By Vivian Blevins
Ever been pulled over and told by a cop, “Get out of the car, put your hands above your head and your hands on your car?” I have, but that will come later in my column as I’m a fan of using chronology, more or less.
As a 15-year-old attending Woodward High School in Toledo, I was fortunate to have a boyfriend who loved professional wrestling as much as I did. He also had the financial resources to take me to the Toledo Sports Arena (razed in 2007) with prime seating where I was close to the ring but far enough away to avoid getting hit when the wrestlers took their performance art outside of the ring. I loved the bravado, the silky robes, the grunts, the moves. I cheered, I screamed, I stood up and blocked the view of those sitting behind me. One evening, I threw my icy, extra-large Coke right into the ring. In short order, an off-duty cop rushed up the aisle and began to berate me. I slunk into my seat, as my 19-year-old boyfriend entreated the cop to not kick us out of the arena.
My next encounter with law enforcement occurred in Cincinnati. What is it about cops and Ohio cities? It was spring and the high school where I had been teaching English forced me to resign in December of the previous year when I told them I was pregnant. I was 24 years old at the time and had been married for four years, but the assistant principal told me that my being pregnant would “have a bad influence on students.” So I was walking in the College Hill area when I heard a siren. A cop got out of his car, approached me, and said, “Why aren’t you in school?”
My polite response was, “I was teaching at Aiken Senior High School, but I’m no longer there.”
“Teaching? No way. I think you’re truant.”
I pulled my coat aside, pointed to my abdomen and said, “I was teaching, but they made me quit when I told them I was pregnant. I’m a married woman.”
“Oh, have a good day.”
Two years later, I was an instructor at Urbana College and teaching English part time to students in the auto mechanics and machine trades programs at Ohio Joint Vocational School, now Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, to pay off a credit card debt my husband had run up. I really enjoyed teaching these young men and creating materials around their interests in the trades, including Jeopardy each Friday to review what I had taught each week. I was speeding along on my way from Urbana to Bellefontaine when I was pulled over and given a ticket. As I’ve already indicated, money was tight in our household, and I hoped going to traffic court would be cheaper than paying the ticket.
When it was my turn at the bench, the judge said, “Why were you speeding?”
In a voice that I felt might show my respect for law enforcement, I said, “Your honor, there is no excuse for speeding.”
His response, “I asked you why you were speeding.”
Thinking he just might understand and empathize because I was doing the important work of educating students and not doing nefarious errands like drug running, I explained briefly and ended with, “I was late for class and my students needed me.”
In a loud, firm voice he said, “There is no excuse for speeding.”
Smart-mouthed me retorted, “Your honor, that’s what I just told you.”
Also, while at Urbana College, I taught and advised Urbana College students who were inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville. Those were wonderful experiences as my students were brilliant, were focused, and taught me some valuable lessons about the lives of the disenfranchised and our criminal justice system. There’s no law enforcement officer in this story, but there might have been, and I might have found myself joining my students in a cell.
As I left the prison one day to drive home to Urbana, I couldn’t get my car door open. I went into one of the buildings, got a wire coat hanger, bent it, and was busily trying to force the lock when I noticed an unfamiliar jacket on the front seat. Wrong car! I leaned up against the car, scanned the area for cops and slowly moved down a few spaces to my car.
And then there was the day in Harlan County, Ky., when I was speeding and a Kentucky State Police trooper stopped me, forced me to exit my car, put my hands up, and place them on my vehicle. I was president of the local college, and as college students whizzed by with a few blowing their horns, I was humiliated.
I, however, have learned my lesson about speeding and got my last speeding ticket right here in Piqua, Ohio. I had a boatload of Girl Scout cookies in my back seat and was on my way to teach at Edison State. I offered to give some cookies to the arresting officer. I don’t know if he thought I was trying to sell them or bribe him, but he took 10 miles off the ticket and refused the offer of cookies.
No, I’ve never been locked up in a prison or jail although my work has taken me not only to the prison for women at Marysville but also to Texas prisons. On a serious note, I’ve read about Thoreau, Gandhi, and King and their prison experiences; however, those and the current movement for criminal justice reform are for another column at another time.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.