Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three installments by Serena Green in which she tells the story of her arrest and time in Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, Pa. Parts two and three will run over the next two consecutive days.
On Aug. 15, 2008, I pulled away from the curb without turning my lights on after leaving a nightclub in State College, Pa. I saw red and blue lights in my rearview mirror and pulled into the parking lot of a Taco Bell. A lady cop approached my window.
“I watched you come out of the club, start your car and not turn on the lights,” she said. “Get out of the car.”
She told me to walk with one foot in front of the other and touch my nose. I had to follow her index finger with my eyes. She administered a Breathalyzer test. I tried to remember what the legal blood-alcohol limit was (0.08 percent). The test registered at 0.34. She handcuffed me. I didn’t panic. I didn’t even react. She put me in the back of the cruiser. She left Sadiye, a friend who had left the club with me, with my car. She took me to the hospital for a blood test. I was then taken to the Centre County jail. I slept alone in a cell until the next morning, when I was released.
I was charged and ordered to attend an intervention program for people with no prior record. I was fined and given community service. I returned home to Philadelphia. I had to participate in an online alcoholism prevention class. My license was suspended. I had to see a therapist to determine whether I was an alcoholic. I was put on a payment plan of $150 per month to pay my fine. I was 23, a junior at Penn State, living at home. My parents took away my car keys.
I made my monthly payments. I didn’t return to college. I got a job as a third-grade classroom assistant. My license was restored in 2010, and I bought a Nissan Altima. I moved out of my mother’s house and into an apartment with Sadiye in Horsham, Pa. I fell behind on my bills and let the payments to Centre County lapse. This would land me back in jail.
I was on my way to Willow Grove to buy food on May 29, 2015, when I was pulled over by the police. I gave the officer my license, insurance card and registration. After running a check, he returned to my car holding handcuffs.
“Miss Green, your license is suspended, DUI-related,” he said.
“I haven’t had a DUI since 2008!” I answered.
I was arrested. I was taken to Montgomery County Correctional Facility, where I spent five days. I was transported back to Centre County, where I was told that I had missed a court date and owed money on my fines. I promised to pay and was released. I got home to find a letter from Montgomery County informing me of a court date. I showed up for court, where an officer casually told me, “You know you have some pending jail time, right?” I assumed this was a scare tactic. I knew my DUI was old. I knew this was all about money. Money I didn’t have.
I applied for a public defender. He told me to plead guilty. I told him my DUI was old and my license had been restored.
“Did you have a DUI?” he asked.
Yes,” I said.
“Was your license suspended?
“Yes,” I said.
“Then you are guilty,” he told me.
I had to serve 60 days in Montgomery County Correctional Facility. I agreed to do this by putting in my time on weekends. I spent six weekends in jail. I had filed an appeal, but lost. The judge said I had to serve the remainder of my time—44 days.
Intake, where prisoners are first processed, is the coldest place in jail. The room is 12 feet by 14 feet. It has four metal doors on each side of the wall. The right side is for men. The left side is for women. The officers are behind a window. There is a metal toilet in the middle and stone benches on the walls. A large vent behind the toilet blows cold air. The other women being processed are thieves, angry about being caught, or drug addicts who are detoxing. Some are a combination of the two.
I am allowed to keep my rosary, my headscarf and my nose ring. I wear two pairs of socks and three pairs of underwear. Black women aren’t permitted to wear weaves, so the guards give scissors to another prisoner to cut them off.
After three hours, I am escorted alone to N-Pod, a housing unit where all the loudmouthed, pissed-off women are sent. N-Pod has a day room with seven tables and stools. It has a TV, bookshelves, vending machines and a one-way mirror through which the guards watch us. There are two dorm rooms at the back and stairs leading to two more dorm rooms above them. Each room has 10 bunks that sleep 20 women. There is one bathroom upstairs and one downstairs. Each has three toilets and three showers.
N-Pod women have to fight for the four phones mounted on the wall. Only two work. A 53-year-old black, portly woman with matted hair and a lined face is pissed off that someone has pushed her out of the way to get to the phones.
WAIT, BEFORE YOU GO…
If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.
Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.