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Book 'em, Danno

I once spent time in the slammer.

As a reporter who has often reported on crime, I feel obligated to reveal my sordid past. It’s been 52 years, but the experience still gives rise to the occasional wake-up-in-a-sweat.

The dreadful event occurred late one Sunday night when I was driving back to my temporary home in Charlotte from Greensboro, where I had been spending time with Ginny, my betrothed. As I entered the city limits on I-85, a blue light filled my rearview mirror.

After I obediently pulled over, the deputy sheriff informed me that he had followed me for quite some distance and found me to be speeding 15 miles over the legal limit. That was surprising to me since my speedometer had been hovering within five miles per hour of the posted speed.

But at that late hour, I wasn’t about to dispute his claim — just accept the ticket, go home and deal with it tomorrow.

Not so fast. The deputy said that because my driver license listed me as living in Asheboro — an unfortunate out-of-towner — I would have to follow him downtown to be processed.

He kept my license and I followed his cruiser to the law enforcement center in downtown Charlotte. We then walked into a large room with rows of empty chairs and a counter at the front with some uniformed officers working the night shift.

The deputy handed my paperwork over to one of the officers, who told me I would need to pay my fine before I could leave. I was also informed that I could make one phone call from the payphone on the wall.

I called my friend John, who said he would have to get cash from one of those newfangled ATMs, the nearest being across town. I hung up and started to take a seat.

But an officer quickly came over and said to follow him. He led me into a lab-like office, where he painted my fingers black before using them to do ink blots on a sheet of paper. Then he photographed the occasion, full frontal and profile.

As he escorted me back to the large room, I again expected to take a seat to wait for John. Again my reverie was interrupted. “Don't sit there. Come in here, please,” the officer said.

He led me into a room not much larger than a modest bathroom with metal benches welded to opposite walls. There was a 3-inch-square window in the door at eye level.

He closed the door behind me and a quick check made me realize that I was locked up in the pokey. But unlike Mayberry’s Otis, I had no access to the key.

As I sat on one of the benches, the door opened, creating an exultation in me that lasted about a millisecond. I looked up to see a huge man with meat-hook hands joining me in the calaboose.

When the door slammed shut, he looked at me and snarled, “They got me for assault and battery with intent to kill. What are you in for?”

I gulped before answering squeakily, “Speeding.”

I moved as far away from the guy as possible in that tight space, but he seemed to be engulfed in his own concerns.

Some time later, the door opened and I was summoned. John had arrived to pay my fine, thus springing me from the hoosegow.

I was a free man, but not without the mental anguish reserved for ex-cons. I had also learned some valuable lessons.

First of all, I was more careful with how fast I drove, remaining ticketless for the next 29 years.

Another lesson I learned was perhaps even more practical: If you’re going to speed, don’t do it in Mecklenburg County.

Oh, and I’ve learned, to this day, to hate jumpsuits, finger paints and unexpected mugshots.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.