My Turn: Will anyone else learn from my mistake?

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2001

After nine months of being away from home for my first year at college, I was more than ready to come back to Juneau for the summer. I missed my friends, family and even Juneau. With no school to worry about, a good job to go to every day and numerous people to spend time and catch up with, the summer was certainly a promising one. That was all so true when I came back to town. However, on May 27, the birthday of one of my good friends, one decision that I made put a pretty severe crimp in my summer's possibilities and the near future in general.

The fact that I am under 21 years of age and I was drinking alcohol does not by any means make me unique. I think that fact is fairly widely known and accepted. What makes me unique, now, is the drunken driving charge that now exists on my record. On the aforementioned, I decided, after being at a friend's party after work, that I would rather sleep at home. Anyone who was awake when I left that house downtown, more than 10 miles from my home, will tell you that I was in no condition to drive. In fact, my friends, doing what they thought was enough to keep me from driving, had taken my keys. That didn't stop me, as I was able, after much searching, to find keys to my best friend's car. Not once did it cross my mind that I shouldn't be driving.

Looking back on that whole event, this is one of the things that scares me most. To make a long story short, I didn't make it home. I fell asleep and wrecked my best friend's car. Before I really had a good grasp on what was happening to me, there were police on the scene. I took a breathalyzer, and failed just about every sobriety test they threw my way. Yet, I don't believe the tears of sudden realization started to flow until I was placed in handcuffs and the cop was putting me into the back of his squad car, saying, "Watch your head." I was a criminal.

From that moment on, my life has been different. Juneau is small enough that it took only a day or two for virtually everyone I knew to find out about my incident. Being 19 years old, my name appeared in the police blotter. That snippet from the Empire now resides in my wallet as a constant reminder to me.

In court, in front of a judge that I had known since I was little, I felt two inches tall. A single poor decision had turned my life upside down. The judge told me he hoped I had learned and he hoped that I'd talk to my friends. He hoped what was happening to me would serve as a deterrent not only to me but also to my friends. The only words I said were, "Yes, your Honor." I did not know what else to say. I was at a loss. Three days in jail only further drove the message home that I never again want to be in a position in anyway similar to this one. The mandatory alcohol classes I attended opened my eyes to the sad world of alcoholism and addiction. I didn't belong there. I don't belong there. But I was there.

All things considered, I am one of the luckiest people alive. The only thing I injured besides the totaled car, which I now own as a form of restitution, was a mailbox. My jail time and alcohol classes are over and done with. My best friend whose car I wrecked has not disowned me and in fact is still my best friend. Due to my driver's license being suspended, I'm closer than ever to another one of my life-long buddies. Life will go on, and that was something I had to realize rather quickly. I do worry, though. As of yet I am not sure that what happened to me was a deterrent to anyone but myself. Thus, it is with hope that I write this column, hope that my words ring true with at least a few. Second chances only come around once. I am now in the middle of mine. An idol of mine once said, "You can't undo the past ... but you can certainly not repeat it." I won't.

Chester Carson is a 2000 graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School.

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