Parole & Probation Class: DUI Meeting Report

Parole & Probation Class: DUI Meeting Report

PDF: Parole & Probation Class DUI Meeting

 
During my Parole and Probation: Criminal Justice class, we were invited to sit in during a county DUI (Driving Under Influence) mandatory meeting. Every person in that jurisdiction who had been convicted of DUI driving was required to attend a set number of meetings, some had to meet for life. This was a condition of their probation/parole. Our presence as Criminal Justice students was not revealed prior to our attendance, but we were free to explain it if asked outright. Below is the report of my experience, what I found surprising, and my overall view of the meeting. According to Ontario County, the meeting was split between male and females, so as a female student I observed the women’s group.

The Meeting Overview

These meetings are held once a week, later in the evening. I had difficulty finding the building, as it was set far back away from the main road. An officer was stationed at the parking lot entrance and I had to explain my reason for being there before being allowed to park.

As a class, we met in the front and entered together. I brought a notebook and pen for notes. Prior to entering the conference rooms, we were required to take a breathalyzer test. I had never taken one and was surprised how this one in particular worked. It signaled the administering officer that you had taken the test correctly by whistling when you breathed hard enough into the device. Some of the other students were laughing and taking the test a few times. The officer did not seem to mind and was willing to explain how it worked to us.

Once inside, we had to sit in a reception area with everyone else. It was then that I realized we were in an area with DUI convicted participants, there was a significant disparity between the male and females (with a higher number of males). I passed the time by looking over my notes, when another woman sat down to chat and glanced at my notebook. She was very polite and we chatted until we were told which rooms to go into. I did not reveal myself as a student, but my notebook content was clearly for a CJ class. At first I felt compelled to explain that I was there for a class, and was not a DUI driver. But after the next portion of the meeting, I felt ashamed that I wanted to separate myself from them so quickly.

The female room was extremely small, with at most 20 women, including our class. The females in our class were already much lower than our male students, so we didn’t stand out too much. I started taking notes, as each woman was allowed time to either explain how they ended up there, their life now without a license or conviction, and to vent. I stopped taking notes, as I started putting faces and lives to each woman and I felt it was disrespectful. Many of the women ended up in tears, showing great remorse and regret. There was some discussion about the limitations that some women found now, and why they turned to drunk driving instead of public transportation. One woman said that the county limitations on the bus or cabs in the area make driving the only option. Since the buses stop around 7pm. The meeting leader took note of that and said she would look into options of extending the bus schedule, specifically on the weekends. The woman I spoke to earlier that evening told her story and hers moved me. Her conviction happened when she was a teenager, over twenty years earlier and it essentially ruined her life. She had to completely change her goals, career aspirations, and lifestyle because her DUI ended with a death of a child. Having spoken to her earlier, I would never have guessed her story or experience. She didn’t seem capable of such a tragic event. Many of the students (myself included) were brought to tears by each story. They passed out DUI awareness pamphlets, some with graphic accident photos. The presenter told a horrific story of a particularly gruesome accident. A wedding party was leaving in a limousine and was hit by a drunk driver. Most of the wedding party was in the limo and many were killed, including the driver, and the bride’s pre-teen sister. The impact was so violent that the driver’s glasses were imbedded into the dashboard and the sister had been decapitated.

The female’s meeting ended with each participant giving their own experience with drunk driving, unfortunately every one had a story – meaning everyone has had to deal with drunk driving in some way.

My story was short, but I explained that my Uncle had been killed leaving a restaurant with his wife and friends. His van was struck by an off duty officer leaving a bar across the street from the restaurant. My uncle’s van was pushed into the gutter on the side of the road and the steering wheel trapped and crushed his chest. My Aunt, who was in the front passenger seat, suffered from broken ribs, ankle, and was in traction for several weeks. She had been a nurse prior to that but was unable to return to work since she could not stand, and went through multiple surgeries. One of the back passenger’s had to have facial reconstructive surgery. The officer was uninjured and reprimanded, as it was not his first DUI. However it took two years for him to lose his job as an officer, through my family’s lawsuit criticizing how the case was handled. Many of the females were sympathetic but I was hesitant to reveal that it was a police officer who hit my Uncle, due to the potential negative implication. I did not want to bridge a further gap in the ‘them verses us’ atmosphere. But I did in the end. My Uncle had worked as a prison guard and had known the officer. The fact my Aunt and Uncle knew him made the situation sting even more.

After the segregated meetings, we were told to enter a large conference room with the males. I was shocked by how many males I saw in the room. I would estimate close to 200, compared to our 20 females. The Criminal Justice class had a specific seating in the back, together. The next part of our meeting was bleak, as family members of DUI accident victims took the podium and told their heart breaking and graphic stories. Mother’s who’s children died and suffered weeks of agony and surgery. Father’s who lost their children. The last woman was from another state and traveled around the country for these meetings specifically, to tell her tragic story of losing her daughter during her first year of college. She was trapped in a burning car and eventually died from third degree burns on 80 percent of her body. The woman did not recognize her daughter in the hospital. She was her only child and she died while the woman was across the street getting food. (The first time the woman left the bedside in days.) She ended her story by saying that ‘if the story did not move you, you had no soul’. That statement was difficult to hear. And I watched the room for reactions. I was disturbed by how some of the participants reacted.

The majority of the men had irritated looks on their faces, crossed arms, and either leaned back in their chairs in a relaxed manner or sat looking at the ground. I got the impression that they didn’t want to be there and were annoyed that they had to be. I heard several long sighs and coughs throughout the stories. The women seemed much more involved in the stories and kept eye contact with the victims/survivors. This observation was troubling but revealed a gender specific difference in the convicted’s view on the meetings. As if they were wasting their time or did not feel they deserved to be there.

Once the meeting was over, we met and briefly discussed with our teacher how we felt about the meeting. Many (like myself) were surprised by the sheer number of participants and their reactions. After a few minutes we were lead out the front to leave. It was at this point I realized I was in the same parking lot with over 200 convicted drunk drivers, all leaving the parking lot at the same time. I hesitant to say that I was frightened and hyper aware, so I stayed in my car and watched many leave before I attempted to go. I saw a few close call fender benders as many were anxious to leave, so I was not in a hurry and sat in my car an extra fifteen minutes than I needed to. To say I was highly aware of my driving and those around me that night, is an understatement.

In conclusion, I feel that I learned a great deal from this experience. It revealed the reactions of many participants, the number of convicted in one county, and each gender feels after conviction. Many aspects I did not expect, going into the meeting. It is a life changing experience, even for just one conviction and it stays with you for the rest of your life.

 

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