It is a late night passed midnight towards the end of August in the year 1989. The scene opens to a mainly empty processing room at the county’s holding facility. A large counter acts like an island with aged and natural wooded vertical slats appear on the outside and a white desk top. The counter is a separation between uniformed officers and the processed inmates.
The uniformed officers are behind computers and desks. Phones are ringing and there is talkative chatter with regular office noise in the background.
The processing facility is aged and outdated. There is the musty smell in the facility, which reeks from the stench of hoboes and the traffic of new arrests that arrive to be processed. After the processing is completed, the arrested person is escorted down to a holding cell until the time when they are ready to be arraigned before the judge.
On the opposite side (or visitor’s side) of the counter is a square room with a wooden bench that wraps around the room. The floor is tiled with brown and black checkerboard tiles, which have been worn by the foot traffic. The walls are the same slats of aged wood paneling, similar to the wood that lines the prisoner side of the counter. Beneath the bench is a black pipe to receive the other handcuff of the people who have been detained for their overnight stay.
In the back, right hand corner is a small step, which leads up to a restroom. At the very back of the room is a black door with a 1×1 window with wire mesh. Above the black door reads a sign that says, “No guns beyond this point.”
There were two men, black-skinned and jovial. They are sat beside each other as co-defendants; however, two separate holding cells await them beyond the black door.
A town drunk is reeling on the bench opposite the two men, mumbling, gray-haired, shaggy beard, and dressed in a dirty old brown suit and an off white dress shirt that is stained with black spots. His brown dress shoes are broken and the laces have been pulled out of them. His skin has an olive complexion and is unbathed and stained with black filth.
Town Drunk: (reeling to the side and and complaining) You can’t do this to me. I know my rights.
The two black men, one dressed in a white shirt and one dressed in red, tease the hopeless old man.
White shirt: You have the right to shut the fuck up. Man, you smell like piss!
(Man in red shirt laughs along to encourage the verbal assault.)
A Corrections guard stands in the room
Guard: (in a angry snarl) Knock it off you two.
Enter a young man, 16 years old. He is long haired and pale skinned with black rings beneath his eyes. His facial expression is an apparent one that represents the crack culture, mixed with a chippie (or small, beginning habit) from heroin. The young man’s frame is exceptionally thin. His belt loops are tied together with string to hold his pants up.
He is accompanied by his arresting officer and led towards the back, right hand section of the waiting bench. The officer removes the cuff from one of the young man’s wrists and places it around the steel pipe beneath the bench.
Arresting Officer: (Sarcastically) Wait until you get to meet your other roomates! (followed by an antagonizing laugh)
Red shirt: (Speaking to his co-defendant) Look at this one!
White Shirt: Boy, you look smoked out. They gonna love you in there with all that long hair of yours.
Red Shirt: Looks like some good white meat to me!
Youngster: (Addressing the guard in the room) Can I use the bathroom?
Guard: Are you gonna piss in your pants already?
Both men across from the youngster are laughing.
Town drunk: (Yelling) I want some water. You have to give me some water. I know my rights!
The youngster is wondering what he has gotten himself into and trying to appear unafraid.
White shirt: (addressing the town drunk) Shut the fuck up, old man. You know we ain’t got no rights in here.
Guard: (Shouting back) Yeah, well you sure as hell have the right to remain silent, which is something you two assholes don’t know anything about!
Guard walks over to the youngster and un-cuffs him so the young man can go to the bathroom. Walking over to the step towards the lavatory, the guard walks closely behind the young man.
The guard opens the door to allow the youngster to walk in but stands in the doorway to look over the young man’s shoulder.
White shirt: (laughing with a sense of surprise) What are you watching him for? Do you want to see his little dick, or something? Man, let the kid take a piss.
Guard: (clearly taking a tone which explains this is part of the job) I have to make sure he doesn’t try to kill himself.
Red Shirt: Damn! Jail ain’t that bad.
The young man finishes relieving himself. The guard returns him to the bench and cuffs the other end of the handcuffs to the bar beneath the bench. The young man is still mainly out of his mind, intoxicated and nauseous, with white burn marks on his lips from a previous night’s crack binge. (The white burn marks on his lips come from the glass pipe, which heats up and often burns the mouth.)
The town drunk is received and escorted towards the black door.
Guard: Come on old man. Let’s get you to your bed for the night.
By bed, the guard was sarcastically explaining the old drunk was being taken to his small cell in which there is nothing but a hard, wooden bench, a stainless steel commode and a water fountain. There is no bed.
The old drunk follows, wobbling a little but he does walk. The smell of urine follows behind him as the two other men wave a hand back and forth across their nose, as if to indicate the smell of urine is too intense to handle
White Shirt: Yo, white boy. You better hope they put you in a cell by yourself.
Red shirt: (Acting almost as an advisor) On the strength, son. You’re too light in the ass for jail. You’re too light to fight and too thin to win, son. You better stay away from the homies inside because they are going to fuck you up!
The youngster is processed and the guard removes the cuff from underneath the bench once more, this time to cuff the other wrist and escort the young man towards the black door.
Guard: let’s go tough guy. Your castle awaits!
The youngster tries to laugh along but in truth, he is scared and sick.
Red shirt: See you in a few little man
White shirt: Yeah, keep it moist in the middle
The two men laughed.
I remember when they walked me to the black door. I remember looking up at the sign that read “No guns beyond this point.”
I remember the walk down the long corridor and the smell of sweaty men, urine, armpits, bathroom, and the overpowering attempt of cleaning solvent to try and mask the dank aroma.
I was sweaty. I was scared. I was facing two felonies. Moreover, I was placed in a cell and above all things I remember, aside from the sound of the guards shoes clacking against the tiled floor; I remember the humming of the overhead lights in the corridor and the sound of the guard laughing while he rolled the cell door shut.
This was me then. This was the first time but certainly not the last.
This is me now, away from that life, clean, and sober for nearly 30 years, and preparing to do a presentation before a Narcan training class this Saturday night.
For the record: People do recover.