t get raped (that happens in prison more than jail), I didn’t get my ass kicked (that does happen in jail, but it didn’t happen to me), and I wasn’t forced to participate in “inmate fight club” for the sick pleasure of the guards.
None of those fantastical things needed to happen. My jail experience sucked just fine on its own. You might think you can just wait it out, like you’re stuck at an airport, but it’s not like that at all.
There’s nothing nice about being confined somewhere, cut off from the outside world, and totally at the mercy of some bureaucracy who may or may not lose your discharge papers at a whim.
When I was pulled over during a press drive earlier this summer, I had been living in Washington D.C. for about a year and a half. In that time, I had been warned repeatedly — by ex-Virginia resident Matt Hardigree, by many of our readers, and by a host of other people — that you don’t ever speed in Virginia. But I had no clue just how serious the consequences would be. Maybe “serious” isn’t the right word. After everything that happened, “ridiculous” seems a little more accurate.
It started out the same way as any other press drive: breakfast, a presentation about how swell things are at Chevrolet these days, a briefing on the prescribed route we’d be driving on, and a warning that cops were out there and that we shouldn’t break any laws. Another writer chimed in to say how many points you could get on your license if you were caught speeding in Virginia.
I remember hearing all of this, and noting it. But then I got behind the wheel of the ZL1 later in the day, and we set out on some of the fantastic backroads and rural highways in the Shenandoah Valley.
Let me tell you something about the Camaro ZL1: it is obscenely, unbelievably fast. That supercharged 6.2-liter V8 has just an endless well of power at its disposal. Thrust feels unlimited, like you just turned on a fire hose that sprays horsepower and torque instead of water. It feels like it can outrun anything. It feels like it wants pick on Lamborghinis at elementary school, stealing their lunch money and shoving their faces in the dirt. In terms of pure acceleration, the ZL1 makes the new Corvette Stingray — certainly no slouch in that department — feel like the piece of shit Honda Civic you drove in college.
“The power is intoxicating,” a GM PR man said as he rode shotgun with me. Intoxicating. That was a good way to put it. There were moments, brief but incredibly fast moments, where the power seemed to turn off the rational centers of my brain. With the road clear ahead of us and really no one around, I did a few brief high-speed runs, indulging in the immense power and the supercharger’s whine.
When we test a fast car on public roads we have to walk a fine line. We have to see what these cars can do, but aren’t supposed to drive dangerously or flagrantly break the law. If we do, we’re on the hook for the ticket or the arrest. And I was having a little too much fun in this ZL1.
Given what I was convicted of, I expected most of the inmates in my section to be people like me, low-level fuckups who drove too fast or didn’t pay their child support.
They weren’t. Almost everyone I met had been in prison — prison, not jail — at least once. Most were in for drugs or parole and probation violations, serving months-long sentences or awaiting trials. One guy was there because he strangled his girlfriend.
I made friends with one inmate who was about my age. He was an artist, and had a chess set he made out of loose pieces of paper. We played a few games together. He was a heroin addict. I gave him the white thermal sweater I brought in with me when I left. In for a seven month sentence, I figured he needed it more than I did. He was a good guy, just one whose drug habit kept putting him back in jail or on the streets.
I don’t say this because I looked down on anyone I met inside. Quite the opposite. After this I feel bad for anyone who has had to experience jail, regardless of what they did. Then again, jail is supposed to suck and there are a plenty of people who deserve to be in there. That’s the entire point.
Most everyone I met inside was pretty decent to a jail newbie like me. They were just trying to do their time and get out, the same as I was. Same with the correctional officers I dealt with. Who really wants that job, anyway?
One thing that really drove me nuts is that all everyone talks about in jail is why they’re in there, how much time they have left, how their lawyer or a judge screwed them over, how they got framed by their friend, how the bitch lied to the cops and set him up. Their stories got old pretty quickly.
We missed a left turn off Route 211, so I decided to drive further down the road and loop around. I gunned it again, rowing through the gears, and then backed off when I saw the State Trooper’s car parked beside the road. It all happened very quickly, and I’m not joking when I say that — the trooper had me going 93 mph, something instrumented testing at Road & Tracksays happens in only about seven seconds.
I should be very clear that we were out on some rural, remote back roads. These roads weren’t anywhere near schools or towns, and have lots of curves and very little traffic. I did what a lot of us have done — I was in a powerful car in the middle of nowhere, and I opened it up when I thought it was safe and when I thought I could get away with it. Clearly, I didn’t.
During the traffic stop the trooper was polite and professional. My passenger the GM rep explained whose car it was and that we were on a media drive. The trooper told me I was going way too fast in a 55 mph zone and he had to charge me with reckless driving. (By the way, telling the cop you’re a journalist doesn’t get you out of speeding tickets. Quite the opposite, in some cases.)
The trooper also took the time to explain what that meant, legally speaking, to a transplant like me not familiar with the local laws. That was kind of him. I wasn’t arrested, I was merely given a summons to appear in court. He didn’t impound the ZL1 either, which I’m told he easily could have done.
We were released and allowed to continue the drive, but I didn’t put in much seat time after that, riding shotgun with another writer back to the hotel. I wasn’t in the mood to drive at all, fast or otherwise.
I told a handful of friends I would be going to jail for a weekend. All of them were floored, since I apparently don’t come off as the jail-going type, and almost every person asked if it would be like Orange Is The New Black. Apparently a softcore porn on Netflix is everyone’s sole frame of reference for prison and jail, which is kind of hilarious and sad considering the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any nation in the world. But I digress.
Mostly, jail is boring as sin. There were no books to read. There were no weights to lift. There were no clocks inside either, not that time matters much. They locked us in our cells for at least half the day and we spent the rest of the time milling around a common area or a walled-off half basketball court. The food is barely that, meeting only the minimum amount of state-mandated daily calories and nothing else.
I guess you’re supposed to just sit around contemplating what a burden you are to the taxpayers, which was about $104 a day in my case, if you’re curious.
My time inside wasn’t some horrible, hell-on-earth situation, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. If your only experience with jail is what you’ve seen on TV or in movies, you don’t have a clue how much it sucks. On the plus side, the RSW Regional Jail was a new facility, one that just opened this summer and was nice as far as jails go.
This also meant it had plumbing issues and a staff who didn’t know what they were doing yet, which led to a lot of confusion among inmates about exactly when and how they were supposed to be released.
I should probably explain why going into Virginia to have fun in a car is a bad idea in the first place. See, they’re crazy about speeding there. Really, really crazy. Speed limits are set absurdly low, 45 mph on some highways. Radar detectors are illegal, and cops have devices to detect them. And if you get caught going over 80 mph at all, that’s automatically a reckless driving charge.
Reckless driving is not a traffic citation, it’s a criminal charge, and a Class One misdemeanor at that. That means it’s the highest level of misdemeanor you can be charged with in Virginia, right below a felony. The maximum penalty for a reckless driving conviction is a $2,500 fine, a six month driver’s license suspension, and up to a year in jail.
See what I mean when I told you it’s serious? They hand it out like it’s Halloween candy, too. You drive 20 mph over the limit, it’s reckless driving. They even charge you with it for failing to properly signal, or when you’re found to be at fault in a car wreck. I’ve heard of some cases where people get 30 days in jail if they speed over 100 mph.
Other Class One misdemeanors in Virginia include animal cruelty, sexual battery, and aiming a firearm at someone. This is how the state regards people who drive over 80 mph.
In the remainder of the article, among other things, the writer goes on to make statements such as the following:
“But that doesn’t excuse what I did. I came into Virginia and broke their laws; I drove way too fast. This is my fault and no one else’s.”
“Oh well. Don’t break the law next time, I guess.”
I was disappointed to see that while the writer referred to the situation as “ridiculous,” rather than questioning the actions of the government employees who claimed he was in the wrong when, as he stated, “[He] didn’t hurt anyone, or kill anyone, […] or beat [his] wife, or steal,” he simply accepted the claim that he was in the wrong as fact, because his actions were “against the law.” Clearly, the only victim in this situation was the writer.