Going to Jail for General

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Going to Jail for General

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This blog post is a guest article provided by Michael Nalbone, a manufacturers’ sales representative from Arizona. Nalbone has more than 35 years of experience working with manufacturers in the drain cleaning industry, including 18 years with General Pipe Cleaners.

I have been in the industry since I was 12, when my father purchased a plumbing and heating company. Many people in the trade, for the most part, are passionate about their work. It is a brotherhood and sisterhood that stands the test of time.

Since 1981, I’ve met thousands of diverse individuals in my career as a manufacturer’s agent. One of my responsibilities is hosting “Counter Days,” which involve getting to the wholesaler’s will call counter at the crack of dawn to set up a table with products from the manufacturer I represent. Since 1999, I have been doing Counter Days for General Pipe Cleaners.

Recently, I was working a Counter Day when the owner of the wholesaler introduced me to a plumber. The plumber smiled at me, and with a twinkle in his eye he asked, “Ever been in a jail?”

I never pass up the chance to answer that question in an unexpected way. “Yes, four times!” There were several people within hearing range that turned to the three of us with wide eyes, waiting for an explanation.

The first time I went to jail was in Phoenix. I was summoned to diagnose several drain cleaning machines. The engineer in charge of keeping the drains clear at the facility had just started working there and he wanted my advice on what was needed to get the equipment running. I provided some advice and we drew up a list of what he needed to purchase from his favorite wholesaler. A uniformed officer escorted me into and out of the physical plant.

The second time I went to jail, I was sent by a wholesaler in Tucson to demo a jetter at the men’s high security prison in northern Tucson. All the equipment is transported in a van with no signs indicating that anywhere from $3,000 to $40,000 worth of tools was in it. At the first gate, I was greeted by an armed guard. He required me to step away from the van, while another guard inspected the vehicle. Then I was required to show my driver’s license, how much cash was in my wallet and how much change was in my pocket. I had to sign a document stating that if taken hostage I would not be ransomed and that if I acted in any manner to assist an inmate, I would be shot. I was told that a guard with a rifle would not hesitate to shoot me if I am actively assisting an inmate to escape or doing anything that endangers anyone. A golf cart arrived at the gate with one armed officer driving and one armed officer facing me as I was escorted to my place of demonstration. I was directed to back into the open garage.

The gentleman in charge of maintenance had a specific use for the jetter in mind. I have a demonstration display of 2-inch clear plastic pipe with a 1 1/2-inch P trap on one side and a 2-inch clean-out on the bottom with six 2-inch elbows making a circle and an extra bend on one side. In the room were six inmates, the two guards with shotguns flanking me and the chief engineer. He asked me if the jetter would remove a pair of denim jeans or shirt from the drain. No one had ever asked me that question before. Why would anyone flush clothes down the toilet? The six inmates looked anywhere but my direction. The chief answered, “They have nothing better to do.” He proceeded to shove a large square of denim into the 2-inch clean-out with probe. When he got to the end of the pipe just before the “Y” connection, he stopped. I installed a nozzle with forward spray and three reverse sprays. The machine demonstrated was 1.7 gpm, 1,500 psi. I instructed the chief to not start the jetter until the nozzle was at least 1 foot in the drain to avoid being harmed by pressured water. He slid the nozzle into the clean-out, started the machine, worked the nozzle past the wad of denim and then flushed it backwards to the end of the pipe.

He was thrilled and handed me a purchase order. Paperwork complete, I was escorted to the gate. My possessions were returned, and I had to show the paperwork to explain why I now had one fewer machine than when I arrived.

The third time I went to prison, I was invited by the chief engineer at a male juvenile rehabilitation center north of Phoenix. I was instructed to bring enough literature for an audience of 12. After my experience a few years before in Tucson, I knew what to expect. The chief met me in the parking lot. I just left my phone in the van, and I was not allowed to bring in my briefcase. At the first gate, I was frisked for weapons, given the familiar document to sign and provided my driver’s license. Two armed guards joined us on the cart ride to the maintenance center. I gave my presentation on the use of the machines present in the shop and how to safely use them to about a dozen teenage boys. Only one paid attention. Once again, guns flanked me during my speech about a career in drain cleaning. Literature was passed out, a few questions asked and then I was escorted through the double gate back to my van.

The fourth time, a very good customer of mine had a delivery that needed to go to the women’s minimum-security prison several miles north of Phoenix. I volunteered to take the product to the prison on their behalf.

There was no gate to the facility, only a warning sign. I drove to the first building to get directions to the facility management building. Then I was escorted to the van, which was given a quick inspection. I had taken everything out except the delivery items just to make things easier. I was told under no circumstance to have any contact with any of the female inmates, period. The inmates were everywhere doing work. Some ignored me. Some watched me with one eye. Then the officer escorting me pointed to a manmade hill where a cruiser was sitting. She told me there was an officer with binoculars and a high-powered rifle with a scope that would be observing my actions. She said, “If that officer has any reason to believe you are doing something dangerous or attempting to remove an inmate, he will shoot.”

I drove the quarter mile to the building I was instructed to go to. An officer greeted me at the overhead door. He turned to a woman in an orange jumpsuit instructing her to unload the two 100-pound cables and three heavy cartons. She rolled a dolly up to the back of the van and hustled the equipment onto it. The officer signed the delivery tickets. The inmate slowly rolled the tools into the building. He handed me the clipboard and said, “Just a reminder, do not do anything that will result in the officer up on that hill shooting you.” He smiled and then waved me off.

I told a very brief version of those stories to the plumber, who responded, “I was in jail once, in Miami. Public drunkenness. Sorry I joked about it. Great stories.”

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