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.

22 comments:

Steve Malley said...

Bloody great post. Sharp clean language conveys the squalor, the frustration and the thin hard edge of a parent's fear. Beautiful.

Of course, writing style's probably about the last thing on your mind right now...

Susan Miller said...

Damn, Charles. I definitely could feel the agony of not being able to communicate with him, let him know what was happening. It's just great to read that everyone is okay.

Sidney said...

Man, sorry to hear that and sorry I didn't read it until this a.m. Jail + New Orleans = a place I'd never want to be. At least he had a friend with him.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks, guys, much appreciated. Steve, by the time I wrote this I was somewhat recovered. Couldn't have written it while it was happening. Susan, yes, not being able to contact your child is horrible. Sid, you're right about the friend and it turned out they were together throughout. I wish I'd have known that. I would have felt a bit better.

cs harris said...

What a horrible experience, for both you and your son. Nothing scares me more than officialdom.

etain_lavena said...

OOOOO my word Charles, I am sure they learned their lesson. I am very happy you got them out, without anything happening to them....my word...

Danny Tagalog said...

"Fucking hell."

(Excuse my French - as some English stupidly say after making the above expletive)

I hope you, your ex and especially your boy are fine. Man, that really is terrible. He was rounded up like an animal and you weren't treated much better. It must have been agonising - but all have learned many lessons I imagine. I have tremendous sympathy for your boy: if the 'state' treats people in this way - then their property deserves to be defaced.

Those officials have abdicated part of their humanity - to be numb, rule loving automatons. Scary.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks, CS and etain, and Danny, "Exactly."

Sheila said...

Hey! I have to work today but either tonight or tomorrow I am going to write a new post. I miss everyone!!!!! take care!

JR's Thumbprints said...

Charles,
I hate to say it, but it sounds kind've like the place I work at. Except all the fuss is usually about visiting rights and money orders. Some of us State Employees are a tad bit overworked and underpaid and try the best we can. Sorry to hear about your ordeal.

Lana said...

I wonder why the police are sometimes called "the fuzz," considering there's nothing fuzzy about them. In this light, they should be called "the prick," considering their prickliness (among other, more obvious traits.)
Don't you love when they call you for donations after hassling you & yours, too? I've checked into it & it's not illegal to snail-mail anyone a live skunk. Mwa ha ha!

Me said...

Howie Luvzus

Wow! My kid isn't into graffiti, but he will read this so that he'll be careful that his "hobbies" don't land him in jail!

Erik Donald France said...

Man, so your (and your son's) treatment was so random it's almost surreal. Glad it turned out okay.

SUSAN said...

Charles,

Having been arrested twice, once in Waveland, Miss on a Super Bowl Sunday for saying "Fuck" on the way out and once for asking the cop who almost took the drivers side door off by speeding to an EMERGENCY and I shot him the bird and he saw it 2 blocks away and RETURNED to tell me to "Take a fucking walk lady" to which I asked: "I have seen all sorts of pornography, but would you please demonstrate that one, uh the fucking AND walking at the same time...." to which he slapped the cuffs on me and away I went at the mercy of NOPD to jail.

I did spend the night and the judge just laughed and chewed out the arresting cop the next a.m. That, however, did not make up for those 24 hrs. The most interesting thing was this tiny tiny little crack whore who kept jumping up and down and saying " I be outa here befo ya'll's eyes blink twice" and she was. Maybe I didn't speak Ebonics or give the appropriate blow job to the right person.

In any case glad your kid is ok. I always follow Hunter Thompson's advice upon being arrested: "When it gets weird, the weird get going" or something like that.

Better to try to stay out of the way of the LAW. It's a no win situation.

Susan on Palmyra St.

Charles Gramlich said...

JR, I know that's true, and I've met many good policemen. It's the system that I have problems with, because it seems no longer to be about the people who need help. "Me," yes, let you're kid know. Susan, there are some examples of ridiculous abuses of power. Thanks for posting. Erik, I think that's what's so scary, the very randomness of it. Lana, you're my fuzzy.

Brian Bordelon said...

I hate to tell you this but at least this happened after Katrina. I was a paramedic in New Orleans for many years and was the one picking up those cellmates needing pumped stomachs. The conditions actually used to be worse. Hell in the '90's I remember they would hand every person going into the jail a condom. The intention wasn't for you to use it, but to beg the guy about to rape you to use it.

Thankfully your son is out and I guess by the latest posts ok, in a relative sense. Rest assured that the attitude you experienced from the clerk is exactly that of the officers on the street, the ones that arrested your "criminal" son. Lazy bastards that pull over women and old citizens for traffic violations because they know the pullover will be safe. My experience it that NOPD officers and Sheriff's Deputies in New Orleans are useless, ineffective, and basically yet another city or state job that employs otherwise unemployable or criminal individuals. As medics we prayed they wouldn't show up on shooting or domestic violence calls because the preaching and condescension only made matters worse.

When you reflect on your and your son's experience, think about how New Orleans is going to recover. These fiefdoms created by government agencies need to be completely disbanned and rebuilt. Then we can move forward.

Hope you aren't too hard on the kid. Think he learned his lesson.

J. G. said...

I have tremendous sympathy for your boy: if the 'state' treats people in this way - then their property deserves to be defaced.

Moral equivalence is not a compelling argument. Regardless, the boy committed a crime, and he did not do it with foreknowledge that his father would be jerked around when trying to bail him out. So your comment is just wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no excuse for criminal behavior.

I hope the kid learned his lesson and turns away from his past. Otherwise, he will likely be in some kind of lockup again someday.

Clay said...

Freshman year, I warned everyone I knew how bad central lockup was. I told every horror story I had ever heard. Nobody believed me. The few that ended up in OPP said it was far worse than I described.

One friend went there for doing 105 in a 55 zone. They took him to Central Lockup. He was in there with 50 people. The whole place reeked of B.O. Someone comes up to him and says, "Give me a cigarette or I'm going to kill you." He gave him the whole pack. Fortunately, the cop who arrested him didn't feel like filling out paperwork that day and posted him as just being 85 in a 55 and he got out after another hour and a half or so.

God only knows what would have happened to him had been forced to stay the night.

Dambala said...

Welcome to OPP. Here's why you couldn't get your son out...OPP gets $75/per prisoner every 12 hours. They try to hold people as long as they can in order to get more money from the state. I'm not sure it's legal...but it's one of those things that goes on without ever being challenged. If you would have brought a lawyer with you, they most likely would have let him out immediately...but they cock block everyone else.

One more corrupt entity in our city.

Great Post.

Tim said...

Take it as a lesson learned at low cost. And continue to tell everyone about the sub-humane conditions. People who treat dogs and horses this way are themselves put in jail!

Peace,

Tim

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