After I was booked out, I walked down the long, empty corridor towards the jail lobby. I felt dirty, exhausted, ashamed, embarrassed and relieved, all at once.
I pushed open the large, heavy double doors and saw my father sitting on the bench. He was waiting for me. I quickened my pace towards him as he stood up. He had a seemingly large sticker affixed to his chest.
I burst into tears.
My father is waiting for me.
He gave me a huge hug, and patted me on the back as I sobbed into his shoulder.
“It’s OK, Leslie. I’ve been to jail, too!” he joked.
My dad had gotten a call from my mom around 6:00 a.m., notifying him exactly where I was. Thankfully I had provided the address to the jail. He immediately left his house to come pick me up, and had been waiting for me in the lobby since 7:00 in the morning.
It was well past 11:00 a.m. when I was released.
My father waited for me for hours — waited for his train wreck, eldest, adult daughter to be released from JAIL.
“Wanna go get breakfast?” My dad asked, as if nothing had happened.
I nodded. Fresh tears sprang into my eyes.
I was so busy judging myself that I forgot about grace.
As we stepped out into the warm, harsh light of day, I immediately noticed I was not downtown.
“Where the heck is this place, anyway?” I asked, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight.
My dad laughed. “Girl, you be in SOUTH CENTRAL!”
I was horrified. At the same time, I knew there was a reason I kept feeling like a badass.
“Oh, shit. Well, if you’re going to go to jail, you might as well do it right.”
We laughed as my dad opened the car door for me. He is such a good man.
I thought back to my friends in the cells and marveled at the fact that I was not harmed in any way. South Central Los Angeles was no place for a “perfect” little white, Christian girl like me.
Yet, at the same time, it was.
I suddenly realized I needed to call work and explain why I was late. I also needed to call Joseph and tell him that I shouldn’t be allowed to babysit his children. I most certainly wasn’t worthy of leading worship at church that Sunday.
Nobody wants a criminal.
To my surprise, my employers were sympathetic and understanding. They gave me the day off and told me they’d be happy to welcome me back on Monday.
Joseph also treated me with grace and kindness.
“There is no judgment, Leslie,” he spoke, lovingly, as I blubbered and bawled. “We all make mistakes.”
It just so happened that his plans had changed, and didn’t need me to babysit, after all. But of course I was welcome to take care of his kids – to be a part of his and Katie’s life – anytime. Not leading worship was out of the question, and, in fact, the songs that I had chosen the week earlier were so fitting.
Capture me with grace.
And so, that bright, merciful March morning, after bailing my car out of the tow yard, my dad took me to breakfast. I told him the whole story – of the arrest, the booking and the hours of holding. I re-enacted the scenes starring Pot and Tamale Lady, Pock Face and Pretty Gum Chewer.
We ate pancakes, drank coffee and laughed. I felt embarrassed about my now-unkempt, unshowered, I-spent-the-night-in-South-Central-jail appearance, but my dad told me I looked just fine. In fact, I looked beautiful.
Grace. Unconditional love.
I started to slowly realize that things would – eventually — be OK. I wasn’t fully aware of the consequences of my crime, but I would get through it. There was a good possibility of avoiding a DUI conviction altogether. I had judged myself so severely already, yet I had the overwhelming love and support of my family and friends.
Oh, Father, I cannot comprehend the punishment, I shakily wrote in my journal. Jail was enough. I am thankful that I have not been judged by my family, or friends. I am not OK. I need You. I am broken and ashamed; humiliated, yet also hopeful. I am thankful to not be in jail — I will be proactive to lessen my sentence. I beg for mercy, Lord, but I accept the consequences of my STUPID choices.
God, I’m afraid. I’m afraid to drink anymore. I am thankful to have not lost my employment, yet future employment could be at risk. (These are) ALL consequences of my actions.
Why is it so hard to love myself? Why? I’m going to beat myself up continually. I want this behind me – I can’t hide from it, I can only learn and grow from it.
I AM NOT PERFECT! I must cease trying to be. Striving and striving to be perfect. I got ARRESTED, went to JAIL and will face SENTENCING for DRUNK DRIVING.
But You still love me. And my dad loves me. And my friends love me. And You will carry me through this. I need you, Jesus. I need help. I can’t do this. You will pick me up. You will make it OK. Whatever it becomes, we will face it together.
That Sunday, I played the piano and sang with more conviction, humility and gratitude than ever before. It was so amazing; so comforting to see myself as my earthly and heavenly Father see me: a beautiful, precious child who isn’t defined by her infractions.
My eyes were finally being adjusted to the brilliance of overwhelming grace.
When I got home that beautiful Sunday evening, I opened up my computer, and clicked on the LA Superior Court’s website. I dutifully typed in my court case number, to check the status of my divorce.
The screen popped up. I yawned, and prepared myself for “Status: PENDING”.
“CASE SUMMARY”, it read.
Filing Date: 04/02/2010
Case Type: Dissolution of Marriage (General Jurisdiction)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah. Get to the point.
My eyes scanned the page for the status. Status, status, status.
Status: STIPULATED JUDGMENT 03/03/2011
I was overcome with shock, grief, joy, relief, sadness and elation.
I am divorced.
I blinked through tears of mixed emotions and re-read the date that the divorce had been finalized.
I burst out laughing. I had spent my first night as a free woman — in jail.