Sunday, March 25, 2007
A Night in Jail
Friday afternoon I get the call. My 19 year old son and one of his running buddies have been arrested in New Orleans for graffiti--caught in the act of spray painting under a bridge. I know it’s against the law, and am not very happy with my boy, but he doesn’t do obscenities. He does the kind of stuff that I’ve posted as today’s image, although this one isn’t his. He’s done some stuff on paper that I’ve got up on my office wall. Personally, I think he’s pretty damned talented, although I’d prefer he paint on plywood in our back yard and take pictures with his phone to show his friends.
Anyway, I go back into the city, to central lock-up, which is the kind of place you don’t even want to visit on a Friday evening. Things get rather interesting. I wait in line with half a dozen other folks to get to the bond window to find out what is going on, and, lo and behold, they respond to everyone in front of me and then walk away when I get up to the window. Maybe it was because I had long hair.
I wait semi-patiently for about five minutes before a female officer returns to the window to ask if she can help me. I ask about my son and she tells me he’s been arrested for “Criminal Damage to State Property.” I ask if I can get him out. “If someone pays his bond,” she replies in a “what are you, stupid?” voice. I sort of thought I’d implied that I was there to pay the bond, but then who knows what they heard. Grammar and proper expression were not exactly a strong point of the place, seeing as how there was a sign posted next to the bond window saying: “Do not speak to the prisoners or you will be arrest.” (Italics mine.)
“That’s why I’m here,” I say. She looks at me blankly. “Can I pay it?” I finally say, to which she does some checking on her computer and says, “It hasn’t been set yet. He has to see the judge in the morning.” I reply with something like, “He has to stay in jail overnight for graffiti?” And she says, “It was on state property.” This doesn’t help me much, although later someone else, apparently a previous occupant of the facilities, explains to me that if it had been on city property he would have gotten a ticket and been let go.
I had talked to Josh a few minutes on his cell phone right after he was caught and had told him I was on my way to get him, after yelling at him for a moment. So now I want him to know that he’s not going to be able to get out until Saturday. I ask if I can get a message to him and the officer says, “Not now.” “Does that mean I can get him one later, I wonder.” “We’re in the middle of a shift change,” she replies. I begin to question whether there is any real English in our conversation.
I wait around for an hour or so until shift change is over, but, alas, the answer to my question about getting a message to my son after that is, “No.” I go to see a couple of different bail bond folks but they tell me nothing can be done because it is a state charge. I drive home, considerably worried about my boy spending a night in central lock-up, but there appears to be nothing we can do. A little later my son gets his phone call and calls my ex-wife collect. She answers, and despite the fact that she tells them she’ll accept the charges the operator shuts him off because he called a "cell phone" collect. This is apparently against policy, some kind of policy. She heard him say, “what is going on…” and then nothing. Apparently he has no idea why he’s in there overnight, and he’s had his one phone call.
I don’t do much sleeping the rest of the night. I spend quite a bit of time trying to call central lockup to explain about the “collect” call to a cell phone. No human ever answers the ringing, ringing, ringing, although once in every five attempts I hear a machine say: “all our operators are busy at the moment. Please try your call again.”
Saturday morning, I’m back at central lock-up early. I find out from the bond window folks that my son is already in court (which turned out not to be true), and that I’ll have to pay his fine through a bail bondsman. I go to a bail bondsman. They are much, much more polite than the police officers, but they tell me they take only cash, no checks, no credit cards. I have about $150 with me and there is a place nearby that will cash checks, so I wait.
Around noon I find that his bond is 5,000 dollars, although the bondsman will take $630 of that to get him released. The check place won’t cash that much so I drive as fast as I can to my bank. On the way I’m called by the bail bondsman to say they actually need $714. Luckily, there’s a teller window open at my bank so I get the money and rush back. On the way I’m called by the public defender to say that he’s being released on his own recognizance. At least I don’t have to pony up any cash, although I now have about 800 dollars in my pocket as I walk to central lock-up. This is not a particularly comforting feeling.
A couple more hours fleet past before my son and his friend are released. He gets a hug, and a chewing out, in that order, then another hug. I find out that they had to sleep sitting up because the cell had over 30 people in it. There were roaches everywhere. I make him stop when he starts to tell me how disgusting the floor was. My stomach just isn't that strong.
He tells me about how some of his cell mates were using drugs in the cell, and about two guys that had to be taken out and (apparently) taken to the hospital to be stomach pumped. They'd tried to swallow their drugs upon arrest. He and his friend both say it was the worst experience in their lives, for which I’m rather glad. And they were given no idea during the night as to why they were still being held. They were arrested at 3:30 on Friday, and finally got out around 2:30 on Saturday. They’d had nothing to eat during that time, although after seeing the conditions of the place I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
I finally slept last night. I dreamt of jails.