You Have the Right to Remain Fat

I had no idea Utah County’s jail was in a remote part of Spanish Fork until I had to go there over the weekend to bail out my brother.

This is my Big Fat Greek Brother Jeff we’re talking about, and you should know he hadn’t committed any major, violent crime. Violence is not in his nature (at least not against people; pies are another matter, and there are several all-you-can-eat buffets that tremble when they see him coming).

The arrest came because he had neglected to pay a traffic ticket a few months ago. This led to a warrant being issued against him, and when he got pulled over for having only one functioning headlight (well, for his CAR having only one functioning headlight), the cop discovered the warrant, put Jeff in handcuffs, crammed him into the backseat of the squad car, possibly with the aid of a shoehorn, and hauled him off to jail. Jeff got arrested for laziness, essentially, which I can totally see.

I learned of all this when I received a phone call from a friend of Jeff’s who had been riding with him at the time. He said I would have to purchase Jeff’s freedom by posting bail, which was set at $650, or $2 a pound. I had to come up with this money because I was the only relative nearby, and because I am believed to have flora growing in my back yard that produces fruit made of cash. In truth, I don’t even have a back yard, and $650 was more than I had in my bank account. Fortunately, Washington Mutual offers overdraft protection, and charges only $22 every time you use it. (Twenty-two dollars is such a low sum that I’m sure the bank loses money on the deal.)

Jeff's Mugshot
My Big Fat Greek Brother Jeff: the actual police mugshot!

So I headed to the nether regions of Spanish Fork, which is already in the nether regions of civilization, to fetch Jeff out of the hoosegow. It seems awfully inconvenient to put a jail so far from the county’s population center. Unless a majority of criminals come from Spanish Fork, in which case it makes perfect sense.

The reason, of course, is that people don’t like to have jails near their homes. I don’t exactly understand this. In terms of building asthetics and the caliber of people it attracts, a jail is no worse than a Wal-Mart. And even if the jail has a high incidence of people escaping, it seems unlikely they’d be stopping off at neighborhood homes to commit more crimes on their way out of town, especially given that it’s a county jail, and most inmates are there for being drunk or for not paying traffic tickets and aren’t liable to try escaping anyway, what with being too drunk or too lazy. I wouldn’t mind having a jail in my neighborhood in Orem, especially if it made it easier to visit family members. As it is, Jeff lives in Provo, and I hardly see him.

At any rate, I learned that personal checks are the one form of payment the jail does not take, but credit and debit cards are OK, and I assume cash works, too. Who has $650 cash lying around, I don’t know. I suspect bail amounts are not chosen for reasons of convenience.

(How are they chosen? Is it like airline tickets, where prices are determined by drawing random numbers from a hat? Or is there a conversion chart somewhere, “1 unpaid traffic ticket + 1 non-functioning headlight = $650”?)

At the jail you are not allowed to have any direct contact with the police officers. They stand behind thick windows and communicate with you via telephone receiver, and to hand documents and debit cards back and forth, there’s a metal drawer you put the stuff in that slides from your side of the glass to theirs. It is the same procedure used in leper colonies. I wondered if I would receive Jeff via sliding drawer, too, but that did not turn out to be the case.

He had been in jail for only 45 minutes when I retrieved him, and he seemed none the worse for the wear. In fact, he thought it was all pretty funny, though his smile faded quickly when he learned the county had assessed his worth at only $650. I told him that in my book, he’s worth $650 plus the $22 overdraft fee.