That time I got arrested for a DWI—The Summer of 2017

by Monica Ross

arrested dwi dui jail

I had just moved back to Austin at the beginning of August of 2017.  It was my big reentry into the city after the two years of exile by choice and not by force that I had put into interning in East Texas.  I was two weeks into a new job as a psychotherapist here at successful group practice.  Things were looking good.

My friends had invited me out to a private music concert downtown.  These particular friends are long time friends—one is a mechanical engineer and the other a product manager for mobile software company.  They offered to pick me up and take me home that night because I was going solo and I decided at the last minute I would drive myself. 

The event itself was a lot of fun.  The company of friends was even better.  That night I had one vodka cranberry cocktail at 8:30pm when I arrived and by 10pm the event was over.  But instead of going home, I thought I would hang out a bit longer by myself downtown.  I was thinking maybe just one more hour. After all, I had just come from living in a place where the nearest night life that was anything similar to Austin's was a good 2 to 3 hour drive away.  

I headed down the street to the warehouse district and had another cocktail.  And then I ended up leaving downtown by I guess about 11ish.  I hadn’t eaten since early the afternoon that day, so I stopped by a popular place in South Austin on my way back home and had a light meal. 

It’s actually another nostalgic place for me—a homegrown wing and waffle fry place called Pluckers.  The first Pluckers opened up a few blocks from where I lived as an undergraduate in West Campus.  And dropping in there now and again makes me think of that time period.

So, I have my dinner and order a beer to drink with it.  I barely touched much of the beer.  And by then several hours had passed during the drinking of the alcoholic drinks. I had had my food by now to go with it.  I thought I was safe enough to get back on the road and go home which wasn’t too much of a further drive for me.

So, I proceeded to do that.  I headed home.  I drove down a residential street in south Austin.

And off went the swirling red lights behind me.  An officer pulled me over.  “Have you been drinking, tonight?”  Yes, officer I have.  “How much have you had to drink?”  About two cocktails.  “Please step outside the car.”

The officer pulled me over for speeding.  I had been driving over the speed limit because it was a street that I was not familiar with, it was also very dark at that point and the street signs were not well lit.  I was driving what I thought to be an appropriate enough average speed for a residential area and then aimed slightly above that.  It's what any average Texas driver would do.  

In all honestly I was also rushing to get home because I was exhausted. I was out well past my bedtime at that point.

The officer asked me questions about my entire day.  I answered every single one without missing a beat.  He then gave me a field sobriety test.  He had to give me a field sobriety test for liability reasons alone.  Here I had been pulled over for speeding and then add to that the fact that I admitted to drinking.

I thought I passed the field sobriety test.  Most people probably feel that way.  You go online and read all the reasons for which people fail these tests and how it can have nothing to do with how much one has or has not had to drink.

It was only when the officer said “Do you consent to a breathalyzer” that I began to think there is something about this that isn’t right. 

I asked him, by consent, do you mean I can refuse?  
He said, “Yes.” 
Then I said:  I refuse the breathalyzer.
He said, then I’m going to have to arrest you. 
I said, wait if arrest is on the table then go ahead give me the breathalyzer. 
He said, it’s too late at this point.  I’m going to have to arrest you.
And that’s what he proceeded to do.

I was handcuffed and taken to Travis County jail.  I put on jail garb—the whole thing.  I got my mugshot taken. I sat in a room full of people who also had been brought in that night for similar reasons. I met nurses and other career professionals in jail. 

I visited with students and ne'er-do-well types who also had been brought it.  It was a huge mix of both people who were repeat offenders and people who like myself were deer caught in highlights and kind of wondering wtf am I doing here?

They asked for my consent to draw blood, which I gave. They never explained the repercussions of refusing consent to a blood draw, by the way, but that didn’t matter because once I understood what was going on—that they intended to keep me in jail overnight--I consented to supplying evidence in my defense.

They took me down the road to Breckenridge where they proceeded to take my blood.  They then brought me back to the jail.

The temperature in the jail was set to just below arctic temperature.  They held us in an open space with benches and one shared bathroom.  If we wanted something to drink we had to drink from the fountain which was attached to the sink in the bathroom.  

They offered some of us food and not others.  Several of us asked questions about the nature of what was going to happen next?  The guards gave information out sparingly--at times misinformation--and a bit of teasing.

I witnessed a lot of crying.  A lot of handwringing.  A lot of worrying about how the arrest would impact people’s careers, finances, family life.  For some this was their second or third offense and for some it was their first.

There was a lot of regret expressed and a rehashing of events of the night—all the stories and all the details that led up to each individual’s arrest. I met people who were underage and people who were in their 50s or 60s or more.

Thankfully, I had been through a counseling training program and felt equipped not only to better deal with the hell I was going through, but to help others going through their separate hells as well.

There were a few phones provided for us and several of the women I was cordoned off with clamored around them and frantically tried calling friends and relatives and bail bondsmen all night long.  If I was brought into the jail at around 1am or so we didn’t get an actual hearing until later that morning. 

At the hearing, which was out in the open for all of the other jail mates to hear as we were handcuffed to each other, I was granted a personal bond and told that I was being charged with a Class B misdemeanor.  At that point, reality sunk in even further.  It was a "this is really happening" moment.

After the charges had been dealt, I was taken to a jail cell with one small window on the cell door and left locked behind it for several more hours--alone.  I had to wait until a guard came to check on me, if there were anything I needed. She came by sparse and sparingly.  So I spent much of that time desperately trying to sleep the night off.

I was in jail for a total of about 16 hours or so.  I had been up for over 30 hours at that point.  If I had been exhausted when the officer pulled me over at 12am I was well beyond exhausted by that time and with no idea how all of this would eventually play out. 

Had I been over the legal limit or under?

What I want to express is that for people going through this process, as I myself had to, there is an enormous amount of stress and waiting around and trying to figure the "what's next’s" of the whole process.  That stress doesn't end when you leave the jail.  It's something that one can carry with them for the days and months that follow release.

I went to Brackenridge the very next day after I got released and asked that they give me my blood alcohol test results for peace of mind, after all it’s my blood they took, shouldn't I have a right to see the results?

Wrong. 

They said they could not give them to me—it belonged to the City of Austin.

My blood was the property of the City of Austin?  Wow. 

My next question was that at the point of blood taking, why did no one ask me if would like a separate blood draw, property of me?  I guess that’s something they can’t do.

I found an attorney who was generous enough to work with me on the costs of representation.  And when I signed the contract to hire him I still did not know at that point how much of his services I would need. 

Hiring an attorney in that sense was a bit like buying insurance.  In other words, if my blood alcohol came back over for whatever reason, I would definitely need his help to argue some kind of defense for a first time offender, but then if it were under, as I had hoped, then maybe not so much.

Well we're into April now.  The blood alcohol test?  Let's just say I was pulled over on August 20, 2017.  The results of that test didn’t come back until March 15, 2018—seven months later.  That’s seven months of waiting and wondering and paying monthly fees to an attorney. 

That was seven months of potentially missed opportunities working for a well-known company that I made it all the way to the end of the interview process with and then another potential missed opportunity working for a government position that I had all but been offered--pending background check.  And we know what the background check at that point said.

The results--the bac test--what did the results say?  “NO ALCOHOL WAS DETECTED.” 

That's right.

I still at this moment have an arrest on my record for a DWI.  If I choose to get it expunged it’s another year of waiting before I can even begin that process. 

> On Mar 15, 2018, at 4:14 PM, Dan Garcia <dan@dunhamlaw.com> wrote:
>
> Hi Monica.
> Your blood results came back today.
> No Alcohol was detected.
> I have left a message with the prosecutor to call me to discuss how to
> dispose of your case.  I will contact you as soon as I speak with the
> prosecutor.
>
> -Dan

Rejection of Misdemeanor Charges

How I'm Currently Answering the Question: "What's the Book Going to Be About?"

by Monica Ross

Dorothea Lange-Migrant Mother

I’ve run into people lately who know my intent of writing a book and they’ve been asking me, “Well what's it about?”  I say that I have a loose sketch.  There are several themes that I want to tie in together. The general themes are poverty, stigma, mental health, physical health, behavioral economics, and therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy. 

I’ve thought about going back to school to advance my studies even further.  And recently, I applied to a couple of doctoral programs.  Both of these programs are online and shorter in length than a traditional PhD track program which would be geared more towards someone who wants to end up conducting research and teaching in academia.  The one doctoral program that I am looking at in particular would place the emphasis on clinical practice.

I don’t know whether or not I’ll get into my program of choice or whether or not having gained the acceptance I’ll sign the piece of paper that commits myself to even more student loan debt. But I thought I’d use this post to explain some of my background or reasoning for wanting to pursue the idea of writing a book.

I made some of the following statements in my personal statement submitted to the doctoral program that elucidate my intent a little bit more:

Extreme economic inequality is a public health problem. As a health care provider, I want to advance well-being practices geared towards overcoming the unique psychological barriers that economic inequality perpetuates in order to stimulate behavioral and economic change. The government focuses on prevention and early intervention for “at risk” youth, and this leaves out our adult population, an even larger demographic.

Some of the adults I have treated were not able to get early interventions and therefore find themselves struggling later in life. I am intrigued by the work of Eldar Shafir and Johannes Haushofer, both from Princeton University, who are leading the conversation linking poverty to psychology and tracing this linkage to its economic impact.

In my early years, in Texas, I saw the struggles my parents had with chronic health impairments and economic inequality. This influenced my decision to go into psychology and sociology as an undergraduate student and to focus my studies on resilience and well-being later in life.

I did not see the burden of my parents’ health and financial issues or my own issues for that matter as resting solely on our shoulders. Instead, I had some sense there were environmental and societal factors affecting our overall health and well-being.  I am an advocate of personal agency and responsibility, while at the same time acknowledging that we, all of us, live in systems.

After graduation I spent many years working in California at corporate, government, nonprofit, and academic institutions. I choose this path of work because I chased after the financial security that these roles provided. In 2010 I made the decision to come back to Texas to be with family and I came up with a plan to pursue my calling—to return to the study of psychology and to become a psychotherapist.

By August of 2011, I was enrolled full-time in a counseling program at St. Edward’s University. By May of 2014 I finished my counseling program and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. With my master’s degree and LPC-intern license in hand, I made the decision to relocate to rural East Texas because of the experience it offered.

I began working at Burke, a Federally Qualified Health Center headquartered in Lufkin. It serves a 12 county region and houses services for people across the lifespan, from children to adults, with mental health and medical issues. At Burke, I worked initially with the most severely mentally ill in vivo as a caseworker.

In that role as an in vivo caseworker, I came face to face with the devastating effects of poverty in America and its relationship to mental health. After a year as a caseworker, I transitioned to the office and provided psychotherapy at the clinic for our clients that included 50 to 90 minute individual counseling, group therapy, and psychoeducational sessions.

I discovered a wellness self-management personal workbook from the New York State Office of Mental Health and used that as a tool to lead a 12 week series of group therapy sessions. I also drove once a week an hour outside of Lufkin to Crockett, a town of less than 7,000, in order to provide therapy to the neediest in that community. Crockett has a 39.1% poverty rate.

In some ways, I had escaped the financial and cultural struggles of my early years for an interlude while in working California only to willingly come back to my home state and face those same struggles again, but from a different perspective. Once I finished the licensure process, I moved back to Austin to embark upon my own private practice.

Throughout my experience as a counselor, I have continued to work with clients of all ages in all levels of socio-economic status. I have clients who have been in and out of prison, who have had Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement in their lives, and who are struggling to maintain independent housing, access to proper nutrition, and transportation.

I have also worked with top executives of well-known companies who are somewhat more economically privileged, but often face similar mental health challenges and have had to overcome sometimes similar childhood trauma.

By addressing the unique psychological barriers that people coming from a place of extreme economic inequality face, we can more adequately advance long and productive lives.  This may come through a process of creating social responses that include therapeutic techniques to adapt to the changing social environment.

The experiences that I have had throughout life, the witnessing of the effects of extreme inequality, which are influenced by both societal factors and internalized psychological barriers, have taken on new meaning for me. These experiences were not random occurrences, but instead have prepared me for the work that I currently do and for the legacy that I hope to one day leave.

The Trap of Perfectionism

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by Monica Ross

What did a recently published September 2017 article in the Journal of Personality reveal?  Perfectionism leads to suicide.  Yet why are we so perfectionistic? 

We’re perfectionistic because we think that by telling ourselves constantly to work harder, to strive to be and do better, to excel as a mother, as a spouse, as a manager—that all of this will serve as MOTIVATION.  But the cold, hard truth of the matter is that it does not.

Dr. Kristin Neff at The University of Texas at Austin has done a lot of research on this topic, as well, and that is what her research concludes.  The self-criticism that we inflict on ourselves only serves to make us feel worse, it does not motivate us to change our behaviors.

The inner dialogue of someone with perfectionistic tendencies might look something like this: 

“I should have called my mother back this weekend, this is the second time she has tried to reach out to me to hear about the new position. I'm the worst daughter ever.”

or

“I never got time to go to the grocery store this weekend with the baby shower and all the catching up I had to do with work, so great that means another week of eating out.  I have to do better that.  It’s just not acceptable.”

or

”With all the meetings I have scheduled this week and the trainings I have to do there is just no way that I’ll be able to break for the gym at lunch and I’ll never lose that extra 20 pounds. I hate myself.  How did I let myself gain so much weight?”

The above inner dialogue is hard to read and absorb because it sounds so harsh and yet these are the types of things that we tell ourselves sometimes on a minute by minute basis.  We are often more harsh and cruel to ourselves than we would be to someone we dislike. 

Perhaps we feel that we hold ourselves to a higher standard.  And because of that, it’s okay to be harder on ourselves.

After all, wasn’t it I who got first place on the debate team?  Didn’t I graduate top 5% of my class? Wasn’t I selected to be chair or co chair of this or that committee in college?  Didn’t I accept the leadership role at work?

Here are three things that Dr. Neff points out that are essential elements to break through some of this thinking.

1.    Accept that we are human. 

And that being human is a shared common experience.  In other words, the person next to me in line at the checkout counter knows all too well what it means to be human and living in today’s world just as much I do.  We collectively as humans know what it means to experience joy and suffering, happiness and disappointment.  In that way, we are no different from each other.

We have a lot in common and therefore we have the ability to relate to one another.  If we can hold onto that concept then we can shift from a place of “look how much I’m suffering” to “look how much we all at times suffer in life.”

So it’s less about me not measuring up and therefore hating myself for it, but look at how we all set these unreasonable expectations and then beat ourselves and each other up for not meeting them.  It’s about moving from a place of shared judgement to a place of shared understanding about the human condition.  This makes it easier to connect instead of isolate.

2.    Strive to stay present and aware.

Another way to say this is to be mindful.  Part of being mindful is staying focused on the present moment and accepting whatever feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations and physical reactions come up in the moment with acceptance. 

At the same time we are not our thoughts as Eckhart Tolle points out.  How can we be?  There is some part of us, call it the spiritual part if you want or the soul part of us that is an essence. It is untouched by what we might be feeling or thinking in the moment.  It is a strong, stable, solid, force.  It’s the place we tap into in order to feel a sense of groundedness.

3.    Be kind to yourself.

So, if we know all of this to be true, that we share a common humanity and as such are imperfect fallible human beings and that every moment brings new thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are at times difficult or even unpleasant to experience, then at the very least let’s be kind to ourselves and by extension kind to other people.

Click this link to set up an appointment to discuss how to decrease the perfectionistic tendencies in you life.