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JAIL

by Michael Z. Williamson
daggers@iquest.net

September 1, 2001

Recently, I was arrested. Why isn't important. Let's discuss the procedure and treatment a citizen receives at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us. 

When the police approached me, I took the wisest course I could think of. I cooperated. I did everything I was told, answered all basic questions and said I would wait for my attorney, addressed everyone clearly and directly as "Sir" and "Ma'am." 

I received a merely passable response. Not a lot of questions were actually asked regarding the incident. Neither I nor the other gentleman arrested were hurt, nor disposed to make trouble, nor interested in pressing charges. That didn't seem to be relevant. There was a debate between a Patrolman and a Sergeant as to who would make the busts. 

Patrolman said, "It's technically your area, but if you're busy with that shooting, I can do it, if the paperwork is a problem." Sergeant said, "Oh, hell, I'll do the paperwork for two felony arrests. That's a heck of a tally for the evening." 

I suddenly realized: I was not a person to this woman. I was not a suspect to this woman. I was a mere number, a notch in the belt, to this woman. Who cares what happens to me? A good bust is a good bust, and the judge can sort out the details. Why think? Why ask questions? Fill out the paperwork and take the pat on the back. They did treat me safely and not unroughly, treated my personal property with respect, and did keep me informed of what was to happen to it, so I suppose there's a mixed message here. Clearly, they want and intend to be good cops, but there's that bureaucracy thing hovering over all of it. With a shooting nearby, it would have been easy for them to overreact while hyped, and they didn't. I'll give them a 7 out of 10 for my treatment. It's good, but it could be better. 

A tow truck was called for my vehicle, and the hairy freak who drove it couldn't even figure out how to turn the key in the ignition after repeated fumbling. He left the car in park, dragged it onto the hauler, rubber abrading from the tires, and left the headlights turned on even after repeated polite requests to, "Sir, could you please turn my headlights off?" 

"Yeah, I'll take care of you, buddy," was the bored response, and the lights were still on as the car was towed away. 

"Ma'am, could you please call my wife, because she has no way of knowing and no transport," I asked the sergeant. 

"You can call her as soon as you get downtown," I was told. Throughout all this, I was not treated as a person. I was not treated as an arrestee. I was treated as a felon. Innocent until proven guilty? Surely you jest. 

The van came for us, and we were recuffed with different cuffs and each searched and placed into one side of the tiny, SAE 304 Stainless steel blocks, with howling air conditioning and bright lights. A claustrophobe would turn into a gibbering nut in about 10 seconds. The drive took an interminable time, and they picked up others on the way. If you need to use the restroom, you'll be very uncomfortable or wet and filthy by the time you arrive downtown. Believing that hands behind the back is a dangerous position should there be an accident or "accident," I maneuvered my hands in front of me, by dint of athletic flexibility. 

When we arrived downtown, we were marched out. I expected to be hassled about the cuffs, now in front of me, but no mention was made. So why the insistence that cuffs be behind your back? An elderly lady there for domestic violence was not cuffed due to her age, yet she obviously had been accused of violence, so why wasn't she? 

We were slowly processed in, thoroughly and not uncomfortably searched, and stuffed into a holding tank. The only toilet is in clear view of everyone, male, female, prisoner, employee, whatever. My military experience made this no problem for me, but I'm sure for many it would be demeaning and embarrassing. 

After being fingerprinted, we were led to another holding cell. I asked about phones and was told, "You won't see a phone for the next four to six hours." 

I said that my wife had a medical condition and needed to know that I was at least alive. 

This woman replied, "You should have thought of that earlier. We didn't put you in here." The utter stupidity of that statement made me laugh. They didn't put me in here? Who did, the Tooth Fairy? The toilets in the holding cell have never been cleaned. I doubt they can be-when is it empty? There's no furniture, just concrete and block walls and shelves. It was crowded at 1130 pm, it was elbow to nose by 6 am. It was cold. It stank. Leftover food sacks littered the place. This was good, as the brown paper could be used as insulation to stop one from freezing to the floor. Ones with sandwiches still in and mashed flat could be used as pillows. The leftover sandwich bags made handy cups to get drinking water from the sinks over the toilets, inch thick in grey slime mold. I recalled tricks from my military survival training, which I never thought I'd use domestically. If you pull your arms inside your shirt, you maintain body heat. Sleep as much as possible. Save small things like toilet paper for later use. Talk little, and try to help others. I gave some of my hoarded brown paper to a man with no shirt who had to be suffering from hypothermia on that floor. 

No one seemed disposed to trouble. In fact, everyone in the cell was very polite. Those who had to sit on top of the wall over the toilets because of lack of space politely would look away while you used them. 

Mumbled "sorry"s could be heard whenever someone bumped another as they walked. Most were quiet. After I was taken out to be identified and brought back, I was able to get my same place by the wall back without any hassle. At 6 am they brought us breakfast. The guards handed it out personally to ensure that every prisoner had a meal. This must be procedure, as they clearly didn't care. Breakfast was fake ham on soggy bread with stale cheese, and a cut up apple, with a bag of sterilized, sour-tasting milk. To drink the milk, you must chew off the corner of the bag. I saw one poor derelict, filthy and hungry, eating leftover food that had fallen around the toilets. Clearly, this man needed a hospital, not a cell. Some few had sketchy bandages from fights. One man who kept demanding his medication had apparently been there for eight hours already. He was obnoxious, either from desperation, or from needing help. Still, if he had medication, he should have been taken elsewhere. He wasn't exactly built like a boxer. 

Theoretically, one has privacy while talking to the bonding commission at the side windows. In reality, the cell was so crowded that when my name was called, after 8 hours in the place, there were two people sleeping under the stool, and one standing in each corner. We were all there for something, so it didn't really matter. 

I was at last officially informed of the charges against me, one felony, one misdemeanor. I was asked for an approximation of how many times I had been arrested. "This is the first," I told the woman. Just to reiterate, from her vantage, she could see anyone using the toilet. It had to be as unpleasant for her as it was for us. I asked if she would be calling my family, and she agreed that she was, to confirm my identity. 

At 10 am, I was finally taken upstairs to the regular cellblock. It had steel bunks, and we each took a thin but functional mattress with us. There was a TV, and more importantly, phones. I actually had no idea what time it was. There were no clocks anywhere and the guards literally would not give us the time of day. 

No sooner had we got in there, however, a curse-screaming, obnoxious woman guard told us she was turning the phone off until we cleaned up the mess left by the last occupants, of whom only three were still present. I resented being held incommunicado, I resented not being asked first, then given an ultimatum-I'd be glad to clean it for the sake of cleaning it, and to have anything to do for a few minutes. Most of the rest of my cellmates felt the same way, the sole exception being a screaming, cursing 22 year old admitted drug dealer. We picked up the trash and swept and mopped in short order, and I recognized other military veterans from their cleaning style. He spent the time calling her every unimaginative name in the book, while boasting of his prowess in acquiring stolen property. In response, the guard shouted that she was leaving the phones off to teach us a lesson. What lesson? That this punk was an idiot? We all knew that. Was she hoping we'd attack him so she could Mace a few of us? We offered no hassle or resistance at any point. SHE initiated hostilities. More on that later. 

She ignored my polite request to call my family to let them know where I was after 12 hours. I finally yelled over to another cell and had another inmate call on my behalf. 

Let's note that here: he did me a favor. We all took care of the man with the artificial leg. Everyone was careful of the toilets and toilet paper, as we all knew we'd have to use them eventually. Leftover food was shared with new arrivals. The prisoners, with perhaps two exceptions of sixty, were polite, courteous, and addressed all guards as "Sir" and "Ma'am." We did not cause trouble. 

The guards ignored every request, either without comment, with "I'll see," or with, "that's not my job." Taking care of prisoners? Not their job. Just signing papers. We were all there for a reason, right? 

The phones came back on at 11, and I called home. Each call costs $3.35 collect, and is monitored, so you don't dare give details to your family in case it's used against you in court. I agree with the logic of this. It's still hard on the family. 

The Bonding Commission had called to check my identity, but hadn't really identified themselves or said where I was. Luckily, my wife is competent, and had already found out from the police. She'd been afraid I'd been in an accident. I gave her the bare bones, and list of people to call for help for her and me, and let someone else get to the phone. 

At noon, they brought lunch. Fake ham on soggy bread with corn ships and nasty chocolate chip cookies. Some analog of Kool-Aid in a bag, chew off the corner to drink, just like last time. That's two sandwiches, an apple, two ounces of corn chips and twelve ounces of liquid in twelve hours. Barely enough to keep someone from curling up with pangs, especially in the cold. One experienced inmate offered to swap his sandwich for another drink. He got no takers. The sandwiches were that bad. I had to choke it down in small nibbles, and almost threw up twice. 

At 1:30 PM, there was a court call. My name was called, last on the list, while I was using the toilet. I finished, ran to get my mattress (it has to leave the cell with you) while my cellmates yelled at the guard, "Sir, there's one more guy coming, please wait a moment." 

He slammed the gate in my face. I said, "Sir, I'm your last person." "I'll come back for you," he said, back to me. He didn't even have the guts to look me in the face while lying to me. He lied to me, in uniform, wearing a badge that he'd taken an oath for. As a veteran, I downgraded this guy to "scum" in my rating. 

Depressed, I called home again, got an update that not much had happened yet, but bail would be waiting. Apparently, it could have been made at 8 am, had my family known where I was. However, once court was scheduled, I had to remain until I saw the judge. Because this punk of a guard couldn't wait 10 seconds of my taxpayer's time, I would have to wait perhaps another day until it was convenient for him to let me out. 

Court ran until four. I hoped against hope that I'd actually get called again. Every time the guard came back for someone, I'd politely ask him, "Sir, I missed my 1:30 call. Will they get me soon?" 

The responses varied from totally ignoring me, to telling me "Soon," to telling me, "I don't have a file on you." Clearly, he did. He'd called my name. He was continually lying to me. As a professional, he was not. 

I called home again after 4, told my wife I'd likely be there another day, and she said, "the Sheriff's Department says court runs until 9." I wasn't hopeful. It might run until 9, but the regulars were sure no one got called after 4. 

More prisoners came in, and there were no more mattresses. Another exchange took place, and in perfect Nazi or Stalinist fashion, the departing prisoners were required to remove the mattresses from the cell, even though there were those inside who had none. Repeated requests of, "Sir, we need some mattresses," were met with the standard, "Soon," but no mattresses. They were left outside the bars as a taunt. 

That evening, we ran into two more guards. One young man, and a slender elderly lady with curly hair. These two people deserve thanks, promotions, and praise from the city, because they acted and treated us like human beings. They were genuinely embarrassed by the petty bullies around them, kept apologizing for them, and did their best to help us. 

Let me reiterate: they did their jobs as required. That was unusual and worthy of note. I won't give their names here in case their co-workers cause them trouble over it, but I will let the city know. 

On missed court calls, they took our names and made inquiries. We got no answers from the system, but they did ask. A man who needed his medication, who had previously been told that the medics were "gone for the day," was scheduled for sick call. They gave us the time. They explained procedures. They got us mattresses. They were treated exactly as they treated us-politely, and every request complied with without hassle. 

The entire day, I didn't see any violence. There was rudeness to the guards, after it was clear they were of no help. There was shouting and boisterousness to kill the boredom. There was a drug-dealing, fire-and-brimstone Gospel comedian who kept us laughing for half an hour, and even got cheers from the next block. But no violence. These people were human beings with problems and who had made mistakes that society finds unacceptable. That does not make them criminals. 

Only a court conviction makes one a criminal. 

At 6, we were brought dinner. You guessed it-fake ham and soggy bread with stale cheese and corn chips and nasty cookies and orange juice. The man trying to exchange his sandwich for a drink had no luck again. After 9, I called home again, to tell my wife I would be at least another day. She said, "Oh, you haven't heard!" and my stomach flipped. This couldn't be good. "All charges were dropped at 4 o'clock," she said. Five hours previously. I was a free man. Except that I was still on the wrong side of the bars, still being treated like refuse by all except for two of my custodians. I was to be released at midnight. I felt so much better that I was relaxed. I'd though I was relaxed earlier, until I'd realized my pulse was around 90. I was actually calm now. 

I stayed with my form. I ate leftover chips to keep up my strength, poured a bag of water to keep myself hydrated. Nodded to conversation but said nothing. Stayed with my bunk so my mattress wouldn't be stolen, as I needed it and didn't want a fight. 

About 10, some fool who had smuggled marijuana and matches in past their search lit up. The guards made no attempt to find out whom, they simply shut off the phones again. People who had been brought in at the same time I had, just now getting up to the cell after 24 hours, came in and had no way to call. 

They still no way to call when I left at midnight. 

My name was called on a roster, and I was first at the bars, having moved my mattress to a front bunk during an earlier lull. I lied and said I didn't have a mattress, so someone else would have the use of it. The irony of me lying to a guard to give a prisoner something he needed and decency said he was entitled to was rather bitter. 

We were marched downstairs, lined up, processed out in 10 minutes. I was never actually told that my charges were dropped. We weren't actually told we were being processed out until another prisoner asked and was answered. 

They opened the locked steel door, told me to go up to the first floor and through the door. I did so, and was in the lobby of the police department. No warning, no nothing. Through that door and out of our hair, you. To be fair, the guards on this last leg were fairly decent, probably because they knew we were innocent. 

Conclusion: 

Consider that about half of those arrested will have the charges dropped. Consider that two thirds of the remainder will be acquitted. That means that five sixths of the incarcerees, more than 80%, are innocent. Of the remainder, most are only being held for minor or non-violent charges, such as Public Intoxication or Driving Without a License. Yet these thugs treat each and every one of them, pre-emptively, as they would a murderer or rapist. 

They planned to leave me in an extra day, to "teach me a lesson." They held me incommunicado, causing suffering for my family, to "teach me a lesson." Despite my co-operation, flawless manners and calm demeanor, they harassed me and threatened me, to "teach me a lesson." 

Lesson learned, COs (Correction Officers). I have learned that you are petty, gutless Fascists who are so pitiful as to find solace for your own wretched lives in bullying people with problems, helpless to resist you, until they turn into caged animals for your amusement. I have learned that on the evolutionary ladder, you rank somewhere between child molesters and the bacteria that thrive in septic tanks. I have learned that if I am ever called as a juror for a criminal accused of beating one of you within an inch of your life, I'll need to see some VERY convincing evidence before I'll convict him. 

How's that for a lesson learned?

 

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 QUOTES TO REMEMBER
No kingdom can be secured otherwise than by arming the people. The possession of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave. He, who has nothing, and who himself belongs to another, must be defended by him, whose property he is, and needs no arms. But he, who thinks he is his own master, and has what he can call his own, ought to have arms to defend himself, and what he possesses; else he lives precariously, and at discretion. James Burgh, Political Disquisitions: Or, an Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses [London, 1774-1775].

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