Guest Post/Virtual Tour ~ Good Girls Guide To County Jail by Ellen Marie Francisco

Chapter 4: IT’S NOT A HISTORY, IT’S A HERSTORY

On a hot day in August 2013, I was arrested for Car Jacking, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, and Robbery. I’d never been in trouble with the law before.

I was staring three felony charges in the face with the possibility of more than six years behind bars, a strike-able offense on my record, and deportation from the only country that had, until then, ever felt like home–but these were the least of my concerns. 

Running along the background of my chaotic life was a much bigger mess. Tales of arrest often do start sooner than the actual arrest. You want to pay attention to the back story–your back story–the details of every day decisions that seem irrelevant to you in the moment you’re making them, but that have far-reaching consequences.

The events leading up to my arrest included a domestic violence assault that had put me in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury, the resulting PTSD, a concussion, post concussive syndrome, and conversion–all of which that had wreaked havoc on my everyday life both personally, and professionally, for nearly eight solid months. My ex was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and possession of drugs with intent to sell minutes after my call to 911, but was released seventy-two hours later.

I’d hit bottom, and landed in a twelve-step program that hadn’t quite restored my life to sanity, but I was working hard for it. In the months that followed, my ex feigned an interest in sobriety, and checked himself into a local rehab with the hope the courts would be lenient on sentencing should his case come to that. His sobriety lasted about as long as my memory seemed to be lasting, which wasn’t long at all, and within days of his release I was being stalked, and harassed, endlessly. The worry of his impending court date made me an enemy of the state in his mind. He was convinced I wanted to help send him to prison for a very long time. My life, and the life of my young children, had been threatened repeatedly. I was living in a constant state of hypervigilance, and was petrified. My PTSD alone would have done that to me.

At the height of my distress in early summer, I’d had a dream that I’d been arrested, and was being held in a large room with a changing array of deputies. They seemed intent on keeping me from my life. I kept pleading that I needed to go, that I had responsibilities. Clearly, there was disinterest on their part to show me the door that might open to set me free. Eventually, I was put on a table, and strapped down to it. A nurse appeared to administer something to keep me calm. I begged with her quietly to let me go, to leave the straps loose so I could make a run for it. Under the watchful eye of the deputies around me, there was little chance to get out the door. I could see she wasn’t going to risk her job for me. Then the door did open on its own, and I could see the bright of day beyond it.

This nightmare ripped me from sleep. I was so disturbed, I was shaking. My face, and pillow were wet from my dream time sobs. I cried well into the wee morning hours, completely distraught. I was no stranger to prophetic dreams. I’d been having them for decades already. I could feel something disastrous was going to happen. I was already on the brink of a mental breakdown as it was. I was so worried for my children–so worried, in fact, I wrote my last will and testament in an email, and sent it to my family at around four a.m. that morning. I wanted my kids to be safe, and cared for in the event something went horribly wrong.

My mom convinced my dad I was suicidal, and that he needed to do something to help me. Days later he came from Canada to spend time with us. We made plans to have him take my children back to Canada for the six remaining weeks of their summer vacation. I signed a Consent for International Travel, and had it notarized at an Escrow company down the street. Now my father could act as their guardian in my absence, and cross international borders without me. I didn’t want him having any trouble crossing the border into Canada with them.

A tearful goodbye at the Palm Springs airport at the crack of dawn a few days later, and they were gone. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief they were safe, and I could focus without distraction on the many things I hadn’t been able to keep up with for months. My ex was getting upset he might do some serious time if I decided to contact the District Attorney’s office with evidence he had nearly killed me that night in December. He had no memory of hitting me in the head with anything. He was sure I’d conjured up the incident just to screw up his life, an incident that had already altered my own life drastically.

In the days following my children’s departure, a real estate client of mine had what I would later realize was a psychotic break–it would seem things in her life had reached the tipping point as well. This was during the housing crisis, and her own life was in crisis. She was selling two of her over–mortgaged houses, her husband had left her, and moved out of country, her daughter had called CPS on her, and had been removed from her custody. In what some have said was a jealous rage, she killed my recently acquired miniature Chihuahua puppy. Whatever the reason, I was in shock, and traumatized, after discovering the crime scene upon my return from Las Vegas late one night. I had just driven back from Vegas–a three-day trip that was meant to calm my nerves–not propel me forward into another traumatic event.

Seven days later I had a meltdown in a tow yard that would alter the course of my life forever. I too, had finally reached my tipping point.

My car had been towed under what I considered suspicious circumstances, and I was mad as hell to be a victim yet again. Thoughts of my ex were swimming through my head. There was no way I’d parked my car in a red zone. Thoughts of my client taking the life of an innocent animal were crashing into those other thoughts. I was seeing red. I simply could not take it another minute. I wasn’t going to be a victim again. I was going to take my power back–and while I was at it–I was taking my car. An hour later, I was in handcuffs.

Less than twelve hours later, I was front page news in the local paper–although I didn’t know that then, because I was on the inside–and I wanted out.

My Arrest

I was following the bend in the road heading into downtown Running Springs, and I saw a police car and an officer on the left shoulder dealing with a traffic accident. I recognized the police officer. I’d seen him around town plenty in the last few years. He caught my eye and while I kept driving, his head turned, eyes locked on my car, his mouth opened. I made a stop at the stop sign almost right beside him, and when the way was clear, I crossed the highway.

I pulled into the parking lot at the Running Springs post office to drop some mail into the post box. The police car I’d just seen rolled in to the parking lot as well, and parked a few spots from my car. The officer got out of his car, hand against his holster, and headed towards me.

“Hold it right there.” He rushed me.

I stopped. Very calm by now. He looked apprehensive.

“Don’t run. Don’t you dare run.”

I had no doubt my spider legs could outrun his, but where would I go? I stood still. He grabbed cuffs and told me to turn around. The metal wrapped my wrists, clink, clank, clunk.

Small towns suck when it comes to public arrests. At that time of day, residents check their post office boxes, parents take their kids to the park across the street. I recognized many of them. I personally knew a lot of them. I saw my plumber and my painter. My painter wasn’t a redneck after all. He was a rubberneck. He and a bunch of others were stretching in ways I’d never seen before . The parking lot was full of people, watching with curiosity as I was cuffed. Another officer arrived and un-cuffed me, his comrade retreating to his own vehicle.

“Don’t worry. You’re not under arrest,” he said, then, “I want to ask you some questions about the tow yard.”

I recounted my version without all the details. I would later regret this. He listened intently.

“Well the incident was caught on video tape and I watched it. I’m going to ask you to put your hands behind your back.”

I was cuffed again. The arresting office asked if I had any drugs in the car before locking my car up. I wanted to be lippy and say, no, they’re not in my car, they’re in my body, but I kept my mouth shut. He suggested I leave my purse and tablet in it since I wouldn’t need them where I was going. I brought my wallet and cell phone. He put me in the back of his cruiser and we were off to the Running Springs Highway Patrol booking room.

The arresting officer gloated when he said how highly my friend at the tow yard spoke of me – I was a professional in the community, had adopted needy children, was usually very nice. I had no criminal record. He claimed he was so sad to see this happening to me, and yet he was smiling. I got the impression he wanted me to talk some more, but I was done talking.

His back was turned to me as he filled out his report. He looked over his shoulder with a smile on his face. “I know the owner of the tow yard. We’re practically friends,” he said, “You know, taking a car like that is considered robbery.” He turned his back to his paperwork and kept writing. Before we left he said, “Well this is going to be a very difficult time for you, but I’m confident you’ll get through it.”

A transporting officer came in to get me, and we were off again in a cruiser to the jail in Big Bear, on the other side of the mountain. As we drove the switchbacks, I attempted idle chit chat with him, but he wasn’t biting. I watched the scenery roll by, one beautiful vista after another, thinking how nice it was to be a passenger for a change, but how terrible the circumstances were. By the time we got to Big Bear they had called a female deputy in on my account. I was the only person there, although I wasn’t a person anymore, I was a prisoner. They were busy on the computer assigning numbers to my name while I sat on a bench across from them, patiently waiting for their next move. They were kind enough to let me use my i-phone while I waited for them to institutionalize me.

I called as many friends that I trust to let them know my status including my booking number and birthdate. As I dialed my friends I told them I would be transported in the morning to West Valley, the county intake jail hub. I was mortified to learn they were taking me to the same jail the girl who had killed my dog was now housed in.

The female deputy in Big Bear has given me lots of slack here and I appreciate it. She calls me to the desk and asks me to turn in my personal property. She asks me if I need the glasses on my head.

“I need them to read.”

“So, you don’t need them to see with?”

“I need them to read with.”

She asks for them and adds them to my other belongings. She leads me into the cell area. There are clanking sounds as metal locks unlock metal doors. I am given a narrow pad for the only bed in my cell.

Once I’m in the cell, and the metal doors are locked in place, I ask what the chances are for a mini toothbrush, and small tube of toothpaste. A blanket perhaps? Hardly any chance I learn. There is no chance for dinner either since they were not expecting guests tonight.  A male deputy has rounded up some bags of Fritos for me, a bag of Lays potato chips and an orange. It helps.

There is nothing for me to do but sleep. The lights are left on, so I pull the blanket over my head to block the light. Every once in a while, the male deputy comes to the door to check on me. I do sleep, but I’m cold, and the blanket doesn’t do much for comfort.

In the morning, the male deputy shows up with a Styrofoam container with what looks like breakfast. There is a very strange tasting pancake I don’t risk eating beyond the first bite. Even with the syrup in a packet squeezed onto it, it’s just wrong. There’s a sausage and an orange. I’m finishing the orange when a young deputy shows up to transport me to West Valley.

I am cuffed and don’t bother talking at all. He has nothing to say to me either so the trip down the mountain is slow, winding, and mostly quiet, with only the occasional outburst from his cop radio. I am thanking G-d my children are away from this, out of the country, and have not had to see this happen to me.

I am still in my street clothes when we arrive at West Valley. I am deposited into what I guess is intake. Prior to doing my intake paperwork, one of the two female deputies tell me I am not to talk to the girl in the tank across from mine. She’s on suicide watch. “Not one word,” she says.

I comply, and sit in the corner. I promise not to talk to Ms. Suicide Watch. I immediately tell them the girl who slaughtered my dog has been here since her arrest last week, and I am afraid of her. They ask her name and when I give it, one does me the courtesy of a mini investigation. She’s clacking away on a computer and checking the screen.

“Oh, I see, she’s the crazy one. You don’t have to worry about her. She’s in an entirely different area. She’s with the other crazy ones.”

I make the most of my time at the West Valley intake by using the phone that hangs against the wall of the holding cell they’ve parked me in. I am able to make local 909 calls aplenty. I am dialing like a mad woman. I manage to pay some bills, and leave messages on my own cell phone a friend of mine will retrieve.

Ms. Suicide Watch is in a corner unit with glass walls on top of cinderblock. The command post is beside this room and I watch as one deputy sheriff after another makes a visit – every 15 minutes – to a note pad, and adds notes about Ms. Suicide of the moment. She is clad with a mesh hood that holds her head in place. She is in cuffs and shackles. She has her head up to the glass like she is intent on getting out but’s she’s not going anywhere.

Eventually, I am taken down long corridors where numbers are painted in black with lines and arrows on cinder block walls. I am told to walk with my hands locked in front of me. I am led to a large room with a row of chairs along the wall and told to sit. Them I’m called and given Oranges.

I am handed a mesh bag with underwear, two pairs of greyed white socks, and a bra top. I am given a brown cup, and one red plastic soup spoon. I change, and hand my clothes in to a guy at the counter who checks off a sheet with what I’m turning in. I give him my onyx/mother of pearl double sided heart necklace – it’s not been off my neck for years. I hand over my i-phone, my wallet. I am in orange pants and top, with a white t-shirt underneath.

I am serene, centered, fearless, calm. I am surprised by this. It seems the fear of something is actually greater than the reality. I think back to my dream. I could just be in shock. And there’s no doubt my brain isn’t working right. There is no way I’d be in this situation if it were. But I feel safe, and it’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt safe.

Publisher: FriesenPress (October 2, 2017)
Genre: Nonfiction
ISBN-10: 146028478X
ISBN-13: 978-1460284780
ASIN: B07645G84F
Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository

good-girl-s-guide-to-county-jail-for-the-bad-girl-in-us-all

Millions of viewers have made the television series “Orange is the New Black” a pop culture sensation, but Ellen Marie Francisco (http://www.EllenMarieFrancisco.com) has no interest in watching it or reading the memoir, by Piper Kerman, which spawned the hit show.

Francisco has lived her own version of “Orange is the New Black,” an experience she refers to as “innocent in oranges.” “Oranges” is prison jargon for the orange jump suits worn by prisoners who have been charged but who have not yet been to trial, Francisco explains.

Francisco, an author and entrepreneur, describes her experience behind bars in her latest book, GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL (FOR THE BAD GIRL IN US ALL). A gripping and candid tale of her journey through three California jails for women, GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL (https://books.friesenpress.com/store/title/119734000025993982) also serves as a resource guide for navigating the legal thickets necessary to surviving what Francisco dubs the “Incarcer Nation”.

GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL “is a call to action to remedy the lack of support for pre-sentenced women sitting in jails across America who are not educated enough to understand what they’re negotiating in the courtroom,” Francisco explains, “and for the women who don’t realize how close they already are to the courthouse steps.”

Francisco was arrested in 2013 in Lake Arrowhead, California and charged with carjacking, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery after an incident involving her impounded car. The charges were ultimately dropped, but not before Francisco had served nearly two months in three county jails. While locked up, she talked to hundreds of women “each on a different path without a definitive end, each living with the certain fear that they were not in control of their own lives.”

Those conversations became the nucleus of GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO COUNTY JAIL.

 




 

Canadian born Ellen Marie Francisco worked in feature film development and production in Toronto on Canadian Content film projects partially funded through Telefilm Canada in the ‘80s. She was transferred to Los Angeles in the early ‘90s to help expand the production company into Los Angeles. Her work in the entertainment industry continued for decades under a NAFTA Investor Visa in Los Angeles, and environs with her catering company Amazing Graze. Her resort community Real Estate business Cabin Ready operated to the point of her untimely arrest.

Francisco has also worked in the publishing industry. Along the way, she landed a job with writer Sidney Sheldon as a proofreader and fan mail response writer. That experience and her tenure in publishing helped shape her own voice.

Her work as a photographer in Toronto and California in the early ‘90s landed her backstage access to Cirque du Soleil and one of her first print credits. She has sold and/or shown photographic works in galleries on the Big Island of Hawaii, in Los Angeles and Toronto. The book is filled with her raw and captivating vector artwork, a visual storyboard to her harrowing journey through the “Incarcer Nation.”

Francisco is the adoptive mother of two children and a Chihuahua named Piglet. They currently reside in Ottawa, Ontario.

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Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 2

Guest Blogging at The Story Behind the Book

Wednesday, January 3

Interview at The Writer’s Life

Thursday, January 4

Book Featured at I’m Shelf-ish

Friday, January 5

Book Review at Books for Books

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Monday, January 8

Book Featured at Write and Take Flight

Tuesday, January 9

Book Featured at Bound 2 Escape

Wednesday, January 10

Interview at T’s Stuff

Thursday, January 11

Book Review at Sefina Hawke’s Books

Friday, January 12

Guest Blogging at Lori’s Reading Corner

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Monday, January 15

Book Featured at Nuttin’ But Books

Tuesday, January 16

Book Teaser at YouTube

Wednesday, January 17

Book Review at Stormy Nights Reviewing and Bloggin’

Thursday, January 18

Guest Blogging at Blogging Authors

Friday, January 19

Book Featured at What’s On Your Kindle?

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Monday, January 22

Interview at Confessions of an Eccentric Bookaholic

Wednesday, January 24

Guest Blogging at Dear Reader, Love Author

Thursday, January 25

Book Review at Mello & June, It’s a Book Thang!

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Monday, January 29

Interview at My Bookish Pleasures

Tuesday, January 30

Book Review at Cheryl’s Book Nook

Wednesday, January 31

Book Review at Literarily Speaking

 

 

 

 

 

 

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