Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 21, 2011

Me & Clooney, the Bluegrass Lovin’ Jailbirds

Hey! My Carolina county jail jammies looked just like George's... seriously.

It’s official: I’m combining a trip to North Carolina to serve some jail time with …a vacation opportunity. If that ain’t the definition of middle-class privilege, I dunno what is.

          Thus, after my presumed short sentence (likely 24-48 hours, plus future driving restrictions, as a first-time DUI recipient who only blew a .08), then I’ll take a day or two to be a dad, a mountain man, or whatever else I already am, in addition to being a criminal.  DWI is “only” a misdemeanor– but yes, it is a matter for a criminal defense attorney.

So you see, I am prepared to be “corrected”, your honor, so long as my penitent attitude (note the similar etymology to “penitentiary”) won’t result in the WHOLE book getting thrown at me. (I could get max- 30 days – if the judge has a really bad cup of coffee that day, or an ex-husband up in Chicago that I remind her of. So pray on Aug. 17, and I should be fine, y’all.)

If I get what my lawyer expects, then I’ll have a couple days to catch up with my fellow county jail inmates, maybe even make a few notes so I can tell their stories in the future, or look them up later and help out some if they come up Chicago way. And then after that, I’ll visit nearby Mt. Mitchell (tallest peak east of the Mississippi), and probably hear some good old-timey Carolina bluegrass late in the week. If it pleases the court, that is…

The trip logistics are a funny thing, too. We’ve managed to trade in my mother’s timeshare week, to get a resort condo unit about two hours east of my county courthouse and jail (closest available on short notice). So my sister Laura and my son Graham will join me, as it’s their last week of summer break before school starts back for both (and ’cause I needs a chauffeur, to stay legal while in NC). I’ll also be able to visit with Aaron and Grete, my Tennessee friends who literally bailed me out last month. And I’ll even get to see the new house they were in a bid process for, when they so graciously allowed me to complicate their lives for three days. Gotta love them community-minded Jesus freaks.

One of my heroes, I think it was singer Bruce Cockburn, once made this quip: “Friends help you move. Good friends help you move bodies.”

So with my arrest, a pending divorce, an auto accident, and continued joblessness –all within the past year –my present situation is a bit like the “good friends” scenario above. Nobody’s died yet, but my pride (or my ego, if you prefer) is at death’s door. Furthermore, I’m about to put it out of its misery by surrendering, by giving up the illusion of control, and facing into my sins head-on. Meanwhile my sister, my mother, and all the great people in my life, are helping me resurrect a bit of my self-respect, in the months and years to come.

So ironically, at a point when I’m sure it looks to many casual observers like my life is falling apart, I’m actually pretty calm and happy. And I am thankful, even for the pain, because of what I’ve learned. (Most days I’m thankful, anyway…, but when my OTHER car broke down last week, you shoulda heard me cuss.)

So here’s a treat, a ‘thank you’ gift, for anyone out there who’s been praying for me:

Dan Tyminski – Man of Constant Sorrow (live) – as featured in “O Brother Where Art Thou”    (what, you thought Clooney sung that good hisself?)

See?! … my fellow hillbillies, moonshine-lovers and bluegrassers figgered the same wisdom that the Delta blues musicians did, and at around the same time, historically: When life gives you lemons, make some noisy, beautiful, Sweet Sorrow Lemonade.

And then, if you’re George Clooney, make your escape to that lovely Lake Como estate you have, way up in the hills of Italy.


  1. […] Me & Clooney, the Bluegrass Lovin’ Jailbirds […]

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