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Life in a Free Country

No sidewalks, but no complaints.

My mother always worried about me taking late night walks, but she never expected this.

They began when I lived in North Massapequa, NY. My dad moved my sister and I there in 2003, ten years ago this month. The neighborhood was large and much more tranquil than Patchogue had been. I could make a different path through its streets, long or short, each night and it'd never get old. I decided to start a walking regimen because my weight was becoming a problem and there was also a lot on my mind at this stage of life. The clarity these walks afforded me helped a lot during my graduation from college and decision to move to Florida.

When I had settled south of Fort Myers and discovered the Whiskey Creek neighborhood nearby it immediately reminded me of North Massapequa. I began using it off-and-on for my longer walks, typically 4-6am (before bed, LOL). In 2011, no longer staying up till sunrise, I chose to start regular walks after work. These were long enough to justify going to the large neighborhood, but not so long I could walk to the neighborhood and back. I simply stopped there on the way home, using a public parking lot. My visits were now 12-1am with an extra hour on Mondays. In addition to the stubborn weight issue I was preparing to start my second novel and thought more regular walks would give me a creative boost. (Results were hit and miss, but I did lose ten pounds.)

Police were much more present at midnight than predawn. This was expected, of course. Understandable even. It reinforced that the neighborhood was safe at night. Typically a cruiser was right there in the parking lot, in fact. Some cops were friendlier than others, but there was never a hint of a problem. My mother pled with me to stop walking there. Criminals, you know.

"Boy, you guys pranked me good! Guys?"

But now the twist ending...

A cop follows me out one Monday, grinding his headlights against my rear bumper as cops love to do for some reason, and soon I'm pulled over. Burglaries in the area. Check your ID? Sure. Check your car? I guess. Any legal trouble? Nope. (Actually, I fessed to a 2007 speeding ticket. The cop eased up at that point.) No problem. Free to go.

The police attention had indeed picked up, even higher than before, and it was starting to undermine the peace and quiet I was there for. Mine was an old routine by then, though, and it went on for another week. The next Monday I encountered the same cop, Detective Charles Beatty of the Lee County Sheriff's Office, while still walking. Though my story checked out and I'd broken no law he'd decided my presence was suspicious, and this was all he needed to charge me with "Loitering (or Prowling)". I was arrested right there on the street, less than a mile from where I live (as the crow flies, anyway).

So out of the clear blue sky I was off to jail. For taking my nightly walk. (Um... Sorry?) In Lee County, that's a thing now. I'm sure it is in your community too. Happy Independence Day.

Jail seems to be intentionally disorienting. I didn't know at what point I was leaving until they put me in a cell block. So, not a "book and release"? No chance to post bond? Just a good night and see the judge in the morning? It might've been easier to process without my mind succumbing to sleep deprivation. He'd practically arrested me on the way to bed, after all.

And now a note on byzantine bureaucracy. "Use the phones" they would say. Even if you want to, you can't bond yourself out on your own credit card. The numbers for bail bond places flash on a monitor. And you have no access to your cell phone. Your only means of contacting the outside world is through a strange collect call system that doesn't work. Do you know anyone who still has a non-business landline? Will they set up an expensive prepay account while you wait and hope the guards don't force you to move to another room? Good. Maybe you'll be able to talk to someone. I didn't.

The scariest part is the inhumanity of it all. That someone can just be abducted off the streets because a cop feels like it, and no one knows where you are (unless checking mugshots is part of their daily routine). To them you have no family, neighbors, jobs, or obligations to others. You're here. You must be a criminal.

Suffice it to say the peace and quiet is gone for good, and I won't be taking walks after work anymore. The parking lot at home is safe enough but very small. Going elsewhere is a risk one way or another. Even if the arrest was bogus I can't take chances with my career and finances by inviting another.

A fond farewell to a healthy habit.

tl;dr
Being arrested is not fun, nor does it require you commit a crime.

July 16 Update

The charge was dropped. Praise the Lord. But although my life of crime is concluded the mugshot/etc remains on the public record. People have asked me to have it expunged, but I've decided not to jump through all those hoops just to cover for someone else's action. Since everything I post on this website is itself public record, let this stand as a supplement to theirs. To that end I've added the name of the arresting officer above. An author should always take credit for his work.

Beside a letter to my state representatives about this Loitering statute, I don't intend to spend any more time on this matter. Life goes on. Just because LCSO was able to take my focus off writing for a while doesn't give me the right to waste more time by fixating on a now-past event. Now if you'll excuse me, I shall retreat to the mall for my quiet walk.

 

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