Photograph by Steven Higgs

Linda Ball spent a night in the Monroe County Jail because of a clerical error by the Lawrence County prosecutor. She was denied essential medical care while incarcerated, and jailers apparently destroyed her medications.

When Linda Ball noticed the police car following her on the evening of July 21, the mental image of standing naked in front of a stranger while being debugged was not one she could have envisioned. But then, the 54-year-old grandmother had no reason -- none whatsoever -- to imagine any of the events that would transpire over the next 15 hours.

It was about 10:30 on a Monday night when she saw the Bloomington Police Department squad car in her rearview mirror. She hadn't had a single drink, even though she had been listening to music at a local club. And she's certainly no criminal.

But some of her family members have had interactions with the law, and Ball is no fan of how the local criminal justice system operates. So her attitude as she crossed College Avenue heading west on 11th Street: "Hopefully, they'll just turn."

The officer instead followed Ball through the construction just west of College and stopped her for a malfunctioning brake light.

"She says, 'I found that you have a warrant for your arrest out of Lawrence County,'" Ball said.

"I was like, 'What's that about?'"

"She said it was for check fraud."

"So then she said she was going to have to arrest me and handcuff me. She said they were going to, in the morning, send me to Lawrence County."

"She says, you'll be in Lawrence County, possibly for several days before you'll get a hearing."

***

"I'm sitting in the car for probably an hour and a half, with my hands behind my back, handcuffed."

Ball, a registered nurse, honestly had no idea what was happening. She had never heard of any bad-check charge in Lawrence County or anywhere else, not from any merchant nor from any arm of government.

She had worked at Bedford Medical Center as a charge nurse in the labor/obstetrics floor until she was disabled in a collision with a semi-trailer two-and-a-half years ago. She hasn't been south of the Monroe County line since then.

"I have no idea what this is about," she told the officer. "I don't even go to Lawrence County."

Her protestations fell on closed ears. She was handcuffed, locked in the back seat of a squad car and transported to the overcrowded Monroe County jail, an innocent woman falsely charged with a petty crime.

***

Ball was disabled in the accident and sees doctors every week for herniated disks, pinched nerves and pain that radiates down her arms and hands. She is on a complex regimen of medications and pulls out a gallon-sized Ziplock baggie jammed with medicine bottles to illustrate.

"I have so many I can't carry all those little bottles in my purse, so I put them all in one," she said, offering one bottle with various-sized and colored pills as proof.

Upon her arrest, Ball informed the officer of her medical condition, that she hadn't had her medications that day and that she carries the pill bottle with her. The officer took the pills, handcuffed Ball and placed her in the back of the squad car.

As the police cruiser pulled into the jail's entry port and the door slammed shut behind her, Ball noticed a handful of men sitting on a bench. The officer gave her a choice.

"She says, 'Do you want to get out and sit with them, or do you want to wait in the car?'" Ball said. She chose the car.

"I'm sitting in the car for probably an hour and a half, with my hands behind my back, handcuffed," she said.

By the time Ball approached the "little window" where she had to surrender everything -- "watch, earrings, hair stuff" -- she was crying and still hadn't had her medication.

The officer handed the bottle of pills to the man behind the glass, who told Ball, "I'll have to give them to the nurse."

"I figured the nurse would give me my pills that night," she said.

***

Ball never received her medications. In fact, she never saw them again. But that was the least of the indignities she would endure during her stay in the Monroe County Jail.

"I had this little steel bench to lay on for that amount of time, no blanket, no nothing."

First, the jailers made her remove her shirt and put on orange "scrubs," as she calls them. Then she was told to spread her legs while a female jail officer patted her down.

After she had been finger printed, photographed and affixed her signature to a list of her confiscated personal possessions, Ball was escorted to an open shower room with a female sheriff.

"I have to strip naked in front of her, and I have to put this chemical on my hair to kill lice," she said.

She stood naked in front of the officer for 15 minutes while the delousing agent could process in her hair.

When she was finally allowed to make her phone call, a distressed Ball complained to a friend that she had been barefoot through the whole ordeal.

"They threw some shoes at me, some plastic little jail shoes," she said.

***

The next two-and-a-half hours Ball spent alone in what she calls a drunk tank -- "all metal and steel, little toilet, faucets."

"I had this little steel bench to lay on for that amount of time," she said, "no blanket, no nothing."

After stopping for a mattress, two blankets, two cups, a roll of toilet paper, a toothbrush and toothpaste, Ball rode the elevator to her cell block.

The jailer accompanying her compared the mattress to a pancake and called downstairs to see if she could have two.

"They said, 'No, we don't have enough mattresses. She gets one, and that just what she's going to have to deal with.'"

It wasn't until 3 a.m. that Ball found herself in a cell with a woman prisoner charged with three felonies for selling cocaine. She was asleep on the bottom bunk, and there was no ladder.

"I said, 'There's no way I can get up on that bunk,'" Ball said.

She slept on the floor.

***

Ball was awakened at 5 a.m. with food, sort of.

"They bring you this tray with this pool of oatmeal on it," she said. "It's just nasty. Nothing to put on it."

"I have to strip naked in front of her, and I have to put this chemical on my hair to kill lice."

She gave hers to her cellmate and remained in the cell when the inmates were allowed out at 8 a.m.

"I'm 54 years old," she said. "I didn't want to be in there with all these drug addicts."

Lunch was at noon, and Ball again gave her food away and returned to her cell.

"I just stayed on my little bitty cot," she said.

While Ball endured intense pain in a jail cell, her friend spent the morning making phone calls, starting with the Lawrence County prosecutor, who said the charge was related to a $47 check Ball had written to the Bedford Medical Center pharmacy when she worked there.

The pharmacy confirmed Ball's story -- "I went down there and paid it off as soon as I found out about it." -- and notified the prosecutor of the mistake.

It was mid-afternoon when a sheriff finally had Ball take off her scrubs and put on her clothes before leading her down an elevator and through a series of halls and doors.

"Finally, I'm outside of the jail," she said. "I don't have my money, my purse, my phone. I'm in the alley."

When she went back inside to retrieve her belongings, Ball got everything but her medicines.

"They said, 'The nurse is busy, you'll have to call back later,'" she said.

She was later told her medications were destroyed.

***

Despite her ordeal, Ball realizes she was lucky. She had an advocate who was familiar with the system and interceded before she was extradited to Lawrence County to spend perhaps days in jail.

And she does understand how a clerical mistake could lead to a warrant for her arrest, though it is still inexcusable.

"I'm 54 years old. I didn't want to be in there with all these drug addicts."

But the experience left her with questions and concerns.

Foremost, she was struck by the lack of respect she received the system.

"It doesn't matter who you are, once you're in there you're treated just like everyone else," she said. "And you're treated like you're a criminal, whether you are or not."

That treatment began the moment she was arrested, Ball said, reiterating that she is a grandmother who allegedly wrote a bad check.

"I don't see any reason they had to have me handcuffed, even from the beginning," she said. "But especially when I'm in (the jail), with the doors down and three police officers standing there with guns."

Ball also wonders if she would have received the same treatment had she listed her address as the farm she owned before the accident or even her new residence on West Seventh Street.

After the accident Ball lost her farm and ended up living in the Crestmont housing project for a while, she said. Her driver's license still lists her address as Illinois Street, which is located in the projects.

"I wonder if it depends on your address," she said.

Noting that she "filled up the last bed" in her cell block and that the jail is perpetually overcrowded, Ball wonders why someone charged with writing a bad check was jailed anyway.

"That has to be decided by someone," she said. "I'm not a risk to society. I'm not going to run away. Why couldn't we have just taken care of it in the morning?"

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.