A Year Ago Right Now…

Precisely a year ago, at this very hour, I was arrested.  At that moment, sitting in the drunk tank, I kept alternating between “I’ve ruined my entire life” and “this is most likely a bad dream and I will wake up soon.”

The truth is, a year removed from the DUI arrest, I am somewhere in the middle.  The DUI arrest was, unfortunately, not a dream.  And its implications are all too real.  But it is also has not been the end of the world.

A year removed, I am still deeply remorseful for my conduct, but thankfully, I am still around to ponder the consequences of drinking and driving.  And there have been some unexpected benefits that have come out of this awful decision — I am approaching a year of sobriety.

Sleeping in your own bed sure beats attempting to kill hours in jail before arraignment.

 

 

Looking Forward to Better Days

The End of the Legal Journey

It took just over 6 months, but I was able to finish all the requirements of my plea agreement, and was thankfully released from probation early.  It has been a month since my termination of probation was approved.

Since the release from probation and the formal closing of my case, I have asked myself: “what does it feel like to not be on probation anymore?”  I wish it were a great accomplishment — it wasn’t.  Probation is the lowest bar of common decency.  Essentially, it says “just do what you are supposed to do as a member of society.”  So there was no fanfare in having done the right thing.  It was what I was supposed to be doing anyway.  And that is its own reward.

But with the termination of my legal case, I look and I am most certainly a more mature individual now than I was when I was arrested.  I have grown to see the practical side of laws in action.  I have gone through counseling, an impact panel about drinking and driving, performed community service, become involved with AA, cut out alcohol completely, been drug tested with great frequency, taken and passed one of the hardest bar exams in the Union, and worked a full time job.  Has it been challenging?  You bet.  But it has caused me to grow as a person.

Looking Ahead

My past is my past.  There is no escaping the fact that I was arrested for drinking and driving and adjudicated guilty of  the criminal charge of reckless driving as a result of it.  But by paying my legal dues for drinking and driving, I believe I have begun to make amends for my mistake.  And hopefully my experience allows me to help others from making the same mistake as I did.

So looking ahead, from a civic perspective, I just have two goals:

  1. Don’t repeat my mistake; and,
  2. Help others so I can continue to make amends.

From a personal perspective, the goal is simple: don’t let this DUI define me as a person or stop me from becoming the best human being I can be.  I must continue to strive to do everything I am capable of doing — and hopefully my actions will prove to society that I have been sufficiently rehabilitated to deserve a second chance.

And so, while the legal ramifications of the DUI are finally behind me, it is only the beginning of the rest of my life.

Nine Months Since the DUI

One of the most intriguing things about the human condition is that in the moment, time stretches for what appears to be an infinite duration.  During the legal proceedings, I often felt that the DUI process would never end.  There was the lack of a drivers license, counseling, court date, DUI classes, fines to pay, and the stress of being only a singular person.  Combine that with studying for the bar exam for my state and eventually community service, and I can say that the last nine months have been the most difficult and possibly the most formative nine months of my life.

Looking back at it though, it seems like it was just yesterday.  (No, the sheer terror of seeing blue lights in your rear view mirror never goes away.  I’ve seen an officer drive behind me, and despite not doing anything wrong, felt that this was it…I was going to get pulled over, there will be a violation of probation, and I will end up in jail.  And nothing happened because I hadn’t done anything wrong).  The entire DUI arrest seems like it happened yesterday and I still have all of this stuff to deal with.

Despite the weirdness of time, in reality though, I am doing okay.  I still think about the DUI every day when I go to bed.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and the thought of having a criminal record eats away at me.  But like most things, time makes the pain a little less severe.  The entire scene has gone from being a terribly hurtful one to being a teachable one.  I know what I did was wrong and I won’t do it again.  But I won’t let myself be down because of it.  I am still a human being and I am still capable of magnificent things.  The DUI arrest is a part of my life now.  I must overcome it.

Community Service

I am about 60% through with my community services requirement, too.  The only place around here where I could get consistent community service hours is a non-profit used goods store.  It has been a life-saver for me.  I can go there after work, knock out a few hours and be home in time for dinner.  The first few days were extremely difficult.  Being asked to sweep the store was odd at first.  I was dressed in a dress shirt and nice slacks.  But then I remembered that those closest to me have cleaned toilets and floors just so that I could be a successful person in life.  There was no shame in it.  I kept coming back and they keep letting me come back.  It has been awesome.

I have become somewhat of an expert at purse organization.  Never in my life could I imagine the styles, colors, materials and brands that purses come in.  Now I organize them and hopefully it makes the shoppers lives easier.

There have been two amazing things that have come out of community service:

  1. I have been truly appreciated.  To a person, anyone who I have worked with at the store has told me what a good job I do.  Yes, community service is work that is not too taxing.  But I try to do it well.  And it helps that people appreciate it.  Several employees have jokingly told the manager to hire me full time.  I’m sure they do this joke with anyone who does community service there, but it makes me feel good.  It makes me feel appreciated.  And it makes me feel like I am on the right path.  As I’ve said before, with a DUI arrest, you lose your dignity.  And slowly, people help you gain it back.
  2. I am not afraid of my DUI arrest. You see, at first when people asked me why I was there at the clothing store in non-uniformed clothing organizing stuff or sweeping, I had a hard time explaining why I was there.  Now, I am honest about it — I am doing court ordered community service.  Yes, now when people ask me and I respond with that, there is that moment where they hesitate and sometimes walk away.  But then there was this guy who looked at me and said, “you’re too old to be a bad boy!”  And he was right.  I am too old to have made such a boneheaded decision.  But I must accept its consequences.

AA

AA continues to be wonderful to me.  As of this writing, I am a week away from my 9 month sobriety chip.  What is amazing is that there have been babies conceived and born after I stopped drinking.  It’s a great feeling to know that I am doing something great, and there are people who support me in this.  AA is truly a wonderful support group comprised of people who are passionate about recovery.

If you are afraid of going to a meeting, just do it.  Trust me, get the first one out of the way.  Get the first minute out of the way.  After that, it only gets better.  So much better.

Probation

As I mentioned above, violating probation is something that I am terrified of.  No, I am not doing anything wrong.  But it’s a scary feeling that a traffic infraction could lead me back to jail.  Thankfully, my probation officer is an amazing lady who has promised me that if I complete my community service hours and stick to being an upstanding member of society, we can work towards terminating the probation early.

Living without Alcohol

Being sober has been the easiest of the tasks since the DUI.  I lost so much due to drinking.  Giving it up been a piece of cake in comparison to other consequences.  I was a bit worried about what people around me would think when I ordered Coke instead of a beer, or refused a drink.  Honestly, no one cares.  No one cares if you drink Coke instead of beer.

Six Months Since the DUI and Six Months of Sobriety

It has been over six months since my DUI arrest.  In many ways, the arrest seems like it was just yesterday.  In many other ways, it was the longest six months of my life.

But the six month mark was special in that I was able to get my drivers’ license back.  I went to DMV, and the process was rather painless…as long as you don’t take into account a rather hefty reinstatement fee.  But that’s to be expected, and ultimately, a fair fee.  In the 3 weeks since the reinstatement, life has gotten so much easier.  Driving without restrictions is, I think, one of the most amazing privileges.  Imagine my life when I could not drive: wake up, call an Uber, and on a good day, they would arrive within 10 minutes.  Repeat the process for the way back home.  The walk to where I do my community service would take 15 minutes.  AA meeting is another 15 minutes.  If I took the bus instead of Uber or Lyft to work, that would be an additional hour easy.  All in all, not having a car required the expenditure of easily and hour, perhaps even 2 hours.  And this doesn’t take into account the cost of ride-sharing.

The worst of all feelings, when I didn’t have my license, was the feeling of helplessness.  If at 10 PM, I got hungry and didn’t have anything to eat at home, my options were either having pizza delivered or waiting until the morning.  Sure, it sounds like a really mundane first world problem.  And it is.  But you really do realize what a privilege driving really is when you can’t drive anymore.

So in many ways, with the license back, life is much easier now.  However, the emotional challenge doesn’t go away.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the DUI arrest and now having a criminal record.  Every day, I play the what-if game — what if I hadn’t had anything to drink that night, how different, and better, my life would be right now? But even with all this perspective and mental gymnastics, I have learned to accept that I cannot change the past.  I have a criminal record now for an offense that I committed.  I have done my best to follow the straight and narrow since.  And the only way I can…mitigate…my past is by doing the next right thing for the rest of my life.

I also picked up the six month sobriety chip last week at an AA meeting.  It’s a good feeling to know that despite my misstep in the past, I have, so far, done the one thing which is guaranteed to result in me not drinking and driving ever again — i.e. not drinking at all.

Through it all, as I sit here on Christmas Day with a full license and six months of sobriety, I have never been busier in life.  The bar exam is now a mere 60-some days away.  My job, though very fulfilling, has been busier than usual.  Add in AA meetings, a support group meeting, and about 15-20 hours of community service a month, and you can see why I say that I’ve never been busier 🙂  But at the end of the day, when my head hits the pillow, I know it has been a day filled with progress.  And that is all I can hope for.

Merry Christmas, and a happy new year!

 

 

Victims Impact Panel by MADD

The Victim Impact Panel, organized by Mothers against Drunk Driving, was unlike anything else that I have had to go through as a result of the DUI. Perhaps I feel this way because it was the most unexpected.

You see, going in, I did some research about MADD. MADD is an organization that is anti-drunk driving and anti-drunk drivers. They attempt to influence individual states into enacting tougher penalties for people convicted of drunk driving. And as such, I expected one of two situations (a) a severe guilt trip; or, (b) anger. In either case, I didn’t have much choice – it was court ordered, and a natural consequence of my offense. Therefore, I went in hoping that the next two hours would pass quickly.

The next two hours were a blur. It was an experience that was truly personal, and actually pretty moving. There were three speakers: the first one was a MADD representative that spoke about drunk driving statistics, and the impact drunk driving has on the community I live in. This was really an introduction for what was to come.

The second speaker was an individual who served 8 years in prison for manslaughter – he killed a young woman after drinking and driving. He was about my age when his accident took place. For over a decade now, he has been speaking at VIP sessions trying to prevent DUI convicts from drinking and driving again…because the next time may end up in a tragedy similar to his. But the one thing he said was just amazing – he said that his worst fear has been coming face to face with someone close to his deceased victim. He had dreaded it for the last 18 years. Last time he saw someone close to her was at the trial. Then just a few months ago, he recognized someone from the trial at a VIP. It was the deceased girl’s best friend who had been a constant at the trial. The friend was now herself convicted of a DUI herself.

The third speaker was a mother whose son was killed by a drunk driver. Her college-aged son was driving home to her – and his vehicle was hit head-on. The kid died instantly. She described how her son was an excellent student, how he loved her cooking, how he always came home after school…and how much she missed him. There was not a single dry eye while this lady spoke. She herself could not hold back the tears. But instead of hating a room full of drunk drivers, she talked to us like she would talk to her son – she told us that we must do the right thing and not drink and drive again. And she begged us to honor her son’s memory by not driving and driving. This took courage on her part.

So comparing expectation vs. reality – the MADD session was nothing like I imagined. There was no finger pointing. There was no guilt-tripping. There was no angry mother telling us how to live our lives. Only respectful illustration of facts and request to not make the same mistake again.

I walked away with three things from the panel that I think are worth noting down:

  1. The people convicted of drunk driving in the room were from all walks of life. Drinking and driving is not a segmented problem. In pseudo-legal terms, I’d say the room was full of a representative cross-section of the society.
  2. That everyone in that room was supremely lucky – the fact that we were in the room, and not in jail, meant that we had avoided a tragic ending.
  3. You can find compassionate people anywhere. No, no one condones drinking and driving. And no one condones what I did. But even those deeply affected by drunk driving (victim and drunk-driver alike) care for you and care for the society. And they want you to not make the same mistake again.

Finding Your Silver Lining

Six months ago – before my DUI – had you asked me what it feels like to not have a drivers license, I would have perhaps come up with a theoretical scenario.  Three months ago, had you asked me the same question, I would have said, in fact I did say on this blog, that it stinks, but thankfully I at least had a business purpose only license to get to work.

I lost my DMV hearing last week.  This week, on my birthday, a full drivers license suspension went into effect.  This suspension will last a month.  This means that for the last four days, I have been unable to drive for any purpose whatsoever.  So what’s it like not having a drivers’ license at all?  Well, it is absolutely deflating.  You realize how much the driving privilege means.  It is the most effective deterrent against drinking and driving besides jail-time.

Having said that, I have had a lot on my mind these past few days about the driving privilege:

  1. I have realized how little I knew the city I’ve lived in the past 11 months.  Heck…how little I knew the intersection I’ve lived at.  In scoping out the bus schedule, I found out there is a bus stop about half a mile from my apartment, and a bus stop a quarter mile from my office.  And the bus service is a godsend for the times I have no other means to get to my office.
  2. The buses around here rarely run on time.  And quite a few people are on the bus.  Which raises the natural questions about what happens to people who rely on public transportation regularly, especially those that rely on it to get to work?  Getting up three hours before work and getting to the station 2 hours before having to be at work doesn’t seem so abnormal anymore.  That’s because you *must* take the early bus and chance getting to work early — because if the later bus runs behind schedule (as it inevitably does), you may lose your job.  It’s just eye-opening — it’s hard for me, sure.  But in a month, I will have my full license.  Those that can’t afford a car have no other choice other than having to spend hours of their day working around the work schedule.  I deserve this because I drank and drove.  These other folks though…I feel for them.
  3. Lyft and Uber drivers are good people and they show up on time.  Today, I used Lyft 4 times.  To get to an support-group meeting, back from support-group meeting, to the MADD victim impact panel, and back from the impact panel. Sure it costs an arm and a leg, but getting across town would have been practically impossible without these ride-sharing services.
  4. You also find that people genuinely want to help you.  You see, a coworker’s brother went through the same situation as me.  And his brother’s license was suspended, too.  So he understands what I am going through.  And he has picked me up for work the past few days.  It’s amazing.

The DUI has been a draining experience — mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  But like everything else in life, I can only use this as a learning opportunity and always remember this time of my life so that I never drink again.

Up next: I’ll write about the Victim’s Impact Panel organized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  I went through it today and just want a night to sleep on it and digest the message.

Beginning of the End

So it ended – four month and four days after my DUI arrest, I was found guilty of the reduced charge of reckless driving.  After several months of negotiations, my attorney gave me the good news last week that the state had offered the reduced charge to which I could plead.

At this point in the process, I am sincerely grateful.  I am grateful to be where I am.  I am grateful for where I am headed.  And I am eternally grateful that I can now focus on the road ahead rather than the criminal proceedings.

The consequences of the reckless driving conviction are all leaps and bounds better than a DUI conviction.  I avoided jail time, and the fine is a third of what it would have been had I been convicted of a DUI.  There is no additional drivers’ license suspension; so if I win at the DMV hearing tomorrow, I get my license back immediately.  If I lose at the DMV hearing, my license will be suspended for a month – but that will be it. There will not be an additional six months tacked on to it.  So those are things I am grateful for.

But as grateful as I am, there is a small voice inside of me that knows the consequences of my actions will forever haunt me.  For the rest of my life, every time someone runs a background check on me, be it a potential employer or a state licensing agency, they will see that I had been arrested for a DUI and plead down to reckless driving as a result of it.  They will see the terrible lapse in judgement that I displayed, and they will forever question whether I am fit to be in a position where my credibility needs to be unimpeachable.  And there is no one to blame for this but myself.

In the short-term, as a result of the determination of guilt, i.e. guilty of reckless driving, points will be added to my DMV record.  From cursory internet searches, it appears that the insurance rate hike will be substantial – anywhere between 22% to 88%.

But today I am content – not satisfied but content.  My ultimate life goal, as I’d mentioned in the first blog post I made, is to rehabilitate myself.  And a plea of reckless driving instead of a DUI does not change that goal.  I’ve promised myself that this was the first and last time I was arrested or convicted.  There will not be another such instance of awful behavior.

I will keep updating the blog in regards to my progress, next steps and probation.  Perhaps tomorrow or later this week I’ll outline the terms of my probation and how I plan to fulfill them.

In the interim, I have submitted my bar exam application to the state.  I’m sure it will be a tough sell asking the state to allow someone with such a recent misdemeanor conviction to take the bar exam and be admitted to the practice of law.  But all I control at this point is my actions and my future.  And as long as I keep working on myself, hopefully other things will take care of themselves.

The last DMV hearing is scheduled for tomorrow – I’ll update afterwards.

 

Why go to AA if you’re not an alcoholic?

The people close to be believe that I don’t have an alcohol problem.  I went through counseling, and the mental health counselor with whom I met 5 times believes that I don’t have an alcohol problem.  I myself don’t believe I have an alcohol dependency or problem.  I gave up alcohol over 100 days ago and haven’t looked back, with no side effects.  All of which leads to the question that you may ask yourself: why go to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings if you don’t have an alcohol dependency and have no trouble stopping?

Well, the answer is pretty simple — if you have been affected by an alcohol related incident, you can use AA in your life.  AA is more than just about giving up alcohol.  The message of AA is a message of hope.  It’s a message of how, even if you don’t have an alcohol dependency, you can live a meaningful and sober life.  And then there is the message, achieved through the Twelve Steps, about living a good life overall.

When you get beyond the first three steps, the AA program is all about living life as a decent human being.  Example: the fourth step is about making a moral inventory of your character defects, fears and resentments.  This has nothing to do with alcohol directly.  For some people, the fears, resentments and character defects lead to alcoholism.  But in my opinion there is not a single person on this planet that does not have fears, resentments or character defects.  So then, through the fourth step, you make an inventory of them and try to cure these defects using steps 5 through 10.  So seven of the 12 steps are all about continually looking at your shortcomings and defects and working on them.  They pertain to beyond just alcohol.  And what’s the result even if you don’t have an alcohol problem?  You become a better individual who is aware of his shortcomings, and who works towards fixing these shortcomings on the daily basis.

The twelfth step itself is beautiful, too.  It’s about carrying the message forward.  So you learn about your defects, you try to address them, and then you try to help others.  Is there a more meaningful way of living?  It would be hard to find.

So – despite not having an alcohol problem, I continue to go to AA meetings and working through the AA steps with my sponsor for a simple reason that I believe I can become a better, more well-rounded individual through the program.

Now you may be wondering, how in the world can you go to AA meetings if I am not an alcoholic?  Don’t they check?  No.  In fact, the AA format is pretty interesting.  There are “closed” meetings that are limited to people that suffer from the unfortunate alcohol dependency.  But vast majority of meetings are open meetings — these are open to both alcoholics and non-alcoholics alike!  In fact, even for the closed meetings, the only requirement, like the AA program, is a “desire to stop drinking.”  You don’t have to be a certified alcoholic to desire to stop drinking.

I’ve been going to AA meetings and working with my sponsor for just over 2 months now.  It’s not a long time to be in the program.  But each day I learn something new, and most often, the lesson has nothing to do with alcoholism.  It’s a life lesson that anyone can benefit from.  I’ve met people in the program who have been in it for over 4 decades.  They keep coming back not because they want to stop drinking — they did that over 40 years ago — but they keep coming back because they want to learn these life lessons, continually take inventory, address defects, and keep becoming a better person.

I believe, therefore, that AA is something anyone can use in their life, and it is a shame that it took a DUI for me to go to a meeting.  The regret for drinking and driving never goes away.  But I think with a program like AA, you can learn to become a better person, a person who never repeats his mistake again.

Continually looking over your shoulder

Before the DUI, life was so much simpler.  Everyday things were…well, everyday things.  I want to give a basic example for why you shouldn’t drink and drive.

Where I work, we sometimes have after-hours software releases.  This is to reduce the amount of users that get affected by the downtime.  On a Friday evening, there are only a few users, if that, who use the system.  So it makes for a perfect release time.  Before the DUI, if the boss said, “let’s do it at 11 PM on Friday,” my response was “absolutely!” After the DUI, I still say yes but the optimism that comes with releasing new software to our customers is faded.  The stress of having to drive at night creeps in.

You see, in my state, driving after a DUI arrest is limited to business purpose only.  This means that the offender is allowed to drive to work, school, church or the doctor.  The law does contain a provision that allows for things necessary to sustain livelihood, but the law fails to define what that ambiguous statement means.  So if the offender gets pulled over and is not going to work, school, church or the doctor, and the officer does not believe that the driver is driving for something that is a necessity, the offender can be arrested for violating the drivers’ license restriction — combine that with a DUI and the already blemished resume becomes even more troublesome. (This isn’t legal advice.  I am not your lawyer.  What your driving restrictions mean in your state can only be answered by your attorney. What I am sharing about the license restrictions is only what is true for my case as explained to me by my attorney.)

So back to the story — last Friday, we had an 11 pm release.  I was mortified — I kept thinking, “if I get pulled over, would the officer believe me when I told him I am going to work or coming back from work, especially this late at night?”  To cover my bases, I printed a copy of the release night email sent to us by our boss, along with my daily calendar to show that I was truly supposed to be at work. Even though I was in full compliance of my license restriction and had the paperwork for the release night right next to me, I just had this sinking feeling that no officer would believe that I was going to work at 11 PM.

Thankfully, I was not stopped. But I hope you can see how a simple thing, like driving to work, which is completely legal under my limited license, caused such stress.  If you’ve not gotten a DUI, congratulations.  Keep it that way.  Life is much simpler without one.

How fast can the DUI go away? Hard to tell…

At this point, it has been over 90 days since my DUI arrest.  There haven’t been any developments since I last posted.  The DMV hearing is delayed, but still pending.  And since the DMV hearing isn’t completed, the criminal case hasn’t moved forward.  My criminal law professor used to say something along the lines of, “in reality, the criminal justice system does not move at the convenience of the offender.”  And that is certainly true – and fair, I think.

So with that preamble out of the way, here is what I’ve learned so far in 90 days, and what you should be prepared for:

  1. There is no quick way to resolve the pending cases, i.e. the DMV case and the criminal case, unless you plead guilty. Unfortunately, in larger cities too many people make the terrible decision to drink and drive. As a result, the caseloads are incredibly high. So you and your loved ones need to be prepared – your restricted driving privileges will affect every day things. And the stress that comes from having cases pending against you won’t disappear overnight. For me, each passing day is spent reliving the night of my arrest and the consequences that have followed. These have been the longest 90-some days of my life.
  2. Even after the cases are resolved one way or the other, the financial consequences don’t go away. The money spent on lawyers, the hike in insurance premiums, the DMV surcharges (if your state has them), etc. will impact you for several years – in my case, at the very best, the case has eaten away 3 years’ worth of savings. It’s a lot of money.
  3. Then there are the non-economic consequences that last a life-time, which often end up impacting the finances anyway. For example, if you’re convicted of a DUI in most states, the conviction stays on the record for the rest of your natural life. In my case, this means that I can’t sit for a certain state bar to become a lawyer in that state for at least a year. I can’t even be sure if or when my own state will admit me to practice. While this seems like a non-economic consequence at first blush, each year not practicing law means loss of income from a source for which I went to school. Then there is the concern about job applications and interviews – companies will do a background check, and even in the best-case scenario, the DUI will make for an uncomfortable chat. There are other things too – like being unable to visit Canada for at least 10 years.

So the purpose today’s post is really just self-reflection.  The lesson is simple – your life will be affected in a major way if you drink and drive.  If you’re reading this post because you were recently arrested for a DUI, I suggest that you understand that this DUI situation won’t go away overnight.

The best advice here is don’t drink and drive.  The second best advice is that if you’ve already been arrested for a DUI, it is time to start working on rehabilitation of your character.  With time, and major effort on your part, the consequences can be managed and mitigated – but never eliminated.