If you think jail's no picnic, wait 'til you meet 'the wicked witch'

By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   All you were doing was out driving around, enjoying the scenery, sipping a few beers. You'd think those officers would have something better to do than sit back off the roadway waiting for somebody like you to come along.
   You jerk the wheel. "Better straighten up," you think to yourself, glancing in the rearview mirror. "S...!" Blue lights.
   That stupid cop wanted you to stand beside the road with your head tilted back, eyes closed, and touch your nose. Then you had to balance on one leg and count to 15. Shoot, you couldn't do that even when you were sober.
   You were "cuffed and stuffed" inside a patrol car and driven to the salley port at Carter County Jail. Upstairs at the processing window, you were searched again, asked to empty your pockets and take off all jewelry, then asked a bunch of personal questions. The officer escorted you into another room where your mug and fingerprints were taken and you were asked to blow into a big, long tube. The breathalyzer couldn't have been right because you only drank "two beers" and the machine said you blew .15 percent.
   They sent you straight to the meat cooler they call a "drunk tank," and you sat there four miserable hours. You were given a set of "oranges" with holes in them and ordered to put them on. The sandals they provided when they took away your shoes were mismatched: one size 12, one size 10 -- and the strap on one of those was broken!
   You got a ratty mat with the stuffing falling out, no pillow, and a blanket so thin you could see through it. You were allowed to make a phone call, but at 2 a.m., nobody was interested in coming down to bail your butt out.
   The jailer marched you off to a regular cell. Whereas the drunk tank had been ice cold, the air conditioning unit here was frozen. The trustys had placed a mop bucket in the middle of the floor to catch the steady drip of water. You were No. 16 in a block designed for 12, and the only place left to roll out your mat was next to the drip.
   "Anybody got a cigarette?" you ask.
   "This jail is smoke-free," one of the inmates replied. "You got $5?"
   There had been a fight in your block the previous day and your group had lost their privileges. No TV, no radio. Nothing to do but sleep it off.
   Promptly at 6 a.m., you heard the jingling of keys and a booming voice, yell, "Chow!" You awoke to cold oatmeal, lukewarm coffee, and a piece of toast with jelly.
   At 8 a.m., everybody lined up for medication. You got a Phenergan because you were nauseous and shaky -- it had been several hours since you had had a drink. Then you got shoved into the wall by some big jerk with a shaved head, or jail haircut, who took away your medication.
   At 9 a.m., they called five or six of you out of the cell, shackled everyone together, and Sarge escorted you downstairs to see General Sessions Judge John Walton. You pleaded guilty and the judge pronounced sentence.
   "See that lady over there," Walton said, pointing to Crossroads Probation Officer Rusti Miller.
   "Not her," you say to yourself. The guys upstairs warned you about her.
   Welcome to hell.
   Rusti Miller has been labeled the enemy by many of her clients. She knows it. Those who meet with her on a monthly basis or attend the DUI school she teaches won't hesitate to tell you how difficult she is.
   But that's OK.
   She's also one person in Carter County that cares about seeing a DUI offender or chemically dependent person turn their life around.
   Miller is strictly by the book, a fact few offenders appreciate.
   "In this job, I'm the evil one of Carter County. And I understand that. They do not see the fault inside themselves so they have to fault someone else, and I'm the easy target. That's fine. I'll handle it. It doesn't faze me," she said.
   Most of Miller's clients tell her they have no idea why they're there. "They're resistant -- that's the best word I can use. Some of these people I will never see again, a small percentage, unless I run into them at Wal-Mart or the grocery store. It has really made an impact on them.
   "But the majority are very resistant to the system they find themselves in. They feel like they've been railroaded, framed ... and that all falls back to their chemical dependency problem and the denial issue," she said. "They've got to find somebody to blame for their problem."
   That is the frustrating part of Miller's job. She tries to break it down for her clients: "Don't you understand that your behavior really is what has caused your problems? You've got probation, you've got to deal with the 'wicked witch' all because of your behavior' -- but they don't see that. It's so-and-so's fault, it's your fault ... Rarely will they ever say, 'Yes, I know what I've done. It's my fault,' " Miller said. "But some do. And when they do, I almost fall out of my chair."
   Miller said most first-time DUI offenders in their 50s, 60s or 70s, she seldom sees again.
   "But these kids that are 18, that have got five DUIs and a juvenile record that's as thick as my leg, they sit right there and say, 'I don't know what I'm doing here. I ain't done nothing wrong.'
   "The majority of the multiple offenders are so deep in denial. They're going to have to break through that wall of denial before anything or anybody can reach them."
   Miller said she worries about her clients' personal safety. She also worries about her own safety and the safety of her family when the DUI offender is back out on the street. "That's one of the things we try to get across in DUI school: 'Your behavior and the impact you have on society when you do what you do,' " she said.
   Robin Shaffer, director of Crossroads, said she believes that repeat offenders seen by the agency's probation officers, "have problems and chemical dependency. They're repeating not only just once, but multiple times."
   Sometimes the client's problem is low self-esteem. Others have family problems, coping skills, or money problems, according to Shaffer and Miller. "And getting caught only increases the high stress that they're already under," Miller added.
   Once referred to Crossroads, the client is assessed, according to Shaffer, and based on that assessment, the probation officer determines whether the client is a user, an abuser, or chemically dependent.
   "Then we make a referral out for treatment or intensive outpatient, usually at Charlotte Taylor Center or Magnolia Ridge, depending on which they need," Shaffer said. If the client has TennCare, some of the treatment costs are covered, but not all. Clients without medical insurance, however, have a slim chance of undergoing intensive treatment.
   The best program available for multiple offenders was the state-funded "ADAT" program, according to Crossroads personnel. "It was so good that everybody was using it," said probation officer Sharon Nave. However, according to Miller, funding was depleted during the state financial crisis, "so that program is gone." Crossroads has not been advised whether funding will be reinstituted now that the state has settled the budget issue.
   District Attorney General Joe Crumley said, "I don't know a single hospital in our district that does indigent care as far as alcohol and drug rehabilitation on an inpatient basis. I really wish that a hospital would be required by law to do so much community service, being inpatient treatment for so many offenders."
   Indian Path Pavilion in Kingsport does accept indigent clients, Crumley said, however, it is not located in the First Judicial District.
   Miller agreed with Crumley's observation. "If you don't have good insurance, it's difficult to receive inpatient treatment in this area -- very difficult."