Friday, April 13, 2007

Finding out the hard way (Part 3)

I like to think of myself as a good person. When I leave this world, I would like to leave it a better place as a result of my time spent here. To steal from someone, or to harm someone physically or even verbally is just not in my nature. When I see someone else suffering, I feel it. Even though I don't have much, I still try to find ways to help people when I can. I truly believe that even the smallest actions can make a big difference.

One thing I strive for is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of who or what they are. Because of this I find it easy to get along with just about everyone, even people that have a hard time getting along with anyone else. For someone to just flat-out hate me or to treat me with pure contempt is foreign to me, at least in my life after high school. That's one of the things that really struck me about the blond police officer. Her behavior just screamed "I think you're a piece of trash and I despise you."

That night was pretty rough for me. I was in a very bad position. First of all, I was barely making enough money to pay rent. Secondly, I was desperately trying to save money to have a bad tooth extracted--a root canal would have allowed me to keep the tooth, but broke people without a dental plan or credit card don't get the luxury of keeping their teeth. And now I'd just been handed nearly $300 worth of tickets due in 30 days, not to mention that I also would have four or five points added to my previously clean driving record.

Between the physical pain of the tooth and mental anguish of knowing that I was on the brink of losing everything, I had some pretty dark thoughts. I never felt like such a loser in my entire life. In a little over five years I'd gone from success to the brink of homelessness while my friends were doing well and buying houses and driving new cars. I'd looked into government medical assistance or even just food stamps, but I'd already found out that was only for people willing and able to have children. The only way out would be to sponge off my friends and family. In my mind I'd become exactly the kind of person that I didn't want to be. Instead of making the world a better place I'd be a parasite to anyone that cared about me.

These were the types of thoughts that spun through my head as I tossed and turned. Sometime after dawn I finally fell asleep for a couple hours. When I did finally wake up, I still didn't get out of bed. I lay there staring at the ceiling well into the afternoon. I didn't want to ever get out of bed. I wished that I could just go back to sleep and never wake up again.

One thing I've been blessed with in this life is a caring family and true friends; the type of friends you keep for a lifetime. In the end this was my salvation from the downward spiral into which I felt myself being drawn. It wasn't that I'd forgotten that I had people that cared about me. What saved me was that I was struck with a sense of responsibility to the people who loved me and stood by me and believed in me even though my situation had been deteriorating for several years. I couldn't let them down.

With my self-pity set aside I began to get angry. And believe me, being angry was a much better place to been than where I'd been heading. It wasn't until this point that I started wondering what the hell had actually happened. I began to walk through the sequence of events in my mind.

I thought about how the JSO officer had started following me as soon as I left my driveway. Well, if I didn't have my lights on that would make sense. But if I was driving without my lights, why make up a speeding ticket? And why was my speedometer lit up if my lights were off? If I had truly left my lights off, wouldn't I have noticed when I tried to turn them off after being pulled over? That would've certainly been one of those "Oh Sh*t!" moments.

And what was the deal with the local cops being involved too? In the space of a couple hundred yards door-to-door, three cops in three different vehicles from two different police departments claimed to have seen me commit three different infractions, despite that I was driving as perfectly as humanly possible due to the fact that I was being followed from the moment I left my driveway. [Yeah, that's a run-on sentence--write me a ticket.]

Was there something else going on here? Or had I finally cracked from the stress and this was some kind of paranoid delusion? Why would three different police officers from two different police departments just randomly target someone who had never caused any trouble before? I thought about the blond officer that seemed so pleased with herself after lying about my seatbelt. Were the cops in this town just so plain sadistic that they'd enjoy doing something like this?

The officer I'd encountered from the bank a couple weeks prior seemed like he'd be the type. After all, he'd acted like he despised me for no reason other than the teller at the bank had forgotten to return my ID. Had the world gone crazy, or had I? They must think I'm some kind of criminal to treat me like this.

And that's when it clicked. The officer from the bank had said something like, "I was on the phone with my friend from Miami and he said he thought he might know you."

I jumped out of bed and ran to my computer. After a bit of searching I found the website for the Miami-Dade County Clerk and it had a search page for civil and criminal infractions. I searched for my name and sure enough there was one person with a matching name. Well, my name isn't incredibly common, but it wouldn't be surprising to find someone else with the same name. What was surprising is that the date of birth listed was the same as my birthday. I was later to find out that he apparently had the same Social Security Number as me as well.

I clicked on my name and the first thing I found was a charge for Possession of Marijuana, filed September 11th, 2002. Not exactly something you want on your record, but hardly the kind of thing to make the cops want to run you out of town. I was able to bring up the docket on the case and find a little more info. Bail bond issued in my name (unknown amount.) $2000 in fines, $136 in court costs. Failure to pay. As of this writing it is still delinquent and currently in collections. No big deal at this point since my credit has already been completely trashed.

I remember thinking, yeah that's kind of a big deal, but now I have enough perspective to realize that's just small-time stuff. You're not a real thug until you have some robberies and violent crimes on your record like I do.

At present I have four other AKA's on my record, and who knows how many other crimes. I won't get into all the details yet, because that's going to take a while. But the crimes attached to my record so far include:
  • Drug possession - no explanation required
  • Strongarm robbery - Physically robbing a person, but without a weapon. As in "Give me your money before I kick your ass."
  • Fugitive something-or-another - Can't find where I wrote the exact term down. Basically splitting town when you're on probation and know you're wanted.
  • Aggravated assault with intent to cause serious bodily injury (two counts) - That's assault with a weapon. Not quite attempted murder, but pretty darn close.
The fugitive one is the one that I have a warrant for. Just to be clear about that, the warrant is in my name with my social security number on it, not the guy's who did it. The odd thing about the warrant is that it only shows up about half the time. I don't know exactly how the NCIC database works, but it's not very well as far as I can tell.

For instance, one lawyer-friend-of-a-friend ran a background check for me and said no warrant. After that, when I reported the ID theft the police officer's computer showed a warrant. The Identity Theft Resource Center in California ran a background check a week ago and it shows a warrant. I'm assuming the JSO officer did not see a warrant. The FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) Wanted Persons website says I'm wanted, however when I paid them the $23 to see what they have on my record it said I have no record at all. While I was locked in the back of a police cruiser a couple weeks ago, I noticed that his computer said no warrant--yeah, I'll get to that part of the story another time.

In my next post I'll probably write about what I found out (this one was about how I found out.) Or maybe I'll write about how no one in the system cares, or knows what to do about it, or wants to take responsibility for fixing it. Maybe I'll speculate on how my identity got stolen in the first place. Maybe I'll delve into why this will always follow me around and why I'll have a carry a "factual finding of innocence" document for the rest of my life (if I can ever manage to get the document.) There are about a million other facets to this that I could write about.

If you're interested in my story please pass it around. This is something that can happen to anyone. Right now there is no system in place to help people deal with this, at least not here in Florida. The people working within the system have no idea how to deal with it. The places advertising identity theft help are talking about typical identity theft, not criminal identity theft. This is a problem that will get worse before it gets better.

Next post: Answering some questions