A token jail sentence: Man gets three days in dispute over 50-cent toll payment

Rick Collins

Until Monday, the closest that Graham ‘‘Tom’’ Jensen had come to a jail was the time he toured the Plymouth County House of Correction as part of a citizens group.

But the 68-year-old Braintree resident opted for three days in a New Hampshire slammer - getting out Thursday - to make a point about the state’s refusal to accept its old tokens at highway toll booths.

‘‘I gave the state of New Hampshire money for the tokens, and I expect to be able to use them,’’ Jensen said.

New Hampshire dropped its token system two years ago when it installed the Fast Pass system used in most Northeast states. The state gave drivers until Dec. 31, 2005, to use their 25-cent tokens.

In March of 2006, Jensen was driving to his cottage in Ossipee when he tried to pay the 50-cent fare at the Spaulding Turnpike's Rochester toll plaza using two tokens, as he had been doing for years.

The toll booth worker refused to take them and a state trooper at the plaza gave Jensen a citation.

‘‘(The trooper) said, ‘Just give him the 50 cents.’ I said, ‘I did, I gave him two tokens,’’’ Jensen recalled while sitting on the steps outside his Messina Woods Drive home.

The way he sees it, the tokens represented a contract between the state and himself, and he’s angry that the state has turned his pre-paid tokens into what he calls worthless souvenirs.

To rub salt in his wound, Jensen says New Hampshire lost his request for trial and, assuming he ignored the citation, issued a bench warrant for his arrest. When he was involved in a minor car accident this summer, he was arrested.

The warrant was thrown out when a court clerk found his initial request for trial. However, Jensen was still found guilty in Rochester District Court of ‘‘theft of services,’’ for not paying the toll, which is a misdemeanor in New Hampshire.

He was given the option of paying a $150 fine, 15 days of community service, or three days in jail. He chose jail.

‘‘Over my dead body was I going to give the state ... another dollar for the tolls,’’ Jensen said.

So the Strafford County sheriff came to the courthouse, placed Jensen in handcuffs and took him to the county lock-up.

‘‘It wasn’t one of my happier days,’’ he said shortly after his release. ‘‘I don’t want to say (the experience) was laughable or a joke, but it was absurd.’’

He said the jail was a sparkling new facility, that the food was better than expected, and that the mattress was painfully thin. He said he spent three days sitting around talking with the other inmates - some who were in there for assaulting a police office, others for immigration violations.

Meanwhile, his wife didn’t know where he was. Beverly Jensen said she only found out he had spent three days in jail when asked about it by a television news reporter.

‘‘I’m upset that I didn’t know,’’ she said. ‘‘But sometimes I think it’s better that I didn’t.’’

Beverly Jensen, who admitted she would have just paid the fine, said she supports her husband.

‘‘Tom will fight for what he believes in,’’ she said.

Tom Jensen said he is considering a civil suit against the state, or possibly appealing the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

While he could have simply paid the fine, Jensen feels justified in taking a stand.

‘‘I just get offended by people trying to do me wrong,’’ he said. ‘‘They stole the value of these tokens from me.’’