Holding Cell Memories

Man in the holding cell with me was a Jehovah’s Witness. He was Jamaican and he had been in the cell since Saturday afternoon. By the time I wandered into Hempstead’s holding facility, Sunday had already come and was almost gone.

As I approached my cell, the guard stopped me.
“Right here,” he said
He slid open the barred door instructing me to, “Turn and face the cell.”
And like the man said, I turned to the right, stepped slightly into the cage with my hands cuffed behind my back, and immediately, I could smell the stench coming from my cellmate’s body.

After the guard removed the handcuffs, I heard the cell door roll shut. Of all sounds in life, this sound is a tough one to forget.
I turned and faced the bars, facing away from my cellmate, leaning my hands through the barred wall, and then I placed my forehead up against the iron cage

The man in my cell behind me was skinny. He had long bony fingers. His eyes appeared sunken, as if he had not eaten for days. His face was skeletal with high cheekbones, and painfully thin lips. He reminded me of a photograph I once saw of King Tut’s mummy. Except, the man in my cell was no mummy and he probably smelled worse.

He asked the guard, “Can I have some toilet paper, please?”
“Use your shirt,” the shouted the guard.
The man pleaded with his thick Jamaican accent.
“I have to use the toilet!” But the guard smirked and walked away.

It was clear the guards did not like this man. It was also clear that I would have to spend the next several hours with him, sitting in a small cage, listening to his thick accent and trying hard to avoid his smell. As new inmates arrived and passed us for an empty cell down the line, my cellmate would ask the escorting guards for toilet paper. He would ask for help and say he was about to be sick. But the guards never listened.

“What are you in here for,” he asked.
“Mistaken identity,” I told him.
The man started quoting the bible.
He started talking about God and the Son of Man.
“Even when nailed to the cross…..He still quoted the scriptures.”

As the man spoke, my wrists still felt the pain from the handcuffs. Perhaps it was my charming personality that caused the officers to put them on so tightly. Perhaps when the arresting officers opened the rear door of the patrol car, and I leaned back, closing the door with my foot, and said, “My mother told me to never get in the car with strangers,” perhaps this might have caused the arresting officers to accidentally slam my head while placing me in the back seat of their patrol car.

The guards took all shoes away from the inmates before placing them in the cells. I asked one of the guards about this. He told me, “We wouldn’t want you to hang yourself with your shoelaces before the judge has the chance to sentence you.”
This was fine with me, but they took my cellmate’s shoes as well and his feet smelled awful.

Here I am, about to face a sentence and there I was, stuck in a cage with man whose accent was so thick that I could barely understand him. All I understood was he needed toilet paper. I understood he was in for domestic abuse and the guards hated him. Someone mentioned the man was in for beating his wife. Unfortunately, this man’s wife was a sister to a correctional officer.
After several requests for toilet paper, the guards finally took him out of the cell. I wondered if they helped him or did they place him somewhere unobjectionable, where he was away from any other witnesses and able to withstand a terrible beating. I wondered why he wasn’t cuffed to the rest of us when we all headed over to the courthouse to see the judge. Where did he go?
As the guards escorted the man away, I recall thinking to myself, “Maybe he should have listened when everyone else in the holding cells screamed for him to, Shut up!”

After the ride to the courthouse, I sat in a large cage with other convicts. It was clear who had been there before. But the nervous ones—they were there for the first time. And that was me.
I was one of the scared ones. The calm ones were the experienced ones. They knew about the process. They knew about the trip upstairs to see the judge. They knew about the trip back down to another cage. They knew about the dry bologna sandwiches on stale white bread, which was served with a pint warm milk. They knew this is where you went until you made bail, and if there was no bail, they knew this trip led t a buss ride over to county. They were the experienced ones. They knew about the quick sessions with the public defender and what they would say. Some of the  more experienced inmates bragged about the time they served. They bragged about where they served it, and how they would end up serving time again.

Meanwhile, I wondered if I was going to make bail. I wondered if I was going home, or would I end up on the bus, and head over to county.

Slowly, one by one, just like cattle before the slaughter, we were moved from one pen to another. Each pen was closer to the stairwell, which led upstairs to the judge.

I kept thinking, “There’s no way I’m getting out of this one.”
I thought, “I can pray all I want, but I don’t think anyone is listening to me this time.”
I think about this sometimes. I think about the bullets I’ve dodged and the time I never served. I think about my friends that sit behind bars now, decades later, and I wonder how life turned out to be this way. Why did I make it out and they never did

I think about this and I’ve come to one conclusion.

There has to be a reason . . .




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