Shortly after I realized what was going on, my sister sent me a link to a Washington Post article entitled "The Wrong Man." It was downright scary. It was then that I realized just how precarious my situation is. Please have a look and see if you don't agree:
The Wrong Man
From the article: Each of at least six entities to handle Fishburne's case -- the Maryland State Police, the state Department of Corrections, the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office, the state's attorney, the District Court administrator and the sheriff issuing the warrant in Georgia -- maintained that responsibility for confirming the prisoner's identity fell to someone else.
Also from the article: A brochure from the District Court of Maryland explains that if Fishburne wants to expunge the record he shouldn't have, he will first have to sign a waiver freeing the state from any liability and forfeiting any right to sue.
Admittedly, I will not face the same racial prejudice that Elias faced, but I still have a great fear that the system will not treat me well. It started as a small fear, but on the Fourth of July 2006 it was compounded by another incident with a police officer.
By the time the Fourth of July rolled around it had been a full month since I found out about the identity theft. I'd already filed my police reports with Miami-Dade as well as my local police department. I figured with the police report number memorized I'd have some protection from being harassed by police. All I'd have to do is tell them the number and they could look it up and I'd be fine. Unfortunately you don't always have that opportunity before there's a problem.
The Fourth of July represents our declaration of freedom from a government that no longer kept the best interests of its people at heart. Also, there is a big fireworks display. As such, the Fourth of July is a huge event here at the beach. This particular year there was also a space shuttle launch, which was visible to the south from our beach. In short, the streets were flooded with tons of people.
Amongst all the people enjoying their holiday were many police officers. Some in cars, some on foot, and some on bicycles. My guests included the web designer I work with on many of my projects, his fiance, some of his family, and some other friends. He lived nearby and I'd invited them over because my house had a better view of all the activity on the street.
While we were sitting on the porch grilling food and enjoying the scene laid out in front of us a police officer on a bicycle pulled up in front of the house. What came out of his mouth astounded me. He said "Hey, ya got any dope up there?" I simply said, "No." He responded "Well, I hear you're a drug dealer." With that he turned around and rode away without waiting for an answer.
I turned to my guests and said "Did that really just happen?" They confirmed that it had really just happened. In front of seven guests, including one that I had a business relationship with, the officer had just ridden up to my house, accused me of being a drug dealer, and ridden off. At that point it hit me like a ton of bricks that simply notifying law enforcement would not be enough to protect me. If they would so blatantly harass me in front of witnesses, what might happen if they got me alone?
It really got to me. I became very fearful for my freedom and my well-being. For the next month I was scared to leave my house. If I had to go somewhere I would either walk or find someone else to drive me if I could. I would only drive if I absolutely had to. I felt absolutely trapped. I began having anxiety attacks nearly every day. I'd wake up and jump out of bed in the middle of the night gasping and scared out of my mind, but not knowing what was wrong.
One evening in August it had gotten so bad that I started hyperventilating while watching TV at my neighbor's house. As I sat there breathing into a bag, he gave me some advice that helped get me back on the right track. It went something like this:
"Look what this is doing to you. You can't let it get to you. Yeah, it's a big deal, but worrying about it so much isn't helping. It's wrecking your life."
I had to forget about it for a while. I decided that I'd go about living my life like a normal person and not like a prisoner in my own home. When I could afford a lawyer I'd get it taken care of, but in the meantime I was going to quit living in fear. If I get beat up, or imprisoned, or shot then that's just the way it goes. Living in fear is only debilitating. It doesn't stop what you fear from happening, it only stops you from living your life. No one should live like that.
It really made a difference. I'm still worried, I still have nightmares about the police coming after me, but I live my life day to day and I'm generally a pretty happy person now believe it or not. Yeah, it still gets me down every time the system dumps something new on me, but I just have to plow through it and tell myself that eventually I'll be in a position to do something about it.
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