Unlawful Arrest Provides the Opportunity to Step into
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Anne Frank, in her diary wrote, “The final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.”
And motivational speaker Hal Elrod says, “The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life.”
Wherever I go, I teach this powerful truth that dropped into my heart several years ago…
Today I will create the life I was meant to live.
I will shine the light I was born to give.
No excuses. No regrets.
I believe that I always have choice. I believe that it is always my choice to take ownership of who I am how I show up in every moment, no matter what the circumstance. And I believe I am always responsible for how I act, no matter how I feel.
In January of 2018, I faced one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
My wife and I were in Florida to celebrate our anniversary. On our way from the airport to the hotel, we heard that there was going to be a rocket launch from NASA. Cool! Let’s go! We previously had a conversation that we wanted to experience something that we had never experienced before on this trip… we had never seen a rocket launch. We drove to the Atlantic coast and then along the highway across the bay from Cape Canaveral so we could pull over and watch the launch.
I was driving, and as we were looking for a place to pull off to the side of the road, I was stopped by a Brevard County Sheriff's Deputy. I wasn’t speeding, so I assumed there might have been a light out on our rental car…
I had no idea that what was about to happen would dramatically impact my life going forward.
I provided the officer with my license and the rental agreement. Several minutes later he asked me to step out of the car. I pleasantly agreed. I still had no clue as to why I had been pulled over. He asked me to submit to a sobriety test. Again, I pleasantly agreed, thinking maybe this was standard procedure in Brevard County.
He explained that he did not have a breathalyzer in the vehicle and that I would have to complete the field sobriety test. I informed the officer that I have never used alcohol or substances - and I confidently complied.
First, he asked me to walk a white line, heel-to-toe for 9 steps, pivot on my left heel, and return. Oddly, he did not have his white tape in the squad car. So… he instructed me to “imagine a white line” on the ground and to walk it for him as he had described. I pleasantly agreed. I have to admit that I stumbled on the “pivot” – it was a little confusing for me. But I was sure I did quite well.
He then asked me to balance on one foot for a count of 10 without touching the ground. I proceeded with the task. He didn’t stop me when I reached 10, so I counted all the way to 29. Boom! Passed test number 2, I thought.
Finally, he asked me to follow a blue light with my eyes. That sounded easy. But unfortunately, I was having some trouble with brand new contacts and dry eyes from traveling… I explained this to the officer confident he would understand. No worries. We will be on our way soon.
After some questions about my health, the officer told me he had no choice but to arrest me for DUI – driving under the influence. I was dumbfounded. He told me that I had failed all three of the sobriety tests.
He put my hands behind my back and tightly secured the cold metal handcuffs on my wrists. It was clear to me in that instant I did not have control of the situation... but I knew I still had a choice. I knew that I could choose to remain the kind, courageous, and loving man that I have always been no matter what happens next. I knew that I was responsible for my actions, and my actions would determine the outcome.
I was placed in the back of the squad car and transported to the Brevard County Jail. And so began a 22-hour ordeal in one of the most notorious facilities in Florida for the mistreatment of inmates.
There are no words to adequately describe the intense dehumanization process that I endured over those 22 hours. Not one guard acknowledged my humanity and offered any kindness or understanding to me. Everything in my possession and on my body was removed, my body was scanned, and I was given a XXL blue jump suit for my small body and torn flip flops for my feet. My fingerprints were taken and I stood before the camera for a mugshot – the mugshot that is now readily available on the internet.
If there is a hell on earth, it is the holding cells at this jail. I was placed in a small cement and glass room with a metal bench and a toilet. At times there were up to 12 other men in the holding cell with me. There were 10 holding cells in the jail and all were packed with individuals who had been picked up. It was a Friday night and the place was chaotic.
The holding cell was vile – The metal bench only held a few guys, so most of us had to stand… for hours. Sitting on the floor was not an option because it was covered with filth and layers of God-only-knows what else. One man fell asleep while standing up and tumbled over and hit the ground.
The men in the holding cell with me were angry and aggressive – I immediately felt intense tension. I remember thinking I was glad I had decided to get my hawk tattoo a couple of years earlier. I felt like maybe it would give me some credibility with them. But my hawk was not in the same league as what was tatted on some of these men.
Several of the guys were either tripping on some drug or coming down off some sort of substance. These men were definitely intimidating... but I still had a choice. In life I have always chosen to be a kind, courageous and loving man and this situation would be no different. I opened myself to the stories of pain and brokenness of these men, and that holding cell became a place of healing.
Over the next six hours, I offered love by listening to these men, crying with them, being outraged with them, reminding them of their goodness and beauty, dreaming with them, and being a model for them of fatherly compassion.
One young man, CJ, was coming off some substance in a bad way. I stayed right next to him so he didn’t hurt himself. The gratitude in his eyes when he was feeling better was deep and powerful – he knew that he was safe with me. He opened his soul and shared his story of pain and betrayal. He asked how I could be so kind and compassionate considering what had happened to me. He told me he never had a father in his life and that the short time I showed care and concern for him was what he imagined having a father would be like. I taught him how to calm his body and meditate, and to breathe into self-compassion. He practiced what I taught him until he was taken to another cell. He called it the “Jon pose.”
Another young man, Jeremy, at 24 years old, was facing his 12th drug-related felony. We cried together as he talked of his deep pain and abandonment and a system that had failed him over and over again. I shared with him about my wife and kids and grandkids. In the middle of the holding cell I put my arms around him and poured unconditional love into his heart for a moment. I know this moment changed his life – because I felt it every cell of my body.
Jeremy was upset that after 5 hours I had not been given the opportunity to call my wife. Unprompted, he approached a guard to strongly demand a phone call for me. He was immediately restrained and removed to isolation. I am sure he knew what would happen to him if he did that for me. I will be forever grateful to him. Shortly after his removal, I was given my only phone call.
At 3 in the morning I was handed a roll of toilet paper, a worn-out sleeping mat, a couple of blankets, and was moved from the holding cell to Block 2, cell 207. As I made the long, long walk down the dimly lit hallway, steel door after steel door slammed behind me. I felt further and further from my freedom, but I also felt deeper and deeper resolve to hold on to my integrity.
The locking sound of the steel door of cell 207 is burned into my memory. I was now completely removed from my freedom. The jail was over-crowded, so I had to lie on the floor of the 6 X 9 cell because there were already two other inmates using the bunks. I didn’t sleep.
Breakfast was at 4:30am. The food was handed through a small opening in the steel door. It felt like we were dogs in a cage. The food was disgusting. I didn’t eat. I gave my food to the other inmates.
After breakfast, I sat in the cell reflecting on integrity and personal responsibility. I thought of people throughout history who had been jailed unjustly – Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, and even Jesus, and I prayed to be like them. I thought about how my integrity is the only thing I have once everything else is taken away.
I still had no information about my charges. I came to the conclusion that I might not be leaving this place anytime soon. I even forgot that I was in the United States because this kind of thing doesn’t happen in America. I knew the only thing in my power was how I chose to show up in the current circumstance.
At 8:30am my name was called and I was handcuffed again and escorted to a courtroom. I appeared before a judge, and after explaining who I am and what I do with my life she ordered my release, but did not drop the charges. I was finally processed out of the facility at 5pm that evening. The reunion with my wife was one of the most profound moments of our marriage.
During those long hours of waiting in cell 207 my thoughts kept returning the Indigenous understanding of Jaguar medicine. In Indigenous culture, “medicine” is the word used for anything that brings healing and growth. Jaguar is an animal of power and strength. Jaguar medicine teaches that personal strength comes from the integrity gained by living up to your potential, maintaining your dignity and compassion, and being honest, no matter what the contrary influences might be. Jaguar medicine had been a guiding force in my life for many years… I welcomed Jaguar medicine and pledged to allow this experience to teach me to love bigger and to serve greater in the world.
All charges were eventually dropped and expunged with the support of an amazing family, outstanding legal counsel… and resources that were available to me.
This unimaginable experience did not just happen to me, it happened for me. Because of this experience, my eyes were opened to see the influence of my white privilege. Considering all that is happening in our country right now there is no doubt that the color of my skin protected me from a far worse outcome. I AM NOT OK WITH THIS! NO ONE SHOULD BE.
Much has come to light about the conduct of the officers on that night. Authority was misused and abused, and they failed to “protect and serve.” I am moved to seek justice and to protect the civil liberties of others. To this day, I am doing everything in my power to hold those persons and systems to account and to demand change. Jaguar will lead the way.
I always have choice. I am always responsible for how I show up in this world - no matter how I feel, no matter what the circumstances may be.
One thing is for sure, today - and every day - I will create the life I was meant to live. I will shine the light I was born to give. No excuses. No regrets.
I am very open to talking about this experience with anyone who has questions. I anticipate as my work for justice advances, this experience will become very public. Because of the intense work that I do with young people in our community, I understand the need to protect the safety of these relationships.