I made a huge mistake. Perhaps because I kicked Hope out of my room and subsequently got charged for destruction of property and simple assault. Or was it because I hauled ass right after while she picked up her stuff and called the police. My true mistake was neither and neither do I regret turning myself in at the local precinct. It was the fact that I showed up too late in the day that I could literally kick myself for being ignorant and tardy.
In Wards 7 & 8, after the precinct locks you up, they wait until they accumulate a van full of prisoners before you get transported across the river to the Downtown courthouse in Judiciary Square. The police department normally makes this trek twice a day – once at daybreak and once in midday. If you miss the earlier trip, you gotta just hold tight for the next right, even if it means spending the night.
MPD don’t make special trips for any prisoner unless your name is Chris Brown or Charlie Sheen. There was too much congestion on the bridge, and I sure wasn’t gonna pony up for a flight on the air support unit aka “falcon.”
By the time we arrived, it was too late to see the judge, so we had to spend the night at the J.W. Marriott minimum security prison aka “holding cell.” sprawling like skins with our thumb up our asses.
“Should have turned myself in first thing in the morning so I could get arraigned and released,” I relentlessly berated. The guy sitting next to me turns his head with an open gaze as if I was speaking Greek.
There’s no bail in DC so everyone except for the hard-core offenders gets to see the light of day – about 90% of us. We all leave the Moultrie Courthouse like lost souls from the Game of Thrones.
I sat in my cell twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the booking process that seemed to stretch like infinity war. In prison every hour seemed like a whole day. How did people survive even a year here? A rat scurried across my feet. I went bat crazy.
My cellmate was a born and bred criminal. He came in and out of jail like a revolving door and was an ole timer – shared endearing memories of the Lorton Reformatory in Laurel Hill, Virginia, like it was a paradise villa.
“I’ve been arrested so many times, I’ll put Jane Fonda to shame.”
“Damn. So how are conditions of the DC jail?” I asked.
“There’s rodents and mildew everywhere – the DC jail is so horrible that spending a year there is like spending 5 in Lorton.”
So I get my glamour shot and got fingerprinted with the dark ink in little squares.
And by the time I returned to my luxury suite, my cell mate was sound asleep. I was surprised he fell asleep so quickly, but then I remembered he was a perennial prisoner – this was par for the course.
There was no bed. The metal frame was as hard as cast iron. I would have much rather slept on a concrete freeway in the middle of the Springfield mixing bowl. Thankfully cold steel didn’t attract bed bugs, and I wouldn’t be getting a lick of sleep. Perhaps this inhumane treatment would de-incentivize people from committing crime. Instead, it succeeds in dehumanizing inmates, so that they have no hope but to return.
No subsistence all day except for a stale salami and cheese sandwich, and I only got one with a Tropicana juice packet. The bread was so hard I felt like I was eating cardboard. There was no trash can, so we just throw our trash on the floor adding to the rodent problem. Worse would be dumping plastic wrappers down the toilet clogging the toilet and backing up the sewer line.
Then the lights flickered like a candle in an eerie cell and it’s now the dreaded sack time.
I wanted desperately to go to sleep to put this nightmare behind me.
I hoped that the person in the cell across the hall would shut the hell up.
He was challenging everyone for a fight, even me. No way was I to give him eye contact.
And he was griping about the conditions here.
“45 years ago there was a hostage standoff in DC Jail to demand better conditions. It’s time we have another riot!” he yelled.
There was shrieking and yelling down the hall – was someone dying. The sordid thoughts of what could be ran through my mind.
My cellmate was snoring so loudly now. Wish I had my headphones so I had to drown out the noise.
So I had an idea. I would do a pre-trip out loud. That was the only way to get it drilled in my head since my test was coming up.
- Check the tires
- Check the lights
- Look for a lean and leaks.
I was on a roll – next thing I know I was mimicking shifting through all ten gears. If you don’t have a tractor trailer, an air stick is the next best thing.
I drove the turnkey crazy by reciting these steps – but it was the only thing I could do to keep my sanity, and of course to drown out the noise from my cell mate sawing logs.
“Alright knock it out,” he demanded “Now let’s get some shut eye – the two of you.”
Finally I dozed off but I kept on waking up afraid that I would find my cellmate on top of me. But how could he, he was still at his end mowing hay.
Before I know it, sunlight streams through the window slits on the wall. This was the only way I could tell time or else I was in the twilight zone.
The corrections officer is slamming doors, introducing us to his version of reveille.
We were all given something that resembled breakfast then herded into one room. Some prisoners were charged with felony assault. There was one take out delivery man who pointed a BB gun at a customer for short changing him. I could see a man crying after finding out what he was facing. Some prisoners were lucky and charges were not papered at all – they were celebrating like they just struck gold in the DC lottery.
Then finally after hours waiting in utter suspense, my group of five were escorted in the court room with chains and shackles.
When it was my turn, I was charged with destruction of property and simple assault – a misdemeanor.
That was when I met my public defender for the first time. “No worries,” she whispered to me. “You’re a first timer, they’ll offer you diversion.”
The judge instructed me not to talk to Hope. That would be difficult especially since she’s my tenant and resides in the same house. I would have to talk to her regarding safety and security issues and maybe even ask for rent.
When they let me go, I was released with no ID, no money. I was elated to see daylight but for once in my life felt like I had no identity.
They told me I could use my red wristband to ride the metro for free. I was too ashamed to even have it on. You can usually point out the people who just got released – they’re the ones with a big smile and no shoelaces.
Tomorrow I could return to 7D to retrieve my wallet and cash. Next time I won’t bring so much money with me – I’m not going to the casino. Dress comfortably and don’t wear a belt or shoestrings.
If you’ve never spent a night in prison, it’s definitely an eye-opening experience.
Not something I enjoyed at that time, but now glad I survived the experience, and that’s why I’m now telling it.