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Most of us will never have the misfortune to spend time in prison, which is probably a good thing, as it is not quite up to the levels of Marriott, Delta or even the San-Man, but it is time I confessed that yes, I have spent a night in ‘the Big House’.

I was seventeen and was experiencing my first, teenagers jilt by a girl, whom I considered the prettiest in my class. We had been going out for two weeks, and it became evident she had a different idea of our future than I did, and I was not part of hers.

Sadly depressed, I moped around the house and came up with the brilliant idea of filling the tank to my ’65 Comet and heading on a road trip. I had three more weeks of summer holidays, so why not get out on the open road, and clear my mind from the terrible infliction I had suffered.

I was somewhere in Kentucky, when I realized I had only enough money for gas and food. Hotel rooms, which were rented at an excessive $7 a night, were not part of the picture. I decided the back seat of my car would make a textbook Holiday Inn, and drove around until I found the perfect place: a school yard, totally void of other cars.

All was well, and I was sleeping soundly, until around three in the morning, when I heard a noise outside my car. I looked up and opened the door without thinking. There, right in front of me, were two guys, one of whom was in the act of removing the wheel covers from my car.

As soon as they saw me they bolted for their nearby vehicle and darted off into the blackness of night. I stood there, looking at the damage and was fortunate nothing bad had happened. I caught them just as they were beginning their criminal act, and I began to replace the cover on my wheel.

I had no sooner started when bright red lights, affixed on top of a police cruiser pulled up, and someone yelled at me to stand against my car. I tried to explain the events, but the uniformed authority would have none of it. I found myself sitting in the back of his cruiser, being interrogated with images of Cool Hand Luke racing through my mind.

I convinced him the car was mine, and after I explained what had happened, he asked why I was sleeping in my car. He laughed and escorted me back to the small Police station where he told me I could spend the remainder of the night in one of the cells. Sure it wasn’t locked, but to me it made for one of my greatest sagas, relayed to hundreds. The next morning the officer returned with biscuits and coffee and looked me in the eye. “Okay, Canada,” he said, in a very ‘Sargeant Preston’ voice. “Enjoy your breakfast and be on your way, and remember, sleep with one eye open.”

Jonathan van Bilsen is a published author, an award winning photographer, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at

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