Just the facts, Ma’am

The identity of Julie Watters was stolen. What happened next involved jail, bailbonds, and a hard lesson in perspective, but the ramifications are far from over.

by Cherri Ellis

Julie looked at her list again. It was that delicious time of the morning when her energy could start to turn inward. She had gotten her five-year-old son up and fed and dressed and to school. She had come home and had some uninterrupted time with her husband and sent him off on to his day. She looked at her calendar—she had an art show coming up and a lot of physical training sessions booked-—and she thought to herself that she would have to eat smart to have the energy she needed.   Just as she put some eggs into a pan, there was a knock at the door. She wiped her hands and went to answer it.

On her front step stood two uniformed police officers, one of whom was holding a piece of paper in his hand.  They were actually still engaged in pleasant conversation with each other as she opened the door.  They finished, turned to her, and one of them said, “Are you Julie Watters?” She nodded her head yes, and the officer holding the piece of paper then said something so bizarre that she didn’t even take it in: “We have a warrant for your arrest for attempt to commit a controlled substance crime in Shelby County.”

She stared at them, not comprehending, and he started moving toward her saying,  “We’re going to need you to come with us.” Walking backwards away from them as they advanced into her home, he repeated it and this time she got it—she was being arrested. She looked down at the white yoga pants and tank top she had slipped back into, and asked if she could change. “No. Where are your shoes?” They followed her to her closet where she grabbed her cowboy boots, but she was shaking so badly she couldn’t get them on. They let her walk back into the kitchen and call her husband, who had trouble taking in the news himself. She was able to dial her younger sister, an attorney,  and had the officers repeat the charge so she would get it right,a but then the two men made it clear that it was time to go and made her  turn her phone off.

“Can I let my dogs in?” No. She felt faint. “Can I eat my eggs?” No. They walked her out to the middle of the street and handcuffed her right in front of Miss Partridge’s house who had won the beautification award and knew her grandmother. The next door neighbors ran out. “Are you ok?” They shouted. Julie looked at them as they put her in the back of the squad car.  “No I’m not OK. Call Eric. Call everyone.”

Once in the car she wanted to go back in to get her inhaler and check to see that the eggs were turned off, but they said she would be assigned one if she needed one and that the stove was off. (It wasn’t.) After that the men largely ignored her, telling her only that she would be taken to Jefferson County then transferred to Shelby.   Julie suddenly remembered that her wallet had been stolen in a bar in July. When she tried to explain that to the policemen, they exchanged a knowing glance, and suddenly Julie saw herself as they saw her, her thinness a result of drug addiction rather than from being a personal trainer who doesn’t eat dairy. Her lesson in perspective had begun.

Forget everything you think you know about going to jail. You do not have to be read Miranda rights, and you aren’t owed a phone call. If you are granted permission to use the phone, you have to use a phone that is placed low on the wall with a super short cord so that it can’t be wrapped around anyone’s throat, including your own. You have to fight your way though an automated voice recorder system that requires you put in a calling card code, your name, and the name of the correctional facility in which you are incarcerated. After fighting her way through the process several times she finally got through, only to go straight to her husband’s voice mail twice before he finally picked up on the third try. He had been trying to get a property bond to bail her out, going first to Jefferson County, then to Shelby County, where he discovered he couldn’t get a property bond because her name was on the deed. He would have to pay 10 percent of the $15,000 bond in cash, which was non-refundable. He was as confused as she was.

She alternated between crying and attempting to consciously calm herself since that inhaler she had asked for wasn’t materializing.  She was talked about as if she wasn’t there as they settled the details of her transfer. It was as bizarre as it was terrifying. One female officer kept singing the refrain to “The Age of Aquarius” to herself as she went about her business.    At one point Julie found herself sitting next to an African American gentleman who sat motionless for a long time before he spoke. He eventually looked at her and said “First time?” She nodded. He sounded kind when he said, “You’ll be alright.” When he left, she could see a male prisoner across the way who was trying to get her attention, wildly gesticulating through the glass. She ignored him as long as she could, then she finally looked up at him. He was holding up one finger mouthing the words, “First time?” She wondered how everyone knew that.

Julie had been the victim of identity theft. Seven months earlier her wallet had taken by some people she actually knew, and then landed in the hands of a woman who used her license and insurance card nine different times to buy drugs with forged prescriptions. Julie hadn’t made a police report when her wallet had been stolen because she hadn’t had a credit card in it that night.  It held a car key, driver’s license, insurance card and 40 bucks. Her husband had a spare key, so she got a new license and thought of it as one of those situations in life that would be handled by karma.

Having your identity stolen is a quick lesson in perspective. When you are perceived as a narcotic-stealing drug addict, you are treated differently than the artistic young married mother you woke up as that morning. When you’re about to hyperventilate and you try and slow your heartbeat through a yoga pose, it is perspective that makes you look like you’re hopped up on drugs and can’t sit still in your chair. When she was transferred they wrapped chains around her waist and put shackles on her wrists and ankles, making her shuffle like Tim Conway’s old man on the Carol Burnett show. Twice she was booked, processed, patted down, fingerprinted and had her mug shot taken. For the second mug shot, she had used her fingers to french braid her hair into what the online photos would later reveal to have a less than desirable effect.

She spent a very long time in a room that was all grey concrete. It had a chrome toilet with no lid, video surveillance and a door with no doorknob. It was almost five when Julie was led down a long series of corridors and taken to where her sister, husband, and the world’s best bail bondsman, Levert Jackson, were waiting for her. (Julie cannot say enough about how much she likes Levert Jackson. His cards say “Helping good people out of a bad situation,” and when she would call him every Friday to let him know she hadn’t skipped town, he would end their call with “Thank you, Miss Julie. Now you have a blessed day.” Some people are just good at their jobs.) The night she got out of jail, Julie went to her son’s school Valentines Day kindergarten performance and ate dinner at Ruby Tuesdays with her in- laws. Some days are weirder than others.

It took six weeks to iron it out and put the right woman behind bars, but the ramifications are far from over for Julie. She has an arrest on her record that may require a civil rights attorney and affect future employment. She may have gotten the gift of perspective, but she lost a lot financially, personally and certainly psychologically.   She is considering her options on how best to move ahead, but she cannot undo what has been done.  Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretation.”    Have your identity stolen, and you will see what he meant.

7 Responses to “Just the facts, Ma’am”

  1. Marci says:

    That this happened to one of the most kind and caring human beings sickens me. She continuously gives of her time and energy volunteering in Birmingham, and has directly affected the lives of many, many people.

  2. Eric Watters says:

    Hi I’m Julies Husband, thank you for doing such a nice job on this touchy subject. It truly was and is very horrifying.

  3. Amelia de Buys says:

    I am so glad that someone wrote about Julie’s horrible experience. I think we can all learn a lot from it.

  4. Robert de Buys says:

    Seems to me that a judge should want more than a name before signing an arrest warrant. I hope it’s a politician’s daughter next time. The real crime here isn’t identity theft. It’s negligence, incompetence or both.

  5. Ferah Tatum says:

    Even though I’ve heard the story before, this article made me cry. Julie is indeed a beautiful person and I am sorry that she continues to endure the horrors of this event. My niece’s wallet was stolen Friday night while she was at a party. The thought that my sweet baby could have something this wretched happen to her is an abhorrent thought indeed.

  6. Add to the travesty the fact that the law that was being enforced in the first place was for misusing a prescription to BUY legal drugs.

    We need to end the drug war and stop ruining people in order to “protect” them.

    People are going to misuse drugs no matter what laws we make. The question we need to be asking ourselves is what is going to do the most good for the greatest number.

    Julie should be compensated for the bail bonds and other expenses she incurred.

  7. falsely arrested says:

    How do you get the arrest record expunged??

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