After eating a dinner of two cold hot dogs, I tried to sleep. As I stared at a grated slit of window from my thin plastic mattress, my cellie, who was black, told me her story. She'd been picked up on a bench warrant for unpaid speeding tickets and had spent the last three weeks in jail. I wondered how I'd fare if I were jailed for that long, what would happen to my life outside. I'd fail my summer courses, lose my two part-time jobs. I thought how unfair it was that I could literally buy my freedom, when my cellmate couldn't.
And that's exactly what ended up happening. The next day, Randy's boyfriend bailed me out on my parents' credit card. Deposited back into the gelatinous Louisiana heat, I wanted nothing more than to be high. So we went to a drugstore, bought cough-suppressant tablets, and robotripped in a motel pool, waiting to be arraigned.
The sentencing and aftermath
I was charged with possession of LSD, a felony. The judge offered me a diversion program. I had to complete rehab, 500 hours of community service, a year of probation, and pay some fees, and then my record would be expunged. All because I had money and a good lawyer. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say being a white person didn't hurt me either.
Let's compare that to my friend Carl, who was also pretty active in the same rave scene. We were both arrested in summer 2001 in small Southern Louisiana towns (Ville Platte and St. Francisville). We were both LSU students, ages 21 and 22. Both arrested for LSD -- I was charged with possession and Carl was charged with possession with intent to distribute. We had a lot in common.
Now here's what's different. Carl's a black man and I'm a white woman. Intent to distribute does carry more weight, but the very language of that law leaves a lot to interpretation: If there are a bunch of drugs, that's a factor, but so too are whether you have drug paraphernaIia, packaging materials, and so on.
I spent one night in jail. Carl spent three months. "They'd set my bond so high -- $40,000," he recalled. "My parents didn't have that kind of money. So I sat."
My bail was $1,000. When I went to sentencing, I had a good lawyer courtesy of my white middle-class parents. "I had to accept a plea bargain because I didn't have money for a lawyer," Carl told me.
I was offered a diversion program. Carl was offered probation for five years, and after that his felony was reduced to a misdemeanor, not expunged like mine was. In almost every way, I am a living example of white privilege in the justice system: black people are likely to receive higher bail amounts for the same crime, more likely to receive harsher sentences, and less likely to be offered diversion programs. And although I was a victim of the war on drugs, the war on drugs was never about imprisoning people like me.