'Thinking Errors'
By Matthew Donahoo
(Photo by Kate Shaw)

Types of People You Meet in a Court-Mandated “Thinking Errors” Class

You arrive early to the “No Excuse For Abuse” treatment center for a class you are required to attend as part of your shoplifting penalties. Inside are two men about your age filling out paperwork. You walk to the desk and sign in with an overweight girl in her twenties who has many tattoos. The class will be four hours, on a Saturday.

The Recovered Meth Addict –

Ashlynn, the girl who signed you in, is leading the class. She wears revealing clothes despite being physically unfit. She begins the class by introducing herself. She mentions that she is newly pregnant. She says, “I’m not really that excited about it,” in reference to her unborn baby. She says she is married to a co-worker. She describes him as tall, extremely muscled, and someone who cares a lot about his appearance. She tells an anecdote about being at a hookah bar and some guy coming up to hit on her. She says, “This guy was hitting on me and my husband walks up and says, ‘Hi, this is my wife, get the fuck out of here.’” She thinks this is her husband’s way of showing affection for her. You suspect her husband is gay. She says that she used to be meth addict but is now getting her masters in social work.

The Angry Ex-Army Officer –

J’Rol is a half-black, half-white, 27-year-old person. He openly talks about having PTSD after serving as an Intel Ops person in Baghdad. He talks animatedly about wanting to see the movie, The Expendables. He often mentions what he would do during a zombie apocalypse.
When it is his turn to share with the group the story of how he got here, he rants for maybe twenty minutes about the situation. Having just returned from the Army, he was living with his wife and kids while renting out spare rooms to a few friends. He tells how one person living there, “a wasted pile of semen called Zach,” pulled some shit that caused J’Rol and his family to be evicted, while the rest of the people were allowed to stay. Ashlynn asks about the incident. She mentions “domestic violence.” J’Rol laughs nervously and explains that he beat the shit out of Zach after smashing his bedroom door into “tiny little pieces.” Jeffrey interrupts to ask if Zach is dating Mya. J’Rol looks surprised then asks, “Do you know him?” Jeffrey says he does. Jeffrey laughs and says, “Small world.” J’Rol express regret about leaving Zach alive.
During a break (at the beginning of which you bum out at least five cigarettes) you overhear J’Rol talking to Jeffrey about Mya. J’Rol says, “It must be tough to get a job with a 2nd degree murder charge.”

The White-Trash Kid –

Jeffrey, who goes by “Chance,” is wearing a white tee and jeans. He has blonde hair similar to that of Jeff Daniels circa Dumb and Dumber. He tells the class that he was caught stealing $140 of Magic: The Gathering cards from Wal-Mart. He says to you that he should have just run instead of “pussy-ing out,” that he feels a need to get revenge on the people who caught him. He mentions that he was carrying a knife on the day of the incident. He tries to explain his desire to go back in time, to “stab the fuckers” who caught him.
During one exercise, he reveals that he was with his younger brother on the day of the incident. He says, “My brother was with me… He had just turned 18, so it is on his permanent record now. I feel really bad about that.”

The Underachieving Mormon –

Jason is tall and wears an AT&T Retail Salesman polo shirt with black slacks. He is very pale with red hair. He is here because he and his friends stole a chair from McDonald’s. He explains, “My buddy asked me what it would take for me to buy him a meal at McDonald’s. I told him I’ve always thought one of those chairs would look good in my house. So, I go through the drive through and when I pull out he hops in the car with a chair. The only person who noticed was the guy behind me in the drive through line. He chased me for a while… That was pretty fun. Had to hop some curbs.”
Jason talks about his older brothers. They both have double masters degrees from various prestigious universities. He talks about having to live up to his parents’ expectations. You feel endeared by this.

The Escort –

Sunshine is 21 and brought a blanket with her. She is designated “Time Keeper” for the class. She interrupts everyone loudly. She has moderate to severe acne on her face but is otherwise attractive. Over the course of the class she eats four fruit rollups, one per hour, by mushing each one into a ball and shoving the entire thing into her mouth.
She explains how she was caught. “The actual charge is ‘lewd,’ which is, like, flashing, but I didn’t do that. I guess it is ‘solicitation’. I never used an escort service before; I had always just done it myself on backpage.com. This guy, Jeremy, set me up with someone. I was at a hotel… Some fancy hotel, I don’t remember. I went up to the room and met the guy. I asked him a lot of questions trying to figure out if he was a cop. He put the money down but I didn’t touch it. He actually put down $360; he said he didn’t have any tens. I didn’t touch it. Then we laid down, he still had all of his clothes on. We both did. I touched his elbow. Then five cops busted in with their guns drawn and arrested me. It sucked, man. But I made a deal. I told them I’d give them whatever they wanted if they would just let me go. The prosecutor told me that they have been trying to get Jeremy for a long time so I just gave them all the information. I’m not sure if the charge is staying on my record.”

The Stoner –

Brock lives in Humboldt and works on a marijuana farm. He came all the way from California to Utah for this class. He explains that he was caught rolling after a Skrillex concert. Both Ashlynn and Sunshine immediately voice their approval, which leads to a ten-minute discussion of raves during which it is revealed that Ashlynn used to sell ecstasy. She says that she would just keep all of the tabs for herself and make bum tabs to sell to others. Someone else mentions selling Flintstone vitamins at raves for $30 a pill. Everyone finds this amusing. Someone says, “You be selling that Bedrock.”
Brock explains that he was running down the highway with his friend after the concert, around 3:30am, after his car broke down. A cop pulled up and took him back to his vehicle, inside of which was half a Xanax. Brock says, “He was like, ‘What is this? Crack cocaine?’ I was like, ‘What dude?! You don’t know what that shit is?’ It wasn’t even mine; I didn’t know it was there. My friend left it there.” He smiles and laughs while talking about this. Everyone laughs at his story.
During an activity in the second half of the class Brock is asked to describe where his life is in comparison to the life cycle of a flower. He says that he is the roots. He says, “People and plants aren’t that different. I’m just setting down my roots right now, trying to make my shit grow.” You agree with him.

The Depressed Housewife –

Hannah is 28, the oldest person in the class. She is maybe 5’10” with extremely pale skin. She wears no makeup and clothes that look like they are from Target. She arrives early with a cup of coffee and a banana. She is extremely quiet and talks rarely, in a monotone. When she is asked who was involved in the incident she says, “Can I lie and just say me?” Ashlynn uses this as an opportunity to present one of the “thinking errors” you can make: lying.
Hannah explains that she was with her 18-month-old daughter. The room becomes silent. Hannah is visibly filled with regret while describing the incident, which occurred at Wal-Mart. She says, “I was just so sick of life, of not having what I needed or wanted. I went with my daughter and just got all the groceries I wanted. I walked out of the store with the cart and got caught.” There is a pause and she continues, “And my husband didn’t know this had been going on. This wasn’t my first time. It was my first time not paying for anything; I usually bought a few things and stole the rest. Now he…” She stops there and is teary-eyed. Ashlynn says, “You can take a minute outside to collect yourself after you are finished.” Hannah finishes telling her story. She is not crying anymore. Ashlynn reiterates that Hannah can go out to the hall to collect herself. Hannah declines.
While Ashlynn is explaining one of the things that cause a person to be “stuck,” she asks Hannah about past relationships. Hannah looks at the floor and says that she has only been with her husband.
Hannah doesn’t wear a ring.
While participating in an activity in which each person is required to write an emotion they have felt lately, Hannah writes “worthless.”
During break she stands near her car and smokes an e-cigarette.
At one point you hear Hannah says, “Pieces of crap…” under her breath while looking at her phone.

matthew donahoo lives in salt lake city, utah