The Evening I Ended up Going to Jail.
On a brisk autumn evening in Madison, Wisconsin, I left my apartment to meet a friend for dinner.
With my four-year-old-daughter, Kristil, at my mom’s for the weekend, I planned to meet a friend for Mexican food, margaritas, and much-needed social interaction. As I headed out into the night, I had just one stop to make beforehand. Little did I know, I’d be locked up by weekend’s end.
I met Thad when I was 21 and in college. He was seven years my senior, and a guest lecturer at my university. One night, I ran into him at a popular downtown nightclub, and he asked me to dance. The next week we met for coffee and talked for hours. Both of us sociology majors, we shared an interest in social justice issues and a love for books.
We spent endless afternoons in our favorite café bookstore, where Thad would read aloud to me from whatever book we selected on our visit. He gave me my first book of poetry — a slim volume by Emily Dickinson, which he inscribed. Thad was perceptive, funny, and intense. We fell in love, and a few years later our daughter, Kristil, was born.
For a while, things went well… until there was a conflict, or I questioned his whereabouts, or I caught him in a lie. At those times, arguing would ensue, and a dark side of Thad emerged that frightened me. We’d been living together for a year and a half when our relationship took a turn for the worse. Our arguments had become increasingly more aggressive, and ultimately turned violent.
One evening, fearful for my safety, I took Kristil and fled to my parents’, then found a new apartment for the two of us. Soon after, Thad was arrested for domestic violence and spent the next month in jail. By the time he was released, he had lost his job and apartment and began a desperate downward spiral.
When I saw Thad a few months after our separation, he looked thin, was easily agitated, and told me he felt hopeless and depressed. On occasion, we would meet at the bookstore, where Thad and Kristil would play and read books. Then he would disappear, and we wouldn’t hear from him for weeks. Eventually, I discovered he was using drugs and engaging in a dangerous lifestyle to support his habit.
One afternoon, Kristil and I returned home from a bike ride when I noticed my phone ringing. It was Thad. He spoke quickly, telling me he needed me come right away to pick him up — the situation was urgent, and he would explain when I arrived. He gave me directions to a parking ramp downtown.
When we pulled up, Thad approached my car and told me to open the trunk.
“Why?” I asked.
“I need to get in,” he said. “Drive towards the east side of the city and keep an eye out for any police.”
I was shocked and worried, but allowed him to get in the trunk, then drove out with Kristil safely buckled in her car seat behind me.
At one point, she spoke up, “Mommy, why is Daddy in the trunk?”
I looked in the rearview mirror and saw Thad had pushed the backseat forward slightly from his position in the trunk, making himself visible to Kristil. He pretended they were playing a game as I continued to drive. When we approached our destination, I pulled over and Thad got in the front seat. He then said he needed me to drive him to Chicago.
After 10 minutes of refuting his proposal, I found myself making the three-hour trip.
When we arrived in Chicago, we checked into a hotel, ate dinner, and went down to the pool area, where Kristil and Thad went swimming. The next day, Thad said we needed to drive just across the Chicago border to Indiana so he could cash a check at a casino. When we reached the casino, we got in line at the teller.
“You know what? Actually, I can’t sign this check,” Thad said. “You will need to sign it.”
“What? Why would I sign your check?” I asked.
Thad told me the check was from a woman friend of his, and he felt the teller might question him, since he is a black male. None of it made sense. We argued back and forth as we moved closer to the front of the line.
“You won’t get in any trouble for this, I promise,” Thad told me. “You’re not doing anything illegal, and I take full responsibility.”
I felt confused and pressured, but deep down I knew it was wrong. Nevertheless, I walked up to the teller and wrote out the check for $500.
Before she gave me the money, she said, “Just one more thing. We need your fingerprint.”
Six months later, when Thad was locked up at the Dane County Jail, I agreed to drop off a bit of money, then stay for a 45-minute visit before meeting a friend for dinner. Kristil was spending the weekend at my mom’s. Checking in at the jail, I gave them my ID, took my designated spot at the window, and waited.
When Thad arrived and was seated on the other side of the glass partition, we picked up our allotted phones and began talking — me giving updates on Kristil, and him briefing me on his upcoming court date.
20 minutes into our conversation, a guard approached me. “Ms. Rabideau, could I speak to you for a minute?”
Startled, I turned around. “Yes, what is it?”
“Are you aware that there’s a warrant out for your arrest?”
“There must be some mistake. I definitely don’t have a warrant for my arrest. You must have the wrong person.” Fear overcame me instantly, and the room started to blur.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he said. “There is a felony warrant in Lake County, Indiana. You will need to end your visit and come with me.”
Thad started yelling through the glass, “No. There’s some mistake!”
The guard instructed me to hang up the phone, then led me upstairs.
When I was booked into the Dane County Jail on felony charges, I assumed since I had no criminal history I would be released on bail. When I was taken to court on Monday morning, however, I discovered I was not eligible for bail. Since my charges were in Lake County, Indiana, I would need to be extradited. I would be held in the jail until they came to pick me up. I was devastated.
As I sat in jail for three weeks awaiting my transfer, thoughts of my daughter consumed me. I awoke each morning sickened by the realization that I had abandoned her. When Kristil was born, I promised I would give her a different upbringing than the one I had — free of violence and full of love. I knew that children who grew up in violent homes often repeat the cycle, despite their best efforts.
I hadn’t physically harmed my child, but I made choices that took me away from her, harming her all the same. I prayed, asking God for a second chance and begging to be returned to my daughter.
The beginning of my fourth week in jail, deputies from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department arrived and transported me to Crown Point, Indiana. My torment intensified the moment I entered the jail, as the conditions were vastly worse.
The guard opened a vault door and led me down a shallow, dimly lit passage. The cells were old and rusted, each with eight bunks and one open toilet in the center. The walls were deteriorated and covered with graffiti. As I was led to my cell, the other inmates watched me, and a few said hello. I was instructed to shower as the guard waited nearby with my jail uniform.
My uniform was much too small, so I asked the guard for a larger size.
As he left to retrieve one, a young black woman came up behind me. “I think it fits you just right,” she said, as she patted me on my backside.
A couple days into my stay, my anxiety and fear escalated. I still hadn’t been taken to court, and a couple inmates told me I was likely looking at prison time. I paced the small corridor, reading my Bible and praying. On occasion, I broke down crying. Two women, who had become intimately involved in the jail, became irritated with me.
One afternoon, they approached me in my cell. “Do you think you’re the only person in here who has it bad, always walking around here reading your Bible and crying?” one woman asked. The second woman followed, “She probably thinks she deserves special treatment because she’s white.”
I became worried that an altercation might ensue if I was not released soon.
The next day, they came and took me to court. They charged me with forgery and set my bail at $5,000. As soon as I returned to my cell, I called home and spoke to my brother, who told me he would work on gathering the bail.
Another two days went by, and no one came. It was now two days before Christmas. I called home again, but my call was not accepted. An hour later, the guard entered our cell area and called my name, “Rabideau, get your stuff. Your bail has been posted. You’re leaving.”
I was never so elated to see my brother. He had taken up a gathering to pay my bail, with the majority coming from my former college professor. After making the four-hour drive home, we arrived at my mom’s. A feeling of joy overcame me as I walked up to her house, knowing Kristil was inside.
As I hugged my mom, she said, “Kristil’s upstairs.” I opened the hall door leading to the second floor and saw Kristil sitting on the landing.
“Mommy!” she called out.
I ran up the stairs and hugged her as tears poured down my face. I would never forsake my child again.
Thad came forth and admitted to his part in the crime, resulting in my felony charge being reduced to a misdemeanor crime of conversion (to exert unauthorized use or control over someone else’s property). I served one year of probation and never saw the inside of a jail cell again.
Two years ago, in the spring of 2018, I flew to New York City to attend Kristil’s college graduation from Columbia University.
As I sat on the lawn of this prestigious school, waiting for the ceremony to begin, I reflected on all we had gone through on our journey to get here. I thought about the next chapter of our lives: Kristil would head to Sweden for graduate school in the fall, and we would be thousands of miles apart. Still, we would never be truly separated.
Tammy Rabideau is a writer living in Madison, WI. She has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Edgewood College, and spent the past two years studying for her master’s degree in professional counseling. Tammy has one daughter, Kristil, who lives in Sweden, and two cats, Pickles and Molly. Her previous publications have been featured in The New York Times, Modern Love column and Medium.