“Jennifer Myers, I’m from the DEA. You’ve been indicted by the Eastern District of Michigan.”
I froze, barely breathing. Fear swept through my body. At his words everything began to fade away—my life, my dreams, my future.
I knew why he was here. I was being arrested for my part in a major marijuana-trafficking ring, and I’d no one else to blame but myself.
Nothing could change it. Not my budding career in real estate or my dance success in Chicago, not even my good girl past. My mom, a high school math teacher, had taught me to be nice, to care what other people thought. Now I was letting everyone down. I had defiled my Girl Scout uniform and the cookies I’d sold on the street, my captain’s cheerleading outfit, and the dance costumes I’d cherished. In one instant, my “good life” was gone. Even the spiritual work I’d done to transform my life was corrupted.
I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this man I didn’t know. In shock, every detail about him came alive.
The man was short and compact. He reminded me of the fraternity boys I’d known in college. They wore baseball caps, slept in late, and emitted a particular musky smell. I didn’t see a gun, and he looked too young to carry one, but I knew one was there. I’d only seen two guns in my life: the rifle my dad had fired to scare the groundhog and the one I’d held trapshooting with Casey. Not even in my marijuana trafficking had I seen guns.
We three stood in the doorway of my boss’s office: me, a thirty-five-year-old Ohio State grad dressed in ridiculous light blue sweats for lunchtime Pilates standing next to this stranger, and Stephen, my boss.
Stephen looked at me with love, pain and betrayal in his eyes. When he hired me as a manager at his real estate company, there had been only one condition: I must give up my illegal business.
We’d met four years ago at a transformational workshop. He’d trusted me to work as a manager in his company, and I’d made a promise I thought I could keep. But my spiritual quest had done nothing to erase my addiction to the money the drugs brought in.
Had I lied?
Yes, I had. Because I didn’t have the strength to let go of the trips.
Reeling, I stepped back but didn’t look away. He had been betrayed in more ways than one. He’d loved me romantically, and I hadn’t returned it.
The moment passed and Stephen leapt into action. He asked me for my parents’ phone number. No words were registering with me. “Jen, you have to give me your parents’ number!”
What was their number? No. They couldn’t know about this. But they had to know about this. Jesus.
I couldn’t speak or think.
The man led me into the kitchen where two other DEA agents stood, one a woman. She was there to frisk me—to touch me everywhere—looking for who knows what. I felt her small hands running down my sides. My body automatically responded with goose bumps. Inside I was heaving, storing up tears that wouldn’t have a chance to come for a long time.
I yelled for Stephen to get my purse.
“Where is it, Jen?”
He was frantic, searching. The female agent leaned me against the counter and brought my hands behind my back. I was staring at the tan Formica.
“There, under there.”
I was praying. Click. I felt for the first time the grip of the handcuffs too tight around my wrists. I closed my eyes and pictured the white barn of my childhood, the safe place I always thought of when I was scared. Purse. Got to find my purse.
“The green one,” I heard myself say.
Stephen picked up the purse and the woman spoke: “If you give her anything she is not supposed to have, you could be an accomplice.”
With a wild look, Stephen dropped the bag.
I couldn’t pick it up myself, but it was open. I told him to pull my wallet out.
“It’s a business card,” I said. “An attorney. I need his number.”
The attorney . . . and Ian needs to know. Call Ian, I thought to myself. Zoey. Who’s going to feed Zoey? They’re taking me for how long? And where? How am I going to contact Dane? The agents wanted to confiscate my car. “Where’s your key?”
My Land Rover Discovery was parked in the back beyond the peaceful pond where Stephen’s koi swam. “What peace?” a voice babbled in my head. Stephen was raging, my heart was thundering, and my coworkers had faded into the background.
“I’m calling my attorney on the phone!” Stephen shouted. “You’re not taking her car.”
“Sir, we can legally take her car.”
The sound of Stephen’s voice diminished as they led me outside. I walked head down, not looking at anyone. Like a mobster in old photographs. But even in my handcuffs, I was too numb and scared even to feel the shame. I guess I belonged to the government. Wasn’t that what the judgment from the Eastern District of Michigan had meant? My fingers touched each other, bound together in their steel. My wrists hurt. Inside, there was no steel.
“Do you have any needles, sharp objects, or weapons in your purse?” the male agent who carried my purse asked.
Do I have anything sharp in my purse?
“I don’t know.” He reached into my Marc Jacobs bag, the one I loved. I’d bought it as a feeling-sorry-for-myself gift after Casey ended our relationship. The purse had cost thousands, and I’d had the money—from the drugs.
The agent quickly drew his hand back.
“I’m going to ask you again. Do you have any needles or weapons in your purse?”
At that moment I truly felt it: I was a criminal.
But I’m not a criminal. I’m a good girl. Everyone thinks I’m a good girl.
The female agent pushed me into a Ford Taurus. Gold. No markings. Neither the agents nor the cars looked official. Everything was ordinary, but nothing was ordinary. I wanted to scream. I stared at the J on my zipper. “J” for Juicy, not “Jennifer” or “Jen.” Now “J” for “judge” and “Just so, ain’t life a bitch,” not “justice.”
The female agent got into the driver’s side and backed into the other agent’s Mustang. I was jolted forward from the impact. I couldn’t resist turning my head. They’d had an accident, dented the cars. Their embarrassment relaxed me for a moment. These were just kids playing dress-up, playing the DEA game. This was their job, and I was just another criminal who needed to be arrested, the one scheduled for 2 p.m. They didn’t have to remember my name. It was on the piece of paper.
They swarmed around the back where the car was damaged. “Hey, grab the camera. We have to take pictures.”
They were fast but followed protocol as I sat in the passenger seat. I wanted to laugh at their silliness. Otherwise, what was really happening to me would be too real.
* * *
During the drive, I stared out the window. The agent talked, but I didn’t respond. I’d shifted my weight onto my left hip to make room for my arms cuffed behind my back when, suddenly, the car exited off the ramp and downhill into a driveway.
We were in a basement. Steel lattice panels covered the windows; light barely peeked in. Empty police cars lined the parking structure like soldiers, waiting to be assigned.
I felt hidden, lost—already forgotten.
We took an elevator up and then proceeded down a hall, empty but for the tall man walking toward us.
His eyes laughed, which felt degrading to me.
Who is Lori?
My flip-flops echoed on tiled floor. My arms ached. Then I remembered the conversation. “I’m Bob,” Rob had said to the driver as the Atlas Van truck stopped beside our Tucson storage unit, “and this is Lori.” The name had come out of that five-minute encounter. Now the court docket stated that I had an alias, “Lori.” It was sick. I wanted to cry.
In a small room with a telephone, the agents uncuffed me. Someone in Detroit wanted to talk to me. I stared at my wrist, hating the phone.
I’ve hurt myself.
The grooves on each wrist were slightly welted, perfectly light pink. I added them to the new list in my mind, with a crossed-off item at the top:
The first time I was handcuffed.
“If anything happens, anything, call me,” Dane had said. “Trust me. You’ll only be in for a few days.” And I’d believed him.
No one was speaking. The agents were an enigma—one a man and one a boy-man. They could’ve been my brother, Jerry, or a man cheering for his son on the diamond ball field.
I jumped when the phone rang. The agent pressed the speaker button, the red light steady. Stay calm. I almost said it out loud.
“Ms. Myers,” the voice over the phone drawled, drawing my name out, Myyyers. “I’m Agent Eric Elliot from the Eastern District of Michigan. Everyone is talkin’ down here, down in Detroit. All your friends are talkin’. What do you think about that?”
Inside, I shook like a five-point earthquake.
“You don’t have an option,” he continued, “so why don’t cha tell me what you know? We already know it all, anyway.”
“If you talk to me now, you’ll only be helping yourself out of a very bad situation.”
The room was shrinking. Again, I almost spoke—my mind desperate to do the right thing.
I almost believed him.
“I think I need an attorney” finally came out of my mouth.
The agents looked back at me, eyes blank. Instantly the phone call was disconnected, and I was taken from the room.
Here we go. Let the game begin, I thought, as if I knew what this meant.
I added more new “firsts” to my list: my first mug shot, and then my first fingerprinting. Over the next five years I learned that some institutions have a new electronic system for fingerprinting; the rest just do it the old-fashioned way with a stamp pad. This first time was the stamp.
The agent rolled my thumb. “No, relax your hand, honey.” Index finger. Pinky finger.
“No, sweetie, we’re not done yet.” She asked me to place my four fingers on the pad. “Like this, a little off to the side.” The new position was awkward, and the stamp pad was messy. The black residue lingered on my fingers although I was given shop soap to wash it off—the same white slippery gel my father used to clean his hands after a day on the farm. The smell brought my dad close to me . . . and the inky fingerprints took me back to kindergarten.
My prints no longer displayed my accomplishments and creativity; the innocence of my childhood years was forgotten and stained. In its place was a symbol, a sign of misuse and misfortune.
I was a criminal.
I was marked and tracked.
Jennifer Myers is a speaker and prison consultant who prepares first time non-violent offenders and their families for federal prison. Currently she is on the board of the Action Committee For Women In Prison, where she is creating programs for women in prison and young teen girls. Jennifer's poetry and short stories have been published in the online literary journal, qarrtsiluni, and in the anthology, Razor Wire Women, co-edited by Jodie Lawston. In Trafficking the Good Life she documents her journey from All-american girl and professional dancing to marijuana trafficking, to arrest and incarceration, to rebuilding a life of purpose and ethical pursuit.