Article 25

In Which I am Reformed

In Uncategorized on 07/08/2012 at 1:49 pm

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“Darke County Days,” part III

By Steven Paul Lansky

 

When I think back on Darke County Days almost 11 years later, I can see how fortunate I am. I even feel fortunate to have had those days, as they give me a sense of contrast. That sense began almost right after I started back on Haldol and got out of the hospital. I spent September 2001 in University Hospital in Cincinnati being reintroduced to antipsychotic meds. I’ve been stable on them since then. One of my first tasks on getting back into my apartment, after taking care of laundry that another tenant had pulled from the washing machine and dumped, wet, in a plastic garbage bag in the basement, involved following up with the Darke County Court system. I arranged for a court date. If I remember correctly it was early November when I drove there.

In preparation for the visit, I had copies of some of my writings that were published in zines, and I went to the Big Sky Bakery in Clifton, a few blocks from my apartment, to buy muffins, which I planned to give to the deputies after the hearing. I didn’t want to offer anything to influence anyone, but I wanted to reconnect with the authorities, who, in the end, had treated me quite civilly.

After driving gently curving and banking country roads with the sunroof open, I reached Greenville, Ohio. That clear crisp fall day found me talking with the assistant prosecutor. I apologized for the behavior that had caused the arrest. I added that I didn’t mean to scare anyone. I told the well dressed gentleman with the smell of office and cologne that I have a mental illness and I spent a month getting back on the right meds and now I was taking care of the wreckage that I had created. I said what a lawyer friend had suggested: “I put myself on the mercy of the court. I want to make good on whatever damage I have caused.” The prosecutor responded he would drop the charge of illegally parking on the edge of the roadway and let me plead guilty to fleeing and eluding police officers. He would recommend that I serve a few additional days in jail (I had served six), pay a fine and do community service. I don’t remember the total amount of the fine, but it was substantial for a graduate student.

Then I went before the judge. The courtroom was as I had remembered, though this time without any cameras. I remembered the judge from when I tossed the wadded up paper onto his desk. I apologized, both personally and professionally. I spoke clearly and precisely, admitting to the crimes and asking for the court’s mercy. He sentenced me to time served, a fine a little less than the prosecutor had asked and community service. I think it was 100 or 200 hours, and I had some months to complete it. He said I could meet with the probation officer in Darke County and arrange to do the community service in Cincinnati. He was quite kind and reasonable.

I met the probation officer after court, and he, too, spoke gently and reasonably. He suggested I could call once I found a community service assignment, and once he spoke with the supervisor on the phone, I could fax my time sheets weekly until the total number of hours were met. Then I would be cleared.

I went to the jail and found Corporal Tom and Josh, both of whom were quite kind. They accepted the muffins, teasing, “You aren’t trying to poison us, are you?” We talked in the lobby. They couldn’t let me into the processing room. The day was warm enough that we stood in the sunshine filtering through the glass doors, until we all felt comfortable and then stood outside, talking in the fresh air. I gave them copies of my writings, and we all shook hands. Josh laughed and told me, “I remember once you asked if you could hold the key to the jail.” I hadn’t remembered that but later worked it into my write-up. He could not have been more pleasant. Corporal Tom seemed a bit more distant but concluded, “We knew right away you weren’t like most of our customers.” He said maybe he would come down to Cincinnati for a cup of coffee sometime to see me. I said he would be welcome.

There were no salamanders crawling from under the rocks in the rock garden out front, and I heard no cows lowing in the afternoon breeze. The low brick building seemed out of place and disorienting, not at all the way it had been that first night when they brought me in from my wrecked car. Today the car ran well. I drove home and resolved to do the community service soon, so it would not linger into the time allowed. My mother’s health had taken a turn for the worse, and my father hardly spoke to me because of the things I had said and done while off the meds. He had a difficult time understanding that I had meant nothing personally and that I still loved him and mother, despite my having been in a psychotic state. I longed for some sort of better understanding within my family.

In exploring my options for community service, I thought about the Contemporary Dance Theatre. Some years before, I had collaborated with a choreographer in writing a spoken-word script for a modern dance performance that Jefferson James had presented. As the theater’s director, she had a reputation for being fair-minded and supportive of artists in disciplines other than dance. I called her, re-acquainted with her, told her I had been in some trouble and asked if she could use someone to help so I could work off the community service. She was amenable. I met her in the College Hill Town Hall and started as an office assistant, filing, easy paperwork. I remember having difficulty figuring out where Jeff’s office was and how to adjust to the comings and goings of the various workers, dancers, choreographers, etc. The office had a lot of furniture and genuinely seemed in need of some clerical energy. Jeff called my probation officer in Darke County and faxed my time sheet to the officer every week. The high ceilings and the fact that Jeff and I were there together – just the two of us – helped ease my anxiety toward work situations. Jeff listened at times to the troubles I had experienced and seemed compassionate. She is a compact woman with a terse forcefulness that exudes a certain genuine interest in artists. Her close-cropped hair, Zen student dress, simple drawstring pants, plain shirts, sandals and creased forehead spoke of the Contemporary Dance Theatre ethos.

The organization ran on a miniscule budget. As we talked and looked at files, her rounded fingertips turned open a file on signage. The new location needed a sign outside. When I saw this, I thought of another friend, a businessman, cellist and performance artist who owned a sign shop. If I could get Jeff and Steve together, perhaps I could serve both of them and in the meantime take more time off my scorecard with the probation officer. I proposed to Jeff that I might be able to help her get a sign. She approved. I called Steve, we drove around, looked at the site, made lists of materials, talked about drawings and had another friend price the lighting and welding. All of this took time, and that was good for me. The time sheet filled, the number of hours shrank. After a few weeks, I realized that Jeff thought Steve was going to donate the work and supplies, and Steve thought a donor (or Jeff herself) was going to pay for the sign. If I had been a bit more confident, even brazen, I could have asked the Darke County constabulary if it could use my fine to pay for the sign. (Honestly, I’m just now thinking of this.) When Steve and Jeff finally spoke to one another, the project came to an abrupt halt. Looking back, I don’t think I intentionally misled either of them, but I allowed the misunderstanding to develop and did little or nothing to resolve it. My community service was a bit of a con job. I felt bad and withdrew into myself, cutting off contact with both Steve and Jefferson.

Resolved to finish the community service without having such an inventive approach, I called another friend. He suggested the Lower Price Hill Community School. He got me an appointment to meet the director, a busy man who seemed always between phone calls, ensconced in a big, well lit office with a wide wooden conference table, a massive desk and an active school all around him. He wore a tie with a white shirt, had a firm handshake; and when I told him that I needed to do community service, he didn’t ask a lot of questions. He called the probation officer, and within two weeks we were in business. I would spend the rest of my required hours tutoring GED students or students who had just finished their GEDs and were going to Cincinnati State Community College. I could make lunch from the supplies in the kitchen and read books from the library, as long as I was available to tutor on demand.

Soon it became apparent that there were very few students who needed tutoring at any given time, so I needed something to occupy myself. I found The Grapes of Wrath. The thick book with its worn pages, numbers nestled in the corners, hard binding dry and scented, the scent of old books, books that spent a lot of time on shelves, maybe were moved time and again from one shelf to another when libraries moved, or sat stable on a shelf perhaps for years, edges tucked up against other hard bound books, the thick book felt solid in my large hand. I hefted it from hand to hand. It fell open to chapter three. I read the short chapter about the turtle crossing the highway with the burrs, seeds, cement ridges, humorous eyes and protruding feet. The description fed me. It filled the spot that had been aching ever since this whole ordeal began back on Highway 127 last summer, when I stopped my car at night and sat puzzled until the policeman came up behind me. I flipped back to the beginning of the book and found the dust, the dry, the corn, the wind, the insects, the grasshoppers, all the details built around a story that in chapter two got quickly but not too quickly to the troubled Tom Joad, who was just getting out of prison, and I saw in a new way something I had known, and it was the satisfaction of a book. The heft, the chemistry of my fingers and hands on wide paper, the ink that left the imprint of John Steinbeck’s notions for me was just the answer; and as it all turned out, I came day after day to the Lower Price Hill Community School until my community service was served in full and I had read The Grapes of Wrath from front to back. Tutoring individuals from time to time was easy. Restored, I faxed my final time sheet to the Darke County probation officer and then, with a sense of justice served, went back to my family, ready to face my angry father, my dying mother and my distant brother.

 

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