Robin was convicted of a felony DUI in 1996 and sentenced to a year in jail.
What I Learned From Getting a DUI
people found Robin's experience helpful.
To start with, I should be dead right now. Three days before my twenty-first birthday, I caused a major head-on collision that injured two people and myself. I was less than one mile from my home and I was drunk.
I was transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital instead of the county jail.
Panic consumed me during the first few hours in the hospital. I was treated horribly by the doctor and staff (not that I blame them) because I was a drunk driver. A blood test confirmed the obvious a few hours later and I was placed under arrest while in the emergency room. My injuries warranted a stay of a few days, so I wasn't any more of an immediate threat to society, I suppose.
Thank God, no one was killed that night. Eventually, we all three made full physical recoveries. I, however, failed to fully recover emotionally.
The police report detailed the accident from the perspectives of three witnesses. I had no recollection. I believe it was a 39-page report that made my mom barf and me, instantly afraid. The biggest realization came at this time—two men saved me from a burning car, against my will.
I was 21 and had grown up in a small town where I played every sport, joined every club, and was named homecoming queen. I had been raised to believe that criminals looked a certain way, spoke a certain way, and scared children for fun. My story of "homecoming queen turned criminal" was quickly developing into a Lifetime movie.
I was most definitely headed to jail and that scared me.
My dad recommended that I seek professional legal assistance and opt out of using a public defender. I immediately sold my car (obviously I wasn't going to need it for a while) and hired an attorney — at a cost of $10,000. It took the DA two months to officially file charges, which gave me a lot of time to plan. I voluntarily enrolled into an outpatient treatment program for alcoholism and participated in group and solo counseling every week.
At the time, I thought this would save me from going to jail; looking back, it saved me in other ways. The counseling allowed me to explore the reasons I made so many careless decisions. My attorney loved the fact that I had already started a "resume" for the courts and his excitement eased my nervousness.
The choice to enroll in an outpatient program altered my life immensely. Our choices determine our future, and I had made a poor one driving drunk. All I can say to someone who’s in a situation similar to mine is: be honest with yourself. You know better than anyone else what kind of help you need. When we lie about things like alcohol and how it affects your life, the only person we’re lying to is ourselves. Help is an amazing way of embracing freedom.
In hiring an attorney, I failed at one thing: research. I can’t stress enough how important the right attorney will be. If you’re experiencing something similar and need a lawyer, do your homework. Choose legal representation from someone who has your best interest in mind and isn’t strictly in it for the money. Look at reviews online from previous clients and ask people in your community. Even if you’re guilty — like I was — you should be fairly represented.
I pled "No Contest" based on the advice of my attorney. I think that was stupid. My intent was to own up and take responsibility for my actions. I just didn't want to go to jail. I was afraid of criminals. I was immediately convicted, ordered to speak to someone at the probation department, and given a date for sentencing.
If this were a Lifetime movie, violin music would be dubbed into the film of me walking across the street — as dramatic as the walk to death row from The Green Mile.
At the probation department, I spoke to an officer who acted as a researcher for the DA. I was asked about my life, family, job, friends, previous criminal history, and current living situation. They asked how I felt about the crime I had committed, wanted to know if I would do it again, asked if I still drank or ever did drugs, and they wanted me to convince them how I was no longer a threat to the safety of the community.
I told the truth.
Maybe this is where my strategy failed me.
Probation wrote a lengthy report. Between that, newspaper clippings, the police report, and the requests to appear in court, my hypothetical scrapbook was filling up quite quickly. The report was mailed to me, the court, and my attorney. Based on the information provided and their assessment of me, it was recommended by the Sutter County Probation Department, that I be sentenced to four months in county jail.
That was enough to send me over the edge.
On May 8, 1996, I walked into the courthouse on Second Street with my family and fifty friends. The reason for the "posse" was to defend my character, not my crime.
I was sentenced to one year in county jail and ordered to report later that day. Before rising from the bench, the judge looked at me, then addressed the entire courthouse. "Miss M., people like you, who come from good families and have great lives, think nothing like this will never happen to them. Thank you for bringing so many people here today. You have now been made the example."
There are many things I would have done differently, outside of the obvious of not driving drunk.
My attorney was pathetic and a $10,000 lesson in making careless decisions. The judge was right, I didn't think anything like that would happen to me. Honestly, I expected to spend two days in jail and be back to work on Monday.
I reported to jail that night and sat alone in a holding cell for five hours. They served me a tray of food — two tacos with some frozen sorbet/yogurt thingy — and at 8:00 PM that night, I had my own bunk.
I had been keeping a secret from everyone throughout the five months after the accident.
Jail wasn't what I expected. Sutter County houses minimum security inmates in a big, open dorm lined with bunk beds. I was carrying my bed roll as the officer led me to my assigned new home. He pointed to my spot, told all the girls they had a "new one," and locked the steel door behind him.
I climbed on the top bunk and immediately burst into tears. Three girls ran to comfort me. I was scared, but not afraid of what you'd assume.
I was five months pregnant, had lied to everyone, and was afraid I'd fall out of bed and kill the baby.
2014 marks the nineteen-year anniversary of that night. My son will be 18 years old and I survived jail, pregnancy, judgment, and fear.
In 2009, I contacted the girl who was in the other vehicle and finally apologized to her. We cried and spent hours talking about how such a horrible event changed us both for the better.
In 2011, after two years of intense searching, I found one of the men who pulled me from a burning car and saved my life.
In that moment, everything in my life healed. And since then, it's been good. I am a mother, a writer, and an advocate for our homeless population. I am so passionate about giving back to communities because I took so much from one.
My biggest regret is not being brave enough to thank the two men or apologize to my friend. I deserved public scrutiny and jail time. I didn't deserve to punish myself for 14 years. Character is built by stepping out of our comfort zones. Had I made amends earlier, I would have lived differently. Self-destructive behavior ruined me for years when it didn't have to. I wanted to stay angry at myself, which was silly. In the end, acting that way affects my kids more than it does me.
Today, I have come full circle, which includes a move back to the town I left over a decade ago because of shame. I'm proud of myself. I turn 40 this year and can honestly say the road to approval of myself didn't have to be so difficult. I made it that way on purpose.