“are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?” the judge said to me.i panicked. up until then, the questions had been easy to answer. do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? do you swear that this information is true and correct to the best of your knowledge? are you alison headley? how do you plead? guilty, your honor. when they made me put my hand on the bible, i thought about this trivial pursuit question i always get. “what romance novelist’s book was once mistakenly used to swear in a witness?” i always think of romance novels as worn and sticky paperbacks with yellow-edged pages and an embossed fabio on the cover. how could they mistake one of those for the bible? even if someone managed to find a leatherbound edition of such a steamy volume, i doubt it would have been called the bible. “are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?” the judge said to me. i stared at him, less like a deer in headlights and more like a deer coming face to face with a an elderly lion in bifocals, who could put her back in jail if he felt like it. i nodded slightly, wishing i had antlers. “yessss,” my attorney hissed at me. “yes,” i repeated. “in that case i sentence you to 180 days in prison, probated for one year, a fine of one hundred dollars, thirty-five hours of community service…” after that, i had to sit back down in the courtroom and wait for an hour. andy and i watched as four orange-suited inmates were led in by the bailiff, cuffed together in pairs. we listened as the judge talked to each one through the spanish translator. “are you a resident of the united states de los estados unidos?” the inmate shook his head. “you have entered a plea of guilty, which means you will be deported.” another inmate stepped up to the judge. “you are not allowed to go within two hundred feet of the victim’s home de su casa,” he said. “you are not allowed to go within two hundred feet of the place where she works de su trabajo…” some bald man, who was way too old to say “cool” as much as he did, explained to me the conditions of my probation, one of which was to “avoid persons or places which could be considered harmful or disreputable.” i asked him to define disreputable. he said that it was a broad, subjective definition, and then went into a tirade about reasonable doubt and burden of proof, using vanna white as an example. “when she hasn’t turned over all the letters yet, but you’ve figured out the answer to the puzzle, you know beyond a reasonable doubt what that answer is.” he didn’t really answer my question. so i signed up for the required education classes and impact programs. i signed a document stating that i would be able to give proof of my high school education upon my first visit to my probation officer. i had an offender identification card made. i paid the cashier. i took a test. “on a scale of one to ten, rate your satisfaction with your current legal situation, with your current marital status, with your current financial situation, with your job.” “answer yes or no to the following statements: sometimes when i get angry i want to smash things. i always listen when others talk to me, no matter who they are. i defy people in positions of authority, whether or not they are correct. i have been under psychiatric care. sometimes i hit people. i am dissatisfied when things don’t go my way.” “using the corresponding numbers from list 2a, indicate which drugs you have tried. using the corresponding numbers from list 2b, indicate the last time you tried these drugs.” i was in line to sign up for community service when the guy behind me looked over my shoulder at my paperwork.
“you lucky,” he said. “you only got to do 35 hours. my first time i had 80.”
“mine’s only a first offense,” i said.
“mine was felony violence.”
“oh,” i said, looking down at the linoleum and hoping i wouldn’t have to wait with him much longer.
“i just grabbed her shirt,” he muttered. “all i did was grab her shirt.” i’ve decided i’m going to pretend like i’m not on probation, but rather on prohibition. this way we can drink bathtub gin, sit on flagpoles, and do the charleston. i’ll wear a feather boa and a flapper dress and call everyone the cat’s pajamas. maybe this way it won’t be so bad. maybe this way i won’t be afraid all the time.