On the morning I was to go to the courthouse and report for my “weekend” in jail, I got up, showered, dressed in my baggiest chinos and sweatshirt, and did not put in my contact lenses. I wanted to be as self-contained and independent as possible. Bob, my lawyer, had said that I would be placed with the other white-collar guys who were in for the same reasons and not to worry. In retrospect, I don’t know why I believed him; nothing else he had “guaranteed” had actually transpired. . .
My cast had been removed just days prior to this, and I was just beginning to be able to get around on crutches. The pain was incredible, still; and the weakness in my legs profound. It was going to be an extremely protracted recovery process; this was clear. Bob had told me that this was the best time for me to “do my time,” as I was clearly an invalid, and would be placed in a “hospital ward” and treated better. I think I was, but that is all pretty subjective . . .
Miss Lacey arrived to bring me downtown. Thank god for her and that wonderful, friendly face. She sat next to me in the courtroom until my name was called and I was seated in the jury box while the rest of the men due for processing that afternoon were called-through. Then, she left; and that was the last civilized thing I saw for a long time. It was 1:30 in the afternoon as those doors closed behind her.
They herded us all into an elevator and took us to the basement of the building, where we were lined-up along the wall, facing the wall, with our hands on the wall as we were searched by the last semi-friendly officers we were to encounter. When my turn came and I was asked to empty my pockets, the officer took a look at the miniature pocket knife given me by the Director of Photography on my last film, and gently informed me that I could be re-arrested for having brought a weapon into the courthouse. Actually, he was pretty nice about it, and told me he would put it with my other personal effects that I could collect as I left the jailhouse on Monday.
Then, he took my pain pills. This was not a good sign. Again, he said it was against regulations for me “to take narcotics into jail.” Notwithstanding the fact that these were all that made it possible for me to move about at all, they had to be confiscated. “Not to worry,” though; there was a doctor at the jail and, as a part of the induction process, I could see him for replacement medication.
This eased my mind. This was a myth.
So. We were all (about 25 of us) put into a holding cell at the end of that hallway in the basement to await transportation to jail. I was definitely the only “white collar” guy in that group; though everyone was pretty quiet and actually decent to one another and to me as we waited. . . . And waited. . . . And waited.
Finally, we were herded into a much larger holding room along with similar groups from the several other courtrooms. By now, the group was about 100 men, most of whom seemed pretty familiar with the process.
Still, I was the only “white collar” guy.
In this room, they let us wait. . . . And wait. . . . And wait. I had seen no clocks or windows since exiting the courtroom at 1:30, and had no idea what time it was as the officers began to call out our names, form us into groups of four, and chain us together. Yes, this is true. They would cuff each man’s hands together and then chain him into a foursome for transportation to the jail.
Upon seeing that I was on crutches, the officer in charge decided I would be chained to just one other guy and by only one hand so that I could actually use the crutches and move. He called-forward a prisoner whom he apparently knew (this was not unique among this group, a group that was, at once, both hardened and blasé), and chained us together.
The huge metal door at the end of the room opened into a huge warehouse/garage with a rollback wall…and it was dark outside! Dark! I had entered the building at 1:00, and now it was dark. A sinister black bus with barred windows pulled-into the room and stopped. It looked just like the ones you see in the movies. It looked just like the ones that you occasionally see on county roads, bearing prisoners to and from jails and work-sites. It looked just like the one that Harrison Ford barely escaped from in “The Fugitive.” BECAUSE IT WAS ONE OF THOSE BUSES!
With us all finally aboard and seated, the doors were locked, the engine was started and the vehicle began to vibrate forward. The windows were blacked-out, and I couldn’t see out to determine where we were going. At this point, I supposed that it didn’t really matter. I had no idea.
After much twisting and turning and continuous vibration, the bus pulled to a stop and the doors were unlocked. We stepped-out into a halogen-lit, barbed wire topped, walled parking lot and were herded into L.A. County Jail alongside groups from several other similar buses. Today’s crop of convicts had arrived at the terminus. I was one of them. The reality of the depth to which I had sunk was immediately pounded into my consciousness.
It was pandemonium — organized pandemonium — inside. Uniformed officers were shouting at us and at one another. It was clear that we were lower than dirt to the officers processing us because they told us we were lower than dirt. Often. Loudly.
As the groups were herded into the building, a couple of officers were looking us over, unlocking the manacles, separating and pulling-out the wounded, crippled and damaged. We were in a honeycomb of rooms with walls that were cinder block to about four feet off the ground, then glass to the ceiling. These square rooms had lines drawn in the floor, about two feet from the wall and we were made to stand on that line, facing the wall as the officers frisked us, again.
Now, it was time to turn-in our civilian clothes and put on the prison blues.
At this point, we who were to be put in the “hospital ward” were separated from the growling pack, given our prison clothes and led to a changing room. There were five of us, and we were put into a small bathroom, the size of a regular bathroom stall unit with toilet included and told to change our clothes.
I am not kidding.
Five grown men in a bathroom stall would be tight. Five damaged men trying to change clothes and dodge falling crutches at the same time is even tighter. When the “kid” among us began to vomit, it became even tighter — believe me! At that point, the officers removed the vomiting kid, and the rest of us finished changing, gathered-up our civvies and joined the mob, outside.
Then, we waited as they began to call names. The lucky ones found seats on the thin metal benches that lined the walls of the waiting area; the rest of the men stood and leaned. The ones who attempted to lie underneath the benches were immediately rousted by the Boys in Uniform.
These were, virtually, boys in the officer’s uniforms. My guess is that the Friday night shift at the jailhouse is not the one for the most senior of officers. My further guess is this shift is probably the lowest priority for those with the least seniority. These guys were young, studly jock-guys who probably went right into the Police Academy after graduating from High School in central Orange County and turning-in their Young Republican and Hitler Youth membership cards.
They were having a great time, though. Strutting around, puffed-up and steroid-inflated in their tight uniforms and tossing paraphernalia and epithets around like a volleyball team, they treated us as though we could have been sheep. They definitely don’t treat you like actual persons, in jail. No, they do not.
At some point in this Kafka-esque continuum, my name was called. By now, there were six of us in the “hospital” group. We were wedged into another, larger group; put into single file and led to have our fingerprints made and pictures taken (front, side, number around your neck, the whole bit). This took about a month, and we were then left in another metal bench-encircled hallway to wait some more.
Finally, the six of us were called-out and led along a series of hallways to the “doctor.” When my turn came, I went into this small room with two ancient wooden desks crammed into it. There was a big guy and a small guy. The big guy did nothing, and the small guy had me fill-out a form and tell him why I was on crutches and needed painkillers.
When I had finished that charming little process and asked for my replacement Vicodin, this guy told me that I would have to get that from the doctor. I said OK, where is he.
“Oh, he leaves at 6.”
Okay, when can I see him tomorrow?
“He’s not back until Monday. You can get Tylenol from the nurse. Next!”
MONDAY!? TYLENOL!? NURSE!? I began to think about Rod Serling. I considered looking around for Rod Serling.
So, we were led to the medical station to see the nurse. (I never quite figured-out who those guys in that room were, or what was their function. I’m confident they get paid, though.)
After waiting a while (!), the nurse opened-up the top of her double-door and called names. My name. Stated my case. Was told to tell the doctor’s assistant, tomorrow morning at Sick Call.
We were led through another maze of hallways to our “ward.” Along the way, I happened to catch a glimpse of a wall-clock through the glass in a door we passed. 12:30. It was TWELVE-THIRTY at night! I had been in the hands of the State of California for nearly twelve hours and had still not arrived at my final destination.
But here it was. The guard opened the door to the “hospital ward.” The PITCH-DARK hospital ward. “Lights-out” was hours ago. The light, spilling through the open doorway, dimly revealed rows of bunk beds, disappearing into the darkness away from me, all filled with sleeping men. The walls were effectively invisible and there was no telling how large the room was.
The door was shut and we were left to find our beds for the night. In the dark. In jail.
I was feeling my way around this room in the darkness (and on my crutches) when a hand gripped my shoulder and a voice whispered “Here, there’s a mattress underneath the lower bunk. Pull it between the beds and lie down on that; all the beds are full.”
This guy, Ted, was to become my “guide” the LA County Jail experience. I found the mattress, pulled it between the units, placed the anemic “pillow” and threadbare blanket at the head of this mat against the wall and put my head there for the next few hours. My crutches beside me, I slept some.
The lights came-on the next morning and I learned where I was. This was a large room with four rows of bunk beds lining the walls and filling the space between them. There were sixty beds. There were ninety men. Six of the men, including me, were Caucasian. The rest were Latino and Black. I was in for a cross-cultural encounter…several of them.
Very few of the guys looked sick or damaged. In fact, they were all pretty healthy-looking. Pretty healthy and angry looking, if you wanna know the truth of it.
We were roused and sent to breakfast. I have never seen stuff like the stuff they put into the sections of this tray. I have never seen men so eager take anything someone else might not want to eat. My tray was a wealth of treasure for those around me. I was sick anyway, and the pain in my leg only exacerbated the nausea. I gave everything away, except the milk. This became standard procedure over the coming days; other than milk, there was an apple once, and I think a piece of white bread and some apple sauce also made it to my mouth and stayed down during my visit.
On the return from breakfast, I passed that clock again. It was 6:00am as we returned.
Sick Call. Just before the door opened and the guard stepped-in to announce this, crutches, neck braces, leg braces, limps and slings appeared from nowhere. Wow, where had all the sick guys been hiding? They had looked so good, before . . .
The doctor would only give me four, tiny Tylenol; which gave me relief from pain for about fifteen minutes. Fortunately, with nothing in my stomach, the medicine could take effect more rapidly. Sleep was a very attractive activity.
Time passed. The mood inside that room was heavy with tension. I came to learn that there were three gangs in the room, two Black and one Latino. None of them really liked the other, though the Blacks were a little friendlier to each other than the Latinos, who kept to themselves. It was palpably tense, in there.
As a white guy, I was walking a very thin line. You don’t want to appear too self-confident, so as to present a challenge to anyone; and you don’t want to appear too weak, and a likely victim for . . . whatever. I kept my head down and my activity to a minimum; spending most of my time lying on my back on the mattress between the bunks.
Time passed, so slowly. Men would move silently about the room, looking meaningfully at one another and communicating some unheard language. Quiet conversations would take place on lower bunks throughout the room. The television was on all the time, and there was a group of metal tables bolted to the floor just in front of the T.V. where huge black men would play cards and laugh, roughly, throughout the day.
Hey! I’m a white guy, one of only six in the locked tomb, er, room. They ALL looked big to me . . . Maybe it’s a minority thing.
Ted introduced me to one of the other White Guys, whose name I don’t remember. What was memorable to me is that he had been in court for a divorce hearing, had mouthed-off to the judge and been thrown in jail for the weekend for contempt of court. This had happened before, Ted said. Sometimes, guys were tossed-in and forgotten for an extra few days. Ted had seen a lot of this, before. Ted had been in jail for a long time, and was just down here for a few days “medical” from Folsom, his primary residence. Ted was my guide.
I heard some pretty serious stuff. The “noon Friday to noon Monday” agreement with the court was, apparently, a Big Joke amongst the inmates. Historically, there were several stories of men who had made this “agreement” only to find themselves “misplaced” for as many as six or seven days at a time before being let out of jail.
Needless to say, this worried me. Already, I knew that I didn’t want to stay in there any longer than necessary; but I also had to fly to San Francisco on Tuesday in order to begin work at The NAMES Project on Wednesday. This job was an opportunity that I didn’t want to blow, and certainly didn’t want to get started on the wrong foot by showing up days late for work “…because I was in jail.”
I resolved to call Rob Gutenberg, my lawyer, first thing Monday morning to be certain that I did not slip through the cracks. He’s the only one who knew all the players; he had “brokered” the arrangement.
Not everyone was in there “for the weekend.” In fact, there were only the two of us who were short-timers. Everyone else was from other prisons or other areas of this one. I came to understand that this hospital ward was often used for an informal “R&R thing” by prisoners whom, I suppose, just wanted to get away from the crowds in GenPop (they actually use this term) for awhile.
Men were giving other men haircuts with hand-held razor blades, throughout the room. At the end of the room, next to the dormitory-style bathroom, was a bank of four or five pay phones. Some of these guys would park wheelchairs next to one of the phones and be on it for hours, literally. Some were talking to their girlfriends, some to their dealers, some seemed to be running businesses on the outside. Nonetheless, the phones were always busy, other than during lights-out.
A pretty significant black-market traffic-flow was in operation. Hamburgers, chocolate chip cookies, toiletries, cigarettes and the like were steadily appearing in plastic baggies from underneath the shirts of the “trustees” that came through during the day. No wonder these guys seemed so healthy; they were!
Time passed . . . It was tense, in there
Visiting Hours. A guard came in, called my name and announced that I had a visitor. I hobbled to the queue and stood in line, not knowing who it might be. Eyes to the ground and thoughts to myself, I waited my turn.
Finally, I handed-in my slip of paper and walked down a row of windows with seats in front of them and adjacent telephone receivers — just like in the movies. It isn’t so cool when it’s you and not Kevin Bacon or Brad Davis sitting down there and picking-up the phone.
Until that instant, I had not realized that I had been in jail less than 24 hours, yet. It already seemed as though I had been incarcerated for weeks. At the same time, I had no idea how solidly I had sealed my emotions until I looked-up and saw Sue Webb sit and pick up the phone on the other side of the thick glass. There has never been a more beautiful woman than Sue was at that moment. The concern in her eyes reached across the void to me and held me as she asked, “How are you?” I lost it.
Silently, I sobbed and leaned against the glass. For a moment, I had no control; I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. Pulling myself together (I was as surprised at this unexpected flow as I could have been), I said, “Sue, this is incredible; it is the most horrible experience of my life. There is a reason each of these guys is in here . . .”
From that point on, I really don’t remember our conversation. My eyes stayed dry after that, I was not about to be caught off-guard again. Sue had dressed-up for the occasion, “babe’d out,” as it were, in case it was important to give the impression that she was my girlfriend (a little rape-protection insurance…ya never know). She looked wonderful, and I will never forget that she took the time to come down there and see me. Our time was up far too soon. We hung-up, and I returned to The Pit.
Time passed . . .
The tension waxed thicker and thicker as whatever the issue was amongst the three gangs seemed to grow.
After the second night (my second night on the floor) I awoke to find one of my crutches missing. I was astounded that someone would steal a crutch! I had naively held onto some philosophical concept of the inherent goodness of man…of Honor Among Thieves. Some fantasies take longer to die than others. From that point on, I hobbled and hopped on one foot and one crutch to get around.
On the morning of the third day, Sunday, one of the beds in the area became vacant. I was grateful that it was next to Ted, so that I didn’t have to go far from another of us White Guys. It wasn’t much safer, but I felt better about it. Of course, it was on the upper bunk. Nice. Fortunately, with the small amount of upper body strength I had left, I was able to lift myself up to the second level to get into the bed. Thereafter, I pretty-much stayed there.
Time passed . . .
Ted organized some of the other guys so that, at sick call, they would all get Tylenol and he would collect it for me. I would take twenty-eight after morning call, and another twenty-eight in the evening. This fuel would imbue me with enough of a stupor that I could sleep until the next meal, and sometimes afterward. We were not allowed to remain in the room during the meals, they were obligatory.
Showers, on the other hand, were optional. I opted out. It had taken me about ten minutes just to remove my pants upon arrival in jail on Friday. Given that each group of men was given just five minutes to strip, shower and dress, I thought it best not to tempt fate or anyone else with my glacial pace. Besides, it was “only for four days.”
Gradually, I joined conversations with the guys on the other side of my bed from Ted. There was this really funny Black guy, whose name I cannot remember, who got all excited when he discovered that I was A Producer. From then on, we maintained a conversation about this idea of his to do porno films based on fairy tales. He actually acted out all the parts for “Little Black Riding Hood;” such that it is hard to say if he were a better wolf or Ridin’ Hood.
Actually, I wish that I had managed to stay in touch with this guy; as it was a pretty good idea and would probably have made us both a lot of money. Who knows, this guy may surface sometime in the future to be a successful entrepreneur. He was a cool guy.
It was like a small world apart, for those of us sitting on the upper bunks, all day. Looks and comments were exchanged all across the room, upper-bunk to upper-bunk. Directly across from me was a deaf drag queen who took a liking to me. He/she had a boyfriend “upstairs,” but was down here for a week or so for some reason or other. The guys in the area noticed that I had become an object of interest (unimaginable, given my decrepit physical condition, unshaven and unshowered: uncomfortable, given that I didn’t see jail as the place to take a stand on Gay Rights), and kept ribbing me about fucking him.
Time passed. . .
I remember that it was Super Bowl Sunday. It was the last Sunday of January in 1992 so, of course, The Game was on the television. At halftime was the premiere of that year’s Michael Jackson video and — when he “passionately” kissed Iman, the whole room went up in whoops and hollers of derision. Had I not been uncomfortable about the possibility of my sexuality being discovered before then, I was certainly on alert, after that display of aggressive heterosexuality!
Saturday afternoon, a Latino kid (who could not have been more than 20 or 22) had been brought-in with a broken leg. Apparently, he had been caught robbing a convenience store or something and was jailed to await a hearing on Monday. They wouldn’t let him see a Doctor until the Doctor showed-up on Monday, and the kid was on a mattress on the floor by the door. The kid had a broken leg, fer chrissake! This was unbelievable to me.
Sunday morning, as we were being herded to breakfast, I found myself behind this poor creature as he hopped forward three or four times on one foot, then would lean, panting, against the wall before repeating this process as he made his way toward the dining hall. (“Dining?” “Hall!?” Whatever.)
I couldn’t stand it. Here was this guy with a broken leg. No drugs, no crutches, no medical treatment, whatsoever; literally hobbling down the hall and being completely ignored by these big, hulking’ bruisers who dwarfed their own bogus prostheses. I came up to him and asked if he wanted to use my shoulder as support. Jesus, the look of relief in his eyes brings tears to mine, still.
I put my arm around his waist as he put his on my shoulder and, two good legs and one crutch between us, we got to the meal. We repeated this process throughout the day Sunday and Monday. When we got back to the ward, I split my Tylenol with him, since he was in so much pain that it was difficult for him to stand in line for the meager drug.
They certainly teach you that you mean nothing, in jail.
Time passed. . .
I spoke, by telephone, to a friend of mine in San Francisco, that afternoon; who let me know that my close friend, John, was laughing it up in The Midnight Sun bar that afternoon with stories of how (and who) I was probably doing, in jail. “Maybe he’ll find a boyfriend,” is the comment, which remains foremost in my mind.
I called John, and was fortunate to get him on the phone as an argument that was taking place between two inmates, nearby, began to escalate from the verbal to the physical. It was loud and it was rough. “What’s going on there,” John asked.
“It’s a fight, John,” I said. “I can’t tell you how horrible it is, here; this is like nothing I had imagined. And . . . John, it is not funny.”
“Wow,” he said. “I had no idea.”
“Yeah, John; it is incredible. Please don’t make jokes about it. It isn’t funny, at all. Nothing could be more serious than this.”
The tone of my voice, accompanied by the fight in the background, got my message across.
Then, things really began to get serious. Apparently, there was some sort of snitch in the room. They got him on Sunday night.
Long after Lights Out, we were awakened by muffled shouts from the bed next to the door. In the complete blackness, all I could hear were the frantic scuffling sounds as two or more guys grabbed this man from his bed and shuttled him down the aisle next to my own bunk toward the bathrooms. Anyone who wasn’t awakened by this was definitely roused by what came next; as the man was thrown against the walls in the bathroom so solidly and so many times that the cinder block walls behind my head shook with the force of impact.
When they had finished beating-up this man for whatever he had done, someone opened the door and spoke to the guard sitting there (and who was always sitting there) to let him know that someone in the bathroom was in trouble. The lights came on; two men entered with a stretcher and carried the broken, bleeding mass out of the room.
I was beginning to really look forward to my departure. All the next day, Monday, there were conversations about some sort of “rumble” that was going to take place that night. Conversations were quieter, and it seemed there were more razor blade haircuts taking place.
At about 7:00am., I went to the guard at the front door. This is the guy who would call-out the guys being released each day; reading the names from a list on his clipboard. I told him that I was slated for release today, and did he know what time that might take place. (Please, Sir, may I have some more gruel?)
“I don’t have your name here . . .,” he said. “You’re not leaving today.”
I called Rob and caught him as he was leaving his house for some work in Ventura. “Rob,” I said, “they have no record or notice that I am supposed to be released today!”
“Well, I don’t know what I can do about it,” he replied.
I was dumbstruck. This is the guy who asked me to hire him outside the context of the Center Services department and pay him outside the system. Up to that moment, I actually thought he had my best interests at heart and was committed to helping me as best he could. At that moment I realized why I had had “the book” thrown at me; this slime-ball had seen me — his most recent sucker — coming a mile away. He had taken my money, did little for me, and was planning on continuing to do absolutely nothing.
“What you can do, Rob,” I said rather tersely, “is contact whomever you made this “deal” with and see that the agreement is kept. Isn’t that what I am paying for?”
“Well, I’m on my way to Ventura. I don’t see what I can do.” This guy was all heart and integrity.
“Call him, Rob. At least find out what’s up; then call Chris and tell her the situation. I’ll call Chris later this morning and she can let me know what you find out.”
“Okay, sure,” he said hurriedly, and hung up.
Time passed . . .
More rumors of tonight’s blood bath circulated.
I called Chris.
“Chris, it’s Kile. Have you heard from Rob?”
“Yes, he just called. He asked if I had heard from you. I told him no.”
“That’s all!? He didn’t say anything about me being released? Nothing?”
“No, he just asked if you had called and then hung up when I said no.”
Well, you don’t have to spell it out for me; I had been taken-in by another snake-oil selling lawyer. That industry oughta clean itself up. I don’t think it is a cause I’ll be taking-up anytime soon though.
More time passed.
Ted left the room and returned to tell me that they were going to move the White Guys out of the place that afternoon, due to what was likely to take place that night. Gee, I couldn’t have felt safer.
The day before, a very quiet Black Guy who seemed pretty nice had moved into the bunk below me. I think his name was Lenny. We had talked a little, and he seemed pretty cool; I didn’t feel any hate or anything coming from him as I had from most of the other Black Guys. (The Latinos didn’t seem to pay much mind to the White Guys, but there was unmistakable enmity between the two “minorities.”) In fact, as the guys were filing-in from Sick Call on Sunday afternoon, I watched the guy come in who had been using what resembled my missing crutch over the previous two days. I continued to watch him as he walked down the aisle in front of my bunk and turned into the opening between Ted’s bunk and mine. This was amazing; he was walking toward my remaining crutch as he looked right at me!
Finally realizing what he was about, I grabbed my crutch and looked him in the eye. “This is mine!” (Fuck You!) He just looked at me, turned and walked away.
As I thought about it, I wouldn’t mind leaving that room.
Monday afternoon, I was talking to Lenny and he mentioned the pending “evacuation” of the White Guys. I said, “Yeah, I wonder what’s up,” or something equally pithy. He looked at me and said, simply, “You’re scared.”
I looked back at him for a moment and said nothing. “Does it show?”
“Yep,” he quietly replied. “You’re scared.”
“Yep,” I said.
A while after dinner that night, the guards came in and called our names. The White Guys. We left.
They took us far from the Guard Desk and into an older section of the jail. As we passed various Cellblocks, one-by-one, the other guys were taken away until it was just me and Ted and a guard, standing at the end of a grungy, dimly lit hallway. We turned, and faced a sliding-bar door. The door slid aside, and behind it stretched an even gloomier, lower-ceilinged hallway. On the right was a solid wall of rough, unpainted cinder blocks and on the left was a series of old fashioned prison cells such as one might see in Alcatraz.
The atmosphere was pretty casual back here, for a jail. There was a school-type chair in the hallway that supported an old color television that could be seen from two of the cells. Two cells in, I was stopped and the door slid open to my new lodgings. Stepping in, I could see that the wall between each pair of cells was torn-out, making two into one. Each had it’s own toilet and shower. Not interested.
I was greeted (not effusively, but warmly enough) by the guys in the front bunks and introduced around. There were eight bunks (16 beds) on my side of the cell-pair, and another six on the other. My bed, of course, was another upper bunk in the very back above a solidly massive Black guy named Tito who was definitely “the boss” in this quadrant.
Another first impression to make. Don’t be too weak. Don’t be too strong. Not too aggressive. NOT TOO PASSIVE! (Jeez, Tito was big!) Everyone was quiet and friendly enough. The nearest I could figure, the kid at the front of the cell was Tito’s “babe.” I don’t know the extent of his duties. I didn’t want to know. I simply hoped his presence made me safe…
Finally, I climbed aboard my bunk and lay down, on my back, awaiting Lights Out. I tried not to move, because my bed squeaked with practically every breath, and I didn’t want to piss-off Tito. My imagination reeled at what it might take to reconcile were I to transgress. No, thank you.
Lights Out. Time passed . . .
I lay there after darkness enveloped us, listening to the quiet sounds of a radio playing further back in the cellblock and the shuffling and snuffling of the men incarcerated mere feet from me. There were Breaking and Entering’s, Armed Robberies, Grand Theft Autos and who knows what else. That’s simply all I had learned in the moments before Official Quiet.
I lay there, thinking about the eighteen months that had passed since I had left San Francisco and come to Los Angeles to make my name and fortune in Hollywood. Hollywood. That shifting, steaming, bubbling bog of evil and spite that is masked by a thin layer of sand, palm trees, tight skin and tight asses. When I left San Francisco, I left with a good reputation. I was well known and well liked and had been doing good deeds and setting production standards for nearly a decade.
In that mere 18 months, I had spent all my money and emotional cache, had made no friends and lost touch with most of my old ones, had had some of the most demeaning and degrading jobs and worked for some of the least worthwhile people to use up our natural resources that ever existed. Here I was on the eve of my 40th birthday, in L.A. County Jail wondering if I was going to be released before Tito decided he wanted to fuck my White Butt.
The thing is, I thought; this may surprise some of my friends, but it will shock none of them. To those who know me, they’ll probably just tack it onto all the other “unique” experiences they can depend on Kile to have while they lead “normal” lives, buying houses and cars and having lovers, wives, husbands and children.
I started to silently chuckle. Silently, that is, until the bed started to creak. Omigod, I thought; Tito’s gonna think I’m jerking-off! That was even funnier! The future looked grim as I heard over the loudspeaker,
“Ozier, Prisoner number [something or other], stand for out processing immediately!”
Intelligently, I said “What?”
Again, the loudspeaker ordered me to get out of bed, as I was going to leave this place. I got up and moved toward the sliding bars and heard Ted call from the end of the hallway, “‘Bye, Kile. Congratulations! I’ll give you a call when I get out.”
“Great, Ted. ‘Bye!” I never thought I would have a conversation like that in a place like that!
The door slid aside and I stepped into the hallway. The door clanged back into place and I was told to walk toward the open end of the hallway and the next sliding-bar door. As it clanged back into place, I saw a clock through another glass-paneled door across the hall, “11:55.” Well, I guess I’m getting out on the 4th, after all. Just twelve hours late.
At that point, I wasn’t going to quibble about it.
In the next seven hours, I did three things along with about two hundred other inmates being released. First, they herded us all into a big area where we were given our civilian clothes (that had been laundered within an inch of their life; no lice there!) in order to change back into them. We did this, en masse. Actually, we did this all together in a big room; I don’t think “en masse” really applies to this situation.
After changing, they put us into 6-man cells in groups of 25. No kidding. There was room for about half of us to sit, and the rest to stand or lean for a few hours while we waited. They wanted to be sure we didn’t forget we were prisoners and the scum of the earth (don’t they know any lawyers?) too early.
After a time, we were herded down several hallways and into a final, long hallway with one of those metal benches along one side and told to wait, again. After about an hour, the noise level began to rise and guys began to talk amongst themselves. Suddenly a couple of those studjockofficers barged-in and said if we didn’t shut up, they would cancel the out processing until tomorrow or later. A Real Threat? Who knows? Who wants to find out if they can do that?
After about an Ice Age, the doors at the end of the hall opened and we were herded into another room in groups of 50. They would call our names and lead us in, one-by-one. Once inside, we were seated on wooden benches, theatre-style, in the order we had been called. In here, we were to give another set of fingerprints and they better match, buddy! They all matched.
The last step was for us to file-into a passageway between two remote-locking doors, in the style of an air-lock. This was a sort of “Security-Lock,” about the size to comfortably hold four men.
In groups of ten, we were crammed-into this space. “No talking! One word, and we forget this whole thing, assholes!” Charming. If one were claustrophobic, this could be terminal. They would keep each group in that space for about three minutes. It was actually difficult to breathe; though breathing was about all we did. The door at the other end opened, and we got into queues to collect our personal stuff.
I could see by the clock in the storage room on the other side of the glass that it was 7:00am. I had walked out of my cell at almost midnight and it had only taken seven hours to change clothes, give my fingerprints and pick up my watch and paraphernalia.
They don’t let you forget for a minute.
As the other men and I left the building and started to breathe unprocessed air for the first time on this planet, I listened to them talking to one another. “Where’s the bus stop?” “Do you know where the bus stop is?” “Is it over there?” “Is that the bus stop?” “Yep that’s it! That’s the bus stop!” “You got money for the bus?”
Bus Stop?! I walked to the curb.
[This story was previously published in The Good Men Project on October 11, 2011.]